I’m sitting here on a grey, rainy Wednesday morning thinking that it’s high time I wrote something here. It’s been over five days of silence on this blog, which, if the social media experts are to be believed, is a virtual eternity fraught with all kinds of weighty perils. I am surely running the risk that readers will look elsewhere, that traffic will decline, that my “brand” will suffer, that I will fail to “build upon momentum” or any number of other hazards that come with blogging too infrequently.
So, right. Time to write. There are certainly no shortage of potential topics. Read more
I’ve been thinking about Richard Beck’s piece from yesterday about how being offended by the Bible seems to be the unique province of educated, liberal folks, and about how those “on the margins” seem not to be nearly as scandalized—even by the really nasty parts. I’ve been thinking about this in no small measure due to the fact that our church has spent a bit of time in “nasty” texts in our preaching and worship this summer (Leviticus and Joshua, for example), and I have, on occasion, found myself almost apologizing for the Bible, almost assuming people will be offended by it. I know that people in our church struggle with the Bible. I struggle with the Bible. It this merely a function of my/our social location? Read more
We had such an amazing trip… such an amazing part of the world. It’s God’s country.
I don’t even remember what part of the world the person who recently told me this was talking about. The Okanagan Valley, maybe? Vancouver Island? Hawaii? It was somewhere lush and green and fertile, no doubt, somewhere where the temperatures are usually pleasant, where the breezes are welcome, where there are hills and valleys and mountains, somewhere where there is plenty of natural beauty to spare, where it doesn’t have to be forcibly wrenched out of the plain, the mundane, the not-so-obvious. It was somewhere without dust and wind and mile upon mile of flat, featureless land. It was somewhere with more green than brown, more warm than cold. It was somewhere else. Read more
A few months ago, a book with the ominous sounding title, The Explicit Gospel crossed my desk, quickly assuming its position among all the other sad, neglected books strewn around my computer. “What an interesting title,” I initially thought. Then I read the back cover and noticed that the recommendations came mostly from A-list members of the neo-Reformed crowd (Mark Driscoll, et al). My interest began to wane. I read the introduction where the author diagnosed the church’s problems as not preaching or adhering to an “explicit” enough gospel message. I began to suspect that I had seen this movie before. Another withering critique of the “soft” state of current preaching, of the mushy, squishy Jesus that people tend to prefer, of the social gospel, of the dangerous departure from salvation by grace alone, another clarion call from the young, restless, and Reformed to return to true biblical preaching. I haven’t gotten much further in this book. Read more
Back in my university days I took an undergraduate philosophy course on the problem of evil. We had been through most of the well-rehearsed responses to the question of how evil can co-exist with an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God. Each had their problems, of course. “But what happens if we just say that God is limited?” our professor asked, with evident glee. What if God’s kinda just making it up as he goes along? What if God’s a bit of a selfish jerk who isn’t nearly as concerned with human misery as we are? Or, what if he’s a nice enough guy, but he just can’t do much about evil? What if he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with? What if he’s learning as he goes, just like the rest of us? Read more
I spent part of this week reading a book about preaching. It had an impressive sounding title that included the words “the glory of preaching.” I bought it on the recommendation of someone from my grad school days who had spent ten minutes or so listening to me going on and on about my what an unobvious choice I was for the vocation of “pastor.” Zero homiletics courses, zero counseling courses, a whole string of academic classes on systematic theology, philosophy, postmodern theory, etc., an almost pathological fear of public speaking, a history of fast-talking, stuttering, introversion, etc. “All in all, not the most obvious candidate to be behind a pulpit on Sunday morning,” I nervously half-joked. “You should buy this book,” she said. “It will be a great help to you.” Read more
That may be true for you, but how can you say that it is true for everyone else when there are so many different understandings of truth out there
This is, of course, among the most common questions out there in postmodern-dom and, more specifically, in the context of the religious/ethnic/cultural diversity that is becoming the new normal in Canada and the West in general. Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there is much that is good and true and beautiful in a wide variety of worldviews and practices. We are also alert to the painful reality that the Christian worldview has all too frequently been aligned with the interests of colonialism and other less overt modes of cultural imperialism. It can be a tricky thing, this business of expressing one’s convictions about the particularity of truth amidst all of diversity and historical error and the baggage that comes along with it. Read more
I have, over the last few months, had the privilege of regular interaction with a couple of young men who (independently) came to our church inquiring about baptism. In their own words, both know “next to nothing” about Christianity. They don’t know much about history or theology, the have read little more than a scant few verses in the Bible, they aren’t much interested in the latest controversial issues in the church, and (gasp!) don’t find my sermons terribly memorable. But they want to get baptized. They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.
(Come to think of it, how many of us really do?) Read more
A few stray strands from the week that was that I am trying to connect on a glorious hoar-frosted Friday morning….
One of the cool traditions that our church is a part of is what is called “Lenten lunches.” Every Thursday throughout Lent, a different church in our city opens its doors to sisters and brothers from other denominations for a short devotional, followed by a simple lunch of soup and bread. Yesterday, I was at a table with a few other pastors and the conversation inevitably turned to the demands of ministry, the sometimes seemingly endless meetings, the overwhelming needs of people that we are so often powerless to meet, the importance of boundaries, etc. There was plenty of knowing nodding and mm-hmming. But then there was a pause… and a comment from an Anglican minister: “But isn’t the invitation to Christ on some level an invitation to die?” Read more
A couple of conversations this week have me thinking about fairness. The first was a kind of prolonged lament about the unfairness of life. This person had the (mostly justified) impression that life had treated them profoundly unkindly and this unhappy fact coloured how they interpreted virtually everything else they encountered in daily life. The second conversation occurred with a friend over supper last night. His daughter had been learning about the importance of fairness in school, about how everyone needed to be treated exactly equally. “Why tell them this?” he asked as we were getting supper on the table. “Life isn’t fair—the sooner they learn this the better!” Indeed. Read more
Sometimes I’m afraid of God when I read the Bible.
The statement came from my son after he had spent a bit of time wandering around in the delights of Genesis 19 for an assignment. It’s quite the passage. You have a guy voluntarily sending out his daughters to get raped in order to avoid the apparently more odious prospect of having the men of his town sodomize a couple of angels who had paid him a visit, you have people being struck blind and being turned into salt, you have God raining down sulfur and fire in judgment of the Sodom and Gomorrah, you have two young women getting their dad plastered in order to have sex with him and produce children, and generally an overall scene of depravity and sex and violence that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Well, maybe not. But still, it’s not exactly PG material. Read more
The denomination in which I serve—Mennonite Church Canada—is currently asking its congregations to engage in a lengthy and challenging process of facing challenging difficult ethical issues of our day (issues around human sexuality, religious pluralism, pacifism, environmental concerns, etc.) head on and discerning together what the Spirit seems to be saying to us regarding how we are to respond as followers of Jesus. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an attempt to put hands and feet to our theology. Mennonites affirm, among other things, the importance of community, the priesthood of all believers, the inappropriateness of hierarchical power structures and modes of relating to one another, and freedom of the Spirit to lead us into deeper and truer understandings of Scripture. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an (ambitious!) opportunity for churches to demonstrate that we actually we believe what we say we do. Read more
One commonly hears some version or other of the refrain that faith is difficult here in the twilight of modernity. How can we possibly believe in the God of Christianity in light of modern science? Or in light of an understanding of the history and composition of Scripture? Or in the context of such astonishing religious diversity and all of mutually exclusive truth claims therein? Or given the amount and variety of suffering in our world? Or given how much we know about the sociobiological basis of all of our thinking and believing as human beings? Or _____?
The impression often given is that faith is uniquely improbable or challenging or implausible here in our current cultural moment. All we are left with, it seems, is some vestige of faith as an individually chosen, privately held, subjective collection of beliefs which may provide psychological comfort or a kind of illusory meaning for our lives, but has little bearing on the real world. Read more
Those who know me well will attest to the fact that the question of how we think about the nature of God is important to me. Like, really important. Like, it’s the fundamental reality behind almost every significant theological, anthropological, exegetical, hermeneutical issue we get excited about. Like, it’s implicitly or explicitly operative behind nearly every pressing existential question we spend time agonizing over. Like, it affects how we relate to and understand others (especially those who are different from us!), how we understand and exercise power, how we parent, worship, pray… How we think about who God is, what God is like, and how God relates to human beings matters. A lot. Read more
Over the past two thousand or so years the Christian church has consistently, in its worship, its leadership structures, its pedagogy, and its general ethos, deviated from the spirit and intent of the community Christ envisioned. Rather than becoming a community of believers gifted and called to participate together in the ongoing task of becoming disciples of Jesus in life and worship, the church has become an institution maintained by professionals. There have been exceptions along the way, to be sure, and of course God has seen fit to work with and through the church with all of its errors, but the general trend throughout most of church history has been to move away from multivoiced communities of active participants toward mono-voiced institutions filled with passive consumers. It is time for this trend to change. This is the provocative thesis of Sian and Stuart Murray Williams in their book The Power of All: Building a Multivoiced Church. Read more
Does hell exist? Who goes there? Is it a literal “lake of fire?” How does what we believe about hell relate to our views about violence? About the nature and interpretation of Scripture? About people of other faiths? What does our view of hell say about our view of God? These are among the questions addressed in Hellbound?, an intriguing and, for some, controversial film that has been making its way around North America this fall. Read more
As I mentioned in the previous post, our church is spending the month of October in the book of Job, looking at themes of suffering, lament, protest, repentance, and the motivations for faith. As it happens, Job was the subject of conversation on the most recent edition of “Tapestry,” the weekly spirituality program on CBC Radio. More particularly, the theme of the program was “coping” and explored the question: “How do we cope with the suffering that inevitably comes our way?” A number of appropriately diverse perspectives were explored (this is Canada, after all!), each of which contributed to what was a fascinating program. Read more
Among the lectionary readings for the month of October are selections from the book of Job. Having long been fascinated by this magnificent story, I decided back in summer that October’s sermons would be oriented around Job and themes of lament, suffering, repentance, the sovereignty of God, etc. Strangely, I never really clued in to the fact that the first Sunday in October would be Thanksgiving Sunday here in Canada, and that I would thus find myself in the somewhat awkward position of starting a series on the trials of Job on a Sunday normally devoted to giving thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy! It was an interesting experience, to say the least, trying to weave together themes of gratitude and grace, pain and promise, suffering and salvation, through the stories of Job, Jesus, and all of us who ponder the mysteries of joy and pain in their shadow. Read more