Virtually There

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Experiment in Conversation

I don’t know why I do it. Why I EVER get into these conversations. But I have a friend who has to be one of THE most conservative (almost fundamentalist. I say, “almost fundamentalist” because I think there would be some things that the fundamentalists teach that he wouldn’t go along with) Christians you could ever find. I’ve never PERSONALLY met someone AS dogmatic as him.

We had this conversation that started out slightly light hearted but eventually broke down with him basically, saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what any author says. This is what the Bible teaches.” I said, “Yeah, but what about this scripture that teaches something that is the opposite of what you say the scriptures teach?” “Well, I don’t care. All I know is what Jesus said and he said…by the way, what is that scripture you are talking about suppose to mean anyway? I don’t know what exactly that means.”

I said, “If you don’t care that there are other scriptures that speak against your position, don’t you think that it is YOUR responsibility to look into all the relevant texts to see if your position is what the scriptures in fact teach?”

“Well, I just don’t care Brandon. I just don’t care.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff said this:

“Thou shall not take cheap shots. Thou must not sit in judgment until thou has done they best to understand. Thou must earn thy right to disagree. Thou must conduct thyself as if Plato or Augustine, Clement or Tertullian were sitting across from the table—the point being that it is much more difficult (I don’t say impossible) to dishonor someone to his face.”

Now, aside from being disrespectful of me personally, as to blatantly disregard my views, (though that sounds as if my views are something that attach themselves externally to my being and so therefore, they don’t reflect myself) this is what some scholars term, “the noetic effects of sin.” In a nutshell? Basically, a seeing of what you only want to see. Not what you CAN’T see, but what you want to see.

Now truth, to a large extent, is perspectival. In Bible school one professor, (Richard Hanner at Christ for the Nations, [CFNI]) said, “Grey areas in the Bible do not mean you don’t take a stand.” And though many adhere to different positions in scripture (there is probably more that we agree upon than not) the problem arises when we insist upon our understanding (not being open to other interpretations, even adapting them to scripture or theology) as THE interpretation of scripture on a given issue.

See, the ironic thing about my friend is that he claims that HIS view is THE biblical view (and I’m one of those soft-bleeding heart lobbies), yet most of the Christian church does not side with him on this issue. The majority of those who would be in agreement with him are Pentecostals and some evangelicals. Orthodox don’t really have a position on the matter. But Roman Catholics and Charismatics and many mainline churches would basically be on agreement on the essentials of the matter. Many evangelicals (though there has not be much talk about the issue until recently) are in agreement with RC’s. Yea, it is not only this, but it is the whole idea that says, “I don’t read the Bible through tradition or what have you. I’m just a Christian and the Bible is all I know.” But that is not true for this issue as it is for most other issues along the theological spectrum that Christians fall along. As Jack Deere said (to paraphrase and you will want to see his "Surprised By The Power Of The Spirit" in that link), “There is no such thing as pure objectivity when it comes to reading the Bible.”

I’ve heard that the world was a smaller place because of globalization. But what kind of world do you live in when all that is truth is your own little interpretation that is open to no one but me, myself and I. Small indeed.

The issue, by the way, was the place of Christianity among the world religions and the uniqueness of Christ for salvation. But the REAL issue was about narrow-mindedness and the lack of respect for others as we converse.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kirk Franklin's Newest CD "Hero"

You know? I like Kirk Franklin. I bought his newest CD and there is a song, entitled, “Imagine Me,” a song about what Christian theology has normally thought of as “sanctification.”

Now I don’t mean for this blog to be blog that is entirely critical of this song as I’m sure when Kirk Franklin was writing the lyrics, he was not opening up systematic theology books to gage the extent of the theological correctness of that which he writes about. As a matter of fact, I think it would take away from the artistry and creativity of where he starts when he writes and much of what this album is about—his own life experiences—as is the case with much of what I term “black gaaaaaspel music.”

So Kirk Franklin is following tradition here. Like many of the spirituals written under chattel slavery, Franklin writes from the heart about life, pain, and hope for a brighter tomorrow. What else do we have to rely on when the dark nights of the soul smash down on us like tsunami? This, as a matter of fact, is what the Old Testament biblical authors called the children of Israel to do when they were in Egypt or when other nations attacked them and overtook them—to remember. Remember the promises of God.

But this is also where Franklin’s song may be at its weakest as well. When God calls us to remember, it is not merely to remember OURSELVES, but to remember what God has in store for ALL of creation. By this, I don’t simply mean our own psychological selves--- being freed from sins, passions and dispositions towards sin. What I mean would include, the larger vision of the church—what Brueggemann has called the “finished church.”

Brueggemann, in his book,

“Texts Under Negotiation”

says that,

“…the church is only an anticipation of the full, promised community of the whole world. It ill becomes the church to announce its own expected completion, because the church itself is not the goal of God’s creation.”

But it isn't only this as well. One day, the whole of creation will no longer be bound by what Brueggeman calls,

“fixed patterns of domination, no longer caught in the endless destructive power struggles…a world no longer bent on hostility but under God’s presence as a place where creatures “no longer hurt or destroy.”

The text for this is not somewhere to be found in Revelation (in completion and consummation) but is found in Gen 9: 8:17. God rethinks and recares for the world (cosmos) and the rainbow servers to remind God of his promises.

Again, it probably was not Franklin’s desire to get into some full-fledged theology of renewal. None-the-less, though I personally think he is on target, his vision is limited.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Belief and Unbelief

Ruth Tucker, in her book, “Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling The Mystery Of Belief & Unbelief” speaks about Marcus Borg, Martin Gardner’s fictional “Peter Fromm,” and Paul Tillich. Marcus Borg leaves faith but returns. Peter Fromm, leaves orthodox belief, but hangs on to some semblance of divinity and faith at least for comfort. Tillich leaves orthodoxy, however, reinventing God in the process. All authors seek to hold on to faith in God in the midst of doubt and unbelief. Though concerning these gentlemen a little further on, Tucker says that the only alternative to a shaky faith is to abandon it altogether in which she admits that she has respect for those who have HONESTLY CONFRONTED some of the complexities (and mystery) of their faith and yet have walk away from it.

Most Christians who don’t think seriously about their faith, would view such unbelief as a serious sin. Yet they seem to have a “simple faith” which doesn’t take into account the mystery and paradoxes OF the faith they possess. Admittedly, thinking about God can lead to a “crisis of faith” of which Tucker takes serious note of.

However, I have wondered why some genuinely believe and some don’t. Why some believe for a while and then turn their backs on God forsaking Him like some of the believers in the testimony of scripture have done. Have you ever stopped and wondered why, in spite of all the evidence, some continue in unbelief? Is there something wrong with the evidence? Is it not all its cracked up to be? Certainly, Christians have put too much faith in the evidence as if there was some final refutation to the objections that come their way (as if for example, no one will ever invent a version of a theistic argument in which an atheistic objection does not apply). But the problem, when all is said and done, seems to me to be a problem of the heart.

Calvin wrote that we all have a sense of the divine and that we don’t need or require evidence for such belief to be rational. In other words, it is “perfectly rational” to believe in God and not have evidence for that belief. However, it is not this side (evidential side) of the equation that I want to concentrate on, but rather on the psychology of belief side.

Some scholars say that you can’t believe anything on the basis of insufficient evidence. They say that it is ALWAYS wrong to believe in something when you don’t have enough evidence to support your claims. One of the problems with this is obvious. Such a statement can’t live up to its own demand. The fact of the matter, is that we are finite beings and we cannot meet such requirements and beliefs change as “new evidence” comes to light (which goes to show that we are finite beings because our intelligence is limited).

But there is much that we believe simply because someone told us. As a matter of fact, MOST of the beliefs we hold are the result of simply believing something that we have been told. Not to mention, who has the time to sift through ALL the evidence anyway? So, because we cannot meet such a requirement, we are not OBLIGATED to do so. In the end, we have beliefs (that we cannot prove) in which we rely on our cognitive faculties for their productivity (i.e. memory to produce memory belief) and we can’t help BUT trust those faculties for such beliefs. This is true for both the believer as well as for the non-believer.

For an example, let’s say I have a certain belief, “A.” Now, I must provide evidence for such a belief. But then, I must provide evidence for THAT evidence and so on and so on and so on. What it comes down to is that belief must start from somewhere which means that some beliefs that we obtain are ones we have simply accepted and then reasoned from. This seems to me, to be the way we were designed. That we rely on those faculties DESIGNED BY God to produce such beliefs in the right circumstances (say on a retreat, in a Church meeting or lying in your back yard looking up at the starry night sky).

It is not only that we don’t have the time to sift through the evidence (of which most people in the world don’t have that sort of information available to them anyway) but that we have some sense of the divine, some sort of awareness of divinity. And if that is how we were designed, then maybe putting ourselves “in positions of” evoking that sense of the divine is how we should be gearing our apologetics.

For example, whenever I’m at a funeral thoughts of the transience of life and seeing myself for what I really am, a mere mortal, become more acute. When I see evil and the resulting death in the world, I’m especially attuned to my creatureliness. When I look into the sky and see the vastness of space, I realize how small I am and I say to myself, “There must be a God.”

I agree with Ruth Tucker, that science, biblical and theological complexities can get in the way of my “seeing God.” But it seems that the problem is that in those “smoke-screen” situations one is only seeking God with a proud head and end up missing Him for lack of a humble heart.

Friday, August 12, 2005

About the Sacred, Secular thingy

Now, before people go off and think that I’m harping on Ms. Bowman, let me say that I think her stuff was tight. She does bring up a VERY important point about Christians dichotomizing the sacred and the secular. That it doesn’t exist. That “it” is all owned by God. There is no such thing as music that would be considered Christian as opposed to secular. Music is music. Business is business. Education is education. Work is work. I can’t imagine calling work sacred or secular. So, I appreciate the concern that she has for THAT matter. However, this is not to say that there are no such “secular” tendencies within cultural activities. There ARE distortions of what these things should TRULY be in which they need to find their rightful place within God’s Creation through Christian transformation. And so, I don’t want to ignore THAT. For example, in business, we have unions. Now, as much as we may not appreciate HOW FAR unions have gone, we can say that some sort of “policing” needs to be done, because business execs (who have sinful dispositions) tend to “lord over” (or to use the terms, “power trip” or “walk on”) their laborers. These are but manifestations of sin in the world. Therefore, in order to stem these tendencies, we need to “police” them to see that they don’t get out of hand. So it is, in this sense, that we could say that industries such as the music business could be “secular.” But this can be found everywhere because sin is found everywhere.

Still, Ms. Bowman’s point stands. To play (or not play) a particular style of music or be in a particular line of work does not mean that one is “more spiritual” than another. The pastor’s, priest’s or minister’s position is no more spiritual compared to a bricklayer. Some time ago, when I was out of a job, I received some advice from a friend in which he said, “There is no job that is dishonorable, Brandon.” Flipping burgers at McDonalds is as much of a spiritual act of worship as is the work of a pastor, priest or minister and so, we should not disparage or look down on those who do vocationally do those things.

Anyhoo, I just wanted to stress, that those points in which I disagreed with Ms. Bowman about, did not mean that I was in total disagreement with everything she spoke about.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

More on CCM

As I alluded to in my last entry, the question of the legitimacy of CCM is REALLY a question concerning the legitimacy of much that is to be found in popular religion, culture or art in general. It would seem to me, that if one has a problem with CCM, one will probably have a problem with WWJD? bracelets, “Christian psychology” or therapy, the health and wealth Gospel, Christian television, etc. However, while it has been noted that anthropologists look seriously at other’s cultures, they seem to reflect less seriously on their OWN culture. What this means is that we could think of popular Christian subculture as being a “indigenous theological commentary” which if we reflect on it a little more seriously can enrich our understandings of God at work in our lives.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Second Blog Ever In My Life! CCM or Charity?

One of the sites I hang out at is a site called, “Arts and Faith.” I didn’t know this, but for the longest time, Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has been the subject of many a discussions on this site and from what I understand, has been beat senseless.

Of late, one of the ladies, Kate Bowman of Grand Rapids Michigan, wrote for evangelical flagship magazine, “Christianity Today.” In the 07/11/05 issue entitled, "Secular, Sacred, or Both?" Ms. Bowman, more or less bemoans the sacred/secular dichotomy found in CCM, not to mention the shallowness of that which IS confessional in this industry.

At A&F I wrote a small reply to her article that you can read here.
However, I would like to say some more about this as I don’t feel I finished saying everything I wanted at A&F. Part of the reason for continuing it here is that I felt that the thread had basically ended and I didn’t like the idea of opening it up again, with the possibility of resurrecting ill feelings.

When I think of it, I don’t believe that the problem with CCM is the sacred/secular divide. Nor do I think it is the mediocrity. Those things have been with us for a long time. Whether in the world or in the Church, there have always been “high brow” and “low brow” art. As a matter of fact, some scholars point to THIS DIVIDE as being a false dichotomy as they say that “high” and “low” is due more so to WHO is doing these things i.e. “high” is high because the aristocrats and the wealthy could afford to do them.

Whatever one says, IMHO, the issue REALLY is NOT CCM per se, nor any aspect of popular culture for that matter. The issue, it seems to me, is one of an exercise in charity. You see, when I read or hear complaints about “low brow” popular religion, culture or art, the person “being critical” is not free of looking through rose colored glasses. Why? Because when we oppose popular religion, culture or art, we do so almost out of an UNCRITICAL COMMITMENT to “high” religion, culture or art as if **IT** is not in need of Christian transformation. Yes, sin has infected CCM and popular religion, culture and art, but it would be short-sighted to see THAT sinful distortion as only in “low brow” and not in “high brow” arenas.

A “hermeneutic of charity” (as opposed to a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” which ALSO is important because it guides us into taking a CAREFUL look at things we might otherwise blindly accept), will guide me into recognizing God at work in his Creation. In the link above, I mentioned Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw. In the book, “Consulting The Faithful: What Christian Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion” Mouw speaks of a Thai farmer’s questions and answers about God and nature as expanding our own understanding of how divine revelation speaks to the human condition. It is not merely a question of “reaching out” to these people but it is also a way of gathering new theological insights or as a former pastor of mine use to say, “nuggets” about God.

Question. Steeped in popular religion, culture and art, do we recognize the deep longings, desires and interests of ordinary Christians? Or do we primarily see these as something to be corrected?

Monday, August 08, 2005

First Blog Ever In My Life!

I thought about doing this after a friend of mine did it (Paul Scibetta in Brantford Ontario).'s hoping to a successful blog site.