Thinking Out Loud

February 24, 2018

Blogging Daily for Ten Years: Does it Make Any Difference?

Yesterday we began our 10th birthday celebration. Did those ten years worth of articles make a difference? I don’t know if the answer to our title question yesterday is a ‘Yes!’ for anyone reading this, but it’s definitely a big ‘Yes!’ for me. Maybe this media is something that God has used to keep me focused; to keep my attention.

As to the broader readership, I think we have raised some issues here that are important, and seeing what other writers are now accomplishing — Julie at Spiritual Sounding Board, Warren Throckmorton at Patheos, Dee and Deb at Warburg Watch, Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher — in raising awareness of situations, people and issues; all this serves as a reminder that alternative media has become vital in the Christian community and that it is often on the blogs and Twitter feeds that major stories break first.

On this date in 2013, I posted an anniversary piece called Five Years of Thinking Out Loud. It’s actually the only one we didn’t really quote from yesterday, and I want to use it as springboard for today’s thoughts. These are mostly the same points, but a completely fresh rewrite.

In no particular order…

First, God has a very large, very diverse family here. That’s good and bad. On the plus side, the body of Christ has many parts. But as many writers noticed this week with the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, Evangelicalism has become greatly fragmented of late. The capital ‘C’ Church rarely speaks as a unified voice anymore.

Second, in any part of the Christian community, it only takes one person to go rogue — to go ‘off road’ if you prefer — to attract much attention and inure the reputation of that community. Most individuals quietly living out their faith don’t make headlines. Rather it’s people working out what it means to be kingdom people “you in your small corner, and I in mine.”

Third, we are constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the religious culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the religious culture wants to take our simple faith and add to it layers and layers of complexity. History bears out what happens in either case.

Fourth, to our shame, the Christian Church in North American, Australasia, and Western Europe is totally corrupted by materialism and success. This of course is a reflection of the imbalance of wealth and resources in the world at large. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world. There are people who say that fixing this imbalance is within our reach and are working toward this. Because of this improper success mindset, basically all our church metrics are misplaced priorities.

Fifth, when I see people who I find disgusting or reprehensible, I always go back to the idea that even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common, because we are created in God’s image. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we. It’s hard, but try to find the good.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text or write material which is rooted in text. We have a crisis here and the technology is hurting not helping the situation. Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, while only a few will be vocational theologians or Biblical scholars, we all need to be doing much better at being able to articulate our faith. How many of us ever get to discuss our beliefs with someone from another religion? Or describe the essence of Christianity to someone who grew up without any spiritual frame of reference? On a personal level, we should be forming a “God-picture” which comes from getting to know the nature and ways of God and how that reflects in particular doctrines; and how those doctrines fit together to form a systematic theology.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. We are weighted down by having too much stuff. But people who can fit everything that matters to them in a single suitcase are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but often hear of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go; for a year, or for an indefinite time commitment.

Ninth, we need to stop the polarization of groups and the knee-jerk reaction which characterizes every issue as black and white. In truth, the issues are complicated, and there are people in every group who don’t fit the stereotypes.

Tenth, to borrow a term from missiology, we need to constantly be looking for creative ways to contextualize the Christian message and present an analogy of redemption. I really enjoy playing with the Short Stories series we run here, because I get to attempt to say something vital or something familiar in a fresh way. There’s a sense in which we all should aim to do something similar.

Eleventh, we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to have opinions. It’s alright to express what we think and why we think it to others and not to find ourselves in a situation of spiritual intimidation. I look back at earlier days in my Christian life and realize I was going out of my way to fit in. I should have instead spoken up. Of course, if you do this, and you’re proven wrong, you need to be willing to recant a previously held position and humbly reform that opinion.

Lastly, we need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. To paraphrase Phil. 4.8, we need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. We need a window into the wider world of Christianity and be inspired by people who are bringing energy, creativity and paradigm-shattering vision to fulfilling the love commandment and the go commission. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

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January 3, 2014

My One Podcast Addiction

I talk a lot about the Phil Vischer podcast, but with its switch from audio to video about three months ago, I should have clued in that I could embed one of the episodes here, especially given that many of you drop by to see what’s going here but don’t always click through. I got the idea from Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum — bet nobody else has that blog name — who did the same today.  He wrote:

…The following episode has so many interesting talking points on Evangelicalism, evil, tolerance, witchcraft, control, the world becoming post-Christian, and the end of storytelling, I didn’t even know where to start to unpack it. Once you get past the Pope sneaking out of the Vatican to give alms to the poor (ends around 7:17), the conversation shifts to the depiction of supernaturalism in films and what constitutes good and evil in a post-Christian world.

At around 22:38, Phil, Drew Dyck, and Skye Jethani begin discussing what happens when diversity attacks shared values and how this destroys the ability to tell a story. Phil quotes screenwriting guru Robert McKee noting that when a society has no shared common values you can’t tell a story because no one will agree with the framing mechanisms of rightness and wrongness needed to make a statement about a value depicted through story. Earlier, the trio decided that this has left us with only one agreed-upon value: Don’t oppress (or be mean to) other people. And in the end, this is all that is left of evil.

It’s a powerful discussion with startling ramifications for Christianity, both as Christians seek to share The Story of All Stories and as we confront genuine Evil as the Bible defines it.

The discussion then verges into talking about external evil and how stories are loath to discuss a greater evil that cannot be explained as just bad thoughts we might have for people who are different from us. We also see into how this comes down to control and why religious ideas with controlling godlike powers or controlling God Himself are anathema to the Christian worldview. And then Jethani mentions how some Christians are essentially practicing witchcraft…

…continue reading here…

Here’s the episode Dan featured, which is the one from a few weeks ago:

February 24, 2013

5 Years of Blogging: What Really Matters

Blog AnniversarySo what have we learned so far? I can’t speak for “we” but I can speak for “me.”

First of all, God has a very large, very diverse family here. Even the most prominent are but a very tiny piece of much larger puzzle. And we can be puzzling at times. We have to learn to see those who believe differently on peripheral issues not in terms of the differences, but in the light of our agreement on the core principles of our faith.

Second — and this is related — only a few of us ever attract attention. Some make the headlines for good reasons, and some for activities not so God-honoring. But the great majority of those of you (us) who follow Christ do so “in your small corner, and I in mine.” We quietly work out what it means to be kingdom people. We try not to be star-struck.

Third, our best hope of kingdom living, our best desire to do what The Book says we should do is constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the church culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the church culture wants to take our simple faith and make it into religious observance.

Fourth, the western church is totally corrupted by materialism and success. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world.

Fifth, for the most part, even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. Far too much — including what you’re reading right now — is being written that doesn’t start with scripture or isn’t rooted in Bible text. (The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text.) Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. This is an area where I have failed. We have too much stuff. But people who have their suitcase packed are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but I’ve heard of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go.

Ninth, we need to stop always characterizing behavior in terms of right and wrong, and recognize that in many cases, missing the mark means missing God’s best. While sin is sin with God — He has no gradients — we need to think in terms of: good, better, best. Then we should work to promote and practice the best but not alienate those currently settling for the good (or less).

Tenth, we need to do what Henry Blackaby calls ‘coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is at work.’ We need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. We need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

~Paul Wilkinson

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