The resonance of Jordan Peterson

In the last year a relatively unknown psychology professor from the University of Toronto has become something of an Internet celebrity. He briefly captured international attention for his stand on non-binary gender pronouns. While he had no problem using standard pronouns. If a trans-male wanted to be referred to as he/him he would. He simply refused to use the ones that people made up for themselves. He caught the attention of some popular podcasters/YouTube stars and did some interviews. They were fascinating. His mix of philosophy, myth, psychology, history, and theology, yes, theology had people amazed. His message resonated with lots of people but primarily with males.

What intrigues me is the nature of that message. Structurally it is very Christian even if he won’t profess any faith in a higher power. It feels like old school Christianity though. It affirms that the problems in society are found in the darkness that runs through everyone. In an era left and right are quick to point the figure at things like terrorism, racism, privilege, capitalism Peterson points straight at the individual. There are problems in society because there are problems with people.

So, his challenge is for people to “sort themselves out” and to pull out the beam from their own eye before addressing the speck in others. The first step he encourages people to do is to clean their own room. Make small steps to create order out of the chaos of their lives and build on it. He encourages people to read great books by some of the most profound authors of the last 200 years like Jung, Freud, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Piaget, and even Nietzsche. The crazy thing is people are doing it and posting about it online. They are talking about the things they are trying clean up in their life.

One book he keeps coming back to is the bible. His Patreon account swelled with subscribers so he took that money and booked a lecture theatre to expound up on the psychological significance of the bible stories. He lectures for 2 ½ hours and takes a ½ hour of questions. The series already has a million views. I’m just blown away. People who have long since rejected Christianity, are spending hours listening to lectures on the bible.

As I take this all in I must wonder if the church has missed something, particularly with men. There is no call to take responsibility for one’s life. There is so little talk of repentance, or aligning oneself with the truth. To see oneself as a responsible citizen making order of chaos and to renew our culture. I wonder if the comforts of a culture that keeps us well fed and well entertained that we are earning for something to believe in and something to fight for.

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It’s a brave new church

I just finished Aldhous Huxley’s Brave New World. Written nearly 100 years ago it outlines a dystopian human future where society is engineered to be complete free of want, loneliness, boredom but also family, marriage, attachment. Everything and everyone is engineered for the maximum possible enjoyment. If despite all this you feel sad or upset you can just take the wonder drug Soma which is pretty much Heroin without addiction, withdrawal, or side affects.

In the book, there is an intriguing dialogue between the “Controller” that orchestrates this brave new world and a “savage” from the reservation that hasn’t been civilized. This dialogue illustrates how antithetical Christianity was from the philosophy of this new civilization. As I finished the book I reflected on how different Christianity is today from what was expressed in this nearly 90-year-old book. It seems like the church has evolved right along side to fit in with our increasingly brave new world.

Interest in understanding our faith is low. Small churches are closing and feeding members in to the large churches. The large churches have increasing numbers of people who might make it out to a service once or twice a month. Thin Christianity made up of platitudes, concert lighting and self-help principles doesn’t require much but it doesn’t provide much either.

I wonder what will come of it all. It all seems so precarious.

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Practicing the truth in love on social media

In the era of social media it seems as though a great many church people have failed to see if the ethics found in scripture apply to what they post, comment and like on social media. Here is a passage I think we should consider with our online speech. Perhaps if I just updated and focused the language a little bit maybe it would get some traction.

Jas 3:5-10 NET. So our Facebook account is a small part of our persona, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. (6) Our social media presence is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (7) For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. (8) But no human being can tame social media; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (9) With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. (10) From the same account come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters.

Of course James wasn’t writing about facebook, he used the metaphor of the tongue for speech. Nor would he necessarily call for people to cut themselves away from social media anymore than he was calling for people to cut off their own tounge.

Do you praise God with your mouth but curse and insult people made in God’s image?

I hold to certain political positions that differ from the conservative view that is predominate in evangelical church communities. So often when little clusters of Christians get together someone starts spouting off about some issue and assumes we are all on the same page. Sadly, often I’m not and it is usually because I have done a great deal of research and spent some time considering the issue and can usually articulate two or more perspectives. Sometimes I’m tempted to enter in to the fray, but when the nature of the discussion is no better than “so and so is an idiot” I don’t really see an opening there.

Recently I saw a little graphic that implied that everyone that favoured a policy that I favour is a moron.

I know it isn’t aimed directly at me, but I can tell you it hurts just a little and it erodes relationship.

The word of the year in 2016 is post-truth. There are malevolent social and political forces that care nothing for the truth and will post anything to further their agenda. Too often Christian’s like and share graphics and memes that are full of distortions, manipulations and lies. Using lies, manipulations and distortions to further a social or political end, even if it seems to further a biblical value, is to participate in darkness.

There is a lot in scripture on this topic. Before posting or sharing consider the following:

Check yourself, are you acting out of anger or your own agenda? Have you truly listened?

Jas 1:19-21 NET. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (20) For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (21) So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.”

Do you actually know anything about what you are talking about? Have you researched more than one side to the issue? Have you considered the validity and integrity of your sources?

Pro 18:13 NLT “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

Is what you are going to communicate consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus?

Col 3:17 GNB “Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.”

Are you speaking from a place of maturity? Are you getting carried away by trickery and deceit? Are you speaking in a spirit of love?

Eph 4:12-15 NET. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, (13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God — a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. (14) So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. (15) But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

  

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Why I think a carbon tax is a good option

I think I want to go out a limb here and explain why I think my fellow residents of Saskatchewan shouldn’t be so up in arms about this carbon tax idea.

I believe that the earth is warming. It is kind of hard to argue with temperature records. We have thermometers, we record what they tell us, we compare numbers. My own anecdotal observations only confirm this. Frosts come later in the year, we have actually had Christmas’ with no or little snow, and we had 30 degree weather in early May this year.

I believe it is most likely human activity that is causing it. Scientists have studied all sorts of alternative causes but none explain the warming better than green house gases. We know that certain gasses trap heat and we know they are increasing in the atmosphere. It is the best explanation. Far better than any skeptic has ever put forward.

So if global warming is really happening and we are causing it should we act to limit it. The long term social and economic ramifications are very likely to be much worse than the actions we should take to mitigate global warming. We are talking about forest fires, floods, droughts, coral bleaching, and rising oceans which will on balance out weigh the benefits we get from things like increased crop yields and lower heating bills. Droughts in the wrong area can cause upheaval and social breakdown. Before the civil war in Syria there was a massive long term drought and displaced countless farmers. Considering the cost war and refugees, switching to renewable power seems like a pretty cheap option.

Consider something a little closer to home: forest fires. According to one recent study the amount of forest lost to fires has doubled in the last 30 years. The forest fire season started very early this year and very likely contributed the size and scope of the fire that burned down 15% of Fort Mac at a cost of over 2.5 billion dollars. This is only going to get worse.

Recapping my points: warming is happening, human activity is causing it, and it is costing us money and heartache now and it will get worse.

So then what do we do? We have to reduce our GHG emissions too next to nothing by about 2060. Hopefully we will have discovered an efficient way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere by then so we do reduce so much GHG emissions. What this looks like is limited use of diesel, gasoline, natural gas and coal. Our homes will be heated by electricity or wood, our transportation will be with electric cars and buses and all electricity will be generated by wind, solar, hydro and perhaps nuclear.

How do we get there? The 3 main approaches are regulation, cap and trade, and a carbon tax. Cap and trade is what Europe has done, and what Ontario and Quebec are planning to do. Companies can emit so much carbon. Companies that are under the cap have a credit which they can sell to another company who is over the cap. Regulation, is just making rules to force industries to change. It requires a large bureaucracy to make assessments to ensure all organizations are compliant. The 3rd is a carbon tax. A carbon tax increases the price of everything we want to eliminate so it curbs the demand of these things and creates an incentive to find alternatives.

All three of these options will result in some sort of drag on the economy but most economists agree the carbon tax is actually the easiest to swallow. You simply slap a tax on transport fuels, heating fuel, and electricity and let people make the best decisions in their own best interest. Some carbon taxes are less of a drag than other. BC returns all proceeds of their carbon tax back as income tax cuts which is the most popular approach among market economists. Cap and trade also creates a financial incentive to curb emissions but it is a more complicated and therefore a less efficient mechanism. Government needs to set caps, and mechanisms need to be in place to ensure companies are honest about their emissions, and a market for trading credits needs to be created. Regulation was the failed approach of the previous federal government. It might have done more, but they really didn’t implement anything. It generally regarded as the most expensive approach.

For an economy to thrive there needs to be an efficient and accurate pricing of items in its market. If the pricing is accurate the market can decide which is the best product or service to use. Sometimes however the total cost of a product isn’t reflected in the cost of its production. Taking cigarettes for example. The cost of putting tobacco in a paper and sliding them in a box is next to nothing compared to the cost of lung cancer treatment. Governments put a tax on tobacco products so the users end up paying something closer to the total real cost of that product.

The total cost of burning coal is much more than the cost of digging it out of the ground, constructing a power plant and burning it. If we factored the true cost of coal, and the warming resulting from it, energy from renewables and even nuclear power would seem cheap.

If we had to pay the trust cost of gasoline/diesel, coal and even natural gas we would act differently. We would likely live as close to work as possible, use public transport when we could, drive smaller vehicles and build well insulated energy efficient homes. There would be a greater impetus to innovate and find cheaper ways to do things. One of the bedrock assumptions of a free market economy is that in general individual people make better decisions than the government.

A carbon tax or carbon "pricing" is a mechanism to get people to pay the true cost of energy. Having that energy priced appropriately the market will figure out the most efficient way to deliver products and services.

To say that a carbon tax/pricing won’t reduce emissions is to disavow one of the fundamental assumptions of fiscal conservative market ideology. Increased price invariable results in decreased demand. To say that it will cost jobs and do nothing to reduce emissions is actually self-contradictory. There is a real risk that if a company is forced to pay the true cost of coal that they will simply pick up and move to place where they don’t have to pay the true cost. Which is why the rest of Canada will have little to no sympathy for Saskatchewan because BC, AB, On and PQ have already elected to pay a higher cost for carbon. It is easier to change provinces than countries. The only way through this is if we all act. Europe already has, it is our turn and hopefully the US will do the same.

There are industries which rely on fossil fuels for which there is no current viable alternative. I haven’t heard of tractor that runs on batteries or hydrogen. Any carbon pricing needs to tweaked so that it doesn’t unjustly punish operators that simply have no alternative to switch to. For the rest of us we do need to change.

The argument that Canada emits so little carbon we don’t matter is flawed. I think we are about 12th overall in the world in GHG emissions. If Canada and every country that emits less green house gasses than Canada decided they didn’t have act because they are such a small part of the problem that would leave ¼ of global emissions unchanged. There is no way we can reach our global goal leaving 25% of emissions unchanged. It also seems quite preposterous that we would expect much poorer countries to change while we do nothing. This is a global problem, and if we truly assessed responsibility there is no reason to divide along national lines. We are part of the same economy as the US, one could simply lump us together and as an economic block and suddenly we are now one of the largest emitters with India and China. In fact the only way to truly and fairly assess responsibility would be to assess emissions on a per-capita basis and on that measure Saskatchewan is pretty much the worst in the whole world.

I can just imagine how the people of India might consider us: So your GDP per capita is 30 times ours, but you think we should keep burning turds for energy while you get to drive your ¾ ton truck 50 kilometers to pick up your groceries at Costco.

There is a moral imperative to act. The most productive way to fight global warming is not regulations, cap and trade systems or a carbon tax. It is voluntary action. We can all be part of the solution to ensure that as a society we remain prosperous, safe and secure. Hopefully technology will evolve to make it less painful. The cost of renewable energy is steadily and swiftly declining. New breakthroughs in battery technology and CO2 capture may eventually make this far easier than it looks right now. There is a lot we can do right now. The easiest and least expensive changes are just found in becoming more energy efficient. If all you can do is spend $50 on LED bulbs do it. Call Saskpower to pick up your 30 year old beer fridge. Fix your leaky windows. Find work close to home. Walk everywhere you can. Drive a car instead of a truck when you don’t need to haul anything. Insulate your home. Share your stuff. The easy stuff actually saves you money.

These are just first steps, by themselves are modest measures, but the first biggest change has to happen in our conscious awareness. 

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Theological Mexican Standoff : Four views on hell

I just finished a second run through the book Four Views on Hell. In it there are 3 perspectives on hell offered, and one perspective on a purgatorial heaven. The three perspectives on hell are eternal conscious torment, conditional immortality/terminal judgement and universal reconciliation. Dennis Burk argued for ECT, John Stackhouse for CI and Robin Parry for UR.

Eternal conscious torment is that God punishes the wicked forever.
Conditional immortality holds that God makes the wicked cease to exist.
Universal reconciliation holds that those who do not know Jesus will come to know him after death and will eventually be reconciled to him.

I think a lot of the debate hinged around three concepts found in scripture and what they really mean:

Does eternal mean forever? (Mat 25:36)
Does destroy mean utter termination? (2Th 1:9)
Does all mean everyone? (Rom 5:18)

In ECT eternal means forever but for advocates of CI and UR it doesn’t.
In CI destroy means the end, but for advocates of ECT and UR it doesn’t.
In UR all means everyone, but for advocates of ECT and CI it doesn’t.

It is like an old western movie where 3 characters each have 2 guns and they are all pointing at each other in a circle.

The pivot point seems to be in defining and reconciling the concepts of divine holiness and love. If holiness is moral perfection and an insatiable desire for justice meted out through retributive punishment, then one naturally falls in to the traditional ECT camp. The problem with this view is that scripture doesn’t not directly define holiness in this way. It is inferred from the recorded punishments through the history of Israel. It is inferred from the belief that Jesus taught ECT. The reasoning becomes circular. The infinite punishment of the wicked teaches us that God infinitely retributive. Jesus is teaching that punishment is infinite because God is infinitely holy requiring infinite retribution.

Throughout the history of Israel most judgements did not involve God directly punishing Israel, like raining down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel was turned over to the whims of her enemies. The worst punishments ever experienced by anyone in the history of Israel pale comparison to the notion of unending infinite torture. Lots of people died, many suffered the deprivations of siege, some had their bodies dragged through the street by wild animals but there is no ceaseless torture. I think this is one reason why conditional immortality is gaining more and more favour. There is far more consistency with CI and the history of God’s judgement of Israel than ECT. Combine that with the passages that talk about how immortality is a benefit of salvation implying the soul is not inherently immortal, and that the end of the wicked is destruction (Phil 3:19) they make a pretty compelling case. One that injects at least a sliver of compassion in to God’s retribution.

One of the better lines in the book belongs to Stackhouse when wrote that UR is the “triumph of hope over exegesis” which may be a nice way of calling it naïve wishful thinking. I disagree with Stackhouse because there was lots of exegesis in Parry’s chapter he just approached his exegesis with a different lens that views the scriptures through the lens of Christ, the gospel and the broad story of Genesis to Revelation. Can anyone imagine the Jesus we see in the gospels torturing anyone? The one who befriended sinners. The one who suffered and died for them. I personally believe that Jesus is the best revelation we have of the nature of God. It isn’t the prophets and it isn’t Moses. We see passages that describe Jesus as the image of the invisible God. John wrote that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. At the mount of transfiguration Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear son…listen to him” and Jesus was the only one left. There are lots of things in the law and prophets that aren’t consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus, and in trying to make them fit together we risk placing an interpretive lens that distorts the picture of God that Jesus gives us. Some will say that I risk undermining the authority of scripture. I think the reality is we all have our favoured parts, I’m just aware of it and intentional in how I do it.

In Romans 5:15 Paul wrote that the “gracious gift is not like the transgression” in that is more abundant (v17). Most evangelicals have no problem with the idea that Christ’s death is universal. He did extend grace and life to everyone. The problem is that not everyone accepts it. This runs in to a logical problem. If God in his abundant love and grace decided to favour everyone would he then say: “Well I’ve decided to love you but you don’t want my love, so now I have to torture you forever.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Now if salvation was more about rescuing humanity from their inherent corruption and people chose to reject God’s cure, they would still be saddled with ravages of this disease. They would suffer until they let God make them better. In this scenario it is easy to see how God could favour people yet they still suffer if they reject his favour. This is pretty consistent with how Jesus describes judgement in John 3:18-21. When looking at it this way is incomprehensible that God wouldn’t offer the cure in the age to come as he has in this age. This is especially true when we realize that God didn’t just decide to love us, he is love, he is only acting out of his true being.

Robin Parry believes that eventually everyone will see the light and reconcile. On that point I find it more difficult to agree. The problem with our corruption is that it distorts our perception to the point where the light becomes darkness to us (Mat 6:23). The depths in which the human soul can sink is surprising. If a being whom God loved was truly in a spiral of despair and hopelessness I think that God might intervene against their freewill in order to free them. He might “put them out of their misery” or let death consume them in to nothingness. He might reset them like we might format the hard drive on a computer and restore them back to their created image. Can anyone get so consumed by darkness there is no way back? I hope not, but I don’t know.

It just feels right to believe in the triumph of hope and I don’t believe we compromise our exegesis to do it.

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Do we really believe all lives matter?

I can’t say that I’ve invested a lot of time researching the imbalanced treatment of minorities by US law enforcement. In the few articles I’ve read it seems as though police killings are relatively balanced by race but other things like getting pulled over aren’t. I have a local friend whose parents came from Sri Lanka (south of India). He is just brown enough that in the dark he was accosted three times by local police in one night. It was immensely frustrating for my friend. It seemed very dehumanizing. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

I don’t think “black lives matter” precludes the notion that “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.” Deep down we believe in conditional humanity. We value you if you meet certain conditions and if you don’t meet them you are lesser. The most obvious condition is incarceration. As soon as you are in jail in most places you are less than human and should be treated as such. The problem with this approach is that if you treat people like animals they are more likely to act like them when you let them out of their cage. They are much more likely to victimize someone else. I don’t know that we’ve fully grasped the reality that there is a direct connection between how we treat offenders and continuing crime. If we treat people in a way that makes them much more likely to reoffend do we not share responsibility for that crime?

At least with the dehumanizing of criminals we have an understandable reason for doing so. We want retribution. We need a deterrent. We have much less reason to dehumanize people because they are too young, too old, too poor, the wrong race, the wrong colour, the wrong religion, from the wrong town or live in the wrong part of town, or had the wrong parents. As soon we believe in conditional humanity we open ourselves to all sorts of prejudice.

I believe in something even more profound than all lives matter. I believe in grace. Grace is the English rendering of the greek word charis, which means unmerited favour. You’ll find it over 100 times in the New Testament. “The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV). The very definition of this word changed my faith forever. Not only do all lives matter, all lives are favoured by God. In fact, God deemed all lives so valuable that he would suffer to heal and restore all of them.

How does this translate in everyday life? We treat people with dignity, respect and compassion regardless of whether they can do anything for us. I think it also means we take difficult measures to ensure people are safe from those who would exploit or victimize them. In some cases people are victimized by criminal activity, and sometimes it is unfair treatment from people in power in society.

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Biblical values or tribalism

Just the other day I was having a long talk with a good friend. While we both have identified ourselves as evangelicals, we both felt increasingly uncomfortable in the evangelical culture. For myself I think part of it is theological. Depending on your definition I’d still call myself an evangelical, even if I’d call myself a moderate one. I still love the bible and view it as authoritative. Like many other Anabaptists I see the life and teachings of Jesus as the focal point of scripture. So I’ve studied, and I’ve invested in my education and resources in order to better understand God, the Christian faith and my world. So much of my participation in the evangelical world was based on the assumption that others in this movement had similar values.

In the last few years I’ve come to realize, that just isn’t true. It is a really, really difficult realization to come to.

While I readily acknowledge there are lots of people who do deeply care about biblical values and just interpret the bible differently…with those types of people I love to engage, discuss and debate and learn things from.

I think the heart of Christianity is Christ, but following Jesus requires the following:

A fearless devotion to the truth

Unselfish love

Following Jesus required people put their ingrained knowledge and values to side to fully consider what he was saying. When Jesus told everyone they would have to eat his body and drink his blood only those fearlessly devoted to following the truth at any cost continued to follow him.

The human mind can only handle so much connection, so when we hit a certain point we simplify things by interpreting people through stereotypes or other models. Some of these types and models are developed in community. We tend absorb our perspective from our community. When the assumptions and expectations of that community become the dominant lens by which truth and situations are judged regardless of evidence that is tribalism.

What has frustrated me is that when an issue comes along that calls for a fearless devotion to the truth or unselfish love I see evangelicals holding fast to the tribal value rather than reconsidering things from a biblical perspective. In fact, evangelicals assume their tribal values are biblical values. In that we are not so different from the religious leaders of Jesus day who persecuted him.

I’ll give you an example: assisted dying. There are some who work in the field of social work or health care that actively affirm the biblical value of the sanctity of all life. I don’t begrudge these fine people as they attempt to shape the laws and policies of our governments. Assisted dying at this point only impacts people who are so incapacitated that they can’t end their own life. These people are generally older, are suffering from a chronic or terminal condition and are therefore a relatively small contingent of people. There is a much larger contingent of people who commit suicide because they have lost hope, are mired with addictions or are afflicted with mental illness. The church has very little leverage to shape the outcome of the legal changes forced by the supreme court of Canada. We could make a huge difference by advocating for social justice for the vulnerable sectors of society with high rates of suicide. We could help fund addictions and mental health programs. Aside from 12 step programs evangelicals don’t do much on this front.

The reason is we don’t really care about people. We just get upset when people violate the rules of our tribe.

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Moral failure in Christian leadership

In the aftermath of another high profile Christian leader stepping down to a moral failure there are the usual comments about accountability, moral failure and the difficulties of pastoral leadership. Last winter my annual seasonal mood issues began but unlike other years they did not recede with the end of winter. I relieved myself of any ministry and community obligations that I felt too heavy to bear. Since May I’ve felt significantly better, but I’m still very tentative and wary of taking on more burden than I can handle. It has been great, letting myself off the hook. It took until my summer vacation, where I finally go to the point where I felt blissfully bored. No immediate anxieties, no urgent projects, and nothing but my role as a father, husband and friend. The time has given me some perspective.

I think a lot of people in church leadership turn to a vice like booze, drugs or sex because of a conflict between their subconscious and conscious selves. The primary driver is not the “temptation.” The sinful activity is an escape channel. At one level there is the commitments to position, colleagues and church community. There are the self-assigned burdens and expectations. These are prioritized above personal needs which results an ever depending mental and emotional health deficit. Inside this cocoon of pressure something has to give. Without even fully understanding it people make drastic choices masked under the impulse of vice. In the moment it is just a fling with the secretary but deep down underneath it is all is a desperate psyche that wants to be free. It happens to lots of people, not just pastors.

Sadly, most people who to travel this path are shamed and discarded despite the carefully crafted public announcements of ongoing encouragement and support. It seems odd, the very community or organisation that watched the leader spiral out of control thinks they can now navigate a delicate restoration process. What I’ve observed too many times is that Christian leaders are valued for what they bring to the life the organization. When they become a liability they become effectively worthless and are treated as such. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some leaders have real friends who will value them regardless of their perceived or real failures. Some leaders don’t travel the path of moral failure they just burn out, and the long term disability insurance contract forces the organization to try to reintegrate them.

I’ve been part of and had friends in many Christian organizations. I’ve never observed the kind of support, community and acceptance I’ve experience in simple church ministry whether it be a small group or a house church. This winter and spring I leaned on a lot of people for support. I am thankful for the rich friendships that have been mutually cultivated inside and outside my core community. I have a web of relationships that helped me immensely. Without the pressure of position, I could step back without shame, and it was easy to turn to people to help.

Most of the purposed for solutions for pastoral burnout are ineffective or obviously too hard to follow. I think more than anything we need real community and solid relationships with people that you know will accept you in your failings. Sadly, in most ministry situations this notion is unrealistic.

I’m better. I feel tentative though. It is kind of like that point after you sprain your ankle, the pain is gone but you don’t want risk anything more than a slow sure walk until you know the healing is solid. I can’t say I’m eager to rush back in and try to change the world. In fact, I’m learning how my life’s desire, my life ethos to change the world has hurt me. That subject will have to wait for another post.

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Discipleship ministries need deep church engagement

From 1992 to today I’ve had a nearly uninterrupted connection with Bethany College/Bible Institute. I’ve been a student twice, a volunteer, intern, and IT support. Bethany ran for 88 years, which means was connected with it for ¼ of its life. It has been almost impossible for me to write about the school, it’s death and future possibilities because the grieving has been hard. I knew my friends and former colleagues were grieving as well. It was hard watching it die. Like so many others I felt I had a lot invested in the school and I know others were more connected.

I’m convinced now that any discipleship ministry needs to be deeply connected to and responsive to the local church. Up until the early 2000’s Bethany had something called the Convention. Delegates from the churches would come, see the budget, ask questions etc. It wasn’t generally that exciting but it was a form of connection and accountability to the local church. When we ended that we lost something.

There is a natural fault line between academics and local church leaders. Academics do tend to favour the perspectives of those with higher academic credentials. Some local church leaders view academics as out of touch with on the ground realities and can be suspicious of the more nuanced theological perspectives of academics. These are just tendencies and don’t have to be the reality. It takes intentionality on both sides to maintain a fruitful connection.

Any institution needs to get outside it’s own echo chamber. There is a deep temptation to listen to our supporters and subtly dismiss our critics as people who don’t “get it.” True critical engagement is very difficult because very few people want to hurt anyone’s feelings. When we tend to describe everything we do with spiritual language it is hard for anyone to point out the flaws in what is going on. When honest people see the flaws or have reservations they tend to not say anything. If a culture develops where almost all the feedback you engage with is from supporters it can lull you to thinking you have broader support than you actually have.

Transparency is something I think most Christian institutions struggle with. In most institutions, Christian or not, there is the “inside story” and the “outside story” on sensitive issues. The inside story it is the full account and the outside story is the sanitized version. This strategy is legitimately used to protect people’s dignity or privacy. However, there is always the temptation to sanitize merely to protect the image of the institution. We see the institution as God’s work and we convince ourselves that we are protecting God’s project. This is flawed because if it is God’s project a negative response isn’t going to derail it. If things are so bad we need a miracle to keep going, you might as well be honest and stop trying manage people’s perspectives.

Sometimes the hardest person to be honest with is ourselves. This is true of a community as it is with and individual. Some very difficult realities at Bethany were not acknowledged until it was too late. It can be difficult to sort things out. I know that not everyone agrees with me on some of the issues I believed to be pressing. One thing that is impossible to disregard is the outcome and how surprised people were inside and outside the institution when everything unfolded at the end.

I hope that any future endeavours will avoid the same mistakes. It is vitally important to remember whom we serve. We serve God and his church. Any discipleship ministry will not stay healthy or viable for long without transparency, critical intentional engagement, and accountability to the local church.

 

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A disquiet in my soul concerning the gospel

For the last few years I’ve sporadically studied the meaning and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have a theological word for it: atonement. It started when I watched a video that illustrated how many modern presentations of the gospel make Jesus and the Father to be very different kinds of people. The Father is holy and unrelenting in his need to dispense retribution on depraved sinners and Jesus the loving and forgiving saviour sent to provide us an escape from God’s wrath. This view is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) and there are versions of it that attempt to maintain the unity of the Father and the Son but I’m not convinced they do a very good job.

I’ve spent many hours studying the scriptures, and now I’ve moved on to books on the subject. I’m still neck deep in it. It has been a fascinating study. The dominate evangelical view really only goes back to Luther and wasn’t fully articulated until John Calvin. When I read proponents of PSA they proudly proclaim this is the heart of the gospel and if we are missing this we are impaired in our faith. So if that were true almost the entire church missed the core component of the gospel until the reformation. That is an astounding assertion.

What have I concluded from my study so far?
That the atonement and our notion of salvation runs far deeper and far wider than forgiveness and the punishment of sin. The themes of victory over sin, death and the devil, reconciliation, redemption, ransom, cleansing, healing, receiving life are all tied with Jesus death and resurrection are all strong and directly related to Christ’s death and resurrection.

At the very least we’ve been proclaiming a gospel message that so heavily oversimplified it is a rump of what is known in the scriptures.

The most common expressions of PSA make God out to be an unrelenting autocrat that cannot tolerate any deviation from his divine will. It finds no common ground between holiness and love, justice and compassion, righteousness and forgiveness.

By viewing all salvation through lens of appeasing God’s wrath we ignore all the wonderful things the atonement has done and is doing for us.

The gospel has many facets and no one way of looking at it captures all the dimensions of it. We should carefully consider the early church’s view on this. It is beautiful.

Like many theological mysteries, where we end up is largely dependant on where we start. One of the most crucial questions is “What is the problem atonement is trying to solve?” I think the problem is human corruption through Adam’s choice to “know” good and evil. Rebellion is a symptom of corruption, and thus corruption is the heart of problem. When we start here Jesus’ death is more about cleansing, healing and restoring in order that we stop rebelling and in doing so end the hostility we have towards the holiness of God and resolve God’s anger over sin. God is satisfied, not because someone was punished for humanity’s sin, but because humanity has been freed from sin, cleansed of corruption and reconciliation has taken place. Jesus’ death frees the prodigal to return home and find the Father is already waiting for him with open arms.

 

 

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