The Consequence of Meeting God Again for the First Time

Look, if you want to point out how far I fall short of the qualities and traits I admire and write about, you’ll need to take a number. It’s a very long line, and I myself am at the head of it. If you would prefer that I not constantly draw unfavorable comparisons between the beliefs and convictions I used to hold and those I have come to embrace in recent years, again that’s a big club, and I’m actually a charter member.

It is possible, if you follow me on Facebook, that your finger has frequently been poised to press the “unfriend” button beside my name. So far, however, you have demurred because either you believe I will eventually self-destruct, or you still cherish some flickering hope that I will come to my senses and recant my ill-advised excursion to the dark side. Since neither is likely, our continued association may be short-lived. And again, that is an ever-expanding fraternity. Continue reading

Disillusioned Yet Optimistic

I am sick of American Christianity. Not all of it, perhaps, but a great deal of it. I know that is an intemperate remark, but when it comes to the character of American Christianity in this election year, the last thing I am is temperate. I am sick to death of a religious system that is not worthy of the name it bears.

The most important stone in the foundation of Christian faith is the bedrock belief that the infinite and omnipotent God has come to us in Jesus Christ in order to make it possible for us humans to be reconciled to God. That is either the most magnificent reality which it has ever been the privilege of the human mind to contemplate or the biggest pile of rubbish ever foisted on a gullible public. Continue reading

Coming Late to the Party

Warning: There is more self-pity in this post than I feel comfortable with, but I hope you can see beyond that, if there is any truth to be found here.

I grew up in a conservative environment, both religious and political. When, late in my career as a preacher/teacher, I determined that many of my basic presuppositions about life and faith were flawed and inadequate in some fundamental ways, I made some changes in my thinking. In terms of the theological and sociopolitical spectra, I moved toward the left. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

Evan Jellico and the Left Road Bridge: A Parable

For as long as anyone could remember, the Jellico family had raised corn and wheat on their two hundred fertile acres of Midwest farmland. They marketed their grain through a large cooperative whose elevators were located in the town of Kingston, about twenty miles north of the Jellico farm.

For reasons no one fully understood, the Jellicos—who had adopted many of the most modern agricultural methods to ensure maximum productivity from their acreageMule wagon 2—insisted on hauling their grain to market in a large wagon pulled by a team of strong mules.

In the old days, there had been but one major road from the Jellico farm to the grain elevator in Kingston. Oh, there was a rutty old one-lane road that veered off to the right about twelve miles north of the farm, just south of the river. It did go to Kingston, but it was narrow and winding and generally more difficult. Some people used it, but the vast majority stayed on the main road. Continue reading

Yes, I Am a Flawed Messenger. Then Again, Who Isn’t?

For a person with such strong opinions about, well, almost everything, I have an incredibly thin skin when it comes to criticism. I could have set that sentence in quotation marks, changed the “I” to a “you,” and attributed it to one of the scores of people who have said that to me over the years. I didn’t do that, because I want to make it clear I know it is true.

I can deal with certain kinds of criticism. (I won’t like it, but I can deal with it.) For example, people sometimes point out what they believe are logical inconsistencies or non sequiturs in my writing. I can deal with that because, most of the time, I can explain my thinking to show that the perceived gap in consistency was more misperception than reality. Moreover, when the critique is sound, and my logic really has been faulty, I can show genuine, if sometimes grudging, appreciation.

I have greater difficulty with the more subjective criticism of my character or my motives. In the first place, it is almost impossible to defend oneself against a critique that points up a flaw in character or motivation, whether or not the critique is true and accurate. In the second place, the critique is far too often both true and accurate. Continue reading