Thinking Out Loud

July 7, 2020

The Illustrated Sermon on the Mount

Review: What if Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore – by Skye Jethani (Moody Publishers, 2020)

I first became aware of Skye Jethani through his old blog Skyebox and the Phil Vischer Podcast. I was immediately impressed by his demeanor which I can only describe as forthright. He spoke with authority and wasn’t afraid to speak to problems in what he called, ‘The Evangelical Industrial Complex.’ To learn that we shared the same denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, was just an added bonus.

Over the years I’ve reviewed a number of his books here. Skye isn’t a household name in the Chuck Swindoll sense, and his writing requires firing up dormant brain cells to appreciate his message. For example, in The Divine Commodity he uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh as a motif to discuss what it means to be a Christian in a consumer culture. In With, a book I called ‘the preposition proposition,’ he looks at what it means to try to live life over God, life under God, life from God and life for God when in fact it’s supposed to be — no spoilers here — another preposition entirely.

With Futureville he uses the New York World’s Fair of 1939 as a motif to discuss the effect of negative visions of the church. In Immeasurable he offered a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; a topic which is his long-suit when it comes to public speaking appearances. I’m pleased to own a copy of all four books and have done my best to review them here.

But it’s the book With that’s significant today, because in it, we saw a foreshadowing of what we get in his newest book, What if Jesus Was Serious? which is a series of restaurant-napkin sketches, or if you prefer doodles.

I’ve written several times in several places about the trend toward visual media. An increasing number of people are visual learners and several books have emerged over the last few years which infographics to communicate material that would have heretofore been relegated to the Biblical reference genre. Also, let’s face it, we’ve seen a drop in the attention span of many readers, and a picture can be worth anywhere between 900 and 1100 words, right?

This time, it’s The Sermon on the Mount that Skye Jethani has in his sights. It’s radical teaching from Jesus, so one can be forgiven for asking Jesus the question, ‘Are you being serious?’ Or maybe more simply, ‘Really?’

He breaks Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 into 72 bite-size pieces and each receives a two-page spread with an appropriate doodle. If you’ve ever sketched something on the back of some scrap paper to get a point across you’ll appreciate the approach. There’s also quotations from a diverse group of writers across the Christian spectrum.

Who is the audience for this?

A few weeks ago I recommended the book to a woman to give to a very mature 11-year old who is checking out Christianity. I don’t know that he is the intended audience. I also referred to it as a possible graduation gift. That gets a bit closer, but still not the target reader.

Rather, Skye brings with him to this project many of his views on church and Christian institutional leadership. If you know him at all, you see that reflected clearly. I can see giving this book to a pastor — who possibly has a whole shelf of Sermon on the Mount-related titles by now — as an alternative way of looking at Jesus’ most famous sermon. Equally, I can see giving it to a recent convert who wants to better understand the teachings of Jesus. The book is layered if you know what I mean.

In addition to binge-reading it, it can also be read devotionally. Skye writes a daily subscription devotional called With God Daily, which was no doubt the genesis of this project.

But in the spirit of visual learning, here’s a sample. This link takes you to nine of the project’s 72 chapters and may represent an earlier version and not the final text. You’ll appreciate both the simplicity of the presentation and the bite or edge that’s contained in his writing. You can also learn more at the publisher’s website.


Thanks to Martin at Parasource Canada (Moody’s Canadian distributor) for an opportunity to add Skye’s latest to my bookshelf. This one’s a keeper.

May 4, 2020

Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray Team Up to Look at Jesus

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Person by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray (Zondervan, 2020)

One of the challenges when multiple authors combine to cover a particular topic — especially when the individual chapters were not written collaboratively — is that that there is often nothing which unifies the book as a whole. When I started reading Seeing Jesus From the East, I resigned myself to reading it as a collection of nine essays.

Two things have convinced me that this project was so much more.

First, the unifying factor is the man not named on the cover, Nabeel Qureshi. It was his dream to write this book with Ravi Zacharias, but after his untimely death, that was not realized. With Nabeel’s wife’s blessing on Abdu Murray’s involvement, that original intention, in many respects, holds the book together in terms of having two men, each born into very different religious traditions — one being Muslim — examine the life of Christ.

The second unifying factor is that these men are indeed colleagues. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and has spoken at many RZIM events. The book is not disjointed in any respect; rather, they refer to each others’ chapters, something you don’t see in an essay collection. (For the record, Ravi wrote five chapters and Abdu wrote four.)

The Jesus story — not to mention the story arc of the Bible as a whole — is deeply rooted in the East. As Murray points out, it’s a story flavored more with “curry and cumin” than the “ketchup and mayo” version propagated by the Christian church in the West. Elsewhere he refers to the “olive skinned” Jesus.

And although we sometimes present the gospel as a story of guilt and innocence it unfolds in a place where the key markers are honor and shame.

The style of the two authors is notably compatible. I’ve never heard Ravi Zacharias speak that he doesn’t quote the writing of a piece of classic poetry or a famous hymn. But Abdu Murray also provides these similar points of connection for the reader. Both draw on personal anecdotes and interactions with the widest variety of people at in-person events. The flow between chapters washes away all my concerns that the book might appear as though various puzzle pieces were simply forced together.

Seeing Jesus from the East doesn’t cover every moment in the 3+ years Christ’s life. It’s possible your favorite parable or miracle isn’t included. What you do explore is pivotal scenes from the wedding at Cana to the wilderness temptations to the transfiguration. Although I have a lifelong familiarity with these narratives, I found it provoked fresh discussions with my wife after I had finished reading.

So who is the target reader for this book?

Statistically speaking, this will probably sell more copies to Christians, especially those with exposure to RZIM. But it really works both ways. Regardless of faith family of origin (be it Muslim, atheist, or anything else) if someone is already at the point of considering Christianity, this would be an excellent window into that process from two authors who can fully empathize.

This is not apologetics in the traditional forms (evidential, moral, logical, philosophical) but a more winsome apologetic based on the authors’ personal stories and the stories of the many whom they have encountered. If your sphere of influence includes those coming from an Eastern worldview, this one is a must.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a much-appreciated opportunity to read an advance copy which is now well-marked and underlined. The book released April 28th in North America and will release on June 14th in the UK.

 

 

April 24, 2020

Eric Metaxas Continues the “7” Series

Filed under: books, Christianity, Religion, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:29 pm

I have to give him credit. Eric Metaxas knows how to take biographical data and make it interesting and relevant to the greatest number of people. In a 2007 interview he said that his books, “don’t touch upon anything at all where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians differ. They express just the basics of the faith, from a basic, ecumenical Christian viewpoint. They only talk about the Christian faith that they have agreement on.” 1

Back in 2013 I reviewed 7 Men and the Secrets of their Greatness, and in 2015 I also covered 7 Women and the Secrets of their Greatness. (You may read those here and here.) Those two titles are also now available in a single volume. This time he’s back with the hardcover release of 7 More Men and the Secrets of their Greatness (Zondervan; this time co-authored with Anne Morse.)

As with the other two, it’s not necessary to read the chapters in the sequence they appear, but I started with the first, Martin Luther, but then found the chapter of George Whitefield (pronounced whit-field) even more engaging. The man was a bit of a superstar in “The Colonies” and on his home turf in England. While I was aware of him, I had never taken the time to learn about his life or ministry.

And that’s the problem. There are people, including those in vocational ministry, who never are confronted with some of these figures in church history. That George Whitefield was mentored by John and Charles Wesley made him all the more interesting to me, but I was saddened to learn that towards the end they differed over “predestination and election.” It’s the same old song today, isn’t it?

Whitefield’s passion and appreciation for preaching in the streets was shared by William Booth the Salvation Army’s founder, and so I skipped ahead to chapter four. While this was shorter than other accounts I’ve read of William and his wife Catherine, I never tire of them. There are certain “must read” books that are recommended to young Christians, but not to discount those, I would suggest that a biography of William Booth should be near the top of that list. This chapter would only whet your appetite for more about William and Catherine.

Then it was back to chapter three for George Washington Carver. I knew next to nothing about this man, a certifiable genius who literally rocked the agricultural world with discoveries that affect us to this day. Sadly, he grew up amid the segregation in the U.S. South, but that only made him more determined to better the lives of both his own people, and all of us. Appearing before Congress, he was asked where he learned all of his various food applications. He told them he got them from a book. When asked what book that was, he said, “The Bible.”

Next, I was off to chapter six, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I must confess that this was also an author I only knew superficially and reading this account of his life is almost exhausting as the man is moved from prison to prison for his crime of daring to critique the Soviet regime. I wasn’t sure about his faith. Was he a Christian or simply a deist? That became more clear toward the very end of the story, and his roots in the Orthodox church would certainly resonate with Metaxas. Later in life he turned his attention toward the United States with messages that were prophetic in nature.

Chapter five is about Alvin York, among the most decorated soldiers of World War I, and chapter seven is about Billy Graham, and consists mostly of material culled from Graham’s autobiography, Just as I Am.  Sections on Graham’s interactions with U.S. Presidents and world leaders was where I hoped Eric Metaxas would find his own voice, especially with his background working for Chuck Colson, but these are succinct biographies and Metaxas stuck closely to the script. Billy Graham is still very much with us, so there were fewer things here I had not already seen, but I didn’t remember reading that Graham himself had been encouraged to run for President. His wife, Ruth, told him that if he did she would divorce him!

Overall, I enjoyed this volume every bit as much as the two previous “7” books in this series. Maybe even more. But what was the secret of their greatness? I think the question is a bit of teaser, with readers left to figure that out for themselves for each of the men profiled.

This is a great gift to give to a man, not for the obvious reason in the title, but because the pacing of the writing and the concise nature of the shorter chapters lends itself to even those who consider themselves non-readers. It’s available now wherever you shop for great reading.


1Greek News: Eric Metaxas and the God Question

 

 

 

April 15, 2020

Jack Christian? (Not the Movie Producer)

Jack Rabbit (Wikipedia) — sourcing this image meant adding a note to the third definition below.

Until yesterday, I had never heard the term ‘Jack Mormon.’ It was a two-word reply to something in a long string of texting I was doing with a friend in Toronto, and I had to pause and check it out.

Wikipedia is always a good place to start:

The term Jack Mormon is a slang term originating in nineteenth-century America. It was originally used to describe a person who was not a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but who was friendly to church members and Mormonism, sympathized with them, and/or took an active interest in their belief system. Sometime in the early- to mid-twentieth century, however, the term began to refer to an individual deemed by adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to be an inactive or lapsed member of the LDS Church who, despite his personal religious viewpoint, maintained good relations with and positive feelings toward the church.

There then follows various theories as to the origin of the term.

But then there was this definition at Urban Dictionary:

A person who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but seldom or never practices their religion. Unlike ex-Mormons or anti-Mormons, Jack Mormons usually support the goals and beliefs of the church and maintain friendships with practicing Mormons, but for reasons of their own choose not to attend church services and activities. Jack Mormons may also indulge in activities discouraged by the church, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and premarital sex.

Jack Mormon equivalents in other religions are “Christmas and Easter Christians” and “Yom Kippur Jews”.

The last paragraph sounded familiar. Chreasters. CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only.) Or perhaps in the case of a Jewish friend, non-observant.

This item at HJ News is South Logan, Utah, linked to an article that we couldn’t trace, but it was definitely worth including; if you only click one, this is the best article on the subject:

…Depending on whose mouth the words come from, it’s a term that can be bitterly derogatory or delightfully descriptive, colorful or off-color. Use it in a Cache Valley conversation and it is almost certain to illicit some sort of facial expression from your listener be that a smirk, a frown or a grimace.

Even putting it in print on a newspaper page is a bit scary. No matter what is written about this group of people with the curious nickname, someone out there is likely to become offended…

…According to the Web site Mormonhaven.com., an unofficial LDS information exchange, the term refers to people who are Mormon in name but not in deed. “Just as a Jackrabbit looks like a rabbit but isn’t truly a hare [Ed. note: Wikipedia disagrees], ‘Jack Mormon’ refers to someone claiming to be Mormon but who does not follow the teachings of the church,” the Web site states…

In the Cache Valley vernacular, a “Jack Mormon” isn’t necessarily an outright hypocrite or a closet smoker and drinker, as the above definition implies. Rather, the term is commonly used in reference to all people who were born into the LDS faith but have drifted away from its practices while remaining on the church’s membership rolls. Some try to keep up appearances. Some don’t…

Coffee for people who can’t drink coffee. Except they do. And it’s coffee.

At this point in your reading of this, knowing that Mormons aren’t allowed to consume caffeine, it should come as no surprise to you that there’s even a Jack Mormon Coffee Company.

So what about the term which is the title of today’s piece, ‘Jack Christian?’

I don’t expect it to take off; Chreasters is probably the most entrenched right now, or in more formal company, nominal Christian.

Revelation 3:15-16 came to mind,

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (NLT)

As did Luke 6:46

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (NASB)

As did many other verses. (James 1:22, Matthew 7:21, Romans 12:11 )

The point is that from celebrities to politicians to church acquaintances to sometimes even a deep search of our own hearts; we can often identify that state of being on a membership roll somewhere, or keeping up the appearance of being a Christian (sometimes for the advantage it gives in the civic arena or in business) without really living it. Having a talk which doesn’t match our walk.

I guess that’s why I found this term so interesting. To know that in every religious tribe there are people who, despite their connection to a faith which should be all-engaging, choose to dwell on the sidelines. Or even in complete rebellion.

And just because it happens in other faiths, doesn’t make it right or normative. Christ’s desire is that we be all-in.


After this article was posted, I continued the theme later that same day at Christianity 201. Click here to read ‘Nominal Christian’ is an Oxymoron.


Related articles at Thinking Out Loud:

  • Our own visit to a local Latter Day Saints’ church included an encounter in the lobby with a woman who whispered to us that she was completely non-observant.
  • Yes, there really is a thing called Mormon underwear. Three years ago, in an April Fool’s piece, we suggested that an Evangelical equivalent was launching.
  • Late last year, buried at the bottom of a link list item, was the revelation that Mormon scripture translators were receiving assistance from Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Note: This article uses the term Mormon throughout. However in late Summer of 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints announced they were distancing themselves from and fully jettisoning internal use of that term. See this CNN article.

 

 

October 2, 2018

Parallel Trends in Other Faiths

Not realizing the direction my life would take, I regret to say that I only took one Religious Studies course at the University of Toronto. It was a rather broad survey course, probably used as an elective for Nursing students or Engineering students who needed a “soft” course to round out their program.

The professor said something that has continued to captivate me to this day. In the previous decade, a hot topic in Christianity had been The Charismatic Movement, a movement marked by instances whereby the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ were turning up in places not normally considered Pentecostal in theology; not the least of which was the gift of speaking in tongues, or what is known as glossolalia. The teacher said that this was not exclusive to Christianity but that glossolalia was turning up in other faith streams as well, and had longstanding expressions in religions not at all affiliated with Christianity.

That rocked my world. To my mind at the time, anyone not following Jesus was pagan, so how could pagans speak in tongues? Or did this confirm the suspicions of conservative cessationists (though I didn’t know that word then) that all of this was of Satan, not of God?

The idea of elements of movement having parallels in other faiths brings me to today’s topic…

…We had walked down Toronto’s Brunswick Avenue following a sign for a yard sale, that turned out to be rather misleading. She had things on sale. And they were in her front yard. But not enough to warrant the block we had walked. As we were about to take a shortcut through a small park, a small building, not much more than the size of one housing lot, caught my eye.

As it turned out it was the First Narayever Synagogue. I peered through the window, and someone inside saw me and opened the door. A few minutes later, we were standing in the lobby looking at the inside. It was Sukkot and downstairs there was a crowd of people sharing a meal together in celebration of the high holy day.

It was then that the person who had opened the door told us that it was “an egalitarian Orthodox synagogue.”  Wait, what? You can do that? It was confirmed that the women — at least the two we saw — were wearing a head covering, one of which was the familiar kippah (or what we sometimes call a yarmulke) normally worn by men.

Again, my world rocked. My brain is still trying to wrap itself on the idea of being egalitarian and being Orthodox at the same time.

Critics of egalitarianism in Protestant circles argue that this is simply the church capitulating to the broader culture. An echo of the feminist movement of decades gone by, perhaps. But it does mean that the same cultural pressures apply equally in other faiths.

The website states, “Our shul follows the traditional Hebrew liturgy, with changes made for the purposes of gender egalitarianism.” That would seem to imply inclusive language. And yet, in matters of theology and practice, still Orthodox. The page also states clearly that their services are what Evangelicals would term “seeker friendly,” and again with no hint of theological compromise; the charge often levied at Christian groups who structure their service to welcome guests.

…In another way what we saw reminded me of Next a church in downtown Kingston, Ontario which is characterized by its lack of parking. This is a neighborhood congregation, though again, being Orthodox, many would live within walking distance of the synagogue, since driving a car would constitute doing work on Shabbat.

As is taking pictures. We were told that wasn’t possible. The one above is from their Facebook page. The one below we took outside after leaving. I’ve always wanted to sit through an entire service in a synagogue, but assumed that if I did, it would be one of the major ones in Toronto’s large Jewish community.

Now I think I’d rather it were this one!

 

 

 

 

October 1, 2018

Review: God Friended Me

Back on August 27th, I told you about a new series beginning this fall on CBS-TV, and last night, after a 13-minute delay due to NFL Football — you’d think God would have that game under control — the series God Friended Me launched.  Miles Finer, the main character is the son of a minister turned atheist following the death of his mother, and is now an aspiring podcaster hoping to have his faith-focused program picked up by Sirius Radio.

The producers had said that “When we say ‘god,’ it’s the general — we’re not focusing on one religious figure or portrayal;” yet what was shown last night leaned more toward a Judeo-Christian God, probably due to the need to solidly introduce the main character, well-played by Brandon Michael Hall.  

So while the premise is multi-faith — “In the cast, Violett [Beane]’s character is Jewish, Miles (Hall) is an atheist, Suraj [Sharma] is Hindu.” — the execution of the pilot episode was more one-sided by necessity. That will may shift in future scripts.

If I have any takeaway from the show, it’s the extent to which individuals at large have their God-picture shaped by circumstances. One of the many comments on Twitter compared the show to Early Edition, and there are certainly a number of story vignettes involving characters in the right place at the right time, except that here the characters are connected, their stories are intertwined well beyond the realm of coincidence.

For some reason, I was reminded of Lost in the sense there is probably more backstory to the characters than we’ve seen — plus new ones which can be introduced at any time in future episodes through friend requests — and due to the story’s quest; in the case, the Holy Grail being finding out who is behind the “God” social media account.

All that to say that our view of God — even among those of us Evangelicals who contend that the object truth about God is clearly stated in the scriptures — is often subjective.

The pilot’s treatment of both belief and skepticism is respectful. Though the tension is certain there in the father-son dynamic, both viewpoints are given equal credibility.

And for all the Calvinist/Reformed people in the audience, Miles doesn’t confirm the friend request the first time around; God has to keep pursuing him. (But for all the Wesleyan/Arminian viewers, Miles can also unfriend God.)

The show’s downside on broadcast television is that CBS consistently stacks the commercial breaks on all its programs with more clutter promoting other shows than any other network. –“Blip-verts, anyone? — so there is also wisdom in waiting for the Season 1 DVD, though the show needs viewers now for that DVD to happen. 

One review concluded: “Should You Accept a Friend Request From God? I guess that depends on whether you’re still even active on Facebook. If God were smart, he’d pivot to Instagram and connect with the teens via dank memes and absurdist humor. He’s already on Twitter, but that site’s a good approximation of hell.”  You decide. 

The show airs Sunday nights on CBS at 8:00 PM, or, with the football season in full swing, more accurately “After 60 Minutes.”

September 4, 2018

Abdu Murray: Contending for Clarity in a World of Noise

Although the book, Saving Truth was released back May of this year, people in my part of the world are just now becoming aware of it. Abdu Murray is the North American Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM); it’s actually his third book; and like the late Nabeel Quereshi, Murray is a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World (Zondervan) begins with the announcement from the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary that “post-truth” was their word of the year in 2016. Since the book was published, we had the statement from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s attorney, who famously said in mid-August that “truth isn’t truth.” It’s into that chaos that this book steps.

I can’t really review this book without noting a key comparison to another we reviewed here almost exactly a year ago. Like The Problem of God by Mark Clark (also Zondervan) this book is arranged to deal with factors which can crop up in a faith-focused discussion with an unbeliever. While Clark sees his ten as problems to be addressed, Murray sees seven areas — and some of them are the same ones — as subjects where the core issues have been lost in confusion and clutter. While we may bristle at the expression “post-truth;” one can’t be reminded of the conditions a generation ago where the word was “post-modern.”

In terms of how the world responds to the premise of there being absolute truth, the situation today is quite similar and the old arguments have simply been recycled.

Specifically he looks at:

  1. The post-truth mindset
  2. The notion of freedom
  3. Human dignity
  4. Sexuality, gender and identity (the lengthiest chapter; 44 pages)
  5. Science, Scientism and faith
  6. Religious pluralism (all roads start at the same place; end differently)

The end result is what Murray terms a “culture of confusion” a world where the rug of truth has been pulled out from under everyone, including people on either side of any given issue.

As with the writing of Ravi Zacharias, without being an academic title, this book will appeal to the more informed reader; and like Zacharias, broadens its appeal with humor and by mixing quotations from key philosophers and scientists with lyrics from modern music. Many of the anecdotes in the book are based on recordings of the interactions that RZIM presenters have with skeptical audience members at colleges and universities. In other words, this is not “lite” reading, but it does contain practical responses to objections to Christianity that can be filed away for future use.

One inescapable takeaway is that everybody believes something, or to put it differently, everyone has faith in something. Atheism, as an example is very much a belief system, one that demands the faith of its adherents.

This is a book to read with pen in hand in order to go back to underlined sections for reference.


256 pages | US ISBN: 9780310562047 | International Edition: 9780310599838

For my Canadian readers, Abdu Murray will be featured throughout September on Canada’s national Christian television talk show, 100 Huntley Street.


A review copy of Saving Truth was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin Communications; providing Brand Strategy, Publicity and Integrated Marketing in Canada.


DOWNLOAD A FREE .pdf OF THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SAVING TRUTH AT THIS LINK
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June 18, 2018

If You Could Change Denomination or Religious Tradition, What Would it Be?

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:31 am

On the weekend, the Twitter anon-account Unvirtuous Abbey conducted an interesting if unscientific poll. The question was:

While respondents didn’t give their current status, the list of idealized destinations did contain some interesting results. I wondered what their readership is like (nearly 40,000 followers) and what the results would look like if the survey had been conducted by research organizations such as Barna, Pew, or LifeWay.

In the words of Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, “These are not the denominations you’re looking for.” [Source: LittletonCoin.com]

Of 110 responses, several mentioned faiths lying outside of Christianity, such as Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Wiccan and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. There was only one mention of Islam.

In what I would argue is a class by itself, 7 or 8 people said Jewish, one even specifying Reform Judaism.

Roman Catholic was mentioned several times, but it was often in comparative sentences, or referring to an inability to bring themselves to leaving. “Can I be a bad Catholic?” one asked in jest; while another was very realistic, “I would have enjoyed growing up Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic because liturgy, but I’d likely have converted away by now.” In an indictment against other Christians, one person wrote that, “they seem to be the only one that takes Jesus’ teachings on serving the poor, the immigrant, the lonely, and the marginalized remotely seriously.”

But few actual votes, which was strange given one of the clear winners: Anglican/Episcopal. On the “why” part of the question, one wrote, “All of the pomp, none of the guilt.”

Another clearly-leading contender: Quaker. (One person adding, “I like their oats.”)

The Eastern Orthodox was mentioned a few times, though some of those were from people who had already tried it. Mennonite, Amish, Anabaptist, Wesleyan, United Church of Christ and The Salvation Army each received at least a single mention.

Of the more mainstream Christian denominations, Presbyterian received the most votes — One reason, “because I’ve got waaaay more debts than trespasses.” — as well as Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA).

If you have a Twitter account you can still comment (click on the image above) but really the thing needs a much larger sample size to count for anything.

Is the grass greener somewhere else? Are people feeling a yearning of discontent in relation to where they are? My own comment — skirting the question — was that I didn’t see people lining up to become Assemblies of God or Baptist. Perhaps that’s the nature of the readership that Unvirtuous Abbey receives, or perhaps it means something more significant. What do you think?

How would you — if you’re not on Twitter — answer their question?

 

 

January 14, 2018

China: Freedom of Religion in Theory, Not in Practice

From The Independent (UK):

Chinese authorities blow up Christian megachurch with dynamite

Chinese authorities have demolished a well-known Christian megachurch, inflaming long-standing tensions between religious groups and the Communist Party.

Witnesses and overseas activists said the paramilitary People’s Armed Police used dynamite and excavators to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church, which has a congregation of more than 50,000, in the city of Linfen in Shaanxi province.

ChinaAid, a US-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building following, constructed with nearly $2.6m (£1.9m) in contributions from local worshippers in one of China’s poorest regions.

The church had faced “repeated persecution” by the Chinese government, said ChinaAid. Hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the building and seized Bibles in an earlier crackdown in 2009 that ended with the arrest of church leaders.

Those church leaders were given prison sentences of up to seven years for charges of illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order, according to state media.

There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China, many of whom worship in independent congregations like the Golden Lampstand… But the surging popularity of non-state-approved churches has raised the ire of authorities, wary of any threats to the officially atheist Communist Party’s rigid political and social control.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed under China’s constitution, so local authorities are often seen as using technicalities to attack unregistered churches. Charges of land or building violations and disturbing the peace are among the most common…

“A Christian offered his farmland to a local Christian association and they secretly built a church using the cover of building a warehouse,” a government department official was quoted as saying. Religious groups must register with local religious affairs authorities under Chinese law, the report said, adding the church was illegally constructed nearly a decade ago in violation of building codes…

Read the full story at The Independent

In this image taken from video shot Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, by China Aid and provided to the Associated Press, people watch the demolition of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen in northern China’s Shanxi province. Witnesses and overseas activists say paramilitary troops known as the People’s Armed Police used excavators and dynamite on Tuesday to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church, a Christian mega-church that clashed with the government.

This was the second of two recent demolitions. The Express (UK) reports,

China demolishes second church as fears of crackdown against Christianity grow

…A Catholic church in the neighbouring province of Shaanxi was also reportedly demolished last month, 20 years after it originally opened.

China guarantees freedom of religion but authorities heavily regulate many aspects of religious practice…

…According to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian human rights organisations, congregation members were beaten by 400 officials during an incident in September 2009 which resulted in church leaders receiving lengthy prison sentences on charges such as assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic and illegally occupying agricultural land.

Bob Fu, founder of China Aid, said: “I think this might be a new pattern against any independent house churches with an existing building or intention to build one.

“It also could be a prelude to enforcing the new regulation on religious affairs that will take effect in February.”

Chinese authorities have taken a harder line against practicing Christianity since 2013.

Officials launched a sweeping crackdown on churches in Zhejiang province that accelerated in 2015, and more than 1,200 crosses have been removed, according to activists…

…A pastor at a nearby church, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals said there were “more police than I could count” preventing a crowd on onlookers and worshipers from approaching the site.

He said: “My heart was sad to see this demolition and now I worry about more churches being demolished, even my own.

“This church was built in 2008, there’s no reason for them to destroy it now.”


Upper Image: Independent (appears elsewhere credited to Andy Wong/Associated Press)
Lower Image: Religion News Service (China Aid via Associated Press)

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

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