WWJT: What Would Jesus Tweet?

Last week,  Dr. Holloway asked me to join in a discussion about Christianity and social media. There are so many questions to consider on this topic!

  • How can we, as Christians, most effectively make use of this new technology?
  • Why should we devote time to this stuff?
  • What are Christians supposed to say on Twitter… or Facebook… or Vine… or LinkedIn… or Google+… or YouTube… ?
  • How can I authentically share Christ online without seeming phony?
  • What if I’m not talking to the person I think I’m talking to?

This is just a very brief list of some of the things I considered talking about. And when we met, I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface!

Drs. Holloway, Bashaw, Brown, and I met with a group of 7-10 students to discuss last Thursday.

As a communication studies scholar, I was planning to talk about the Internet’s power to reach an infinite number of people whom we would otherwise not have access to, and dispel some of the nasty rumors about talk online.

So that’s what I did.

I pointed out that online, you can find someone who shares your interest no matter how weird or random. You can even sometimes meet up with them to do your hobby together!

Photo Credit: dfarrell07 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dfarrell07 via Compfight cc

I also mentioned that even though we have a stereotype of people sitting in their parents’ basement, in the dark, with no hope of a future, chatting online, it’s hardly ever like that.

Yes, there are scary people online, and sometimes they will stalk and/or hurt you, but not usually.

A darker side-effect of our online communication was something that Dr. Bashaw brought up: Our tenancy to be the meanest, least compromising parts of ourselves online.

Photo Credit: SpeakingJargon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SpeakingJargon via Compfight cc

This is truly scary, and certainly not a Christian way of going about things, but we all fall into the trap now and again.

Mainly, it’s because you are anonymous online. In Communication Studies, we call this depersonalization – a fancy way to say that you don’t feel like the people you are talking to online are actually people with feelings, and you don’t think you will ever be confronted about saying something mean.

Obviously, in the time that Jesus was walking the Earth, they did not have to worry about tweets, or Facebook posts, or online comments. But I can’t help but think of the Pharisees here…

People who rarely got called out for their hypocrisy, and didn’t really care if they did? People who thought they were ALWAYS right, and didn’t worry about offending others?

…I’m sensing a parallel…

In Matthew 12, we learn of God’s teachings in regards to being careful about what you say.

How can you say good things when you are sinful? The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man will speak good things because of the good in him. A bad man will speak bad things because of the sin in him. 36 I say to you, on the day men stand before God, they will have to give an answer for every word they have spoken that was not important. 37 For it is by your words that you will not be guilty and it is by your words that you will be guilty.”

Can’t we think of online words like this too? Just because you can’t see a person on the other side of your screen does not mean that they aren’t there, or that they aren’t comparing all of your comments to that one time you mentioned that you are a Christian!

Sometimes it is hard to remember if you come from a Christian family and attend a Christian school, but there are people out there just waiting to catch a “self-proclaimed Christian” in a moment of weakness, frustration, hypocrisy, sin, etc.

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Photo Credit: yewenyi via Compfight cc

It only takes one time, and the Internet is forever – put something online today, and it can come back to haunt you in 10 days or 10 years!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Internet is an awesome power that can be used for good or evil.

Monitor your posts of all kinds, and just maybe one or one million people will learn about Jesus through what you put online.

You don’t want to be thought of like this guy!

AL

Life Hacks for … Life?

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Photo Credit: TheeErin via Compfight cc

Do you have a big project that you’re trying to finish before the end of the semester, the year, or the decade?

Maybe it’s a big paper at the end of the semester, or to graduate from college. Maybe you signed up for the Bible in a Year program and, like me, have fallen off the wagon a bit. Maybe you have big plans for your career or grad school or writing a book. Maybe you’re working up to sharing Christ with a friend.

I recently read an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about working on a writing project: Scholarly Writing Hacks

The idea is that you have to set aside a time every day to write, and that you need encouragement from other writers to keep you going. Then you will achieve success and come out with at least a solid draft of your paper/book.

About a year and a half ago I finished my biggest writing undertaking: the Dissertation. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: chnrdu via Compfight cc

I can’t say that I purposefully did any of these tricks, but looking back on it I can see that I did try to write a little most days and I did have others to talk to about it with. So maybe it does work. Maybe I’ll try it out on my next paper!

The point that really struck me about this though is that these tricks would work for anything – not just writing.

If you’re trying to read the Bible in a year, setting aside time to read every day is important. Otherwise, you’ll never make it. And if you’re trying to finish a big paper, putting if off until the last days WILL NOT WORK!

In either of these situations, you need people around you to encourage you, keep you going, and give you guidance.

It works for scholarly writing, and it works for being a Christian.

You can easily see in the Bible that there are many references to the need for community and accountability partners. Like in Hebrews 10:24-25 -

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have days that I would like to just relax and be lazy… not calling that friend to check on her, or not keeping up with my Bible reading.

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

by Jimmie @ Flickr commons

I also have times when I struggle to make the right decision, or need some help deciding what to do. And that is where community comes in!

I hope that everyone here at ETBU has found a sense of community and that we can lean on each other in times of need. But it’s hard to be vulnerable!

Sometimes all we can do is open up to that one special person, make sure we listen for God’s guidance, and surround ourselves with community. If we work on it every day and talk with others walking the walk we just may have a chance at finishing the biggest project of all - following God’s plan for our lives. 

AL

Walk the Walk… in secret?

After my last post about Small Group Communication class working with Mission Marshall, I got some questions about what communication has to do with a service project, and why we would count that as a class requirement.

So that got me thinking… an easy answer would be that the point of Small Group Communication class is to learn how to effectively work in groups, be a leader, and make your group stronger. Therefore you need a group project, and what’s better than applying your skills in a real life situation?

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sparklefish via Compfight cc

But that doesn’t speak to why I felt I could write about this project and class in a blog focused on integrating faith an learning in the classroom.

I’ll admit, I’m very new to the idea of talking about faith at school. You might know that I got my PhD, and a lot of my teaching experience, at the University of Kansas. Great school, but public. There was absolutely no room for religious views of any kind at school.

But, we did have Small Group Communication class, and my adviser developed this idea of connecting the class with an outside organization so that we could also make it a service project.

You did not have to teach the class that way. A board game creation project would also fit the bill.

But thinking back now, those of us who adopted the service project model all had something in common… I think we were all Christians!

We just did not talk about it. Ever.

For me, the connection between doing a service project and integrating faith and learning is clear. Didn’t God teach us that every helping hand we extend is the same as helping Him?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’” Matthew 25:34-36

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Photo Credit: the tartanpodcast via Compfight cc

At ETBU, we talk a lot about faith in the classroom. Professors are encouraged to share their own faith stories, pray with students, and involve Bible verses as they are relevant.

We do a great job of talking the talk in the classroom.

I think all of us are also walking the walk with God, but maybe in a more private manner. How often are classes involved in feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked?

How often do we help students walk the walk in public?

When I was at KU, I was involved with a great church and felt that I was doing my best to serve others… on Sunday. Then I would return to work, where I was forbidden to share my religion in class, and leave it all behind. A good idea? Of course not, but I caved to the pressure.

The one place where I could broadcast my Christian values clearly and reach out to help others with my students was through the service project in Small Group Communication. And I think we were all doing that, we just didn’t talk about it in those terms.

Moral of the story? I think it’s threefold:

  • I am so happy to have the freedom at ETBU to talk about our Christian walks openly with students!
  • Serving others IS serving God.
  • Doing more than talking about faith may be a better measure of the integration of faith and learning.

AL

Refugee. Flight. Displacement.

Photo Credit: Zoriah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Zoriah via Compfight cc

Refugee.  Flight.  Displacement.

In The Idea of a Christian College Arthur Holmes reminds us that a Christian college, and by implication those vocationally pursuing the study and application of Christian studies, must rigorously pursue the intersection of their faith within the wholeness of the human experience because “we live in a secular society that compartmentalizes religion and treats it as peripheral or even irrelevant to large areas of life and thought” (Holmes, 9).  The biblical worldview however clearly and consistently admonishes believers to positively contribute to a vision of human flourishing.

People of Christian faith are to live out what the New Testament describes as “good news” in the midst of contexts that are all too often divided, conflicted, and trapped in poverty.  As one example, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2014 the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide exceeded 50 million people for the first time since World War II.  As the UNHCR rightly notes, “1 family torn apart by war is too many.”  The following facts from the United Nations are indeed sobering:

  • 43.3 million people worldwide forcible displaced due to conflict and persecution
  • 46% of these individuals are children
  • 15 million of these individuals are uprooted from their home country
  • 27 million remain within their country but are internally displaced due to conflict
  • Many lack the essentials of life such as clean water, food and protection from violence and abuse.

These are real people with real needs. (Click to Tweet)

Moreover, the call to stand alongside displaced individuals is central to the biblical narrative.  In fact, there is an entire book within the Old Testament addressing this subject.  The book of Ruth is in part dedicated to establishing an ethic that asks people of faith to contribute to human flourishing by standing alongside those living in the midst of difficult cross-cultural situations.

Ruth is the story of a young woman who found herself in Israel, a country that differed in culture, religion and background from the one in which she was raised.  And what is more, there was a long history of suspicion, hostility and violent armed conflict between the peoples of Moab and Judah.  Imagine yourself as a young, single woman with the responsibility of providing for an older relative, with only limited access to finances, separated from family and friends, and suspiciously viewed with ethnic hostility in all of your daily interactions.

Ruth was forced to glean the leftover grain that was first missed by harvesters and servants, and it is in this context of difficulty and poverty that that the Biblical story introduces Boaz.  Having compassion, Boaz extended an open hand to Ruth and helped her with financial and material goods.  Over the course of the grain and barley harvests this initial relationship grew.

Ruth is usually told as a story of love and marriage or as a foreshadowed celebration of King David or of Christ himself.  These interpretations may be true.  But what is often lost in these themes is the reality that this is also a story about crossing boundaries, of an immigrant who came from a country that was deemed “suspicious,” and about overcoming prejudices by showing compassion and financial generosity specifically to the displaced within our communities.

The book of Ruth is a reminder that people of faith are called to stand in prayer, friendship and practical support with all those within our community who have been displaced, especially those who have experienced the traumas of violence, war and forced flight.  This is where faith, friendship and vocational discipline intersect. (Click to Tweet)

For many in the United States this reality has taken on new meaning as 50,000 unaccompanied minors have sought asylum over the last twelve months.  As the Baptist World Alliance recently noted, many of these individuals are “victimized by separation from their families, economic exploitation, lack of medical care and education [and] discrimination.”  It is our responsibility to “respond to the need for spiritual support and pastoral services for these children” and to “create welcoming communities.”

Behind the overwhelming numerical statistics are individuals who can be influenced by individuals.  This is the power of one connecting with one.  In a way, after all, the believer in Christ is to see themselves in the words of Hebrews 11:13, “[as] foreigners and strangers on earth.”

People of faith let us be among the first who recognize fellow sojourners and to follow the call of the biblical narrative by welcoming the refugees and displaced within our communities.  This week would you commit to doing one of the following:

  • Praying every day for seven days for the refugees and displaced around the world
  • Seeking greater awareness about the reality of the 50,000 unaccompanied minors who have sought asylum along the southern border of the United States
  • Reaching out and befriending an immigrant or refugee in your context and to help build a community of welcome

eb

 

Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!

The Fear Factor

I went to an academic conference over the summer.  Several of the speakers zeroed in on an area of research that is finally getting some traction.  The question they addressed concerned student success in college.  One survey, taken at the Community College of Baltimore, discovered two primary reasons students drop out of school—They are overwhelmed by life problems.  Or they are overwhelmed by affective issues, mostly centered around “fear, anxiety, and a suspicion that they are just not college material.”

In other words, ability is usually not the problem.  Life is. The fear factor is.

So, how do we help these students?  The suggestions given are common-sense ones—“Create a safe atmosphere” in the classroom.  Find a balance between “flexibility” and “tough love”—between “compassion” and “firmness” (a lot harder than it might sound).  Implement “confidence-building experiences” early on in the semester.

And be aware of mindsets—because students will have “fixed mindsets” or “growth mindsets.”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says that a fixed mindset is “the belief that intelligence is fixed [which] dampens students’ motivation to learn, makes them afraid of effort, and makes them want to quit after a setback.”

So when classes get hard, students give up.  Because when they struggle, Dweck says, they “feel dumb.”

Do I have students who have this mindset?  Of course.  But my confession is this: Sometimes I have the same mindset.

I fear failure.  And in my profession, where performance is evaluated and measured each semester, I often feel like I’m not measuring up.  And when I struggle, I feel dumb.  This doesn’t motivate me to be better.  It discourages me and makes me want to give up.

I guess the question is this: How do we establish growth mindsets?  How do we establish the belief that just because something is challenging and causes us to struggle, this is not a reflection of our intelligence or ability?

I’m pretty sure that most of the speakers at the conference did not embrace a Christian world view.  If there is such a thing as grace, I learned, it is merely a human grace we extend to each other.  And as teachers, we know the expectations of gracious teaching.  Help students to realize their potential and to be true to themselves.   Encourage.  Uplift.  Reinforce.  Reaffirm.  We do this because we care about them.  But we do this too because we care about retention, and we must always be looking for ways to keep students from dropping out.

But is this all there is to teaching?  Just getting students to finish college and get jobs so we not only identify them as successful but ourselves, as well?

I worry a lot about leaving God out of this equation.

Do I care for my students? Yes.  Do I want them to graduate?  Yes.  Do I want them to get good jobs?  Yes.  But. . . .

If this is all we are about as educators, we only address part of the need.  Because each one of us has a soul.  And souls don’t have expiration dates, like milk.  We will all live forever.

I take education seriously.  But I take eternity much more seriously.

I admit to my students that college is a big thing.  But it is not the whole thing.  God has opened this door of opportunity for you, I tell them, so seize it.  Work hard and be successful, not to bring honor to yourself, but to bring glory to God.

And when they get scared.  When they start to struggle.  When the challenges seem insurmountable.  I remind them that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.  Trust Him, I say.  Lean on Him.  Because He is real and He is relevant.

I work hard in the classroom.  I take the material seriously.  But I am also serious about modeling a life that glorifies God, the author of grace.  If they don’t see that life in me, I have failed.  Measure me all you want.  Evaluate me all you want.  But I have a greater judge.  And when I stand before Him, I hope I hear these words—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I want that for me. I want that for you.  I want that for my students.  Because that is true success.  

SC

A Woman Called to Ministry

As a child, I sat in the pew of a typical Southern Baptist church, hearing strong male voices reading the Scripture, leading the hymns, preaching the Word.  As a teenager, I began to notice that those male voices were never broken by lighter female intonations, that the godly women who taught me in Sunday School never prayed, much less preached, in the vast holiness of the sanctuary.  I began to look around me and realize that everyone looked alike; the black children with whom I went to school never darkened the doors of our church.  I did not understand then why my church seemed so segregated, so exclusionary.  After going to seminary and hearing similar testimonies of the Southern Baptist students around me helped me realize that my church was not the only institution holding desperately to the patriarchy of the past, living out the perfect fifties sitcom within its hallowed walls.  Yet I still could not figure out why, when the world around them had changed and grown, progressing ahead of much of the oppression of the past, so many churches had remained frozen in a time when white men ruled society, government, and especially church.

Having been reared in a loving, Christian home, I came to know Christ at an early age, earlier even than seems possible to me now.  I heard about Jesus from my kindergarten Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Foster. She talked about Jesus’ love and about the sin of humanity and though I probably did not understand everything she told me, I remember feeling both gratitude for God’s love and remorse at being a sinner. I have a clear memory of kneeling by my bed one night—I could not have been more than five years old—and crying, asking Jesus to forgive me. It is actually the first clear memory I have from my childhood. As I look back on it now I understand how remarkable it was that God reached out and showed me love as a small child and that I embraced that love even before I could read the Bible. I consider it an immeasurable blessing that God has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Since I grew up in an army family, we moved several times before settling in Fort Hood, Texas, the largest military base in the world. It was there that I made my faith in God public, during Vacation Bible School at Memorial Baptist Church of Killeen, TX, and I was baptized at that church in 1987 at the age of ten. Church was always a part of my life, so much so that I often tell people that the church raised me. I have always loved hearing and reading Bible stories, even as a teenager, and the Baptist churches that I attended in adolescence helped plant in me a love for the teachings of the Bible and a desire to know more and understand more about God.  I think I always felt a persistent tug toward ministry in the church. When I led Bible study groups and went on Mission trips during high school I sensed that God had gifted me in the areas of teaching and ministry. However, because the Southern Baptist tradition does not embrace the equal gifting of men and women, I never knew exactly where I would fit in ministry. The options that were open to me—children’s ministry or missions work—never clicked as the calling God had for me.

In college, I began to feel that God was leading me to study the Bible in a more formal way; I thought that God was calling me to go to seminary. Some of my fellow students at our Christian college heard that I was considering going to seminary, and they decided it was their duty to remind me that seminary was a place to train pastors, and since women could not be pastors, there was no reason for me to go. It is difficult to point to the most significant spiritual event in my life, because my life has been a continuous series of spiritual events through which God has slowly and adeptly molded me, but I think that the moment I was told that God did not want me to be a minister was a huge moment for me. I heard the words and I understood how the men who spoke them could read the Bible that way, but I sensed something was wrong with their interpretation of the Scriptures. I was sure that the Holy Spirit had spoken to me and called me into the ministry and was prodding me to go to seminary and even though that calling did not seem to be compatible with what Scripture said, I was going to follow the Spirit and work out what the Bible said about that along the way.

In seminary, I began to read the Bible for the overarching story that it told about God and humanity. I learned that the way I had been taught to read the Bible—merely picking out verses here and there and piecing them together into an unorganized system of belief—did a great disservice to the message of the Bible. There was a bigger idea behind the stories and principles of the Bible that was greater than the sum of their varied parts. God loves us. We live in rebellion. God sent Jesus to bring us into a close, communicative relationship with the Triune God. God has gifted people for many different works of love and service. The Holy Spirit helps us learn about those gifts. And finally, God calls the most unlikely people. Regardless of whether Paul said women should not have authority over men or should keep silent, the bigger message of the Bible was that in Christ, there is no male or female, and God used women to do all kinds of ministry during Jesus’ life on earth and in the earliest years of the Christian church.  I knew that God wanted to use me to do whatever it was that the Holy Spirit led me to do. And though I was scared because I knew it would not be easy, I was ready to go where the Spirit led and do what God would call me to do.

God revealed the call on my life slowly but purposefully. The people who had the most influence on my spiritual journey were my religion professors.  Though I learned much from the ministers under whom I grew up, the Christians who truly modeled a servant lifestyle and the sacrifice and love of Christ were my professors.  They gave tirelessly of themselves in order to teach others how to interpret and appreciate the Bible then, in their spare time, they prayed, comforted, and encouraged their students in all of their life challenges. It is their influence that awakened in me the desire to teach and preach.  My worldview was shaped because of how they taught me to read the Bible.  I have come to understand through their instruction that the Christianity that Jesus initiated is a lifestyle of love and sacrifice, not a list of rules that exclude people who do not follow them from the kingdom. Now I believe God wants me to do for others as my professors did for me…teach people how to read and interpret the Bible so that they can carry out the purposes of God in this world faithfully and completely.

Real Live Prof

I live in East Texas. It has been the second dry, hot summer in as many years. Now it is September, but the heat keeps coming. I have really felt it this summer as I have worked outside most days. I would start at daylight, and work until noon. I would come home exhausted, change out of sweat-drenched clothes, eat lunch, and rest. If I still had work to do, I would go back out in the evening. It was still very hot, but evening and shadows and shade were also coming and comforting. Now I look at the 10 day forecast and I am not encouraged. Yet I know that eventually it will get cooler, and even cold. I am eagerly waiting for that day. (By the way, I have learned to pray for rain like a farmer, or, at least, a fisherman).

My Favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

My favorite fishing place: down from 5 acres to 1/2 acre this summer

Karl Marx wrote in 1843 that “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people” (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).  By using the term “opium”, he meant that religion has the effect of anesthesia upon the religious in that it makes us “dead” to our current bad political situations and instead gives us a heaven to look forward to. If you are focused on heaven, he reasoned, you will never take seriously the exploitive conditions here on earth that you could fix through political revolution (i.e. worker’s paradise, and communist utopia).

Dear Karl, it is true that as a Christian, I am very much looking forward to heaven. Jesus tells me I will be with him and I will have a new body. He is preparing me a place, and preparing me for that place. I will see my family again. A few years later, I fully expect to walk out on my lawn, pick up the paper, and read the 10,000 year weather forecast: Sunny and clear, high of 75, low of 65.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, said it this way, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that. the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

So, finally Karl, as the summer and heat and dry drag on, I am called to hope, which I think you would have to admit is very revolutionary. But my hope is too small if I only hope for cooler temps and a little rain. It is a much better and bigger hope if I groan with creation and look to God to right the wrongs of global warming and global warring against the things of God.

 

 

The Thinking Church

Why are so many young people in America leaving the Church? church-sign-antigay--300x210

A wide array of answers have been suggested lately. The Barna research group conducted eight national studies with teenagers, young adults, youth ministers and pastors in order to shed light on the issue. They found that young adults in the millennial generation find churches to be overprotective, shallow, antagonistic to science, inadequate in their teaching on sexuality, too exclusive, and unfriendly to those who doubt. Millennials themselves have expressed their own perspective, identifying the church’s hostility towards homosexuals to be the main reason that young adults leave the church (see the recent, overwhelming response to “An open letter to the church” blog post from Dannika Nash).

It is hard for those of us in the older generations to understand such harsh criticism. Sure, the church has its problems, but we have experienced it as a place of comfort and belonging, of worship and love. How can there be such a discrepancy between our experience and theirs and, more importantly, what does the younger generation need that the church is not giving them?

Several months ago,in a much-discussed CNN blog post, Rachel Held Evans suggested that what millennials (herself included) need from the church is authentic worship, theological substance, an end to the culture wars, a truce between faith and science, a moratorium on divisive politics, and a challenge to live holy and sacrificial lives like Christ.

I want to suggest that all of these needs can be expressed in one foundational need: The younger generation needs a thinking church.

For most of the church’s history, the leaders of the church–pastors, priests, and other clergy–were the most educated people of their times. Even into the twentieth century, it was common for pastors to read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and to have attended the most prestigious schools on earth. Today, we study the sermons and letters of preachers from the past to learn from the clarity of their thought and the beauty of their prose.

However, in the last century, key movements swept across the landscape of the church and changed it drastically. The holiness movement, the first and second Great Awakening, the growth of the charismatic church, the birth of evangelicalism, and the rise of fundamentalism all shifted the focus away from matters of the head to focus on the importance of the heart. With these movements, the church began to seek revival rather than research, to value the work of the Spirit rather than the work of the scholar, to emphasize the importance of conversion and morality over education and tradition. These were all welcome and important changes and they could have enacted a healthy balance in the church.

But as is common with the human practice of religion, we went too far. Churches that emphasized the Holy Spirit became suspicious of seminary and theological education. Churches that valued the Scriptures above all else began to exalt the Bible to a place of idolatry, worshipping the literal words of its pages rather than the living message it conveyed. Churches that centered their services on fear-inducing sermons of the hellfire and brimstone type started to lose the practices of reflective worship and repentant prayer, of intellectual inquiry and cultural engagement.

And so the scales tipped. Suddenly, churches were not encouraging Christians to be educated and articulate, to study science and literature and art along with Scripture, or to search for deep, thoughtful answers to the world’s most pressing problems. Instead, churches began to discourage difficult questions and academic interaction with the world. They felt challenged by—and consequently became hostile to—new ideas, new technology, and new ways of thinking, speaking, and ministering. The chasm I described in my earlier posts began to grow–that chasm between the intellectual pursuit of God exemplified by the pastors of the 19th and 20th century (also by Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17!) and the religious practice of the 21st century church characterized by fear of scholarship and distrust of the academy.

When the younger generation looks at the church of today, they realize that as the church, we might feel passionately, protest loudly, and correct indiscriminately, but we do not think deeply. And at the end of the day, our young people need A THINKING CHURCH.

A THINKING CHURCH would be able to converse with the fields of science and literature and business and  education, to find truth in them and speak truth to them as well;

A THINKING CHURCH would interact with culture and the arts, infusing more creativity in its worship and more cultural relevance in its message medium;

A THINKING CHURCH would train its people in apologetics, the art of defending the faith with articulation and compassion;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to talk with people who are from different backgrounds—whether different religions or cultures—to  learn from other beliefs while remaining firm in the tenets of their own faith;

A THINKING CHURCH would be eager to discuss answers to the difficult theological questions that many millennials ask, like:

  • How does the message of the Bible fit with the principles of science?
  • How can so many Christians read the Bible and come up with different interpretations?
  • How can I love my neighbor (who may have different beliefs from me) while remaining strong in the ethical teachings of Scripture?
  • How can a sovereign God of love allow so much evil in this world?;

A THINKING CHURCH would be prepared to offer compassion and support to those who doubt, who find themselves stuck at the uncomfortable intersection of faith and reason;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to change, ready to grow, and open to admitting when they were wrong.

Critical Thinking at Church picWhat the millennials really need is for the church of history, with its intellectual prowess and curiosity about the world, to meet the churches of today, with their passion for Scripture and ethics and service and Spirit. They need to see the body of Christ, in action, engaging soul and heart and strength and mind in order to change the world with the love of God.

Are we, as the church of today, ready to become the thinking church that our young people so desperately need and, if so, how do we do it?

The Chasm, part 2: The People of the Chasm

In my last post, I lamented the wide chasm that separates the church and the “academy” (biblical scholars and their scholarship), a separation I have noticed since the beginning of my theological education and that I am consistently reminded of as I teach New Testament to college students in the Bible belt. In an attempt to transform my fruitless complaints into conversation, I want to use my next couple of posts delve deeper into the chasm and discuss the people who contribute to the chasm, the problems or symptoms that result from the chasm, and the possible solutions we can work toward to eliminate the chasm.

The People of the Chasm:

Are you kidding me?

Group #1: “PLAIN SENSE” CHRISTIANS

These are the devout believers in local churches who can quote Bible verses (out of context), list the books of the New Testament in order, and proof-text better than an inspirational greeting card company. Although many in this group truly desire to understand what the Bible says, they know (or care) little about the literary themes and historical contexts of the Bible, the major doctrines of Christianity, the principles behind responsible biblical interpretation, or even the overarching “big story” the Scriptures are telling. Often, individuals in this group become confident that their interpretation is the only right interpretation of scripture, that their reading, the “literal” or “plain sense” reading, is the only way to read the Bible. This group is suspicious and even fearful of theological education, telling young ministers things like, “Don’t go off to seminary unless you want to lose your faith!,” or, “You do not need anything but a Bible and the Spirit to interpret God’s Word.” Of course, I affirm that the Holy Spirit can speak to any reader of Scripture, regardless of their education or background; however, we all need to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is sometimes a hard task and we would all do it better if we did it as a well-equipped, well-informed body of Christ rather than individuals who confuse Bible knowledge with Bible understanding. When we fail to grasp the complex beauty and depth of the biblical literature, reducing it instead to folksy advice and empty platitudes, the true message of Gospel can be obscured or misapplied in a way that hurts others.

Group #2: OUT-OF-TOUCH INTELLECTUALS:

These are the well-educated Bible scholars who have studied the Scriptures for decades, have a good grasp of its background and content, and have the skills necessary to do responsible biblical interpretation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this group spends little time teaching people in the churches what they know, instead choosing to write specialist books on specialist topics with specialist vocabulary that no one in a typical church would ever want to read, even if they could. This group is on the other side of the chasm from group #1, although occasionally a few of its members will lay bricks to start the bridge to the other side (the scholar-pastors).

Bible Scholars

Group #3: PROBLEMATIC PASTORS

These are the pastors, both educated and uneducated, who do not take the time to prepare themselves and their people for the challenge of reading and applying the Bible. Pastors could be the largest part of the construction crew to build a bridge over the chasm, but many instead contribute to it. Some do not realize how much time it takes to study and compose a biblically-sound sermon. Some cannot accept that although the Spirit does speak, hearing the Spirit well takes time, thought, and preparation. Some were not properly trained in biblical interpretation, so may need to humble themselves and seek more education. Whatever the problem might be, it is not a solely personal problem because it affects the people in the church who trust and rely on the exegesis and wisdom of their preachers. Although it is true that pastoring is a hard, time-consuming job with high demands, it must be so because the people in group #1 need to be guided to participate in the chasm solution instead of being part of the problem. We who are pastors and teachers must strive for excellence because people depend on us.

OTHER GROUPS?

Have I missed any groups that contribute to the chasm? I would like to hear from you. Leave a Comment.

NEXT WEEK…the problems the chasm creates in our church and society.