What Do You Want?

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What’s on your mind?

Facebook asks me this question every time I log on.  As I scroll down my timeline I feel encouraged to give my thoughts on topics religious, political, and just about everything in between.

“What do I think about this?” I wonder.

Over the last few years, however, two books have made me think twice (ironically) about whether what’s going on is quite so simple as that.

In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, uses the metaphor of an elephant and a rider. The elephant represents our subconscious world: our emotions, intuitions, and flash reactions (disgust, attraction, etc). The rider is our intellect and reasoning.

Through much research, Haidt’s conclusion is this: elephant’s rule. We have an intuitive response to almost everything, and our minds then work to justify that response. We think we’ve arrived there by “thinking”, but actually we’re far less rational then that. Haidt puts it like this… Continue reading

Why I Want To Be Left Behind

empty-suitIn some Evangelical Christian circles, saying, “I don’t believe in the rapture,” is a bit like saying, “I enjoy kicking puppies.”

People are often shocked and surprised to hear it. And yet it’s true… I don’t believe in the rapture. At least not as it’s commonly understood.

But let’s back up a little bit. What exactly is the rapture? Well, at a popular level, it’s the belief that, at some point before Jesus’ final return (there is debate about exactly when), believers will be “raptured” to heaven. Planes will crash as pilots disappear,  and there will be lots of spare clothes lying around for everyone.

As strange as it may sound to people who are unfamiliar with this doctrine, it has widespread acceptance among many Evangelical Christians. For many, it has simply gone unquestioned, so when it is questioned, they feel disturbed.

So, why don’t I believe it? Continue reading

Earthquakes & End Times

In New Zealand we’ve recently had a rather severe earthquake; 7.8 on the Richter scale, centred in Kaikoura. Thankfully, there were very few casualties, though the damage to infrastructure was significant.

In the wake of the quake, social media filled up with all kinds of comments, many of which were in response to some very unfortunate remarks from a prominent Kiwi televangelist. For a great engagement with some of the biblical issues at play there, I recommend this post by Frank Ritchie.

However, judging by social media, the quake has also seemed to exercise the end times enthusiasts. My experience in Christian ministry over the last 7 years has taught me that there are a lot of these folks out there in our churches. Usually their enthusiasm is fueled by pop-theology done by teachers with not much credibility beyond an internet following.

Why do these teachers and this subject get so much air time in the evangelical Church?

To be fair, some of it, I think, is a genuine sense of fear and intrigue. After all, the bible does say things like, Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:7-8). Continue reading

The Best Books I Read In 2014

I managed to get through a decent variety of books this year.

I finally read Volf and Girard, both of who felt better to have read than to read. Like always, I read McKnight and Keller, but I managed to read a little less from them than I usually do. In the end, these were the best books I read this year…

10. Community & Growth by Jean Vanier
A lovely, rambling book about what true community and commitment can look like. Written by a man who has given his life to other people.

9. If God Then What? by Andrew Wilson
I am more and more a fan of Andrew Wilson. Saying that this is an apologetic sells it short. It’s full of imagination. This is my current go to for non-church people wanting to know about God.

8. Ill Fares The Land by Tony Judt
The only non-theology book on my list, this is a fascinating history of (and case for) social democracy. Recommended to anyone interested in politics.

7. The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays
While I absolutely did not agree with Hays on every point (does he really all but paint the Jesus of John’s Gospel as anti-semitic?!), this book is still a juggernaut. On almost any ethical issue, I think it’s mandatory to consult Hays.

6. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
This book is a gift to the church: a same-sex attracted Christian who has chosen to remain celibate, telling his own story, and advocating a historical Christian position on sexuality. A must-read for anyone with questions (or relating to people who have questions) in this area. So… everyone.  Continue reading

New

I’ve been wondering about the insatiable desire to say something new, especially in the Christian academic and publishing worlds.

If you want to get a PhD, for example, you probably want to discover something new, or at least present a fresh angle. Likewise, if you want to get noticed as an author or academic. Sometimes, it seems to me, this sort of drive leads to the kind of hyperbole which can come across as self-parody. At other times it can lead to biblical scholars presenting work which could have been presented as another helpful angle, instead as the solution to the Church’s last 2000 years of bumbling about in the dark. (I think of N.T. Wright here, who’s work I otherwise enjoy).

I’m reading Richard B. Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament at the moment, and I’m finding it really worthwhile. But, I did just come across this paragraph (on page 199), where Hays responds to the suggestion that his ethical framing of the New Testament is “dependent on the mainstream Christian tradition of canonical reading that goes back to Irenaeus”. You can almost hear the huffing and puffing when Hays responds. Continue reading

Scot McKnight at Laidlaw

Over the last two days I had the opportunity to go to Laidlaw College’s “Mission of the Church in the 21st Century” conference, which featured Scot McKnight.

Instead of regurgitating my notes, I figured I’d write about my personal response, particularly to McKnight’s content. So, here are some scattered thoughts on a fascinating couple of days…

Scot McKnight is one of my favourite biblical scholars, I think because he’s so accessible. I can understand what he is saying! This was reinforced at the conference. He was immensely engaging, and without a doubt the funniest Christian academic I’ve heard.

In his first address, he contended that we are using the biblical word “Kingdom” in ways the New Testament doesn’t, and that the word is more synonymous with the word “church” than the generalised good works which we often ascribe it to.

In his second address, McKnight gave a very clear and concise overview of the New Perspective on Paul, and then explored how it gives us theological resources for multiculturalism.

McKnight’s third address explored the biblical meaning of the words “love” and “grace” in contrast to cultural, and sometimes, he contended, misguided theological understandings.

My thoughts are going to assume some familiarity with the above terms and debates, so my apologies for that. If you’re interested, McKnight’s first talk, at least, is available for free on iTunes (under the title “General Session 3 – Leadership Conference 2013” from New Life Conferences).

Continue reading

Can You Do The Gospel?

Over the last few years an in-house debate about the gospel has intensified in the Evangelical world.

Squaring off like prize fighters, in one corner you have an articulation of the gospel purely in terms of conversion, repentance, and forgiveness of sins. In the other corner is a gospel framed more as joining a movement, engaging in social justice, or following in the way of Jesus. A cottage-industry of publishing has developed around the word “gospel” in recent years.

More anecdotally, last Easter I noticed how many of the “this is what Easter Sunday means” status updates on Facebook included a of critique of the other corner, depending on which view the person posting held.

If I’m starting to sound cynical; I’m not. If anything, I’m more convinced that what I believe and teach about the gospel is crucial in ministry. On top of that, conversations and observations over the years have convinced me that there is still a lot of misunderstanding out there. Many people in the church still conceive of Christianity as an essentially moralistic religion… be good and God will let you into heaven.

I do believe there is truth in the critique that some have made the gospel too narrow, as if personal salvation is all that it entails. But I’m deeply hesitant about overcorrecting and turning the gospel into something you do. I’m with Tim Keller in his Centre Church, when he argues that we need to clearly differentiate the gospel from the implications of the gospel.

So, having said that I believe the gospel is vital, perhaps I should talk about how I’d communicate it. Continue reading