Thinking Out Loud

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

October 29, 2011

Living Creatures: A Halloween Post

While surfing the blogosphere for material appropriate to Christianity 201, I came across the rather lively blog of Carole McDonnell and a particular post she wrote just in time for Halloween.   The line that convinced me we needed to borrow steal feature it here was,

…I figured I’d do something on Living Creatures who terrify. (Honestly, who fears dead stuff? Maybe corpses bring diseases and contamination but other than that…the dead are not particularly troublesome.)

Is that cool or what? Now then, internet etiquette dictates that you actually click over and view this at her blog, but statistically, most of you won’t which means you would miss out on something truly different…


My Halloween Post: Those Awesome Cherubim
Yep, it’s that time of the year again when folks celebrate dead creatures and stuff that terrify. But since hubby and I finished Revelations last week, I figured I’d do something on Living Creatures who terrify. (Honestly, who fears dead stuff? Maybe corpses bring diseases and contamination but other than that…the dead are not particularly troublesome.) And no I’m not gonna talk about demons either. True, they’re living creatures in their own way because they have immortal life. But they are evil. What I want to right about is Terrifying holiness.

With God is terrible majesty! With God is terrifying majesty!

God made many type of creatures, creatures who can live in the three-dimensional world and in other dimensionalities. And he also made the Cherubim. The Cherubim live in heaven…in fact they live in God’s throne room and are never out of the presence of God. God rides on the Cherubim, He is seated above the Cherubim. (Satan himself was the cherubim that covered the throne while the other cherubs surrounded it or were under it. But I digress.)

The weird thing is that as heavenly as Cherubim are, they are weirdly intertwined in human affairs. What their purpose is God alone (and great Bible students) know. They are carved over the mercy seat…which represents their place in heaven. They represent life forms on earth: tame animals, wild animals, humans, and birds. (No fish or creeping thing, but again, I digress.)

So this is what I want to talk about the Cherubim. Now, on earth we have one way of being: we are spirit, body, mind, but we are all in one visible package. Because God is above and beyond the third dimension, God can see our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.  But we humans can only see each other’s bodies. (Okay, if we have a gift we can see into spirits but I digress.)  Back to the Cherubim.

As we see them in the Book of Ezekiel, (the first time I believe in the Bible) we are told they all have one likeness:

The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl, and all four had the same likeness.  The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. “ (Ezekiel 1:1, 4-5,15-16, NKJV)

That is: they all look alike.

Under each of their four wings I could see human hands. So each of the four beings had four faces and four wings. 9The wings of each living being touched the wings of the beings beside it. Each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.

10Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. 11Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body. 12They went in whatever direction the spirit chose, and they moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.  Ezekiel 1: 8-12

Okay, so we accept this. One being has four faces, feet straight down so they don’t ever turn their face from God, and eyes everywhere just in case…so they don’t miss anything. And then there’s that pesky wheel-within-the-wheel which hints at all kinds of things.

The other thing we have to note is that these Cherubim move about in groups of four. Each four is one entity: a singular entity made up of four sub-entities who all look alike. This is something we can’t even begin to figure out. I mean, on earth a marriage is an entity but the hubby and the woman are not really alike to such an extreme.

Anyway, we accept this…and ponder and ponder. But then what happens when we arrive in Revelation?

In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. 7The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.8Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,  Rev  4: 6-8

There are two changes here:

The first: the number of wings: two pairs each in Ezekiel’s vision, and 6 wings (not said if they come in pairs) in Revelations.
The second: The cherubim are now separate, kinda. . .and fully themselves but still a unity of four.

They’re still unified but one is fully human with six wings, one is fully a bird (with six wings), one is fully a lion (with six wings) and one is fully an ox (with six wings.

Again, they have all the eyes.  Now if there is any confusion here about these creatures: Ezekiel calls these living creatures “Cherubim” and John calls them “living creatures.”

Ezekiel 10:20 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realized that they were cherubim.

Revelation 4:6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

But, what’s interesting here is how these cherubim are part of each other and a unity. Not a trinity but a Quatrinity (I just invented that word, I think.) On earth we can’t begin to understand beings who are part of each other and who can dismantle and reassemble themselves in different patterns….but wow! this is heaven! A spiritual sphere! A world of dimensionalities we cannot begin to understand. Question: do they really “look” like this? Or is the way they look the only way our human minds with its limited understanding of what a “person” is can understand?

And may I say, these are terrifying. I have never seen a cherubim — especially when it/they is in their one from column a, one from column b, one from column c, one from column d — and yet one-single-entity mode  And know what? I do not want to see them.

In Daniel, the angel Gabriel is often called “The man Gabriel.” He stands before God, in the presence of God. Just like the cherubim are always before God. And honestly, if God wants to send anyone to talk to humans, I think he knows enough of human fear to send someone who looks like one of us: Gabriel.

How terrifying and majestic holiness is! I imagine the eyes of the cherubim, always seeing God and yet possibly seeing all on the earth, seeing through the eyes of all on the earth, seeing the evil being done on the earth.

Yeah, no ghost or demon matches the terrifying majesty of God.

~Carole McDonnell


I hope you agreed that was worth it. Even though you didn’t click over to her blog, why not give Carole a courtesy click now and check out other stuff she’s got there.

Next, you need to see some of the other videos over at John8ThirtyTwo’s YouTube channel.

Carole: I think the word Quadrinity has been used elsewhere, changing the ‘t’ to a ‘d’.

October 12, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Here in the frozen north, Thanksgiving has already come and gone, but that didn’t stop temperatures from reaching 30 degrees Celsius on the weekend (mid 80s Fahrenheit) for three straight days which made link-catching less appealing than suntanning.

  • For you worship-leader types, here’s one of the most comprehensive articles you’ll see on the “worship wars” discussed entirely in terms of church architecture.
  • Just nine more days to another Harold Camping end-of-life-as-we-know-it date.
  • If you don’t know what I mean when I say, “Stethoscope Video” then you haven’t seen it.  Take 2 1/2 minutes and enjoy.
  • It’s official: Mitt Romney tells Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress that he thinks that Baptists are a cult.  …Okay, not really, but maybe he should have.  Here’s the original story,  a response from Robert Mouw, and a sample of comments; all from CNN.
  • You’ll want to read the comments to find more links to get the full 411 on this story, but the blogger Tulip Girl has a blog post implying that another child death may be linked to the controversial book, To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl.
  • No, what follows is not a typo: Is it possible to hate Jesus but love Christianity?  David Paul Dorr looks at that here and here [part two link to follow!]
  • Are you “crazy busy” all the time?  Pete Wilson hints you may need to invest in the concept of sabbath.
  • This isn’t new, but… here’s one of those church video clips from Igniter media that uses a Facebook theme; naturally, this one’s titled Follow.
  • Canadian Anglican Pastor Leonard Griffith is now 90 and just keeps on going.
  • More from James MacDonald on the decision to invite T. D. Jakes to a forthcoming seminar, aka The Elephant Room controversy.
  • Hey kids!  Wanna learn Biblical Hebrew in just three easy lessons?  Well, you can’t.  But maybe 40 moderately challenging lessons from Charles Grebe at Briercrest College and Seminary. Learn more about Charles at AnimatedHebrew.com starting with the Hebrew alphabet. Shalom!
  • The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) celebrated a 50-year anniversary earlier this month.
  • In a culture focused on the excitement of church planting, we never think about the sadness of church closings that are constantly taking place at the same time.
  • Natalie Grant adds “actor” to her list of accomplishments with a feature role in the movie Decision.
  • From Internet Monk writer Jeff Dunn

There is a story told of an old woman who claimed she and God talked on a regular basis. Her bishop was doubtful of her claims to hear from God. After all, he prayed on a regular basis, but the Lord never spoke back to him. So he decided to put this woman to the test in order to reveal her for either a misguided soul or a fraud. He went to her and said, “The next time you are talking with God, ask him to tell you what my most grievous sin was.” The woman agreed to do so.

A week later the bishop returned and asked, “Did you ask God to reveal to you my worst sin?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “I did ask him.”

“Well,” said the bishop, “what did he say?”

The woman said simply, “He says he forgets.”

August 26, 2011

Your God is too Stereotyped

This morning while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that Thinking Out Loud readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.  Here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is more negative than positive
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is using describe people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.” 

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.  What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.  If you can’t find it, get the original, which after all these years is still in print!

What is the New Jerusalem?

We’ve had an interesting run of comments at Christianity 201 on the subject of the New Jerusalem.  Is the Biblical language literal in its references to a city or location; or is the language more figurative, referring to believers as the people who make up the New Jerusalem?  Visit the discussion by clicking this link.

December 16, 2010

Why People Love to Argue Noah, Jonah and Adam

Okay, I’ll say it.

While I have no reason to doubt the Biblical accounts I learned as a child, my faith journey is not contingent on whether David killed a giant with a slingshot (I think he did) or Joshua blew a trumpet and and the walls of Jericho fell (I think he did and they did) or whether Jesus put mud in a man’s eyes and then he could see (which I not only think he did, but think that belief on that one becomes a bit more central.)

But there are many people who love to argue these points.   The reason is simple:

  • If it should turn out that the Bible narrative is true, then that would make the Bible authoritative in other areas of life.
  • If the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, then that would require some kind of response from its hearers/readers.
  • That response would require a change in lifestyle; a change in priorities.
  • Many people, simply don’t want to make those changes.

So it’s easier for them to look at you and say, “You don’t really believe that Joshua prayed and God halted the earth’s rotation, resulting in more than 36 continuous hours of daylight, do you?”   A discussion that’s motivated more by the love of sin and not having to deal with accountability than it is with science.

And if you’re honest, you’ll probably say that while you do believe that God can (and did) cause the sun to stand still, that’s not what your faith journey, your God’s-love-receiving,  your Christ-following, your Spirit-indwelling, etc., is all about.

Because let’s face it:  While the children’s department of Christian bookstores is packed with stories about Jesus feeding 5,000 men or walking on water, Elijah being fed by ravens, and Daniel’s lack of appetizing characteristics to the large felines; the adult Christian living section of the same bookstore is relatively sparse on those particular narratives.

So what’s the deal?   Maybe, just maybe…

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that a guy named Jonah lived inside a whale — sorry, ‘large fish’ — for three days do you?” is actually carrying on an illicit affair with a guy in the warehouse.   If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The guy who says, “You don’t really believe that Noah and all those animals lived on board a yacht — sorry, ‘large boat’ — for a full year do you? is actually transferring money from an advertising account to a bogus consulting company which is actually a personal bank account.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that stuff about God creating Adam and then taking one of his bones — sorry, ‘large rib’ — to create a woman do you? is actually getting her son to purchase ecstasy for her from a dealer in his high school.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

For some of us, here’s the 411:

  • The Bible is authoritative and reliable in what it says; there’s no picking and choosing; you either trust the book or you don’t.
  • We have heard and listened and chosen to respond to God’s offer of love and forgiveness, of which whales, arks and Adam’s ribs is but a small part — the realm of the miraculous — in a much, much larger ‘love letter’ to His creation.
  • This has changed our perspective, our worldview, our priorities and values; a change that can be seen by people who knew us before vs. after or know how we live in contrast to the larger society around us.
  • While we’re far from perfect, we think we’ve got the hottest news on the rack and want you to share in both what we’ve learned and the grace we’ve received.

December 1, 2010

Wednesday Link List

I’m making a list and checking it twice…

  • Out of every ten people, seven can not live their faith in full freedom. And the most persecuted religion is Christianity, with at least 200 million people suffering from discrimination. This was revealed by the report on religious freedom in the world that is published every two years by the Catholic organization “Aid to the Church in Need.”    Watch the video from RomeReports.com
  • When Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped the ball, he may have done so in more ways than one.   Here’s a frank, disturbing and yet must-read account of the theological fallout from Johnson’s ill-considered Twitter post, at the blog, The Wartburg Watch.   Don’t miss the comments, either.
  • Phil Johnson’s view of worship is very non-Pentecostal to be sure, but it’s a view common to many people who attend weekly meetings consisting largely of scripture reading and exposition, and would still say, if asked, that they attended a worship service.
  • Here’s a discussion I joined back in August on the blog Rumblings, concerning the devotional book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that’s still going strong three months later.
  • The normally much more sedate Julie Clawson explains why she was walking down the streets of Austin, Texas wearing nothing but underwear.   There’s even an element of cross-dressing.
  • Got young kids?   Here’s a website they might enjoy from CBH (Children’s Bible Hour) Ministries, the people who produce the Down Gilead Lane radio shows.   It’s called iToadU; sorta as in ‘I told you.’
  • A Canadian version of the Hallellujah Chorus flashmob thing. two weeks ago in a city outside of Niagara Falls; but local discussion has centered on the fact that, in not keeping with tradition associated with this piece of music, the entire audience did not stand up.
  • Really enjoying listening online to WAY-FM, broadcasting from the warmer climes of South Florida, especially since my normal online radio switched to Christmas music a little too early for my tastes.
  • Dean Lusk notes that his cat and dog aren’t as enlightened as us, and thereby are able to live together as an example of harmony.
  • Linkless entry to fellow bloggers:  When you embed from Hulu, only people in the U.S. can watch.   Always frustrating.  This may come as a surprise to you, but you actually do have readers in other parts of the world.   Or at least you did.
  • Christianity Today asks a wide variety of contacts the [literally] musical question, “Should churches ban Christmas carols with questionable theology?”   Read their answers and consider yours.  Or skip the experts and go straight to the comments on this one.
  • At Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike says that “those who welcome the Prince of Peace at this time of year should be praying for peace in this dangerous situation.”  Read his comments about last week’s attack on South Korea by North Korea.
  • Linkless entry to fellow bloggers:  Another thing about embedding videos:  I know Vimeo is much more cool than YouTube, but it takes forever to buffer, even if you have high speed internet.   Sometimes I really want to see what you enjoyed so much, but it just takes soooo long.
  • Tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud:  A report on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair on the benefits of religion to society, and an analysis on debates of this nature in general.
  • Our cartoon today is from Dave Walker at The Cartoon Blog in the UK.  He has three books out of which the newest, The Exciting World of Churchgoing is available to retailers through Canterbury Press, distributed in the U.S. by Ingram/Spring Arbor.

October 23, 2010

Acknowledging Your Guilt

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the Trenton base, one of the largest, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes.    The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession.   (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established.   There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape at this point; his guilt is a foregone conclusion.   The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from the point of thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the point of realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we might call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women.  One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt with this issue just a few days ago — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.”   Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God.   Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as pretty good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process.    It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt.   But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, you can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.

October 11, 2010

Philip Yancey: God Is What’s Good

Yes.   I am biased.

Upon first reading The Jesus I Never Knew on a fall day fifteen years ago, I knew I had found a favorite author.   So with great anticipation I looked forward to What Good is God (FaithWords) which releases officially on October 19th.   I was not disappointed.   This is a different book; it has a rhythm and cadence all its own; it is a book which will stretch any who read it, including Yancey aficionados like myself.

The format is quite different.

Divided into ten parts, each part contains two chapters which focus on a particular group of people, and a particular place in the world.   This is a travelog of sorts, and while you don’t have to spend the time in airport waiting rooms as did the author, you feel like you’ve earned some frequent flyer points by the time you turn the last page.

The first chapter in each of the ten sections describes Philip Yancey’s journey to a diverse set of places.    As a journalist, travel ignites his writing.   It also introduces the reason that finds him where he is in his role as a speaker.  The second chapter in each of the sections is in fact the text of a speech (or in one case, a sermon) given to a diverse group of people.

But I didn’t know that ahead of time.

So the second chapter of the first part totally ambushed me.   I am familiar with the feeling of tears welling up as one approaches the ending of a good book.   I did not expect that to happen so soon as it did in the first part, with the text of Yancey’s address to the student body of Virginia Tech just days after the shooting there left more than a dozen fatalities, and just a few more days since Philip Yancey’s own traffic mishap in Colorado left him close to either death or paralysis.

In the sections that followed are speeches to business leaders in China, sex trade workers and the people who minister to them,  the student body at his old Bible College, a Charismatic church in South Africa and members of the C. S. Lewis Society in Cambridge, England, an AA meeting, Christians in India and the middle east; and many others.  These are speeches and addresses you and I would never get to hear, and would never be drawn to read were it not for the set-up in the previous chapter.

But what of the book’s title?

I believe the title prepares you more for something along the lines of a response to today’s militant or “New” atheists.   Perhaps the marketing department at the publisher had something like that kind of hook in mind.   However, the book doesn’t deliver along the lines of apologetics, and while I wasn’t at all let down, I hope purchasers will be appraised about its true content before they buy.

Rather, through its series of narratives, the book demonstrates that if anything, God is what’s good in the world.   That on a global scale, Christianity is making a difference and on a personal level, this is a faith that works. The answer to the question the book’s title asks is found in the way that the Christian God infuses every area of life, especially those places of hurt and pain. This is Reaching for the Invisible God meets Where is God When it Hurts.    Or maybe The Bible meets your morning newspaper.

Still, seeking resolution to the book’s title promise, I turned over the final page and immediately rushed back to the introduction.   If I were not a believer, not a Christ follower, how would all these stories answer the title question?

Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.”  Engineers design wonderful new products:  iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices.   But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers in the real world?  What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk?  Will the device still work?

I look for similar tests in the realm of faith.  My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague…

When I spend time among such people, my own faith undergoes a tabletop test.   Do I mean what I write from my home in Colorado?…

I must admit, my own faith would be much more perilous if I knew only the U.S. church, which can seem more like a self-perpetuating institution.   Not so elsewhere.  Almost always I return from my travels encouraged, my faith buoyed…

If a person had never read Philip Yancey before is this book a good place to start?   Probably, I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? For the rest of us, don’t miss this unique piece of writing from Philip which is, truly, as big as the whole world.

The full title is What Good is God:  In Search of a Faith that Matters (Faith Words, hardcover, 287 pages, October 19, 2010; $23.99 US/$26.99 CAN)

Photo:  Randal Olsson – The Christian Post

August 18, 2010

Wednesday Link List

This was a week for reconstructing the blogroll here.   “Oh, Oh, The Places You’ll Go” lists all the things that are NOT blogs, along with, for a limited time, a description of each one on-screen — you don’t even have to mouse hover — which for some strange reason Made Every Word Start With A Capital Letter.

The actual blogs are now found further down in a new section called “Blog Stops.”

And now on to this week:

August 15, 2010

15 Years Later, A Confession

A decade and a half ago I was just finishing a one-year part-time contract at the local Christian school, teaching Bible, art, music, language and spelling.

Split grade seven and eight spelling to be precise.   A weekly list.  A weekly test.   The one piece of the job I could farm out to my wife, whose spelling is dead-on accurate.   (And proofreading, if you have anything that needs doing.)

This morning we visited the church where, at the time, half of the students in the Christian school attended; and one of them, who was not in my class, informed me that both my wife and I had been had.

Turns out, if they didn’t know how to spell a word, they would simply write down some other correctly spelled word.   My wife would mark the word as correct, never suspecting that they were up to something.  (And not noticing the variation in words, since she was doing two grades at once.)

Isn’t church like that.   We give right answers, not so much to direct questions, but insofar as we say the right things and use the right words and phrases.    Even if we’re giving the answer to a question that’s not being asked.  (“It sure sounds like a “squirrel” but I think I’m supposed to say “Jesus.” *)

As long as we’re providing responses that are not stained by the messiness of misspellings, we’re given the proverbial red check mark by our church peers.   Nobody ever suspects the possibility that they are being had.

We’ve lost the ability to say, “I’m not sure;” or “I don’t know;” or “That’s an issue I’m wrestling with in my own spiritual life.”    We’re too proud to say, when we don’t know a particular ‘word,’ something like, “That’s a part of the Bible I’ve never studied;” or “That’s an area of theology I’ve never considered;” or “That’s a particular spiritual discipline that isn’t part of my personal experience.”

So we just give the so-called “right” answers that will get us by.   Or we change the subject.   Or we say something incredibly complex that has an air of depth to it.

Today I read an article in a newspaper, The Christian Courier which quotes Rob Bell as saying, in reference to his church and preaching style, “…We want to embrace mystery rather than conquer it.”   In many churches they want the latter.  And if someone does “conquer” all things spiritual, we give them some letters after their name which mean Master of Theology, or Master of Divinity.

Years ago, when our youngest son didn’t know the answer to a question I would ask at our family Bible study, he would just say, “Love?”   It was a good guess.  (One night it was the right answer.)   He figured he couldn’t go wrong with “Love” as the possible answer, though he always raised his voice at the end admitting he wasn’t quite sure.

Well guess what?   I haven’t mastered it.   I’m working on it.   I don’t know.

And I have one more thing to say to all of you:  Love?

*if you don’t know this story, it’s in the sidebar — as well as being the theme — of this blog, and I’ve also posted it here as the first comment.

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