I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Two people are dead and a Warsaw man remains at large following separate shooting incidents Wednesday evening in Warsaw.

Kosciusko County dispatch received a call at 5:11 p.m from the Phillips 66 Service station at 2518 E. Center St., Warsaw, concerning a shooting.

Phillips 66 employee Narinder Muldt made the 911 call after another employee told him the manager, Harpal Singh - referred to by Muldt as "K.J." - had been shot.

The suspected shooter is Omar Mora, 31, of Warsaw. Police said Singh suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his head and chest from a small-caliber handgun. Singh died at the scene.

Police believe Mora then headed to his residence at 1844 Vicky Lane, Warsaw, where he allegedly shot his wife, Lisa Heather Mora, 32, with the same small-caliber gun. [Warsaw Times Union]

This is very difficult for me to write about. These have been hard days for Lisa's family and many of us who are close to them. The above headline may be somewhat common place in certain areas of the country, but not here.

The shooting took place in the late afternoon on Wednessday, the 23rd.

The first thing to mention in regards to this story is that the facts are not all in. Various media outlets are reporting this in such a way that would suggest that there was some sort of sexual relationship between Lisa and K.J. I am simply going to say that it is important not to jump to any conclusions.

Recently at The Theos Project we have been discussing the issue of light, but during times like these it is hard to see anything but darkness. There is confusion, fear, and pain. Things seem so senseless. Two boys who will never again see their mother. A sister who will be forever missed at Christmas. A father who will bear guilt and shame for the rest of his life. All so senseless. All so tragic.

Sometimes darkness surrounds us. What does it mean to see light in these times? What does it mean to face the hard days ahead? To try to sort out the difference between wanting justice and craving vengeance? How does one come to grips with losing a life so dear? Why is the pain of the disconnect so great?

The questions are many. The answers are few.

In the midst of the questions and in the midst of the darkness I am reminded of the Gospel of John, chapter one:

In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness.

Somehow the light of Christ shines. It is this light that gives hope for the future. It is this light that shines in the darkness of our own pain and confusion. Christ's light is pure. His light is true. We come to him for healing. To cry when we feel overwhelmed by bitterness, and to love through the hate.

That Christ came as the light is the reason we reach out to each other. Christ's mission is our mission: Bring light to the darkness of the lives of others. Sometimes our lives are marked by living that is inauthentic and superficial. The light of Christ penetrates and leads us to something deeper as we love and care for each other.

In Him,

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Music about Indiana?

Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

A guy named Jon McLaughlin has a new album. The title? Indiana.

There are some good songs, and I recommend it. Very reflective. It's pop-piano. For a preview of his music you can take a listen at his myspace. I like the song "Indiana" and "Human":

Here is the link to my review at Amazon.com. Upon reading the review it seems to be more my personal reflections on the state of Indiana - part autobiographical, part existential reflections - but hey, it's my review, right?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Meaning, Desire and Light

In our recent discussion on Cyber Sex I referenced Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) saying that on my reading one of the major points of Qohelet is that there is no absolute connection between fulfilling one's desires and living a meaningful life. That if we pursue our desires we may or may not grasp them, and if we do satisfy desires that this may or may not result in a feeling of fulfillment or the sense of having lived a meaningful life.

This prompted a comment by Ktismatics:

If there's no discernible connection between desire and meaning, then why not accept that disconnect? Eat, drink and be merry if you feel like it; it doesn't have anything to do with meaning anyhow. You could make a case that Judeo-Christian sexual morality attempts to impose meaning where it doesn't belong, that it makes to big a thing about it. After all, there's no law against chasing the wind, and it can be kind of fun and relaxing to do so, even if it doesn't really mean anything.

Paul says he wouldn't have known sin except through the Law, that he wouldn't have known about coveting if the Law hadn't said "Thou shalt not covet." The sinful passions were aroused by the law, the commandment not to covet created the desire to covet. Doesn't this suggest that prohibition creates corrupt desires? That if the prohibitions were eliminated the desires would find their own way without being forced into the darkness of bad conscience? Die to the Law, live unto God, who regenerates the desires without reference to prohibition and self-discipline?

This brought to my mind the movie Leaving Las Vegas:
An avowed alcoholic, Ben drank away his family, friends and, finally, his job. With deliberate resolve, he burns the remnants of his life and heads for Las Vegas to end it all in one final binge. On the strip, Ben picks up a street-smart hooker named Sera in what might have been another excess in his self-destructive jag. Instead their chance meeting becomes a respite on the road to oblivion as something connects between these two disenfranchised souls. (Yahoo plot summary)

Here is a scene from Leaving Las Vegas where Ben (Nicolas Cage) completely breaks down in a Las Vegas casino. At this point Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and Ben are together and out for a night of fun.

The movie is brilliant in its raw and authentic look at human nature and our potential for self-destruction. Two souls find each other, Ben and Sera. Separately they were destructing and destroyed. Having intersected into each other's world we now sense that a meaningful relationship is possible. No, more than that - that a meaningful life is possible. We are filled with a sense of potentiality. Something meaningful is within their grasp.

But the relationship is twisted and perverse. Sera is a prostitute and Ben is a dying alcoholic. Sera keeps working the streets and Ben's binging is killing him. Their lives destroy them and warp them such that they get close to love, close to a meaningful sexual encounter, but they never quite get there. The ending is authentic: Meaning is lost.

My response to Ktismatics and to Ben/Sera is the imago dei, the image of God. That humanity searches for meaning because it is in our nature as a reflection of our Creator. Fundamentally we are needy beings. Our needs drive us to something more meaningful. Our needs for relationships, for example, can provide meaning and deep fulfillment. But our needs can also lead us into cycles of self-destruction, like Ben. Need and desires can easily become frustrated, repressed and chaotic.

Ktismatics says, That if the prohibitions were eliminated the desires would find their own way without being forced into the darkness of bad conscience?

Our desires are pure but our desires are also dark and evil. And for most of us there is a jumbling of them all together such that one cannot discern what motivates them and what desires are pulling us along at any given moment. Ultimately, I think that Ktismatics is on to something. We were created for light, to be exposed.

We were created for light and authenticity. To live the genuine life:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (I John 1)

As such the Psalmist pleads in Psalm 139 for God to search and expose. That the Creator and Knower would reveal the depths of the soul - to somehow bring light to darkness:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Monday, May 21, 2007

25 trends that changed America

Look at each of these. Very, very interesting. Then look at them as a whole. Think about the incredible cultural shifts in the way we live, think, and act. This is what some refer to as an "emerging culture."

25 Trends That Changed America

Today, USA TODAY editors and reporters pick the 25 most important trends of the past quarter-century.

1 Diversity
Record immigration creates unparalleled racial and ethnic diversity. Hispanics overtake blacks as the largest minority. The federal government lets people identify themselves as of more than one race. Tikka Masala, edamame. and mole sauce join the lingo. American culture gets Latinized. There's a backlash -- the English-as-an-official language movement.

2 Fighting for equality
More women in the workplace. More poor women on the job, off welfare. The income gap between the sexes narrows -- in 2005, women earned 77 cents for every dollar men make. Title IX. Mainstreaming the disabled.

3 Millions living longer
The oldest of 79 million baby boomers turn 61 this year. Twenty-five years ago, the oldest were 36. Cost of health care multiplies. People have multiple careers. More life stages, from three generations to six (tweeners, 20-somethings, middle-age, young old, old, oldest old).

4 It's a small world after all
Globalization takes hold. NAFTA. European Union. India and China emerge as economic powerhouses. Outsourcing.

5 Global warming
The worry over climate change becomes so widespread that average folks discuss their carbon footprint. The Kyoto Accord. The shrinking polar ice cap. Melting glaciers. Monster hurricanes. El Niño, La Niña.

6 Gay rights gain ground
Same-sex marriage, but 41 states ban it. Civil unions. Matthew Shepard. Ellen DeGeneres and other stars come out. Military says, "Don't ask, don't tell."

7 Are we safe?
Fear of terrorism changes our lives. Color-coded threat levels. We take off our shoes at airports. X-ray machines peek under our clothes. No-fly lists. Columbine. Amber alerts, America's Most Wanted. Crime rates drop.

8 Snuffing out smoking
In 1982, cigarettes were allowed almost everywhere. First they were banned in offices, then restaurants, public places and now maybe in your car and home. Nicotine patch. Nicotine gum.

9 Obesity crisis
Fat kids. Fat adults. New dietary guidelines. Ban on trans fats. Push for walking. Diabetes rates soar. The Biggest Loser on TV.

10 Tech creates cult of 'me'
Cellphones. The revolutionary switch from cassettes and VHS to CDs and DVDs. The Internet opens the floodgates. MySpace.com. Facebook. Blogs. It's all about customization and personalization. Shop and watch TV programs when you want (Amazon.com, TiVo). Download the song you want and listen to it when you want (iPod and MP3s). Capture every moment and play it for a worldwide audience (Youtube.com, camera phones, reality TV).

11 Spreading out
Americans want elbow room. Land is cheaper away from cities. Sprawl accelerates. Exurbs. Extreme commutes. Traffic congestion worsens. The smart growth movement -- getting people to eat up less open space and reduce driving -- takes off.

12 Supersizing
Bigger is better. McMansions. SUVs. Minivans. Megachurches. Wal-Mart and other big-box stores. Megaplex theaters. Hardee's Monster Thickburger (1,420 calories).

13 Going green
It's not just for granola-crunching tree huggers anymore. There's a waiting list for hybrid cars. Curbside recycling. Low-flow toilets and showers. Organic foods in most supermarkets. Solar and wind power. Green office buildings. Battles over energy drilling and nuclear waste.

14 A nation divided
Reagan Revolution. Bill Clinton. Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken. Hanging chads. Red and blue states.

15 Luxury goes mainstream
Enjoying fancy perks no longer takes Bill Gates' fortune. Average Joes enjoy $4 cups of Joe at Starbucks, guzzle bottled water, feast on Godiva chocolates, drag suitcases on wheels, sit on heated car seats and let GPS systems guide them.

16 The end of Ozzie and Harriet families
Children's overbooked schedules. Demise of the family dinner. Boomerang kids. Unconventional families (gay parents, stepparents, single parents). Blended families.

17 Diet and exercise boom
Let's get physical. South Beach. Atkins. Weight Watchers. Fen Phen. Kickboxing. Tae-bo. Thighmaster. Pilates. BowFlex. For results, see No. 9.

18 On the move
Coastal counties from Texas to New England grow by about 1,300 people a day. The "new" Sun Belt explodes. Phoenix, Las Vegas and Charlotte become major metropolitan centers.

19 High anxiety
Prozac. Paxil. Xanax. Zoloft. Ritalin. Adderall.

20 Electronic cash
Debit cards. ATMs around the world. Credit cards for $3 purchases.

21 Living alone
More adults choosing to live by themselves. Marriage is delayed. More widows. About half of women have no spouse.

22 College stress grows
Pressure to get into elite universities spawns rise of test-prep industry and high school résumés crammed with activities. Major decline in high school drop-out rate. More women than men in college. College costs soar -- and so does college debt.

23 Sexualization
Strip clubs for executives. Hooters. Paris Hilton. Britney Spears. Wardrobe malfunction. Online pornography. Girls Gone Wild. Viagra. Erectile dysfunction ads.

24 States bet on gambling
State lotteries. Internet gambling. Casinos. Slot machines at racetracks.

25 Makeovers for the masses
You look marvelous. Cosmetic surgery (from breast implants and nose jobs to stomach bands and liposuction). Botox. Dermabrasion. Teeth whitening. Lasik eye surgery. Extreme Makeover on TV.

Further From Myself

Further From Myself

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cyber sex

The above video graphically illustrates contemporary internet porn statistics. I don't know for sure how accurate they are, neither do I know how one would measure these things without allowing for a generous margin for error. However, from surfing around it appears as though these stats are fairly consistent with other statistics.

I highlight the following:
12% of all internet websites are porn
25% of all searches are pornographic
Every second 28,258 are viewing porn
2.84 billion U.S. revenue from internet porn
89% of porn is produced by the U.S.

Also interesting is a discussion on the countries that ban porn. These are countries that commentators sometimes call "backward," "medieval," or "barbaric." Ironically enough, their ethical standards are significantly higher than more "civilized" countries.

To answer the first, most pressing question: Why would I post such an obscene video on a God-blog? Why promote porn and/or subject viewers to such a provocative show of skin?

This is the point: This kind of a video is no longer provocative or even obscene. This is tame, and commonplace. The above stats back it up. Porn is mainstream. Admittedly, if I knew that my parents monitored my blog on a regular basis I would probably not have posted the video. They raised me in a very conservative and isolated Christian environment.

Here are two statlines from familysafemedia.com:
53% of Promise Keeper men viewed pornography in last week
47% of Christians said pornography is a major problem in the home

Porn is the norm. It may be little talked about in many Christian circles, and as a result it is one of those things that I would argue most Christian men struggle with in secret. Ashamed of what happens in the dark.

Interestingly enough, this post comes on the heels of Jerry Falwell's death. Falwell represents the effort to win the culture back for righteousness. But this is a new and weird world. What other culture in the whole of human history has had such widespread access to pornography? All social groups, from the least to the greatest, have instant access to instant gratification. Anything you want, at your fingertips.

We have no template for this. There is no handbook.

I recently asked my high school small group what is wrong with cyber sex? After all, I argued in the form of the devil's advocate, one can experience sex these days with a cartoon image or anime video. So, what "wrong" has been committed? This is an ethical question. This is a moral question. What is the harm with virtual sexuality? Is it addiction? If so, then what if the "addictive line" is never crossed? Clearly the majority of men are into internet porn, and our society seems to be getting along allright. Or are we on the road to Sodom and Gomorrah?

From an ethical and moral perspective I think cyber porn necessitates a Christian exploring the effects of porn on the human being and upon the soul. This is a deep existential and spiritual questioning. The Law and the Prophets do not address virtual sins, but they must be discussed by the 21st century women and men of faith or it will continue to be a taboo issue that is part of a life of secret shame for the majority of church goers.

And what about the non-believing culture? Here the issue isn't even one of shame. It is simply common place. We tell "the world" that cyber sex is wrong. Why? On what basis? Nobody is getting hurt, right? And we can't find any Bible verses.

It is a new and weird world. I would argue that we now make the majority of our most important ethical and moral decisions in the virtual world and in a fantasy land. But, then again, maybe that's the way it has always been, and only now do we have the technological capabilities to truly bring it into realization. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been replaced by a screen and by so many cascading images and sounds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falwell passes

Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) has passed away today. He loomed large as a formative figure in the politics of the American church in the 20th century. He was passionate about his beliefs. As I watch MSNBC on cable tv Rev. Al Sharpton is commenting on how he believes Falwell was a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person whose beliefs and convictions did not change when he went off camera.

The landscape of church politics is certainly different today than it was in the 80s. It is fair to say that the church is no longer voting in a large block for the most conservative candidate. There is a growing diversity in the political views of Christians and religious people, in general. Homosexual rights, immigration, the environment, the use of the military, and domestic spending are a few of the issues on which Americans of faith differ.

With the increasing diversity amongst the American faithful the coming elections become more and more interesting.


The Rev Jerry Falwell, whose evangelical convictions and organisational abilities, including as a founder in 1979 of the Moral Majority movement, did much to place religious conservatives in a role of great influence in American politics, died on Tuesday in Lynchburg, Virginia, of apparent heart failure at the age of 73.

He was a figure of immense controversy over the last 40 years, outspoken to the point that his apologies appeared almost as regularly as his thundering denunciations. To him the three great scourges afflicting his country were "atheism, secularism and humanism," and nothing would deter him from defeating his evil trinity...

....But it was his role, along with two others, in setting up the Moral Majority in 1979 that made him a national political figure to be reckoned with. Until then evangelicals had been mostly apolitical, but his voter registration drives and his encouragement to pastors to use their churches as political pulpits introduced a new force into national political life.

Dismissive of President Jimmy Carter, whose was uncharacteristically contemptuous in return, he put his forces to work hard for the election of Ronald Reagan. In all subsequent Republican administrations, he has been a welcome guest at the White House, even though he disbanded Moral Majority in 1989.

Karl Rove, the current president's political mastermind, openly courted the support and advice of religious conservatives. With the passing years, others of similar persuasion but with less fiery oratory, like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, became, arguably, more influential, as in the anti-abortion and anti-homosexual struggles, but all owed a debt to the Rev Falwell. [Taken from MSNBC]


In tribute to the Police reunion tour here is an old school video from the archives....

Monday, May 14, 2007

A good read

What is the role of good literature in a society and culture? And who determines what is "good literature"?

This query grows out of my recent experiences with friends, the primary of which is with a friend of mine who once confessed to me that when he reads a novel he skips "the detailed stuff" in order to keep the story moving along so that he can see what happens in the end. Now, there are a lot of reasons why this particular buddy of mine is a meatball, but his candid comment nonetheless give us a topic for discussion. What is the role of good literature?

By "good literature" I don't necessarily mean whether or not it expresses your particular ideology, I simply mean that it is well written. I am particularly thinking of the novel, but regardless of the genre some works of literature just have elements of beauty in them. There is creativity, insight, truth, and soul that breaks through the pages and moves us. However, it seems as though such literature requires a certain effort on the part of the reader to find the beauty - this is effort that the average Joe doesn't have the time for.....but now am I sounding like an elitist? Or a snob? Perhaps good literature shouldn't require our effort. Should good literature do all the work for us?

I recall watching the Ken Burns' 10 part Jazz documentary and I believe it was Cecil Taylor, one of the innovators of the highly controversial genre "free jazz", who stated that he expected his audience to prepare themselves for his concerts. For all of the time that he invests into a concert he expected the audience to likewise spend at least some time preparing themselves. Branford Marsalis called this "self-indulgent bullshit."

I was conversing at church yesterday with another believer and the topic of preparing for the worship service came up. Most American Christians roll out of bed, show up at church, and 2 hours later they are back at home grilling up some steaks and watching the game. In his book, Love your God with all your mind JP Moreland compares this approach to church with a sex partner who jumps in the sack, does the job, and then continues on with life. Doing the church thing without putting any effort into it or any pre-church preparation is like sex without foreplay or intercourse without intimacy.

So, who's right here? Who has to move? Must the reader become a "better" reader to appreciate "good literature"? Or is the best literature written to reach us where we are, with little or no effort required?

Friday, May 11, 2007


My buddy, Kary, did a tv interview related to his new book, Called.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On hunting and nesting

Please evaluate the following statements:

Men are hunters. Women are nesters. This is a primordial instinct.

"Where's my motivation?"

A classic clip from Office Space!

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
Bob Porter: Don't... don't care?
Peter Gibbons: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime; so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled; that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
Bob Slydell: Would you bear with me for just a second, please?
Peter Gibbons: OK.
Bob Slydell: What if - and believe me this is a hypothetical - but what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program. Would that do anything for you?
Peter Gibbons : I don't know, I guess. Listen, I'm gonna go. It's been really nice talking to both of you guys.
Bob Slydell: Absolutely, the pleasure's all on this side of the table, trust me.
Peter Gibbons: Good luck with your layoffs, all right? I hope your firings go really well.
Bob Porter: Excellent.
Bob Slydell: Great... Wow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


It appears that The Theos Project blog has inspired a group of musicians to start a band - a Christian prog-rock band....Unfortunately the music is terrible, although I do appreciate the lyrics!

Monday, May 07, 2007

A strange brew

Theologically, I've always thought of myself as some sort of an odd mixture of Calvinist theology and Postmodern theory. I recently took two quizes that confirmed my suspicions...

You scored as John Calvin. Much of what is now called Calvinism had more to do with his followers than Calvin himself, and so you may or may not be committed to TULIP, though God's sovereignty is all important.

John Calvin


Paul Tillich


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Charles Finney


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Jürgen Moltmann


Karl Barth




Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to postmodern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Classical Liberal




Neo orthodox


Modern Liberal


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic


What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A New Kind of Christian

A review of A New Kind of Christian (2001)
by Brian McLaren
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The cover jacket of McLaren’s 2001 publication states that this book is “a tale of spiritual renewal for those who thought they had given up on church.” It is an engaging work written in the form of a dialogue between burned-out Pastor Dan and his philosophical and culturally-engaged friend, Neo, a school teacher and former Pastor. The source of Pastor Dan’s burnout goes back to a feeling of a lack of authenticity and feeling amongst his institutionalized church. Dan has questions about doctrine and faith, some of which he cannot vocalize or is even aware of, but as he engages in an ongoing dialogue with Neo many of these troubling issues are identified and discussed.

As we look back over the course of the story, however, the fundamental source of Dan’s discouragement is in the fact that for Dan’s church/congregation doctrine, practice, and church life has been drained of meaning. The church has become institutionalized such that it is now simply a conduit for recycling and repeating what has been passed down from the previous generations. The doctrinal watchdogs are keeping score on Pastor Dan’s sermons, there is no effort to engage the questions and concerns of the culture, and those who are seeking a fresh expression of faith and evangelism are stifled by the church’s rigid atmosphere. In short, the church lacks vitality and energy. It has been drained of any authentic and genuine expression of deep spiritual meaning. Pastor Dan is ready to resign. He feels disingenuous and stale. This is the setting for a lively dialogue and exchange between Pastor Dan and Neo.

Smattered throughout the book are various philosophical/theological/hermeneutical issues, but more important than all of this is to understand that the fundamental point of A New Kind of Christian is that a significant shift has taken place from the “Modern” to “Postmodern” period and that the church must respond in order for the Christian faith to be a meaningful and vital source of spiritual change and renewal. The dialogue between Dan and Neo is presented, not so much to give answers or solutions to this new paradigm of the Postmodern, rather, it is simply to highlight the new paradigm and issue a call for change and creativity. Throughout the book it is evident that the proposed changes are only proposals and not an extensive treatise. This book, then, is truly a call for those “who thought they had given up on church”, and the suggestion is that the change of paradigm has left many searching for a new, more relevant expression of faith. This search is a search for a new kind of Christian.

As we reflect on this book now six years after publication it has proven to strike a resonating chord amongst Christians across the United States, and even around the world. There are clearly many who can relate with the discouragements of Pastor Dan and Neo. What is less clear are the reasons why. Has the church become a place where difficult questions are not explored? Did the church get comfortable and is now failing to engage the new Postmodern culture? Has the church burned many people with overly-zealous regulations or with excessive judgmentalism? Was there a turn to show-and-tell Christianity? Has whatever is happening been entirely the fault of traditional Christianity, as this book would suggest? Or are there many who are simply looking for the next exciting church fad? We might suggest that there are a myriad of factors, working in conjunction with each other. Yet regardless of the reasons A New Kind of Christian has captured the hearts of many, and to miss this heart-to-heart connection is to miss the impact of the book.

McLaren uses the character of Neo to suggest that there has been a dramatic paradigm change. The following is from a lecture that Neo is giving to college students:

Change is ever-present, and nearly all generations see themselves as generations of change. And they’re right. But let me make a distinction between change and transition…all ages are ages of change, but not all ages involve transition. You young mean and women happen to have been born at a time of transition. If you keep on doing the same old things with the same old tools – the tools you have inherited from my generation and my friend Mr. Poole’s generation – you’ll make a mess of things. (40)

So, McLaren makes a distinction between change, which happens in all generations and transition, which seems to represent a more distinct break with the past. This renders the “old tools” ineffective. This paradigm shift represents the heart of McLaren’s book, and A New Kind of Christian was written because we live in a new kind of world. The extent of the paradigm shift is, of course, a matter of debate. Some would suggest that the changes occurring are reminiscent of the shift from the Medieval period into the so-called Modern period. Others would suggest that this overstates the case, and that we are still in the Modern period, which has only hit something of a bump in the road.

A thorough evaluation of the paradigm shift is beyond the scope of this book review. Suffice it to say that it is simply too early to tell. But the question of whether or not we live in a new kind of world is essential to whether or not we need a new kind of Christian, is it not? The actions of the church have ramifications for our world both now and in the future. On the one hand, to fail to recognize a paradigm shift would be devastating. The other potential error is to believe that a paradigm shift has taken place when, in fact, no significant turn has occurred. It would seem that the latter mistake would be much less cause for concern than the former. To overreact would seem to represent less of a threat than to live in denial as history passes the church by.

We return to Neo’s lecture, which addresses just this point:

Most of your peers live in a different world from you. They have already crossed the line into the postmodern world. But few of you have. Why? Because you want to be faithful to the Christian upbringing you have received, which is so thoroughly enmeshed with modernity. One of the most important choices you will make in your whole lives will be in these few years at this university. Will you continue to live loyally in the fading world, in the waning light of the setting sun of modernity? Or will you venture ahead in faith, to practice your faith and devotion to Christ in the new emerging culture of postmodernity? (38)

At the conclusion of the lecture a student named Ruth responds:

I don’t really have a question, but I just wanted to say that everywhere in my life except here and at church, I think I am postmodern. But I think when I go anyplace religious or Christian, I just sort of switch. It’s like I click into my parents’ way of thinking for an hour, and then I switch back. It’s really cool to think that I might not have to keep switching back and forth and could just be one person all the time. (44)

McLaren through the mouthpiece of his characters is making the point that a cultural revolution has occurred and that many of those who are younger must make a decision as to whether or not they will “venture ahead in faith” or “live loyally in the fading years” and maintain a commitment to the Modern church. For McLaren there is clearly an either-or at work here. On his view the church is “enmeshed with modernity.” This suggests a lack of ability to respond to a culture that is “emerging.” This point is significant and goes to both the strength and weakness of the book. By painting with such broad strokes and presenting massive historical/cultural generalizations McLaren can issue a clear call to arms for the church to respond to the emerging culture. This is surely a strength to the book. McLaren is, in this sense, a prophet.

However, his strength is simultaneously his weakness in that such generalizations can be overly-simplistic if the nuances of the emerging culture are not appreciated. For example, would we say that culture is emerging in the same way in the so-called “fly over States” in the United States as it is in New York City, Seattle, Houston, or other metro areas? Certainly not. One cannot possibly apply these general categories to each, specific context and culture. This, of course, is a point that McLaren would acknowledge. He surely appreciates these distinctions and nuances. However, the point of A New Kind of Christian is to awaken the church to action and to issue a call to “those who thought they had given up on church.” As such, there really is no room to discuss in depth the fact that the Modern v. Postmodern distinction may not be very helpful to many contexts. In fact, as fast as culture is emerging these categories are already being dismissed by some as irrelevant.

As I conclude I want to highlight the last citation made above. The respondent at Neo’s lecture, Ruth, mentions that she made a switch to transition back into her parent’s way of thinking when she went to church. From the context it is evident that for Ruth this did not seem to be a conscious transition of thinking, but a subconscious switch that occurred apart from her own realization. This, I think, is profound, and goes to the heart of this book and the current discussion of the role of the church in contemporary culture. If Ruth’s response is indicative of a large scale of Christian believers then I think the situation is grave and extremely dangerous. Without realizing it Ruth’s faith was the faith of the previous generation, but was not the faith of her generation. This goes to the question of meaningfulness. Can a believer’s faith be considered meaningful if it is not something relevant to the contemporary generation?

My experiences are admittedly limited. However, from my observations many in the previous generation of believers have passed down the faith that was meaningful for them, and seem to be at something of a loss as to why so many of those raised in the church are struggling to find the faith meaningful for them. For some believers there is the assumption that the meaningfulness of faith should be more or less the same for all believers across all of time. But if McLaren is correct that a significant shift in culture and thinking has taken place, then the current challenge of the faithful is for the current generation to find a God who is breaking through onto the contemporary scene and into the hearts and lives of the faithful in the now.

In short, if it is true that culture has transitioned, then the church faces a crisis of meaning. I give this book five stars and highly recommend it because I believe that Christians in my generation and in the next generation are face to face with a profound crisis of meaning, and I think that McLaren's A New Kind of Christians can help the church begin a dialogue on the meaning of faith in the contemporary culture.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Generous Orthodoxy

A review of: A Generous Orthodoxy (2004)
by Brian McLaren
My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

This review starts right off with a confession. I was bored for the first 215 pages.

McLaren begins his book by expressing his desire to cultivate an appreciation for all perspectives on the Christian faith. A postcritical approach: “The approach you’ll find here, which might be called postcritical, seeks to find a way to embrace the good in many traditions and historic streams of Christian faith, and to integrate them, yielding a new, generous, emergent approach that is greater than the sum of its parts.” (22) Throughout the first 215 pages, and indeed for the remainder of the book, McLaren examines various aspects of various traditions of the Christian faith and expresses appreciation for their contribution to his own, personal spiritual journey. This, of course, begs the question as to why I or anyone else should appreciate them, but nonetheless his autobiographical approach is lively and engaging and kept me moving through the first 215.

As one moves through the book, however, there are obvious issues that emerge from trying to find the best in all things. For example, in speaking of the liberal/evangelical dichotomy McLaren says the following about generous orthodoxy: “This generous orthodoxy does not mean a simple merging, mixing, conflating, or reconciling of the two schools of thought, though. Rather it disagrees with both regarding the ‘view of certainty and knowledge which liberals and evangelicals hold in common,’ a view Grenz describes as ‘produced…by modernist assumptions.’” (28) Yet after reading through A Generous Orthodoxy it is hard to see how he is not simply suggesting a “simple merging, mixing, conflating, or reconciling” of doctrines or worldviews that might stand in opposition to one another. The question is obvious: By seeking to legitimize all perspectives have we lost the significance of any? This is a point that many traditionalist Evangelicals will seize on to declare McLaren a good-time, hippy-tree-hugging relativist with no respect for reason, doctrine or the “substantial” things of the faith. (crf. 283) Yet this would be a hasty and regrettable categorization, for there is real genius in Brian McLaren’s writing and thought. I first spotted it at page 215. I quote him at length here:

Each of these new challenges and opportunities requires Christian leaders to create new forms, new methods, new structures – and it requires them to find new content, new ideas, new truths, new meaning to bring to bear on the new challenges. These new messages are not incompatible with the gospel of the kingdom Jesus taught. No, they are inherent in it, but previously undiscovered, unexpressed, perhaps unimagined. Jesus’ original message was pregnant with all that they would need, but there was much, Jesus said, that they could not yet bear to hear, and so Jesus would send the Spirit of truth to guide them into all truth as they needed it and were ready to bear it. (215)

What McLaren recognizes, which so few of those of us in conservatives circles are understanding, is that faith must be faith in this generation or it is no longer our faith. If the coming generations simply repeat the formulas of faith passed down to them then they are merely acting as historical chroniclers, documenting and preserving creedal affirmations as a tribute to God’s work in the past. In essence, the Christian faith must be meaningful if it to be truly faith.

Many of us who consider ourselves conservative watch dogs would certainly agree with the above, but there is much more – and this is where the controversy arises. If the context changes, then new formulations of the faith must be made in order for the faith to be meaningful. The expressions of faith handed down to this generation must be questioned and explored in light of the current context. This is a move involving great risk, because it necessitates putting the Christian faith in the dock and leveling fundamental and even heretical questions against it. It means asking whether or not the Christian faith, the holy scriptures, and even God himself is relevant to the current context.

When I take a few days for hiking in the cold mountains I have footwear appropriate for the terrain, I wear layers to conserve my body heat, and I pack supplies appropriate for the lengthy hike. I must be prepared for the challenges that I will face unique for this journey. I do not run, rather I hike at a brisk but deliberate pace. I must conserve my energy. Yet when I enter a marathon race on the flat, paved roads in northern Indiana on a warm summer day I merely wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. I do not care for heavy hiking boots, rather, I wear light shoes designed for speed, but also appropriate and cushioned. I carry no supplies, except perhaps a watch and an ipod. My challenges have changed. The terrain if drastically different.

To our conservative ears McLaren sounds like a radical, even a heretic, to suggest that we need “new truths.” Or that we need “new ideas.” We often believe that the burden of proof is on McLaren to defend this perspective. I say that the burden of proof is on those of us who suggest that the church should be wearing hiking boots when she is lining up at the starting line of a marathon. The challenges have changed and it is simply naïve to suggest that we can merely recite the previous formulations of the past. This generation faces a crisis of meaning. Will the ancient Scriptures be proved meaningful in this day, for this challenge, and for this life? Or will they merely be “handed down” as a queer curiosity?

Chapter 17, “Why I am Incarnational” is perhaps the most provocative of all. McLaren directly addresses the issue of interacting with other religions. What he says is intriguing: “Because I follow Jesus I am bound to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, New Agers, everyone…Not only am I bound to them in love, but I am also actually called to, in some real sense, become one of them, to enter their world and be with them in it.” (282)

Firstly, the vision that McLaren casts is lofty, and it is high. McLaren speaks of learning from the religious distinctives of others, such as meditation from Zen Buddhists. (287-88) He suggests that other religious perspectives might serve as a corrective to our tendency to distort the purity of our own faith. (286-87) There must be a genuine dialogue, then, with other religious perspectives that is not merely a pretense, but an authentic outreach to give and to take. (283) It is, then, a risky venture, and for McLaren this will likely mean that many faults with our understanding of faith will be exposed, such that Jesus will not only be saving the Buddhist religion, but will also save the Christian religion. (297) The vision I see McLaren cast is not one of competition, but cooperation. (299) This involves a high degree of risk. I make two observations.

First, this approach to evangelism requires a great deal of security in one’s own beliefs. Otherwise, it no longer becomes evangelism and the Christian is simply enjoying an interesting dialogue. There is nothing wrong with this, but dialogue is not discipleship. And if the Christian faith is not in the business of discipleship then it is not in the business of its founder and commissioner.

Secondly, to engage in an evangelism that is cooperative rather than competitive I would think must involve a rigorous intellectual climate and community within the church. Where do believers go to sort out the meaning of faith and truth and life after having fundamental beliefs challenged in dialogue with a member of another faith? To be perfectly frank and completely honest the current church in America has no structure to support this kind of probing and exploration. This is true on all levels, even for those churches that pride themselves in their depth of doctrine. Perhaps it is especially true in these more intellectual wings of the church because there are so many “untouchable” questions – so many doctrines and beliefs that would existentially freeze us to question. In short, the church simply does not have the forums to open up real questions and then take the time to meaningfully explore them in a deep and relevant way.

This last point goes to the weakness of A Generous Orthodoxy, for although it gives us a vision for a generous orthodoxy, it fails to move towards a meaningful orthodoxy. Again, to restate, this generation faces a crisis of meaning, and to find something meaningful requires not only to question and explore it in a deep and way, but it also requires defining how it is distinctive in relationship to other competing views and life perspectives.

Most conservatives fail to recognize that the crisis exists and are too reserved to engage the issues and take the risks to explore the challenges and to put the ancient faith in the dock. McLaren sees the crisis and understands the direction the church should move, but he seems to me to fail to appreciate that for the faith to be made meaningful it must be distinctive. I repeat my question stated at the beginning of this review: By seeking to legitimize all perspectives have we lost the significance of any?

Unlike my fellow conservatives, I do not discount McLaren’s vision for dialogue and cooperation with other religions. I am just skeptical whether the church has the ability to handle such a bold advance. The majority of my fellow thinkers and theologians who are in the best position to advance such a vision are unwilling to do so, thinking that such a view is a retreat from the start. A vision for cooperation and conversation seems to them to trivialize the truth. Only combative dialogue seems like the appropriate tone for an intellectual battle field.

McLaren is not a theologian, and the deeper he goes into theology the more I cringe. But give or take a few fumbles here and a few over generalizations there McLaren has it right. McLaren has it too right. At this point we simply do not have the resources for a vision of engaging the world through cooperation, or for deep doctrinal discussions that actually explore some of the genuine contributions of various viewpoints. Either we have people willing to seek meaning but content to never find it, or we have those who find meaning but never seek it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Postmodernism: An immoral and cowardly viewpoint

The following is from J.P. Moreland's 2004 address to the Evangelical Theological Society. Although in this essay Moreland is primarily concerned with the issue of "truth," I think it provides a good idea of the general thought and feeling of many Evangelicals towards postmodernism as a general movement, if one can call it a "movement".
[Taken from: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5682]

The astute listener will have already picked up that I am an unrepentant correspondence advocate who eschews the various anti-realist views of truth. In what follows I shall weigh in on the topic first, by sketching out the correspondence theory and the postmodern rejection of it, and second, by identifying five confusions of which I believe postmodern revisionists are guilty. I shall close by warning that not only are postmodern views of truth and knowledge confused, but postmodernism is an immoral and cowardly viewpoint such that persons who love truth and knowledge, especially disciples of the Lord Jesus, should do everything they can to heal the plague that postmodernism has and inevitably does leave.

As a philosophical standpoint, postmodernism is primarily a reinterpretation of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge. More broadly, it represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self and other notions. On a postmodernist view, there is no such thing as objective reality, truth, value, reason and so forth. All these are social constructions, creations of linguistic practices and, as such, are relative not to individuals, but to social groups that share a narrative.

Postmodernism denies the correspondence theory, claiming that truth is simply a contingent creation of language which expresses customs, emotions, and values embedded in a community’s linguistic practices. For the postmodernist, if one claims to have the truth in the correspondence sense, this assertion is a power move that victimizes those judged not to have the truth.

Faced with such opposition and the pressure it brings, postmodernism is a form of intellectual pacifism that, at the end of the day, recommends backgammon while the barbarians are at the gate. It is the easy, cowardly way out that removes the pressure to engage alternative conceptual schemes, to be different, to risk ridicule, to take a stand outside the gate. But it is precisely as disciples of Christ, even more, as officers in His army, that the pacifist way out is simply not an option. However comforting it may be, postmodernism is the cure that kills the patient, the military strategy that concedes defeat before the first shot is fired, the ideology that undermines its own claims to allegiance. And it is an immoral, coward’s way out that is not worthy of a movement born out of the martyrs’ blood.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Is Christianity irrelevant?

As we continue hacking our way through the dense jungles of the "emerging culture" with no map and a native guide who communicates with us only in gestures due to the fact that we do not speak the same language I would like to pose a fundamental question for my fellow adventurers:

Is Christianity out of style?

I think this question exposes a divide and a rift in the current church's view of culture and her mission. On the one hand the staunch conservative responds by saying that if Christianity is out of fashion with the world, all the worse for the world. Our job is not to change or mold truth to accommodate the spirit of the age. Rather, the church's job is to preserve the truth and speak/preach truth in its pure form and in all of its glory. Anything less is a sell-out and a compromise.

But there is that nasty "truth" issue again, eh? Is truth a timeless entity that one can pass down from one generation to the next? Or is truth connected with with our context in a more intimate way?

Let me try a different angle. If truth is a completely timeless thing how meaningful can it be to time bound creatures? I am asking a question of meaning here. How meaningful can a timeless truth be to a time bound dude, such as myself? For example, I can imagine that we could raise up generations on end who affirm the timeless truths of a doctrinal statement, but ultimately this seems quite meaningless if these truths are merely passed down and exist strictly on paper. In this case are they any more valuable than the ink and paper that preserves them?

I think that the staunch conservative would agree that truths should not merely be handed down as meaningless doctrinal statements. For the staunch conservative these things are quite meaningful - life-changing. Yet I submit that by brushing off the question of whether or not Christianity is in style the staunch conservative has assumed a gargantuant burden of proof. That is, they must demonstrate how a timeless truth has meaning for a time bound person. On my reckoning the more timeless a truth is the less meaning it has for those of us who live within time. The less timeless the truth the more potential I think it has for being meaningful.

So, we have the question: Is Christianity meaningful for contemporary culture? If so, how? If not, then why?