Friday, October 19, 2012

When Politics Trump Theology

     Recently, it was reported that after meeting with former Governor Mitt Romney (the Republican Nominee for President of the United States) Billy Graham the well known and influential pastor/evangelist had the Mormon faith removed from his association website under the listing of cult.  It appears that politics has trumped theological depth for many Christians in the United States.  I would have thought that Billy Graham would have learned his lesson in this regard when his words and leadership largely helped install Richard Nixon as President of the United States, and we all know how positive that was.
     One of the greater ironies of all of this for me, is that the same people who condemned Rob Bell for writing a book that inspired a world wide conversation on Heaven and Hell, will somehow excuse this decision by Billy Graham because American Politics has trumped thorough, historically grounded and scripturally deep theology.
     I remember and cherish the messages in audio and video that I have heard Billy Graham preach.  He is a gifted evangelist and scriptural exegete.  I remember even being brought to tears by some of them, for their depth and sincerity.  And his prayer life is the stuff of legend.  But, in this regard I must say I am disappointed with Pastor Graham.  When our affiliation with the political party/policy/perspective of our nation (which is our free choice) trumps our faith perspective and theology than something has gone amiss.
    I would not have minded if Billy Graham would have endorsed Mitt Romney for candidacy for the office of President because he agreed on political grounds with Romney's policies; however, to throw away theological distinctiveness because we are persuaded that a candidate is the one we want to support for office is to sacrifice the thing that is more true about us than anything else - our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.
     Returning to Rob Bell and his book titled Love Wins, I want to ask all of those out there who so ardently labeled Bell a heretic for his thoughtful reflections on salvation and eternal life, if they are now going to be consistent and label Graham properly, a heretic for accepting that a Mormon is a Christian.  Inspite of the fact that they do not adhere to Trinitarian Christian doctrine.  If they are going to be consistent this is there only recourse, otherwise, they have to contradict themselves and declare boldly that their political views as an American have actually trumped their followership of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bill Nye: A Modern Dualist

     Recently the well known and beloved TV personality, known as Bill Nye the Science Guy narrated a video that has now gone viral on YouTube (over 3 million views before I saw it).  In his video discussing biology, more specifically Creationism and Evolution, Bill Nye presented a short but revealing talk.  First, Mr. Nye assumed that all Creationists believe in a six/seven day literal creation (thus making the world 6 to 10 thousand years old). Second, Mr. Nye assumed that all people who hold a creationist perspective are "holding everyone else back" and that somehow by believing a divine being created everything we are actually halting the advancement of science in American culture.  And, third, Mr. Nye declared that a "creationist" view of the world would be gone in a few centuries.  Only history will be able to reveal whether or not this final claim will actually come to pass, but it sure seems arrogant to make such a prediction.  Only someone who has firmly placed their faith in science to answer all the questions ever asked (which science can't do by definition, because it is limited to the observable universe) would assume that science will one day erase the need for philosophy, epistemology, and various other arenas of question engagement.  His first two assumptions reveal that Mr. Nye has bought into the either/or mentality of modern dualism.  He is assuming that one cannot believe the world was created and that the Creator used evolution to bring about the forms of life we see today (which many believers in a creator believe today).  He is under the illusion that it must be either creation or evolution, there is no possible way for these views to coexist, or there is no possible third transcendent way.  One of the other assumptions he made was that those who hold a creationist perspective are "holding everyone else back" I would submit for 'evidence to the contrary' the history of Western scientific advancement that owes many of it's greatest breakthroughs to minds who were devout believers in not only a God, but in a creating God.  Isaac Newton, Galileo, and more recently Francis Collins, Alister McGrath and others.  There are brilliant scientists who have pushed the envelope, created innovation and discovered amazing truths about the world and universe and have done so with a belief that inspired them to inquire, to ask hard questions (the toughest ones) and to seek to discover.
     Before you go assuming, Mr. Nye, that all creationists believe the same way, think the same way, or address the theory of evolution the same way, maybe you ought to take more time to address the theological diversity of religious beliefs, before you assume you can neatly categorize people into your preconceived little boxes, based on caricatures and stereotypes.  It looks as if you have bought into the dualistic mindset that says every debate is an either/or with only two sides, when there is most assuredly a multitude of perspectives on this issue from people of science, people of faith and many faith-filled scientists.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Praying for Colorado

     The past several weeks have been difficult ones for the state of Colorado.  Forest fires have burned and destroyed countless acres of trees and moved swiftly into neighborhoods with homes and schools.  As if this were not enough to burden the local residents, the mayhem and violence of a gunman walking into a movie theater and opening fire on dozens of moviegoers has simply shocked and frightened the nation.
Often, when tragedies such as these strike we are tempted to ask the question - Why?  Why do forest fires burn uncontrollably into residential neighborhoods, and why do people do things like shoot automatic weapons into a full theater.  I confess that asking 'why' is one of my first gut reactions, too, when I see things like these happen.  But, I have come to realize that even if I knew the answer to that question, the fact remains that it happened, and not only did it happen, it's effects include damage, death, pain and suffering.  These things are not somehow magically erased by my knowing the answer to the 'why' question.
     My faith informs my response to such difficult and hard to imagine realities.  My faith calls me to prayer.  Our  fear-ridden, and shock-struck culture would lead me to believe that prayer is a fruitless response to such events.  People might say: "Prayer is a cop-out from actually trying to stop bad things from happening." or "Prayer is passive and powerless so why do it?!"  
     But, prayer is the most powerful thing anyone can do in response to forest fires, and rogue gunmen.  Prayer begins by acknowledging in its humility that we not only will not depend on vengeance or fear-based responses to deal with life's tragedies.  Rather, we will depend upon the strength of the One who created all things, redeemed all things, and sustains all things.  Prayer reveals that we trust ultimately not in the answer to the 'why' question; but, the personal divine presence that promises those who mourn will be comforted, that one day all tears will be wiped away, and that there is hope for this broken world, because God has not abandoned us to our brokenness.  He did something, and is doing things all the time that change the game.  The big question for me in response to these tragedies, and every tragedy is this: will I allow myself to react out of fear and vengeance, or will I respond in faith through prayer for grace, provision and hope.  I don't want to live my life in fear, I want to live in faith and walk in the confidence that God knows it all, sees it all, walks with us all, and in the end will sort it all out.
     Father, Son and Holy Spirit - may your grace and peace be present for the people of Colorado.  May those who have lost their homes find solace in your providence for their needs.  May those who have felt fear in the face of these fires know courage and hope for the rebuilding of what they have lost.  May those who ran for their lives from the wild violence of that gunman in the theater know that you are with them.  Grant the  families of the victims comfort in their mourning.  Grant the wounded swift and total recovery.  Speak words of comfort to the community and lift up brotherly and sisterly love for neighbors one to another.  Lord, we cannot see into the heart and mind of this man who somewhere lost his way and found himself in this dark and hurtful place.  We pray for him, too.  We pray that you would bring him to the exposing light of your truth that even he may know your grace for him, inspite of the pain and suffering he has caused through his choices.  May Colorado know the peaceful presence of your Holy Spirit, and may communities bind together in support and encouragement of one another.  Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

(photo courtesy of Kristin Aasen)

Barth was described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas.
14 volumes (13 complete and 1 partial)
6,000,000+ words
7,636 Pages
35 Years it took for Barth to write (died in 1968 at age 82 before he could finish)
The Church Dogmatics began as lectures and were edited into written volumes
The next volume was going to be titled “The Doctrine of Redemption”
Pat first read portions of the Church Dogmatics in seminary in 1978
Sam first read portions of the Church Dogmatics in seminary in September of 2006
They began reading together in August 2009, reading together for 2 ½ years eventually completing their reading in December of 2011.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction

I recently came across a book titled: Kindling Desire for God: Preaching as Spiritual Direction by Kay Bessler Northcutt.  It was published in January of 2009.  I have been doing a lot of reading in the area of spiritual direction and spiritual disciplines lately, and when I came across this title it immediately jumped out at me and screamed, "read me!"  So, I did. 
What followed from my reading was a deeply profound synergy between two things that I love.  Preaching and Spiritual Direction.  The author weaved these two areas of church ministry together in a flawless and beautiful tapestry of theology and practice.  One of the most influential ideas that I came away with was the creative approach to preaching that sees the sermon as the content of a conversation between the preacher and the Spirit.  The congregation is then given the opportunity to participate in the listening aspect of spiritual direction by listening through the sermon for the voice of the Spirit that the preacher (as spiritual guide) has already taken time to pay attention to.  Often, I find that preaching is reduced to information relay, where the preacher is informing the congregation about what is going on in the text, and attempting to apply it to their lives.  Preaching as Spiritual Direction reminds the pastor and guides the pastor in a process of attentive writing.  What they write and deliver should be the combination of both rigorous study and prayerful spiritual discipline.  When these two things combine the congregation has the opportunity to participate in a communal spiritual direction session.  What a beautiful, creative and life-giving way of thinking about preaching!