Wednesday, December 07, 2016

for your consideration: ZOE

As the weather gets cold around the holidays, people's hearts seem to get warmer, and a lot of folks are looking for ways to reach out and bless someone in need this time of year - giving to the Salvation Army outside the grocery store, providing gifts for kids through Angel Trees or Toys for Tots, checking out a Heifer International catalog for a way to touch lives around the globe. I love that Christmas still has the power to inspire us like that.

Well, while people are thinking about helping those less fortunate than themselves this year, I wanted to draw your attention to a ministry that does just that, and does it more effectively and powerfully than any other group like it that I know of. Allow me to introduce you to ZOE.


ZOE began as a mission of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. I first heard about their work when I took at class at Duke with Dr. Laceye Warner, whose husband, Gaston, is the CEO of ZOE. He gave a lecture on international relief work, and it was obvious then that what they were doing was something special.

They describe their task as "helping children help themselves," and their strategy for helping is communal, long-term, and self-sustaining.
ZOE's model for ministry developed after a Rwandan woman named Epiphanie Mujawimana told them about the effects of other well-meaning ministries and aid organizations: "my people became so good at receiving that they forgot how to do anything. When a grant was completed, or focus shifted to a new area, my people were left worse off than before because they had learned to be dependent." She inspired ZOE to pursue a new goal: relief work where people learned to be independent.

What developed was a three-year empowerment plan that take children from poverty to self-sufficiency. ZOE's website explains:
The program brought orphans and vulnerable children together in mutually supportive working groups. Social workers worked with these children, teaching them skills and providing them with the resources they needed to begin to care for themselves... for real change to occur, all of the challenges holding these children in poverty must be addressed simultaneously: food security, disease prevention, housing, income generation, vocational training, child rights, community reintegration, connection to God, and education. When these were all addressed at the same time, the results were both quick and life-changing.
Unlike some other programs, where you support a child regularly until they age out, this program spends three years getting the kids started, teaching and equipping them to support themselves and each other, so that when the three years are up, they will never need charity again. Today, over 33,000 children around the world are beginning new lives with ZOE's help.

See the results for yourself! Below you can watch the story of a girl named Cecelia who received vocational training and start-up supplies through ZOE. I hope that her story, and the story of the little boy born in poverty in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago who would save the world, will inspire you to support this worthy ministry.

 
To find out more or give online, visit zoehelps.org. You can also give online through United Methodist Global Ministries.

Monday, November 07, 2016

What Would Jesus Share?


One of my professors from seminary, Sam Wells, compares living faithfully to doing improv. That's because, he says, "we face new circumstances in each generation that the Bible doesn't give us a script for." There's no eleventh commandment about how to vote, online pornography, carbon footprints, or even gambling. The direct commands in scripture just don't always speak directly to our day-to-day struggles following Jesus in the 21st century. So we have to take what we do know, take how our faith has shaped us, and then improvise when the world presents us with new challenges.

Well, I believe one of those new challenges for Christians in America has become painfully clear over the course of this election season.
Brian Stelter wrote a short piece for CNNMoney last week that everyone should read, called "The plague of fake news is getting worse -- here's how to protect yourself."

Fake news?

Stelter explains:
The rise of social media has had many upsides, but one downside has been the spread of misinformation. Fake news has become a plague on the Web, especially on social networks like Facebook.
Have you ever seen someone share a link with a title like "Trump's Worst Nightmare Just Came True..." or "Hillary's Campaign Will Be Over When This Video Goes VIRAL"? That kind of stuff is circulated on social media constantly (it's on my Facebook news feed, and I doubt I'm special). It's called "clickbait." These are sensational headlines designed to draw in web traffic to increase a site's advertising revenue.
But often these articles go beyond outrageous, exaggerated titles. Have you seen the article about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for President? Or how about the one about Pope Francis endorsing Hillary Clinton for President? I've seen both. Both of them are totally falsethe pope doesn't endorse political candidatesbut both of them were nevertheless shared widely on social media as if they were true.

Fake news.

And that wasn't a fluke. Just last week Sean Hannity, who works for an actual news station, had to apologize after he read a fake news article on his live radio show (I understand he got it off of Twitter). That's how wide-spread this problem is.

Stelter again:
But the B.S. stories hurt the people who read and share them over and over again. Many of these fakes reinforce the views of conservative or liberal voters and insulate them from the truth. The stories prey on people who want to believe the worst about the opposition. [emphasis added]
Sure, lying is bad, but this is the heart of the problem: these fake stories only tell us what our "itching ears" want to hear, not the truth. As social media users imbibe more and more of this as if it were true, it reinforces their prejudices and shapes their opinions and even their worldview, and it can then have real-world ramifications that materially affect other people: friends have an argument; someone buys another gun; a business is boycotted; a vote is cast. All influenced by lies.

The solution is pretty simple: verify that a story is true before you pass it along. Stelter's advice is to "triple check before you share." All it takes is a quick Google search to substantiate a story (or not). If you can find it being reported by a legitimate news outlet (NBC, FOX, CNN, The New York Times, etc.), then it's safe to share.
Yet, we don't do that, either because we aren't aware of the lies, or we're too lazyor we just don't care.

But Christians have to care.

Because we're commanded not to bear false witness (Ex 20:16).

Because we're called to put away falsehood and speak the truth to our neighbors (Eph 4:25).

Because we worship a man who said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6).

And because the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). When Christians participate in all of this, when we don't take thirty seconds to check a source or verify a quotation, we're doing the devil's work for him. We not only deceive people, but, as Stelter pointed out, we appeal to a person's urge to believe the worst about others, to denigrate and vilify and pour scorn on her opponents. The devil's been called "the deceiver of the whole world" (Rev 12:9), and, with job title like that, mass communication and social media must come in pretty handy. Also, it probably helps when God's people volunteer to spread falsehoods for you, which is what happens every time we share a fake news article, post a meme with a fabricated quotation, or retweet made-up statistics.

I've seen pastors perpetuate political lies on Facebook and leave them up even after they're proven false. There's no way around it: that's a snare of the devil. And, again, these lies can have real effects on real people in the real world.

I can't speak to the situations in other nations, but for Christians in America the internet is the new frontier of discipleship. We have to learn how to follow Jesus onlinein the obvious ways, like staying away from pornography, and in the less obvious ways, like fighting the temptations to troll, to shoot off emails in the heat of the moment, to indulge in impulsive spending, or to thoughtlessly spread lies in news's clothing.
This is when believers need to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16), because these traps are as abundant as they are novel. Thankfully, the example of Jesus and the teachings of scripture are more than rich enough to equip us to face these new challenges. If we recognize the dangers and seek wisdom from above, looking to Jesus and letting scripture correct and train our speech and conduct, the Spirit can guide us through the ethical minefield.

But right now, we've got work to do. Because, from what I'm seeing, wise and innocent we are not.

-
If you want to learn more about the epidemic of false and misleading "news" on social media, you can read this article from BuzzFeed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

GM2016: Saved from sin

George MacDonald
As many of you know, I've been working through a daily devotional this year called Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God's Love, with readings taken from the sermons of a Scottish preacher and author named George MacDonald (1824-1905). My Dad, who is a life-long MacDonald reader, gave me the book last Christmas, and he recently admitted that the main reason he got this for my brother and me was the section we're in now, taken from a classic sermon called "Justice." I'm sure Dad will be thrilled to know I've been really enjoying these readings.

I wanted to share one section that particularly reverberated with me:
The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure. To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it isthat is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is... Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins. (October 23rd)
In other words: Jesus didn't come to save us from Hell. He came to save us from sin.

That last line, about why he was called "Jesus," is a reference to Matthew 1, when an angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary "will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). As you may know, Hebrew names in scripture often have a special meaning, and the Hebrew form of Jesus means 'the Lord saves'. Saves what? Well, "he will save his people from their sins."

Yet, in George MacDonald's day and still today, Christians often miss this point. We're taught about a salvation that's all about the future, about what happens after death, instead of a salvation that we can experience here and now.We're told that Jesus has saved us from eternal torment, and now we need to go be good Christians, when really the good news is that Jesus has set us free, saved us from sin, so that now we can live new lives in him, lives that lead to eternal life. Because of Jesus, we can live the lives that God made us for and be who God created us to be, free from sin's sway. When MacDonald hears people preaching a message of salvation from Hell, salvation from punishment, he points to that angel of the Lord: No, no, no! Remember - Jesus came to save us from sin itself!

Think about Matthew 7, when Jesus says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (7:13-14). He's warning us about the wide, easy road, because it leads to destruction, and he's offering us a different path. The threat of destruction is there and it's real, and Jesus' challenge to us is to get on the right path. "Enter through this gate!" he says. He's trying to save us from that sinful road we would happily walk all the way to an unhappy fate. Salvation isn't just about arriving at the right destination. It's about walking the right path.

Or consider Zacchaeus. He was rich (Luke 19:2), which, Jesus had just said, makes it difficult for someone to enter God's kingdom (18:24-26). After all, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (12:34). Yet Zacchaeus is inspired to let go of his wealth in the name of generosity and justice. And what is Jesus' response? "Today salvation has come to this house" (19:9). Zacchaeus decided to leave behind the wide, easy road and head through the narrow gate, and right then and there salvation came. He was set free from that tendency to sin and delivered into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. He learned to see wealth the way God saw it. Salvation had come.

All of this makes me think of that great line from Romans chapter 6: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). Surely this means that Jesus came to save us from eternal death by offering us eternal life instead! That's sure what it sounds like.

But if you read the entire chapter, you might notice a refrain: "set free from sin" (6:7), "set free from sin" (6:18), "set free from sin" (6:22). We were all slaves of sin, but Jesus died so that those who are in Christ might no longer be enslaved (6:6). So when we get to verse 23, the point is clear: Sin was working us like a slave-driver, and all we would get in return for our sweat and toil was death; but now we've changed masters, and God offers us the free gift of life. Jesus saved us from sin that leads to death so that we can be "slaves" of God, who gives life.

Folks, if Jesus has saved you, that means now. That means today. Jesus has made it possible for us to overcome the "smallest leaning or tendency to sin," if we embrace the salvation and the new life he offers. Jesus saves us from our "old self," so that we can put on "the new self," created according to God's image: righteous, just, and holy (Eph 4:22-24). The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't just about where you'll spend eternity. It's about who you can be now, in this life, in Christ. Because he has saved you from sin. He has made you new (2 Cor 5:17).

What could we accomplish for God's Kingdom today if we lived like people set free from sin? If the temptation to sin repelled us, and we saw thingssaw our neighbors, saw this worldas God sees them? What kind of light could we shine in the world if we, like Zacchaeus, let go of our money (or whatever it is) and took hold of Jesus instead?

"The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness." (Romans 6:10-13)

Friday, October 07, 2016

Philip Yancey, Donald Trump, and the LDS difference

UPDATE: This post was written before a 2005 video surfaced wherein Donald Trump boasts that his celebrity status lets him get away with sexually assaulting women. The first Republicans to rescind their endorsements of Trump (and even call for him to drop out of the race) following that revelation were LDS politicians from Utah.
-

The morning after the first 2016 presidential debate, Philip Yancey was trending on Facebook.

This is unusual.

Philip Yancey is an evangelical author and a former editor of Christianity Today. I first encountered his work when I was going through a spiritual wilderness in high school, and someone gave me his book Disappointment with God. He's been communicating the gospel of grace for decades.

And he was trending on Facebook.

Why? It wasn't, as I immediately feared, because he had died. No, it was because he had spoken up about the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

You see, Yancey recently did an interview with Evangelical Focus, where he was asked about how American evangelicals have been approaching the election this year. He responded that he was "staggered" to see evangelicals standing behind "a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs." He went on:
I can understand why maybe you choose these policies that you support, but to choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.

You can see his full response here:


Yancey's not alone. Max Lucado, Albert Mohler (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention), Russell Moore (head of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Lecrae, and others have repudiated Trump over the course of the campaign season. Just this week, a survey from Christianity Today reported that only 38% of evangelical pastors say they are voting for Trump, while 44% remain undecided.

But why?

Well, Yancey mentioned the "several wives and several affairs," which, in years past, would have been enough for a candidate to lose the evangelical vote. (Remember the end of Herman Cain's campaign in 2012?) Yancey also mentioned the casinos, though he failed to point out that Donald Trump introduced strip clubs into Atlantic City casinos in 2013.

Then, of course, there's Trump's praise of Planned Parenthood, which should bother strict pro-life evangelicals, his demeaning remarks toward women (just ask Megyn Kelly), that time he mocked a disabled reporter, his perpetuating made-up, racist statistics about black Americans, his remarks about not asking for forgiveness, and that Playboy softcore porn video he had a cameo in back in 1999 (not his only work with Playboy). Among other things.

I was struck, during the first debate, by Trump's reaction when accused of stiffing countless workers whom he had employed over the decades. He didn't deny it and was unapologetic, instead justifying his acts by simply claiming he wasn't satisfied with their work. This brings to mind James's warning to the rich: "The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (5:4).

Even if evangelicals decide that they no longer care about a candidate's faith and character, Trump's general tone and attitude raise other concerns. When Jon Bloom, from Desiring God, looked to scripture to try and describe a "foolish leader," his discoveries almost felt tailor-made for Mr. Trump:
  • The foolish look with haughty eyes (Proverbs 6:17).
  • The foolish engage in slander (Proverbs 10:18).
  • The foolish joke about their wrongdoing (Proverbs 10:23).
  • The foolish make great boasts (Psalm 12:3).
  • The foolish are stubbornly right in their own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
  • The foolish are quickly annoyed by insults (Proverbs 12:16).
  • The foolish lash out in rash words like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18).

  • That's not even half of his list, and, if you read on, it only sounds more familiar. This should be pretty unsettling to any Bible-believing voter.

    These are the sorts of things that lead many evangelical leaders to renounce the Republican candidate.

    And yet Trump's support among evangelicals is just as strong as Mitt Romney's was four years ago.

    Perhaps evangelical voters are indeed uncomfortable with Donald Trump, but they see Hillary Clinton as a greater threat. That seems to be why evangelical-favorite Ted Cruz recently took the shocking step of endorsing Trumphe did it to combat Hillary. It's a very pragmatic move. Many people feel that the most effective way to fight against abortion, to fight for religious liberty, is to fight the Democratic nominee. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently penned an endorsement of Trump for Christianity Today to that effect, and Think Christian's 'Christian argument' for supporting Trump by Daniel Howell, a professor of biology at Liberty University, is little more than an argument against Clinton.
    (Of course, some evangelicals would argue that supporting Clinton is precisely what Christians ought to do.)

    The 'well... Trump's better than Hillary' talk brings us to the ever-popular "lesser of two evils" thinking about this year's election. The logic here is quite simple: we've only got two options, and you have to choose one, so choose the one that will do less damage. (Russell Moore wrote a nice article back in the spring asking "Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?")

    Here's the problem with that logic: we don't have only two choices. Voting third party, writing-in a candidate, even abstaininggasp!are all options for evangelicals. "We only have two choices" is a lie. The fact that so many evangelicals are rallying nevertheless behind a man whose character is antithetical to their convictions and who, from a biblical perspective, lacks the wisdom to lead well reveals a stunning lack of imagination.

    This year evangelicals could learn from our Mormon neighbors.

    In Utah, that bastion of the Latter-Day Saints faith, Republicans always do well. They won the state in the last four presidential election with 66.8% in 2000, 71.5% in 2004, 62.2% in 2008, and 72.6% in 2012. Yet, as of the end of August, Donald Trump was polling at a dismal 39% in Utah. It's not because the Beehive State is supporting Clinton. Her numbers are just under Barack Obama's in 2012 and John Kerry's in 2004. The difference is in the third-party support. Those same polls from August show Libertarian Gary Johnson enjoying 12% of the likely vote and Evan McMullin, an upstanding and likeable young Mormon candidate with conservative policy positions, garnering 9%.

    Many conservative Mormons in Utah are refusing to compromise their values to support Donald Trump and resisting the lie that there are only two choices. They're listening to the dictates of their faith and then acting differently than the rest of the world. You would think that is the obvious course of action for deeply-committed religious voters... and yet evangelicals are supporting Trump. If only we had the conviction that LDS believers are demonstrating. They're going to come through this election season with more credibility in the eyes of the watching world. I'm afraid just the opposite will be true for evangelical Christians.

    But doesn't supporting a third-party candidate ultimately support Hillary Clinton? Maybe, although Democrats frequently sound the same warning: 'voting third party is a vote for Trump!' Regardless of how third-party votes affect Clinton and Trump, one thing is certain. Christians are not called to win elections. We're called to be faithful. We're called to take up our crosses and follow Christ, and, the last time I checked, crosses didn't get you any political power in Jesus' world.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    God is actually quite Great: Frances Willard

    What good has religion ever done anybody?

    To a lot of people, that's a very good question.

    Maybe their experience with religion is limited to vicious jihadists on the news or so-called preachers who would call the victims of the June 12th massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando "50 vile, perverted predators." Or, maybe they grew up in a church that looked at the rest of the world with smug superiority, confidently opined on who's going to suffer for eternity in Hell, and mocked the hard-won discoveries of modern science. Then again, maybe they sincerely held a faith that let them down spectacularly when suffering and loss struck, and they're left wondering why they ever believed to begin with. Everyone has a story.

    And I can't help thinking that stories are exactly what folks asking that question need to hear. What good has religion ever done? I say, look at Maria Skobtsova or Annalena Tonelli; look at Father Damien of Molokai or the seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood.

    Or look at Frances Willard.

    Today is the 177th anniversary of the birth of Frances Willard (1839-1898), a Methodist educator, suffragist, and social reformer, and to commemorate her birthday, I want to share a nice video from the United Methodist Church about her life and work.


    The video opens discussing her work as a prohibitionist (cue the eye-rolls) - but it quickly points out how she saw temperance work as a women's issue, and how the temperance movement soon moved on to embrace a number of social concerns of the day. Willard and her allies fought to transform society for the better, and they did it because of their Christian faith.

    Her story, like so many others, is the story of the good religion did somebody.

    Friday, September 09, 2016

    an evangelical goes to university


    Fall's here, football season's begun, and at colleges across the country students are starting to get into the rhythm of school. Some of them are settling back into familiar patterns, but some others are just getting started in this new and different environment. They're making new friends, figuring out the best times to hit the dining hall, and slogging through those intro class like college algebra and English composition.

    And biology.

    Biology, for some students, will be especially jarring, because they're going to be taught the basics of evolution. At a school like LSU (my alma mater), some freshmen will have never learned about evolution before at allmaybe, like me, they had a high school biology teacher who, on principle, refused to teach it. That won't happen in college. Other students will have only learned about evolution from an antagonistic source in their church, and they'll come to class convinced that they know better. They're in for a rude awakening. Meanwhile, there will be professors who remark that there's no reason for the topic to conflict with someone's faith (I heard that from one biology professor), and then there will be professors who make a point to ridicule religious ideas about, say, the age of the planet (and that was my geology professor).

    For college freshmen coming out of more conservative evangelical churches, this semester could make or break their faith.
    If what they've been told in church, if what they've read in the Bible, if it turns out some of that isn't true... well, that could be the Jenga block that brings down the whole structure. If this isn't true, what else isn't true? How do I know what to believe anymore? Can I believe any of it?

    This happens to evangelical students every single year.

    And it doesn't have to.

    I remember wrestling with questions about the Bible and what's true, what's not true, after learning more about our planet and the incredible array of life on it. Thankfully, I had some good teachers helping me throughand I don't mean my science professors. I mean C. S. Lewis, St. Augustine, Kenneth Miller (professor of biology at Brown), and others. I was reading the right books, and they guided me through that quagmire. Unfortunately, a lot of young Christians aren't reading the right books, and they aren't finding any satisfying answers to their questions. And they're throwing in the towel.

    So I'd like to offer a few pieces of hard-earned wisdom to my evangelical brothers and sisters who are struggling through that biology course or that geology course this semester.

    1) Don't believe the false dichotomies. A false dichotomy is when you're presented with two options as if they were the only two options. For example: 'you must vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton'. Well, that's not true: you could vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Evan McMullin or any number of other options. 'Hillary or Trump' is a false dichotomy. And when someone tells you that you must either believe religion or believe science, that you have to choose either the Bible or your biology professor, those are false dichotomies. There are other options. Me, I choose both: I study and love and believe the Bible, and I also learn about the best scientific ideas about the origins of species on earth from biologiststhough when the biologist tries to tack some theological claims about a god or no god onto her science, I put on my skeptical hat. After all, that part is not her area of expertise. But I don't feel the need to listen to one and reject the other. Why on earth would I do that?

    2) Taking the Bible literally doesn't always do the Bible justice. There are plenty of stories in scripture that some people want to read as allegories or symbols or simple fictions that are meant to describe actual events. The accounts of Jesus' resurrection are a shining example of that: Luke, for instance, goes to great pains to show that these things really happened, in the real world. You can't read it any other way without disregarding Luke's intentions. But that's not always the case. Sometimes we disregard the writers' intentions when we insist on reading a passage as if it described a literal, historical event. (Two examples: if you read the parable of the prodigal son as a factual account of a real family's problems, or Revelation 12 as if it were about an actual dragon, fire-breathing or otherwise, trying to eat a baby, you're reading them wrong.) We have to let the Bible speak for itself. Be careful about expecting it to say things that it's not.
    Along those lines, I agree with what Old Testament scholar Peter Enns said in his fantastic little book, Inspiration and Incarnation, that "It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview... It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to [us] several thousand years later" (55). Don't demand that Genesis answer your questions about science or history. When Genesis was written, modern biology and modern historiography didn't exist; the book isn't trying to address those issues. It was written to speak to its first readers in a way that they'd understand. Honestly, I don't think Christians need to conform how they read the Bible to modern science. I think we just need to do a better job of reading the Bible on it's own termsthen these problems would go away.

    3) Something doesn't have to be a historical fact to be true. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought, 'wow, that's so true'? I don't mean biographies and documentaries. I'm talking fiction. Think about Jurassic Park (or, for some of you youngsters, Jurassic World): there's so much truth in the story, about man's reach exceeding his grasp, about the awesome and uncontainable power of Mother Nature, and about the destructive potential in unbridled scientific and technological innovation. It's totally fictitious, but there's still a lot of truth there. Again, that's how Jesus' parables work, toothey're fictional stories that reveal powerful truths about God and ourselves. A truth isn't discredited just because it's not a historical fact. Stories often convey the truth better than facts. That's why Abraham Lincoln supposedly called Uncle Tom's Cabin the book that started the Civil War. If, say, the creation account in Genesis 1 weren't a depiction of a literal, historical sequence of events from however many years ago, it could still be true. Only, instead of teaching us the facts about the development of life on Earth, it would be teaching us about God's pre-existence and choice to create the world and life-giving power, about the goodness of the world God made, about humanity's special role in the world, and about the holiness of resting and savoring creation (among other things). For me personally, each of these lessons is more important day-to-day than the details of the development of life anyways.

    4) These aren't new ideas. A lot of books are written today that aim to mesh Christian teaching with modern, evolutionary biology. It can feel like Christians are giving in, simply bowing to the pressures of modern science and letting it shape our thinking instead of letting the Bible shape us. But the idea that some of these passages shouldn't be taken literally isn't a new idea. In fact, Christians were reading the Bible like that long before Charles Darwin's grandparents were a twinkle in his great-grandparents' eyes.
    For instance, listen to this line from Origen of Alexandria, a great Christian thinker and martyr who died in the mid-200s (yes, 1600 years before Darwin's classic, On the Origin of Species, was published):
    If God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that any one doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history have taken place in appearance, and not literally. (De principiis IV, I)
    Origen's not watering down the Bible to reconcile it with science. That science didn't exist yet! He just doesn't think that reading Genesis literally there is the right way to read it. Looking for other ways to interpret certain passages of scripture doesn't mean you've given the game away. You'd actually be part of a long, ancient tradition of Christian interpreters.

    These simple points were enormously important to me when I was in school, and I hope they can help guide some other young evangelicals through this bog. College is a time to learn and growand to be challenged. There's no reason the challenges can't make your faith stronger than it was to start, if you aren't taken in by the 'science versus faith' mindset that you're going to find on campus. There's another way, a better way forward for evangelicals.

    Thursday, September 01, 2016

    GM2016: Faith in Him

    Faith.

    That little word is at the heart of Christian teaching.

    "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph 2:8).

    "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move" (Matt 17:20).

    "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

    "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7).

    "The righteous shall live be faith" (Hab 2:4/Rom 1:17).

    It's everywherein our memory verses and our favorite songs, hanging on our walls at home, and even in a lot of our weddings ("Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three...").
    But what does this important little word really mean?

    In English, "faith" and "belief" are two different words. There's a verb, too: "believe." But in Greek, the language of the New Testament, there's just one word, pistis, which is translated in our Bibles, sometimes as "faith," sometimes as "belief" or (when it's used as a verb) "believe." Jesus talked about pistis like a mustard seed; we walk by pistis, not by sight. And in John 3:16 you also get a form of pistis: whosoever believes in him will not perish. That's the same word. So when we talk about "faith," a lot of times we're talking about belief. And "belief" usually has an intellectual sense: it's something that happens in your head, or maybe in your heart.

    But we use faith in other ways, too. Sometimes when we talk about "faith," we mean something like 'trusting Jesus to save you'. It's not just a teaching that you mentally accept, like believing that Jesus was born of a virgin, but it's an active trust.

    Then there are passages of scripture that make you wonder if faith is more than just belief, if it isn't really an interior thing at all. "Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead... You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe [pistis again]and shudder" (Jas 2:17, 19). "The only thing that counts is faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).

    Well, George MacDonald was convinced that that's right, that faith is about more than just believing something.

    A few weeks back in my daily reader based on MacDonald's writings, Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God's Love, he posed the question: What is faith in Christ?
    I answer, the leaving of your way, your objects, your self, and the taking of his and of him; the leaving of your trust in men, in money, in opinion, in character, in atonement itself, and doing as he tells you. I can find no words strong enough to serve for the weight of this necessitythis obedience. It is the one terrible heresy of the church, that it has always been presenting something other than obedience as faith in Christ. (July 28th)
    He refuses to separate "faith" from following Jesus. He says, a little further on, that there's only one plan of salvation available to us, "to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; that is, to take him for what he isour master; and his words as if he meant them, which assuredly he did" (July 30th). The only way to take his words as if he meant them is to obey them, and the only way to take him as your master is to follow him.

    George MacDonald was concerned that Christians send more time arguing over theology and questions of how someone can be saved than they spend taking up their crosses and following Christ. That can happen when you think faith is about having the right beliefs. And so MacDonald points us back to obedience, to faithfully following Jesus.

    It reminds me of the end of Jesus' sermon on the plain in the gospel of Luke. After calling his followers to turn the other cheek, to give to anyone who begs from you, to love their enemies, and to quit judging and groping for the speck in their brothers' eyes, Jesus simply asks: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)