Thursday, December 22, 2011

Living Buddha Living Christ: Chapter 1

Ch. 1: Be Still and Know

In this chapter Hanh explains what he believes are the foundations for good interfaith dialogue and securing peace in the world. He starts with a significant claim:

"People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies."

I understand what he's getting at here - he's saying that if we believe we are right and that everyone else is wrong, we are more likely to demonize those outside our group and treat them with contempt. Therefore, if we want to eliminate man's inhumanity to man we need to become less attached (and less certain of) our beliefs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Living Buddha, Living Christ; Part 1

Before break, my Buddhist friend John and I traded books to read. I gave him a copy of Tim Keller's The Reason for God and he gave me Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. I've decided to journal my thoughts on each chapter.

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in 1926 and is still an active Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist. According to a quote from The Washington Post on the book's back cover, Hanh's message is that "peace, love, and compassion are central to the teachings of Buddha and Christ, and people of both faiths should be tolerant of one another." From what I know of Buddhist ethics, there is a significant amount of overlap with Christianity (as there is with most faiths), but there are some significant distinctions as well. I'm interested to see how much the book acknowledges these distinctions and, if so, whether it tries to resolve or dismiss them.

One thing that intrigues me is a quote on the back from Catholic writer and activist Thomas Merton. Merton says, "Thich Nhat Hanh is more my brother than many who are nearer to me in race and nationality, because he and I see things the exact same way." I don't know a lot about Merton, but I know a lot of Christians who admire his work. At one of my favorite blogs, Internet Monk, his name is mentioned frequently. He's a guy who is admired, read, and quoted by people who take the Bible seriously. If Hanh sees things the same way as Merton, I'm sure some of the Christians who admire Merton would admire Hanh, too. This makes me very curious about what Hanh has to say.


The intro to the book (not written by Hanh), says that Hanh "does not take the easy way out of ecumenical discussion by ignoring disagreement." Hanh "expresses deep respect and appreciation for many elements of Christian tradition" but he "also points out elements of Christian tradition that foster religious intolerance and have led to religious hatred."

Hanh, the intro says, disagrees with John Paul II's affirmation that "Christ is the one mediator between God and humanity." He responds, "this statement does not seem to reflect the deep mystery of the oneness of the Trinity. It also does not reflect the fact that Christ is also the Son of Man. All Christians, while praying to God, address Him as Father. Of course Christ is unique. But who is not unique? Socrates, Mohammed, the Buddha, you, and I are all unique. The idea behind the statement, however, is the notion that Christianity provides the only way of salvation and all other religious traditions are of no use. This attitude excludes dialogues and fosters religious intolerance and discrimination. It does not help."

I agree with Hanh that a theology of exclusivism can lead to religious intolerance and hatred. However, we need to recognize that it is impossible to avoid exclusivism altogether. An exclusivist is someone who holds that one particular perspective is correct, and the inclusivist does this, too. The inclusivist believes that all people who believe that there is only one path to salvation are wrong. Therefore, the inclusivist is also at risk for being intolerant or hateful toward the exclusivists, just as the exclusivist is at risk for being intolerant or hateful toward the inclusivists and/or other forms of exclusivism.

Hahn says that an attitude of exclusivism "does not help" in interfaith dialogue, but interfaith dialogue is not really interfaith dialogue if the faiths are not being truly represented. The fact of the matter is that traditional Christianity looks to the Bible as a primary source of spiritual truth, and within the Bible St. Paul writes the exact words that Hanh criticizes John Paul II for: There is but one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus (1st Timothy 2:5).

If Hanh is saying Christians must abandon the idea that Christ is the one mediator between God and man, is he also saying that we must abandon the idea of Biblical authority? Hanh says that he likes the idea of the Trinity, but the concept of the Trinity is derived from the Bible. If Hanh wants us to reject certain ideas in the Bible but embrace other ones, to what authority do we appeal in choosing between the ideas?

For the Christian, of course, Hanh's downplaying of Christ's uniqueness sounds warning bells. Yes, all human beings are unique, but Christian doctrine has always taught that Christ's uniqueness transcends all other uniqueness. He is not just another color in the box of crayons. He is the manufacturer of all the crayons.

However, I appreciate that Hanh appeals to more than just the ideal of religious tolerance in rejecting Christianity's exclusivism. He also appeals to ideas within Christianity. If God the Father and God the Son are one, he says, then doesn't the statement that "there is but one mediator between God and man - the man Christ Jesus" fail to acknowledge that oneness? In other words, if Jesus is God and Jesus is the mediator between God and man, doesn't it then follow that God is his own mediator? If God is the mediator between Himself and man, doesn't that mean that God could be speak to the world through many different words and concepts besides just the one we refer to as "Christ"?

I think there are several problems with this argument. As I already mentioned, it borrows a concept from Scripture (the Trinity) as the basis of its argument but then undermines that concept by using it to argue against the authority of Scripture. As C.S. Lewis would say, it is an argument that "saws off the branch on which it sits." The other problem is that it fails to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity does say that God the Father and God the Son are both God, but that doesn't permit us the freedom to substitute one name for the other - particularly in the case of 1st Timothy 2:5. I think Paul's point is not that God is His own mediator, but that the only way we can really know God is through God as expressed in Jesus Christ. There is but one mediator between God and man - and that mediator is the man from heaven who suffered and died on a cross. If we want to know who God is, we must have an encounter with this man.

I also think Hanh is wrong to suggest that one who affirms Christ as the only mediator between God and man must necessarily believe that all other religious traditions are of no use. Even though I think we lack clarity in our understanding of God apart from Christ, and even though I think Christ's sacrifice is necessary for the salvation of any soul who ends up saved, I wouldn't go so far as to say I think that all other religious traditions are of no use. I believe many other religious traditions contain truth. I think that wherever there is truth, goodness, and beauty, the Spirit of God is involved, and no truth, goodness, or beauty is of no use. However, I don't think there is any other person or religious tradition in which "the fullness of God" has been revealed apart from Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9).

The writer of the intro agrees with Hanh's inclusivist perspective because of her "exploration into the earliest history of Christianity." In 1947, she says, a large collection of ancient Christian gospels and other writings were found in Upper Egypt. These were gnostic writings - books apparently salvaged from the library of the earliest Christian monastery in Egypt after the archbishop of Alexandria ordered the monks to destroy all books he deemed heretical. One of these supposed Gospels - the "Gospel of Thomas" - dates twenty years before any of the New Testament gospels were written (according to Helmut Koester, Professor of New Testament at Harvard University). These books view Jesus "as one through whom the divine was manifested and through whose example and teaching one can hope for similar enlightenment." In other words, they teach a version of Christianity and a perspective of Christ that seems quite in line with Hanh's.

The intro writer goes on to quote passages from the Gospel of Thomas, arguing that Jesus did not teach that he was the "only begotten Son of God" (as John later insisted) but that "we are the children of God."  The Gospel of Thomas, she says, tells of a Jesus who said we need to look inside ourselves - not beyond ourselves - for enlightenment.

So, what is the traditional Christian supposed to make of all this? Is the Gospel of Thomas really older than the Biblical gospels? Does it really quote Jesus accurately? If not, why did the writer attribute false quotations to Jesus?

According to Wikipedia, not everyone agrees with Helmut Koester (in fact, most do not). There are two camps of scholars - one that dates the Gospel between 50-100AD, and one that dates it from the second century (after the canonical Gospels had been written). After a brief overview of the Wikipedia page, I can see that it would take more time than I have available to make any kind of qualified judgement about the historicity of the Gospel. I am confident, though, that if there ever was a group of people living in 30-150AD who were interested in preserving Christ's teachings accurately, that group would be much more qualified to pass judgement on the historicity of the Gospel of Thomas than me. If those people were the ones assembling the canon of Scripture, they did not see Thomas's Gospel as historical. The Wikipedia page says that several early church fathers (3rd century) openly dismissed the Gospel of Thomas. This fact should count for something.

Next time: Chapter 1.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eustace and Aslan

But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words or not.

I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Spark Lit a Fire

I won't wait, no, I won't wait for heaven
'Cause I believe heaven's coming my way.
While I'm alive I'll be gettin' on with living,
Like you're comin' my way.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Thoughts From the Journal

Luke 3:1-20

Here we have the introduction to (adult) John the Baptist. I confess, I've always had trouble understanding the role of John the Baptist. Why does Scripture treat him like such an important figure? I mean, the opening of the Gospel of John starts talking about him in the sixth verse, right after identifying Jesus as the Creator of the universe and sustainer of all life and goodness. It sounds like an odd thing to talk about next. “There was the Word – the Creator of all things who came to the world to overcome darkness and evil...and then there was JOHN!”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thoughts From My Devotional Journal

Where have you been?!

Luke 2:41-52

This is probably the only event recorded in the Gospels from Jesus' childhood. I wish the Gospels said more about Jesus' younger years, but I suppose if he refrained from doing miraculous things before he started his ministry there wasn't much reason for people to be taking note of his simple life before then.

The setting for this incident is the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was twelve years old, Mary and Joseph took him to the Feast. The setting, I think, is important. The Passover was, of course, in remembrance of the moment in Israel's history when “the destroyer” passed over the first-born Israelites in Egypt because of the blood of the lamb on the family doorposts. It was at this time of remembrance – this acknowledgement of Israel's salvation on account of a sacrifice – that Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for our salvation, started to make his presence known.

It's funny to me that Jesus' parents left Jerusalem and traveled for a day before realizing that Jesus was not with them. This gives us an interesting insight into Jesus' childhood – he spent time with relatives and friends. Most parents would check to make sure they had their 12-year-old with them when leaving a major city, but if your son had a habit of spending time with relatives and friends and many of those relatives and friends were traveling in the same caravan as you, you might just assume he was tagging along with them. It sounds like that's what happened here, because when Mary and Joseph couldn't find Jesus they “began looking for him among their relatives and friends.

Of course, he wasn't with them, so they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. It took them three days to find him. Three days! That means they didn't see their 12-year-old son for at least four days. That must have been scary. I wonder if Mary feared that he had been attacked or killed. She must have. After all, Simeon had said to her, “a sword will pierce your own soul.” Did she continue to have faith in God's promises (promises that were yet to be fulfilled through her son), even in the midst of a crisis like this? How much did she doubt?

When they found Jesus, he was sitting in the temple courts listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed, including his parents.

Like any normal parents, Mary and Joseph were upset. Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?”

The exchange is fascinating. First of all, did Jesus fail to “honor his mother and father” as the law commands? I know if I had run away from my parents for days and then responded to their questions with, “Why were you looking for me?” I would have been severely reprimanded. Jesus seems flip in his answer.

I think we need to trust, though, that Jesus really means what he says here. He's not trying to be flip or disrespectful. He really DOES think it's odd that his parents were searching for him. He had to be in his Father's house. How could they not know that?

Theologians often like to make the point that Jesus was not omniscient (at least not during his earthly life). As it says at the end of this passage, Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature.” He didn't know all things the moment he popped out of the womb.

But Jesus did have special knowledge. The Father gave him revelation about many, many things. But omniscience was not something the Father gave to him – God emptied himself of himself when he became Jesus. He had fullness of God's character but not of His power (or so many theologians argue).

I think Jesus knew he needed to be in the temple because his Father had revealed it to him, but I don't think he realized that his Father hadn't revealed this to Mary and Joseph.

I think young Jesus heard the Father's instructions clearly, knew following those instructions was his first priority, and then followed them. I'm sure he was concerned about honoring his earthly parents in addition to following his heavenly father's instruction, but he may have never even considered the possibility that he was dishonoring them because he probably assumed the Father would tell them the same thing he had clearly told him: that he needed to be in the temple.

So, in my opinion, we shouldn't be asking: why was Jesus so rude to his parents? He wasn't. What we should be asking is: why didn't God the Father reveal the same thing to Mary and Joseph that he did to Jesus? I'm not sure what the answer is, but it's possible he did everything he could but Mary and Joseph just weren't listening. It's also possible that the Father wanted to teach them that they can't hold on too tightly to their son. Jesus is supposed to honor his parents, yes, but his first loyalty is to his heavenly Father, and his true home is in his Father's house.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Brotherhood of Man

All day, since your haircut in the morning,
You have looked like a painting, even more than usual
We are in the wind, planting the maples
We meet an older man who seems to know 
I miss my dad.
And he smiles through the limbs.
We talk easily with him
until the rain begins.
This is the brotherhood of man.

Waiting at the airport on my suitcase
a girl traveling from Spain became my sudden friend,
though I did not learn her name.
And when the subway dimmed
a stranger lit my way.
This is the brotherhood of man.

I never can say what I mean
but you will understand,
coming through clouds on the way.
This is the brotherhood of man.

By Karen Peris (C) 2006 Umbrella Day Music

I really like The Innocence Mission (and this song in particular). Sufjan Stevens once said (in reference to another Innocence Mission song - although I think it applies to this one as well):

I'm in awe of big songs, national anthems, rock opera, the Broadway musical. But what I always come back to, after the din and drum roll, is the small song that makes careful observations about everyday life. This is what makes the music by The Innocence Mission so moving and profound. 'Lakes of Canada' creates an environment both terrifying and familiar using sensory language: incandescent bulbs and rowboats are made palpable by careful rhythms, unobtrusive rhyme schemes, and specificity of language. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris' lyrics are the economy of words, concrete nouns - fish, flashlight, laughing man - which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures. Panic and joy, a terrible sense of awe, the dark indentations of memory all come together at once, accompanied by the joyful strum of an acoustic guitar. This is a song in which everyday objects begin to have tremendous meaning.

Right on, Sufjan. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tell Me a Story

I absolutely love this album. Love, love, love it. It is magic.

M83 is not a Christian band by any stretch, but there is one song on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming that reminds me of the Gospel every time I hear it. The track is called Raconte-moi une Histoire (Translation: "Tell me a story"), and it features a little girl fulfilling the title's request. The first time I heard it, I thought it was just nonsense. I thought it was a throwaway song - you know, one of those extra tracks between the "real" songs that pretends to be a novelty but is really just there to make potential buyers think the album has more substance than it really does.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conduits of Sound

My friend plays the cello. Once a year, he has to change the strings, and it costs him over $300. From what he tells me, most serious cello players buy different strings from different companies. Apparently some companies make some strings better than others. If you want the best sound, you can't just buy a full set from one place.

Musical instruments are a wonder. When you really get down to it, everything in the universe is made up of the same basic materials, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anything like a tuba in nature. How do we come up with this stuff? Strings and pipes and skins and metals all meticulously engineered to produce such precise noises. When I was in Milan, I saw a museum filled with old instruments, many of them primitive by today's standards. I never could have come up with them, though.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Soteriology: A Bunch of My Thoughts at This Point

NOTE: I started working on this post back in the summer. I worked on it for awhile, then abandoned it because I felt like the scope of what I was trying to talk about was just too broad. But a couple weeks ago I looked at it again and realized I had put too much work into it not to try and finish it (even if "finishing it" just meant getting it to a point where it was blog-worthy and ready for further refinement). I do think I'm biting off more than I can chew here, but as God helps me to sort through this stuff I have to start somewhere. So, here it is.

In 2007, I helped to staff a summer missions trip in Wildwood, New Jersey for seven weeks. It was a great experience - one of the best summers of my life. I learned a lot about what it looks like to live in community, to counsel those who are hurting, and to share about Jesus.

The theme of our project that summer was treasuring the Gospel, so most of our teaching focused on helping the participants to realize just how wonderful the Gospel message is. We spent most of our devotions in the book of Galatians, emphasizing freedom from legalism and assurance of salvation, and we spoke often about God's unconditional love - the idea that, because of what Christ has done, we can rest confidently in the knowledge that our redemption is certain. We told the participants that, because of Christ's sacrifice, God no longer sees our sin. We even asked them to evaluate themselves, only to hand their evaluations back with A-pluses at the top. Christ has earned your A+, we said. That's the good news.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lord, Save Us From Ourselves

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands."  - Matthew 22:36-40

What is the essence of the Christian life? If there is a purpose to human existence, what is that purpose? What were we made for? What are we supposed to be?

Jesus says we are supposed to be lovers. Lovers of God and lovers of people - people who give and receive freely and selflessly, finding joy and delight in blessing others. This is what we were made for. This is where we find our purpose.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Wish I Wrote Reviews For a Magazine

I like music. My ears consume it as if my hearing depends on it.

Here's what I've been listening to as of late...

The Reckoning - NEEDTOBREATHE 

Needtobreathe's new album is probably the best thing they've done, and that's high praise for a band of their caliber. I was skeptical when I started listening to the first track - "Oohs and Aahs" is kind of jazzy and grating - definitely not as instantly ear-catching as their previous album opener, "The Outsiders." Just when I was about to dismiss the track as a weak intro, acapella gang vocals appeared and I was sold. By the time screeching brass entered the fray, the song had reached the "I-think-I'm-going-to-need-to-hit-repeat-when-this-is-over" category.

But I didn't end up doing that, because the bouncy acoustic-riff that started the following track, "White Fences" was so immediately absorbing I couldn't go back. White Fences and the track that follows it, "Drive All Night," are just top-notch. Lead vocalist Bear Rinehart has never sounded better. His voice is strong, gritty, and filled with longing - a perfect match for the melodies his band supplies. White Fences is an especially good example of the album's great mix: loud and punchy percussion and vocals hovering on the verge of distortion. Also, one of Needtobreathe's strengths has always been their soulful background vocals, and this album uses them to great effect. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Truth is Out There. Like, REALLY Out There

Did you know that reptiles are a cursed part of the animal kingdom? They actually fell along with Satan. That's why Satan tempted Eve in the form of a serpent. Actually, Satan controls most of the world indirectly through shape-shifting reptilian demons from Jupiter. The United States made a treaty with these beings shortly after the Roswell incident and built cities for them deep underground in Nevada. This has something to do with Area 51. There are government officials who work in the upper layers of the cities, but they don't see the reptilians very often because they keep to the lowermost layers. Once a reptilian got off on the wrong elevator stop, though. Another time one was spotted at a mall in Salt Lake.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


This is the explanation of the CCC name change that I wrote for my ministry partners:

As you may have already heard, starting in 2012 Campus Crusade for Christ will be changing its name to Cru. Although I was not directly involved in the process of selecting a new name, I wanted to let you know what our organization's leaders communicated to us about the heart behind the name change.

First of all, this change has been in the works for a long time. In the 1950s when Bill and Vonette Bright started the ministry, it was not unusual to refer to movements as “crusades.” However, since that time the word
crusade has developed an increasingly negative connotation—especially when associated with religion. For many, the word crusade suggests violence, arrogance, and coercion – the opposite of what we want to communicate. Also, as Campus Crusade for Christ has gone on to expand its ministries beyond the university setting, the first C in the name has become less and less fitting. As early as the 1970s, Bill Bright was already considering a name change.

However, changing the name of a large organization is not an easy task. In addition to the difficult process of finding (and agreeing upon) an appropriate name, everything the organization produces with its name on it must be altered. The organization also runs the risk of disappointing those who support it. For these reasons and others, no established organization wants to change its name unless it is truly necessary. I suspect this is why CCC avoided changing its name for so long.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Preacher's Duty

"Consider then the preachers dutie to you. It is not onely to tell you Christ raiseth the dead. It is also to convince you Christ raiseth onely the dead. It is to persuade you of your death; to reduce you, by whatever means he can, physicall, morall, or philosophicall, to a knowledge of that last truth of yours, and so set you free to believe that first of his; so to enforce this mortui estis, this ye are dead, upon your mindes, that the scales of this deceitfull life may fall from your eyes, and ye see vita vestra, Christ, who is your life."

- Robert Farrar Capon

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bridging the Gulf

I grew up going to a mid-size Covenant church in central Connecticut. When I was in high school we built a new, very modern sanctuary, but before that we had a smaller one with real pews and a lectern off to the side and blue drapes over the windows that looked like they had been installed in the sixties. In back there was a place for a choir, although most Sundays the space was empty because the choir only sang once a month. To the left of the choir-people who sat on the same side as the pastor's lectern there was a little alcove, and I remember when I was very small I used to imagine that God lived in that alcove. I suspected that if I walked back there and went inside, suddenly I would be under a starry Bethlehem sky and the baby Jesus would be there, glowing in the moonlight while a serene Mary and Joseph admired him silently.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A - gnosticism = "Without Knowledge"

It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” 

                                             - William Kingdon Clifford

When the issue of God's existence is on the table someone usually says something like this. The atheist is confident that God does not exist. The theist is confident that God does exist. But the agnostic simply says, “
the evidence is insufficient, so I will not make a judgment.”

What the agnostic often fails to realize, however, is that the judgment not to make a judgment is in itself a judgment—and it is a judgment that stems from a deep, moral sense. The agnostic, whether or not he states the fact explicitly, believes that it is wrong to make a judgment without sufficient evidence.

It. Is. Wrong.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



Monday, July 25, 2011

A Conversation With Myself

In the beginning, there was God. Nothing else.

Was He lonely?



Because God is a relationship of three persons who love and enjoy each other: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So there are multiple Gods?

No. Just one.

But you just said...

I know. It's not a contradiction, though. Really.

Yes it is.

Well, what makes something “one”?

Something is one if it's a single unit.

Is God a physical unit?


If God is not a single unit in a physical sense, in what sense is He a single unit?

In a spiritual sense.

Is the Trinity one in a spiritual sense?

I guess. But there are multiple persons in it.

Yes, but their relationship is perfect. So perfect that they are one in the truest sense of the word.

So God was never lonely?


Because He is three persons.

Yes, but not just because He is three persons. He was never lonely because those three persons are one.

What do you mean?

Well, you can be lonely even if you are surrounded by others.


But that's because your relationship with them is imperfect. They don't really know you. You don't really know them. It's not like that with the Trinity.

So if God is perfect and He was never lonely, why did He create?

Because He wanted to.

Why did He want to? I thought He was perfect. He doesn't need anything.

I guess because it gave him joy.

* * * * *

God didn't need this. He wanted it. Science attempts to measure and label the physical forces that bind the material world together, but it can never uncover their true source. What holds an atom together? Nuclear forces? What are those forces? If the universe is the product of God's will, all forces are a consequence of His desire - products of His delight.

The universe is an extension of God's joy.

So are you.

So am I.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Set a Fire

Set a fire down in my soul
That I can't contain
And I can't control
I want more of You
I want more of You

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How Do We Get People to Be Good (Including Ourselves)?

(If only he had believed he wasn't going to get any supper)
This is a short article from the July/August issue of Relevant magazine (which, may I add, is worth far more than its subscription price). It got me thinking.
Cheaters Never Win - But a Lot of Them Are Christians
Some people won't cheat because God says not to - but other people will because they know He'll forgive them. A new study called "Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior" says there aren't too many notable differences between believers and non-believers. However, among those who profess faith in the Big Guy, behavior and attitudes are greatly influenced by how the individual views the object of their belief. For example, if one sees God as an angry judge, they're less likely to cheat. But if one sees Him as gracious and loving, they're more likely to bend the rules and bank on forgiveness. 
"The take-home message is not whether you believe in God, but what God you believe in," said Azim Shariff, a University of Oregon psychologist who worked on the study. Research involved experimenting with 100 undergraduates taking a math test. The students were told about a "computer glitch" that would soon show them the correct answers - unless they opted out by pressing the space bar immediately. In addition, students were also given a survey about the details of their personal faith perspectives. In the end, those who associate a deity with compassion were more likely to peek at the correct answers.
While one experiment can hardly define the morality or behavior of all believers, scientific research is becoming an increasingly important component of ethical debate. "It provides a powerful tool to study what is a powerful force in the world," Shariff said.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Testimony From Nigeria...?

What do you think of this video? 

I don't think cynicism or skepticism is a fruit of the Spirit, but I do think a healthy concern for truth is. Would it please God if I accepted this report without any further evidence than the report itself? I don't know. I know God values faith, but He values faith in Himself, not necessarily faith in what I hear on youtube. Do I want this report to be true? Absolutely. Do I think it is? Maybe. I feel like the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

Danger: Attempt at Deep Thought Below

Yesterday in church the sermon was on Micah 6:8 - "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. That's what God wants. Not burnt offerings, rivers of oil, and sacrificed firstborns (verse 7). Thank goodness.

But wait a minute - how are we supposed to act justly and love mercy at the same time? Aren't those things at odds with each other? Mercy is, by definition, what we receive when we are spared the consequences of what we deserve. Justice, in contrast, is what we receive when we do get what we deserve. Therefore, if we are to receive or grant mercy, justice must be abandoned. If we are to receive or grant justice, mercy must be abandoned. And yet God requires that we do both. How is this supposed to work?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

There are Two Ways Through Life, the Way of Grace and the Way of MONSTERS

Since returning from Milan, I've seen two movies. The first was Super 8, a J.J. Abrams-directed coming-of-age/monster-movie that plays like something Steven Spielberg might have made 20 years ago. It takes place in the seventies and centers on a group of kids who witness a massive train accident while filming a homemade zombie movie. The train accident, however, is less of an accident than it originally appears, and the kids find themselves in the middle of a government cover-up involving some violent, otherworldly cargo.

It isn't the kind of movie that warrants deep analysis, but it's a lot of fun. The way the kids interact with each other is hilarious and—if my memory of Junior High serves me well—pretty accurate. Something about the movie made me feel nostalgic, too. As a kid I used to watch similar stuff and it made me think that someday—maybe when I was close to being a teenager—I, too, would ride all over town on my bike, crawl in and out of my friends' second-story windows at night, and find myself confronting bizarre, dangerous, and mysterious phenomena. None of that ever happened, but Super 8 made me remember what it felt like when I was young enough to think that it could. It was a fun feeling.

The second movie was The Tree of Life. It's not in wide release yet, but I saw it at a little theater in Providence with Jenni. I'd been curious about it ever since I saw the trailer last month. If you haven't seen it (or if you haven't seen the version with the voiceover), watch it.

Usually when people hear about a movie the first question they ask is “what's it about?” The thing is, you can't ask that question about The Tree of Life because The Tree of Life is about everything. Many will (and have) accused the film of being pretentious. I understand this sort of movie is not everyone's cup of tea, but I find it sad that so many are quick to disregard it as some form of snobbery. The Tree of Life is clearly the work of someone who thinks often and deeply about the mysteries of life: Where did we come from? Is there a God? If so, what is God like? Does God think about me? If so, what does He think? Why is life so difficult? How much control do we have over our lives? Will we be judged? What happens when we die? Will we ever see those we've lost again? Surely snobs aren't the only ones who think about these things.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ciao! Come va?

I'm in Florence, Italy. Our summer project team arrived here on Tuesday at 2pm (Florence time, which is 8am Eastern Standard Time) after an all-night flight from Boston.

This is my third time here. Life is often ironic. In High School I was a Latin student for four years. Latin students had the privilege of going to Italy Junior or Senior year, but when my turn came I didn't go. In a class of about 25, I was one of only two students who stayed home. As I remember, I didn't really have the money and my parents weren't keen on the idea. Honestly, I don't even remember being upset about it. Now, almost a decade later, I'm leading summer missions trips to this place. Who would have thought? Certainly not me. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's Still Thursday If I Haven't Gone to Bed Yet

When I started this blog, I committed myself to updating it every Thursday. Two weeks later and already I almost broke that commitment. Earlier today I convinced myself it was okay to skip this week's post because of Milan Summer Project prep, but at 11:30 tonight I changed my mind. This blog is supposed to force me to write, and if I stop following-through this early on it will only become easier to skip other weeks in the future. I don't want that to happen.

So here it is. A post.

(Why am I speaking like I have an audience? Only Jenni reads this.)

Following-through on commitments reminds me of the story of Jephthah (Judges 10). Jephthah led the Israelites in battle against the Ammonites. Before he went to battle, he made a vow to God, "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

So Jephthah goes to battle and devastates the Ammonites. Sweet, sweet victory. Then he goes home and his only daughter greets him with dancing and tambourine-playing. Uht-oh.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

If Calvinism is True, Was I Predestined Not to Like It?

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about an experience he had on a summer missions trip with a ministry for college students. As was standard procedure for the ministry, students were sent out in pairs to start conversations with people and to share the Gospel. During one of these excursions, my friend happened to be paired with a student who was very passionate about Reformed theology. After the two shared an overview of the Gospel with a man who decided not to embrace it, the Reformed student said to my friend, “I don't know how you can have peace right now if you don't believe in the sovereignty of God. I have peace because I know God is in control of that man's salvation, not me. If God wants him to get saved, he'll get saved.

If I had heard a statement like that several years ago, I might have nodded my head and smiled in passive (albeit halfhearted) agreement, but I just can't do that anymore. At the risk of being divisive, I'm going to come out of the closet and admit it: I don't like Reformed theology. 

Of course, I should be careful to define what I mean. I actually agree with the vast majority of Reformed theology. It's just the parts that get the most press that I don't like. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

For Those Who Talk About "The Gospel"

Is the “good news” that... 

(1) Somehow, because of what Jesus has done, we now have the power we need to live righteously?


(2) Somehow, because of what Jesus has done, our inability to live righteously no longer condemns us?

Or is it these two things in equal combination? Perhaps something else entirely?

What do you think?

It Actually Isn't About Rob Bell. Yet.

My name is Ryan and I am a Christian.

What do I mean when I say “I am a Christian”?

Well, for starters, it means I believe certain things. It means I believe there is a God, and by “God” I mean an intelligent, personal, uncreated being who willed all things – both material and spiritual – into existence. I believe that approximately 2000 years ago, this God came to earth in the form of a Middle-Eastern Jewish carpenter. In the language I speak, he is known as Jesus. I believe he performed miraculous healings, taught in baffling parables, claimed divine authority, and was the fulfillment of centuries-old prophesies regarding a King and a Kingdom. I believe he was crucified to death, laid up in a tomb for several days, and then miraculously raised to life.