The Future Starts Today

I am a Christian who also happens to be an American. As such, a few observations.day-7

I am not threatened by immigrants. Although my parents were born in the US, I am, like all of us except our Native American brothers and sisters, a descendant of immigrants. Some of us are descended from those forced to immigrate to America against their will. To them we owe a debt we have hardly begun to repay.

I do not fear persecution for my faith at the hands of a godless government. Conservative Christians seem to require a perception of victimhood in order to stay relevant in the current culture. We are not victims. Our religious freedom is not at risk. Any “persecution” we are suffering is self-inflicted, owing to our arrogance and intransigence. We need to repent. Continue reading

A Pastor for People Like Me

Contemporary Christianity in the U.S., especially of the megachurch variety, is a typically American phenomenon. As soon as it achieved some popular “success,” its leaders began to treat it as a product and to develop programs to enable the product to scale in the day-6marketplace. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know where this leads. Ultimately, it’s not the quality of the product that is most important, it is the efficiency of the business plan and the energy and savvy of its marketers.

Genuine faith is not a commodity, however, and the church is not a merchant selling a product. Genuine faith is based on a trusting relationship, with God and with other people. It is not efficiently scalable. It is messy, inconsistent, and notoriously inefficient. It’s more like a family than a business. Continue reading

Are We On The Road To Ruin?

It happens after every major election, particularly when conservatives lose. Declarations of doom and despair accompany internecine recriminations and predictions that, as bad as things are now, they will, in all likelihood, get a whole lot worse.day-5

A few days after the presidential election in 2012, I opened the local newspaper to the editorial section where I read this headline spread across the entire op-ed page in large type: “Obama’s Leading This Country Down the Road to Ruin.” That was the title for a column written by a prominent conservative pundit who is also a well-known evangelical Christian. In the second paragraph of his column that day he wrote, President Barack Obama’s reelection mirrors the self-indulgent, greedy and envious nation we are rapidly becoming.

I know a lot of my conservative friends still embrace the sentiment conveyed by that headline despite concrete evidence to the contrary. And a red-meat sentence like that one surely rallies the troops. There’s just one problem. It was not true then, and it is not true now. Continue reading

October Journal: Racism’s Last Gasp?

I am not a medical person, so I don’t know if this analogy works, but I’m going to try it anyway. Imagine a disease or condition which comes on slowly with symptday-4oms easy to overlook. Eventually, however, the symptoms are so gross and the patient’s condition so degraded as to require extreme and/or radical treatment.

The treatment appears successful, and symptoms abate, only to reappear, and sometimes maliciously so. Each recurrence, however, surrenders to treatment and the benefits of overall improving health. 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

Today Is The Day

I have known for some time that “this day” would come, but even when I woke up this morning, I still didn’t know that this would be that day. Then I read a note by one of my Facebook friends, and I knew what I had to do. And so, today is the day that I officially come out.

In the same way that I recently publicized my change of heart regarding the role of women in church leadership, I am today making public a similar change of heart and mind with regard to those who identify as LGBTQ. I now believe that LGBTQs who follow Jesus Christ as Lord should be welcomed into the fellowship of the church with full acceptance and without restriction upon their ministry and leadership in the church if they are qualified for ministry in all other ways. Further, in the same way that I encourage celibacy before marriage and faithfulness in marriage for heterosexuals, I offer the same counsel and encouragement to those of same-sex orientation. Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun

Dear Kathryn:

It has been five days since my last letter to you. In that time, you have sent three notes to me, and I wanted to let you know that I received them. Each one posed thoughtful questions with regard to my current views on important issues, and I thank you for sending them.

In response to my two letters in which I tried to answer the question “What exactly is the Gospel?” you asked me to say more about how I understand the term “salvation.” You wondered what I believe was accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross, and you asked what I now believe about hell as a place of conscious torment and punishment for those who die in their unbelief. Those questions were all in the first of your three recent notes. Continue reading

The Evidence of Right Belief (The Road to Easter, #9)

Dear Kathryn:

I wasn’t planning to write again until I heard back from you, but the wheels just kept turning after I pressed “send” on yesterday’s letter. Here, then, is a bit more of my thinking about the dynamics of belief, the characteristics of truth, and the marks of authentic faith.

I need to say at the outset that there is nothing scientific about my observations here. It is mainly just a gut response from a guy who has been around the track (or up and down the field, or choose your own metaphor) for a lot of years and has drawn some conclusions from that experience. Continue reading

Hard To Do Better Than WWJD (On The Road to Easter, #5)

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you for the careful thought you are putting into your answers when you respond to my questions. As I look back on our email exchange so far, it is easy to see how you are shaping your replies into a progression of thought that is building your case in a logical, systematic fashion. I appreciate that very much.

Here is a summary of what I’ve heard you say up to now. Correct me if I have misconstrued your meaning or if I misunderstand your intent. 1. Change is sometimes necessary but seldom easy. 2. A change in thought or behavior is predicated upon a change in underlying presuppositions. 3. There is a subjective dimension to change, so that we never change until we feel the need to change—emotionally or intuitively. 4. In one important aspect of faith, you have not changed. You still believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, his unique relation to God, the truth and power of his teaching and his life, and his death on the cross. Continue reading