Conservative Christianity’s Descent Into Cultural Irrelevancy

Any group or movement loses credibility when its most basic claims and assumptions prove false or unreliable. Psychics, for example, are ridiculed when they purport to discern the future for paying clients but cannot predict winning lottery numbers or positive stock market trends for themselves. Similarly, faith healers are derided when they exercise their “gift” only in glitzy auditoriums–where they collect large offerings from gullible followers–and never in pediatric cancer hospitals. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Grounded (Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution)

I tend to procrastinate; it’s in my nature. I’ve convinced myself that I do my best work under the pressure of a deadline. Since I’ve hardly ever completed an assignment apart from that kind of pressure, and since I have, on occasion, produced some pretty good work, I have perpetuated that perception in my own mind.

In my defense, I don’t think I am lazy. Mainly, especially when it comes to jobs I either enjoy or at least don’t mind doing, the problem is that I simply underestimate the time required to do the work, so I start later than I should and find myself rushing to finish on time. That problem increases exponentially, however, when the task facing me is one I really didn’t want to do in the first place. In that case, my procrastination tendency reaches crisis proportions. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Broken Words—The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

As you know, if you read this blog at all regularly, for my Lenten discipline this year, I selected fourteen titles from my “New Books” shelf and will devote a separate blog post—two per week across the seven weeks of Lent—to each of them. This post is number ten in the series.

In choosing these fourteen titles, I left twice that many on that same “New Books” shelf (yes, I buy books much faster than I read them), but I have derived such benefit from this exercise that I may continue the practice, at the rate of one book/post per week, even after Lent is over. I’m thinking of calling that weekly post “Library Friday.” I’ll of course let you know if I decide to undertake a schedule like that, and if I do, I’ll publish, in advance, a list of the titles I plan to read and write about over the next few months. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: The Great Spiritual Migration

I am not the same person I was twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago. Neither are you, although for some of us, the differences are more stark, more startling, especially when they involve, as they do in my case, changes in fundamental beliefs arising from a change in many of the presuppositions that underlie my worldview. As I’ve written so often that it almost sounds cliché (at least to me), if you change your underlying presuppositions about life and reality, your belief structure is bound to change, and you will draw significantly different conclusions about priorities, meaning, and how you should live your life. Continue reading

From A Distance

It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.

I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading

Incarnational Christianity

You say your church is doctrinally orthodox, and you recite the Nicene Creed every week? I don’t care.

You say that, in your church, people speak in tongues, make prophetic pronouncements, and experience other manifestations of supernatural power? I don’t care.

IchthusYou say your pastor is a brilliant orator, an exciting motivator, and a wonderful teacher? I don’t care.

I don’t care how many members are on your roll or how much your congregation has grown in the past year. I don’t care how many were “saved,” sanctified, filled with the Spirit, baptized, confirmed, commissioned, or ordained in your services last week. Continue reading

The Gospel is not Hostile to the Culture

Jesus of Nazareth stands at the center of the narrative that best explains, for me, the world, the universe, and the reason for human existence. That narrative, with Jesus at theday-12 center, gives me a sense of purpose for my life and fills me with hope for the future.

Jesus of Nazareth, whom the early church came to think of as Jesus the Messiah (or Christ, i.e. God’s anointed one) embodies the nature of God while, at the same time, he exemplifies the full potentiality of humanness. I come closest to realizing my own potential by aspiring to be like him. Continue reading

Let Hypocrisy Roll Down like a River and Political Expediency like a Never-Ending Stream

As I sit down to write this morning, the news is all about two destructive forces unleashing pain and calamity on our nation—one meteorological, one political. Hurricane Matthew, a monstrous storm that caused widespread damage and loss of life as it swept across the day-9Caribbean and posed a major threat to the southeastern U.S., seems to be losing steam and veering away from the coast with much of its ruinous potential unrealized. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Republican candidate for president.

As everybody knows by now, an audio recording has surfaced from 2005 in which the Republican candidate made vile and vulgar comments about women and spoke of his attitude and behavior toward them in terms that can only be described as predatory and demeaning. It is simply one more example, as though one were needed, to show that every time that man speaks, he hurts somebody. 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

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