Thinking Out Loud

September 27, 2016

The Music Store and the Career Path: An Analogy

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:08 am

My son recently graduated from university and opted to move back to the city where the school is, in the hope that beginning a life there will be more fruitful than in our small town. The problem is, he graduated with two majors and a minor — writing, theater, and theology — and doesn’t really know which one to focus on.

Meanwhile we were at a music store on Saturday where I was wandering around from room and…well…I quickly wrote him this email, which I present to you relatively unedited.

guitar-inventory-2On Saturday afternoon we went back to Cosmo Music which is one of the largest musical instrument stores in the world.

We walked in the keyboard room first, and I thought, “I’m a keyboard player.” There were so many things I wanted to test out.

But then we wandered through the back and into the brass room. There was a baritone horn that reminded me so much of the one I played in the Junior Band at the church I attended all through my teens. I thought, “I’m a brass player.”

But then we went back toward the lobby and a kid was being fitted for a shoulder support for a violin, the type I should have had but never bought, and I thought, “I’m a string player.”

Next was the guitar room. I went to see what 12-strings they had; if any were like mine. “I’m a guitar player;” I told myself.

In the same area were the electric basses. Lots of five strings. Not cheap. Of course I thought, “I’m a bass player.” I want to try a 5-string sometime with a good amplifier.

But then your brother wanted to see the grand pianos upstairs. I used to work at Baldwin. They had high end instruments like this. Even the smell in the room was familiar. “I’m a piano player;” I figured I belonged in that room also.

On the way out, he asked about keyboard amps and we ended up in one of the little demo rooms. I was amazed at the things that came back to me being in that environment. I think I asked a few intelligent questions. Heck, “I’m a sound guy.”

And then it hit me.

The store was a microcosm of the choices you are now facing. You’re an actor. You’re a writer. You’re a student of philosophy and theology. There are so many choices.

But in the end, my walk around the store was a mile wide but only a few inches deep. I never really tried anything. We were there the better part of an hour and there was so much to see but I needed to just pick something and make that my focus; and if it turned out I sucked at 5-string bass, I could always come back another time and reacquaint myself with re-issued Arp Odyssey synthesizer in the keyboard room. But the arena of choices was so large that I was overwhelmed by it all, and more to the point I hadn’t gone with a specific purpose.

I know it’s hard to choose something at the expense of everything else but I would say this: Pick the most amazing thing that could happen, get on a bus, go to wherever it is people do that and walk in the door… That’s all.


Image: I believe this was taken at a guitar store in either Lansing, or Grand Rapids MI.

September 26, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelicalism

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

If you have a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you’re probably familiar with the quote which follows:

hitchhikers-guide

I decided to put a bit of soteriological spin on this.

hitchhikers-parody

September 25, 2016

The Devil of a Thrift Shop

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:54 am

halloween-jw-fb

In Canada we have a chain of used clothing stores with many locations as large as the biggest grocery store you’ve ever shopped in. They’re a “high end” thrift shop, where things aren’t as cheap as they might be at St. Vincent de Paul, or Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

While the primary market for these stores is people on a budget, having worked at camp I know that when we needed costumes for skits or special theme days, we would always head into town and find the nearest charity shop for things we could either use as-is, or alter.

Another costume occasion is Halloween, and years ago these stores decided that if they’re in the costume business anyway, why not exploit that to the hilt? And so they started carrying new merchandise such as masks, hats, props, make-up, black light bulbs and of course costumes.

But this year I realized they are taking this to the extreme. Some type of zombie greeted us audibly as we entered; as demonic a voice as you can imagine. The staff were all attired in costume. The theme from Ghostbusters played on the speakers. A door sign reminded us that there were only 37 days left to get ready.

I read this to my wife and said, “I need some help with the final paragraph.”

“What do you want to say?” she asked.

“It’s a blog post, and I need to be offended about all this;” was my answer.

She wasted no time, “Then I think you need to decide why you are offended.”

…And there it was. I’m a Christian. I know I’m supposed to angry that so much of this store is presently devoted to things supernatural, grotesque, ghoulish, and outright demonic.

But part of me figures it will all be over in another 37 days…

…On the other hand, Christmas is 3 months today.

 

September 24, 2016

The Newsboys Shut Out of Canada for the Second Time

Newsboys

Back in April, we reported on the cancellation of The Newsboys concert in Toronto, Canada.

This week, lightning struck twice in the same place, despite the due diligence done by the band. Should Christian bands simply forget about trying to get into Canada? I don’t want to be sensationalist, but it makes you wonder what the backlash from this might be as the word spreads. Here’s the announcement this time around; this time sharing the full text of what the band wrote, posted at the promoter’s website:

September 21, 2016

Dear Toronto Newsboys fans,

It is with our deepest regrets that we have been forced to announce the cancellation of our Toronto concert tomorrow, Thursday Sept. 22nd.  This cancellation is a direct result of the Canadian Border authorities blatant disregard for the policies and procedures of legally crossing the border, and we feel an explanation to our fans is in order.

As you may know, in April we attempted to cross the border to perform for you at Church on the Queensway.  This crossing was just like the 5 other times we have crossed since 2009.  We worked for weeks in advance of our arrival to provide all the necessary paperwork to make the crossing as smooth as possible.  As we attempted our initial entry, Michael was told that he had a 9-year old traffic violation on his record and because of it, they were not going to allow him entry.  We were told that he would need to take the appropriate steps to fix this issue, and as such, we were forced to postpone the show a few months while we sorted it out.

This shocked us, as we have been to Canada to perform for you several times prior, and not once was this issue raised.  Regardless, as we are instructed Biblically, we respected the authorities’ decision and immediately hired attorney’s in the US and Canada to work to resolve this issue, and we rescheduled the concert for our fall tour.  After 3 months and hundreds of hours, and an extensive financial investment, the lawyers were confident that Michael had done all he was asked and so yesterday, Michael flew to Toronto to attempt re-entry, this time with an 80-page document supporting his request for clearance.  Michael even went 48 hours earlier so he would have plenty of time to present his case.  Unfortunately, the border agents refused to accept his explanations, and once again denied him entrance, this time without even an adequate explanation of the denial.

To say we are shocked beyond belief is an understatement, and we are extremely disappointed in the agent’s decision.  Obviously the agents have the serious task of protecting your nation, and we respect that, but the decisions of these two agents was made unilaterally and without merit, going against the stated laws and regulations that our attorneys were instructed to follow.  It is extremely disheartening to spend all the time and resources we did, only to have it come down to how the agent “feels” and decides.

Ultimately, we are most disappointed that we will not be allowed to come share our songs and our ministry with our fans, but as we are reminded in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We may never know the true reasons behind this decision, but we do know God has a plan for all of us, and we rest assured in the love He has for His children.  We will continue to vigorously work to clear this issue so that one day we can return and celebrate with you, but we feel until this is 100% cleared up, it is only right to refund your ticket purchases.

Thank you for your understanding and may God be with each and every one of you!

Sincerely,

Michael, Duncan, Jeff and Jody
NEWSBOYS

This time around, there is no mention of a future concert. The promoter, Premiere Productions had nothing about the cancellation on their blog. 

As a Canadian, this totally infuriates me. All over, “a 9-year old traffic violation.” This band is an international Christian ministry with a solid reputation. Were other forces at work here? What does this say to Christian kids in Canada about their government?

 

September 23, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, Faith, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

clarke-dixon-picClarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor whose posts at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon end up at Christianity 201 on Wednesdays or Thursdays. The one this week was a little bit different, though; and I thought it would be a good fit here as well…

Guest post by Clarke Dixon

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

September 22, 2016

A Pastoral Career: The Parabolic Curve of Church Size

Filed under: Christianity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700+ member church that did not evoke fond memories. He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers. Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought. Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer. At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 at Central Church and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one and ignored the staff, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. Almost a thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction. The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

September 21, 2016

Wednesday Link List

well-played-church-sign

 

young-jesus-at-bath-timeWelcome to WLL #326. The issue of the missing years of Jesus’ childhood is thorny and the ‘infancy gospels’ are long contested. So we don’t lay any claim to the accuracy of the cartoon at right, nor do we know the source. For the more conservative out there, try not to be offended.

When your business has a name client, you want to advertise that:

christian-plumbing-truck

September 20, 2016

The Mysterious Book of Mysteries

end-times-prophetic-etc-books

This is not a book review. I didn’t read The Harbinger or The Mystery of the Shemitah. Or the book today’s discussion is focused on.

These books just aren’t my thing. I’m sorry. Different things attract different people. I tend to be more IVP than Charisma House. More N.T. Wright than Joyce Meyer.

the-book-of-mysteries-by-jonathan-cahnI have held a copy of The Book of Mysteries by Jonathan Cahn in my hands. It’s a packed volume written in a format where you can simply read it all at once — which I suspect most people will do — or read it in the alternative devotional format provided, doing a page per day. Each page’s header names the specific mystery uncovered or revealed. (The complete Table of Contents is pictured below.)

So why mention it here at all? Simply because if past trends hold, this will be one of the bestselling Christian books from now until Christmas. So for that reason, I think it’s important for some Christians to know what other Christians are reading. Here’s one take on it:

“At the end of each mystery, The Teacher gives the disciple a mission about how to apply it to your life and it can actually transform your life,” said Cahn, describing the story. “I don’t say things lightly like this. I believe this truly can transform lives if you go on this journey. And there other thing is there are mysteries in here that have never been revealed as far as we know, never before. It’s almost like hundreds of Harbingers, if you can imagine that.”

[Radio host George] Noory asked Cahn how he was able to discover these secrets. However, as Cahn pointed out, he didn’t come up with anything. The mysteries, the rabbi maintained, were created by God. And Cahn said once readers start on this journey, it never really ends.

(A sample of the writing from The Teacher appears at the bottom of this article.)

Next, we have the author describing the book on The Jim Bakker Show:

Amid the fanfare of the book’s release, it’s hard to find a good analysis from a website I or you would know. At CBD there were a number of five star reviews, as well as this one which goes on for many, many paragraphs:

Apparently, the time has come for the false Jewish prophets of Mystery Schools that are prevalent in some Messianic Jewish circles to come out of the closet and take a bow. Now that Christians have been trained to search for hidden messages in their Bibles, Jonathan Cahn has come out with his third book; “The Book of Mysteries.” Does the Bible contain “mysteries,” hidden codes and dates for Christians to distract themselves searching out? Absolutely not! God never intended for His word to be a book of mysteries to be unlocked! That is a thoroughly Kabbalistic / Gnostic teaching…

For the most part however, the gatekeeper and watchdog bloggers hold back until something becomes truly popular and then launch their attack where and when it can do the most damage. I’m not sure I fully trust the one above simply because of its sheer length and use of capital letters. Seriously, can’t we debate someone’s theological perspective without the use of caps lock? (I am amazed they published the scathing review on the retail site, which you’ll notice I didn’t link to.)

So what did the publisher say?

The Book of Mysteries opens up with a traveler and his encounter with a man known only as “the teacher.” The teacher takes him an on odyssey through desert mountains, valleys, gardens and plains, encounters with nomadic tent dwellers, caverns and ancient ruins, chambers of scrolls and vessels, and more. The reader is taken along to partake in the journey and in all the teachings and revelations. The traveler keeps a journal in which he writes down each of the mysteries given to him by the teacher in his one-year odyssey—365 different mysteries—one for each day of the year. Thus, on top of everything else, The Book of Mysteries is also a daily devotional unlike any other. And each mystery contains a special mission for each day of the year, a mission that takes the revelation and applies it to reality for a life-changing journey.

I wouldn’t devote myself to this book, but I might read a few more pages just to see what others find so captivating about this author. This will be a huge bestseller. It does seem to be part of an another world, a world quite removed from the centrist Evangelicalism with which I more fully identify.

book-of-mysteries-contents

book-of-mysteries-sample-page


The opening graphic was in my files from a thing I ran last year and was actually the impetus for mentioning Cahn’s latest here on the blog. In fairness, Hagee, Hitchcock and Biltz (not a law firm) were not actually mentioned today. By the way, for those of you who are still reading, don’t you think there’s a similarity between what’s in the above book excerpt and the type of writing you find in Jesus Calling or is it just me?

September 19, 2016

Rethinking Our Connection to our Jewish Friends

near-christianity-anthony-le-donneHe had me at the title.

Near Christianity: How Journeys Along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved my Faith in God by United Theological Seminary professor Anthony Le Donne is a collection of seven1 essays concerned with the manner in which dialog between Christians and Jews takes place, and the ways in which Christians perceive Jews individually and collectively. There is a flow to this, but I suppose you could read the sections out of sequence, as each begins with a new playing field across which the dialog often takes place. The book officially releases tomorrow from Zondervan.

I don’t want to get sidetracked with superficial details, but at $18.99 US for a 212-page2 paperback, I rather assumed that this title was intended for the academic reader. But I’m not sure that this is the case, hence the review here. Certainly anyone with an interest in religious history, the Holocaust, Israel or Judiasm in Western Europe and North America would find this engaging and understandable. I’m told that Le Donne is the author of seven titles, but other than one from Eerdmans — Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It — the others are textbooks or have limited distribution. 

The Holocaust figures prominently into a couple of the chapters, but perhaps it’s a microcosm of a larger church history:

If this were a book about Christian “best practices” or “what you need to know about Christian beliefs,” we might live without the contradiction.  But this is a book about borders and, especially, the borders shared by Jews and Christians.  So we must ask, How did Christian morality look in Nazi Europe?  What dogmatic shape did it take?  And if we find that it looked similar to the Christian moralities at work in the heresy hunting of early Christian theology, or Constantine’s vision, or the Crusades, or our major church splits, or manifest destiny, or the Salem witch trials, or Confederate America, or the Red Scare, or countless acts of harm to LGBTQ+ children, should we not stop to wonder if there is a deeper sickness at work?  pp102-103

If the book has a central thesis, it is that we are better served if we have Jewish people in our circle of friends, or with whom we can at least have the occasional conversation. The book also points out areas where as Christians we have, sometimes unintentionally, created racial stereotypes that do not foster ideal relationships. We probably never consider this perspective:

If you walk into one hundred different synagogues on one hundred different Saturdays, you might never hear a single mention of Christians or Christianity.  By contrast, most Christian worship services – and there are many, many more of these – regularly refer to Jews and Judaism. Of course we do. Almost all of the Christian Bible was composed by Jews. Most of the early Christian theology was either adapted from Judaism or composed in departure from Judaism.  We believe that our God established a special relationship with Israel. Our Messiah is Jewish. For better or worse, Christians simply cannot stop thinking about “the Jews.”

Would it surprise you to learn that many Jews find great discomfort in this?  Would it surprise you to hear that many Jews (I will not say most because I do not rightly know) would prefer to have Christians focus on something else? Can we blame our Jewish friends for wishing that we would talk about someone, something, anything else? Take a moment to consider this. How would we Christians feel if a neighboring group that outnumbered us by billions could not stop discussing us, in most cases without our presence or permission? Now imagine that this same group has a long history of trying to convert us, punctuated by determined efforts to murder us? Wouldn’t we want those billions of people to just leave us alone? Even if billions of these folks said kind things about us and if most of them meant well, wouldn’t we want them to focus elsewhere?   pp126-127

Le Donne is indebted to C. S. Lewis for more than just the title of the book. Quotations from a variety of Lewis works appear in many if not all chapters. I tend to skip book introductions until I am completely finished reading, but he expands on the connection to C.S.L. there even more clearly. 

As to the subtitle however, the book definitely bears the subjectivity of an autobiographical work, but I may have missed the cathartic moment. I would have chosen the less dramatic ‘Shaped My Faith’ over the more sensational ‘Saved My Faith.’3 Make no mistake though, the author’s proximity to Judaism from a very young age is evident in each and every chapter. His window on this ‘border’ is unique.

This was a great book, and I didn’t even mention the section about Jewish comedy. I’ve already started to re-read a few sections and I give this my full recommendation.


1 A popular Christian retail site lists eight chapters, each having different titles than the ones in the advance copy of the book I received. I’ll try to get access to a finished copy of the book and see which was more accurate.

2 Despite the greater number of chapters, the same website lists a lower (192) page-count.

3 In the introduction, the author suggests something closer to preserved and certainly not anything in a soteriological sense.

Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to read a pre-release copy of Near Christianity. Page numbers cited may differ from the finished work.

September 18, 2016

Christian Faith as More Than a Coping Mechanism

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

At this blog’s sister site, Christianity 201, we re-post some of the best Bible study and devotional material from a variety of sources. I try to write one original one each week, but this past week produced all but Wednesday’s reading from scratch. This is the third of three that we’re also posting here this weekend.

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I still remember as having a big impact on me was hearing John 10:10 preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.

 

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