Category Archives: Blog

Living Beyond Yourself

Originally published in the Vermilion Standard, here is my recent article: “Living Beyond Yourself.”

I have been fascinated with the recent public Charlie Sheen meltdown. The TV star whose self-inflated perception and worldview has, sadly, caused his own self-destruction. Charlie’s destructive spiral is the acute example of what we all struggle with and what is so prevalent and widespread in our society. In other words, we are all guilty, in some way, of drinking the proverbial Charlie Sheen self-importance Kool-Aid.

We, as a society, have a weird and addictive obsession with self. People, en masse, want to be famous, desire attention, obsess about what everyone else thinks of them, etc. Think for a moment of the many popular movies that are written around the fantastical idea that the world and everything/everyone we know, is all about us (The Matrix, Inception, Truman Show, etc. to name a few). Interestingly, the problem of “self” is not new but a part of our broken nature as human beings to desire to be the center of our own universes.

The fact is, the world doesn’t revolve around you, me or anyone else on this planet and the result of living this way, is horribly destructive. When we view ourselves as the center of our universe, we begin to see others not as human beings and equals but as pawns, tools, and objects to meet our own ends or pleasure.

The truth of our existence is that the universe doesn’t revolve around you, me or anyone else on this planet and this truth is actually something to celebrate, not mourn. The universe wasn’t created for your purposes and pleasure. Humanity doesn’t exist for its own selfish benefit but, along with all of creation, exists purely for the Glory of God. Accordingly, our lives should be seen as revolving around God and who He is. In fact, this is the command Jesus gave to sum up all the commands in the Bible: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. Our purpose, therefore, is about God and living beyond yourself.

Consequently, we need to realign our orbits. We are not, nor ever will be, the center of the universe – God, and God alone, is. We will never find meaning, purpose, or satisfaction without aligning ourselves around God.

What would it mean to live beyond yourself? To orbit your life around God and His purposes? What would it mean to serve others, not in order to gain God’s approval or merit (that would be selfish again), but simply out of your love for God and desire to love others as God commands?

What would it mean for you to live beyond yourself?

The Treatment: Part 1 – Moving from Indoctrination to Education

There is little question that there is a problem evident in the Christian Education arm of the evangelical church in North America.  As I stated in an earlier post, there are probably many of reasons for this predicament and, thus, the solution is multifaceted.  To that end, I want to tackle a few of these reasons in several sequential posts (they will come more regularly now that I am fully back from vacation).

I want to begin this series of posts by addressing the fact that part of the problem is that we have looked at Christian Education more as Indoctrination. 
Let me explain… 
I define “indoctrination” as simply teaching people what to believe rather than education, which I assert is teaching why we believe in something.  Education, while teaching one’s view, also endeavors to accurately and truthfully understand the other side of the issue.  The motivation for indoctrination is, on the surface, a good one: we want to protect our people, our kids and our youth from being led astray.   Therefore, we focus on what they should believe rather than helping them fully understand the issue and owning their belief for themselves.  In summary, indoctrination is simply loaning one’s belief rather than allowing someone to own it for him or herself through education.
Anecdotally, I have seen this play out with many young people who have gone to university after attending 18 years of church programs.  When they attend university, they are faced with the complexity of an argument or a belief that they were unaware existed.  Because they had never been taught the essential skills of discernment and critical reflection, they are left afloat with no paddle to navigate themselves through these waters and often end up confused and lost.  Specially, I have seen this play out with the evolution debate with many young people unaware of the complexity of the discussion.  If they have never been taught the tools to figure this out for themselves, they end up confused or even worse, willing to give up on their faith.
I, obviously, get the complexity of education rather than indoctrination.  It is more difficult to do, it is messier and you may, as the teacher, end up in a discussion beyond your pay-grade.  That being said, we have to be training people how to theologically reflect on issues that are not as simple as some make them out to be. 
I admit I have probably been guilty of simplifying complex issues, sadly to the detriment of my students/parishioners but the challenge still remains.  I believe it is our goal to create disciples who have the tools to learn on their own and critically think for themselves.  This is a difficult task but we are living in the alternative and I, for one, am not satisfied with the results!

The Problem: An Introduction

Over a series of blog posts, I am going to tackle a topic that I have been reflecting on over the last few years: Why most evangelical Christians have less and less theological and biblical understanding and the effect this is having on the Church as a whole.  This awareness is not unique to me but has been observe by many antidotally as well as statistically.

This thought process has been the impetus of a Discipleship Plan that our church is currently working on that we hope, on a some small level, will help to address some of these issues (that being said, most of these issues are cultural and systemic and not program driven.  Consequently, our discipleship plan will take this into account).

On an effectual basis, this problem is currently being evidenced so poignantly through the Rob Bell debate.  Most comments I have read from pastors and lay Christians come from a fear in Rob’s questions.  I think that largely this fear extends two-fold.  First, it is extends because they are unaware that Rob’s questions are not new and that many thinkers that they hold dear have had similar questions and either expressed them to the controversy of the church (John Stott), pushed the envelope a little (C.S. Lewis – i.e. The Great Divorce) or purposely keep them secret and refused to give their personal thoughts on Hell.  That being said, historical context is important and many people don’t understanding that the church has always been asking questions about Hell and will continue to do so – is this not a good thing?  Secondly, I think people have reacted this way because someone like Rob (who is a brilliant questions asker) has expressed good questions that most people would rather ignore than thoughtfully deal with.  Let’s face it, life is busy, filled with pain and brokenness, and most people would rather have simple answers (One blog post I saw had the title: Why Rob Bell is wrong and everything you learned in Sunday School is still correct.) than have to dive into deep subjects (this is a point I will deal with in a future post) – honestly, I don’t blame them sometimes.

This is just the start as they are many dynamic at play (biblical, theological, cultural, historical, etc).  I don’t pretend to be an expert on this but simply want to bring my observations forward on what I see happening, the symptoms that are manifesting and some possible suggestions to help the Church potentially move forward.

Why I believe most Evangelical Christians are practical universalists. Did that get your attention?

With all the attention of Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins” and the label by some that he is a universalist, many evangelicals have come out to condemn the book (even before it was published) and call him a heretic and even bid him “farewell” on Twitter.   I, personally, found how this was/is being handled deeply troubling on many levels (theologically, historically, biblically and practically).  Although I will tackle why I think we, as the Evangelical church, responded the way we did in my next post (coming soon), I want to tackle the more practical side of the universalist debate.

To do so, I want to begin with the concept that our actions stem from our beliefs.  What we believe matters and what we truly believe is demonstrated in our subsequent actions.  For example, I believe that putting my finger in an electrical socket is bad, so I avoid it at all cost.  Now let’s take this to theology and our view of Hell.  Most Evangelicals say they believe in a literal hell with eternal fire and unimaginable suffering and Evangelicals, on mass, believe that to avoid said reality, we must have a personal relationship with Christ (John 14:6).  However, if we really believed this, why do so many Evangelicals not share this Good News with others?  If we truly believe that people who don’t know Christ will spend eternity in constant torment, how much do we have to hate them to not share the Good News of Jesus with them (this point is made aptly by Penn Teller (an atheist) in a Vlog he did a while ago – look specifically beginning at the 3:00 mark).

It seems to me that it is disingenuous to condemn someone like Rob Bell for asking questions about Hell, while our actions demonstrate that we, on a practical level, are universalists ourselves (Am I being provocative enough for you?).  In as much as some would call Rob Bell’s theology heretical and un-orthodox (right belief), could we not call our practice (or lack there of) heretical as it smells of un-orthopraxy (right practice)?

You may argue and say that I am abusing hyperbole and that our actions don’t matter as much as our belief but I would argue back and ask where in Scripture are we allowed to separate the two?  Jesus was pretty clear on this.   Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 about Hell and eternal destiny.  Jesus teaches here that he will separate the metaphoric sheep from the goats and teaches that the questions asked/criteria used will be action orientated rather than belief orientated.  (“I was hungry and you didn’t feed me…”)  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that faith in Christ (and not works) is the only way to eternal relationship with God (John 14:6) but it MUST be worked out with action!  This is the point James makes in his epistle – Faith without works (actions) is dead!!! (James 2:17)

Therefore, is it not disingenuous for Evangelicals who demonstrate through their action, the unwillingness to share the Good News with others in spite of their belief and passion in their view of Hell, to speak negatively about others who are asking questions (good questions) about their belief of it?

I hope my heart comes through in the post!  My hope is that we would see the plank in our own eye before we try and help Rob Bell with the sawdust in his!

Review: You’re Not As Crazy As I Think

I recently read a timely and prophetic book by my friend and former professor Randal Rauser, “You’re Not As Crazy As I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions.”  I think this book is very apropos in our currently evangelical Christian climate.  A climate where people truly do have hardened opinions and don’t seem to have the ability, or tools, to dialogue with others in the pursuit of truth; a climate that has people simply and exclusively reading and listening to voices that reinforce their pre-existing view, rather than challenging it in a healthy way.

This climate has been evidenced in the recent Rob Bell “debate” with Rob’s, yet to be, released book “Love Wins.”  A book that asks series theological questions that need to be asked, a book that continues a dialogue about a controversial subject that the church has wrestled with for thousands of years.  Whatever his view will be in the end, it will definitely not be new and the church will survive.  I just would hope that we would at least listen to the arguments before we “pre-condemn” a book and it’s author.

I have to admit that I found Randal’s book to be more personally prophetic than I anticipated.  The title says it all but I dived into the material looking for ammunition of how all those whom may disagree with, need to learn to listen more and come to a better conclusion.  But something very different and unexpected happened.  I ended up full circle and found I was the one being rebuked and corrected in my hardened views that I may not have recognized before.   I recognized, quite reluctantly, that I was part of the problem and that I need to learn to listen more to voices outside my own view(s).  I may not change the view I have because of them, but at the very least, it will help me to understand the view I hold better as a result (for more on this, see my earlier post here).

Randal uses his platform to communicate our common need to pursue truth and what should be our desire to pursue it.

“…our deepest conviction ought to be the desire to know the truth, as well as the willingness to see this same conviction in our “enemies.”” (pg. 12) 

Randal uses several examples to communicate his point and although I feel he went into more detail than needed for each example, space that could have been used to explore other topics and examples, it highlights our hardened options none-the-less.

One of the things I have witnessed recently, that Randal highlights, is the disconcerting phenomena of viewing those with different views as being morally corrupt (This is explored in his chapter entitled; “Those I disagree with Are Probably Not Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immoral.”)  I have witnessed this disturbing reality recently in the Evangelical Church: In a YouTube video featuring John Piper, Piper makes the comment that the Emergent Church movement is over and determines those apart of it to be in shambles (the implication is that there is moral problems) – a claim he doesn’t back up.  I, too, think many of the theological beliefs of some of those in the Emergent Church movement are troubling, but I don’t automatically think the people who hold them are consequently morally corrupt.  If this were true, then one could therefore take bad morality as logical sign of bad theology and the reverse, good morality as a sign of good theology.  Thus, this is a symptom of the church’s problem: we have forgotten how to dialogue, how to pursue truth and how to listen to others.

This book hits the selves at a timely moment in evangelical culture and one that is a must for every theological student and pursuer of truth!