Disillusioned Yet Optimistic

I am sick of American Christianity. Not all of it, perhaps, but a great deal of it. I know that is an intemperate remark, but when it comes to the character of American Christianity in this election year, the last thing I am is temperate. I am sick to death of a religious system that is not worthy of the name it bears.

The most important stone in the foundation of Christian faith is the bedrock belief that the infinite and omnipotent God has come to us in Jesus Christ in order to make it possible for us humans to be reconciled to God. That is either the most magnificent reality which it has ever been the privilege of the human mind to contemplate or the biggest pile of rubbish ever foisted on a gullible public. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

Evan Jellico and the Left Road Bridge: A Parable

For as long as anyone could remember, the Jellico family had raised corn and wheat on their two hundred fertile acres of Midwest farmland. They marketed their grain through a large cooperative whose elevators were located in the town of Kingston, about twenty miles north of the Jellico farm.

For reasons no one fully understood, the Jellicos—who had adopted many of the most modern agricultural methods to ensure maximum productivity from their acreageMule wagon 2—insisted on hauling their grain to market in a large wagon pulled by a team of strong mules.

In the old days, there had been but one major road from the Jellico farm to the grain elevator in Kingston. Oh, there was a rutty old one-lane road that veered off to the right about twelve miles north of the farm, just south of the river. It did go to Kingston, but it was narrow and winding and generally more difficult. Some people used it, but the vast majority stayed on the main road. Continue reading

A Pacifist Reflects on the Meaning of Memorial Day

American holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the Fourth of July pose something of a dilemma for me. Like Bruce Springsteen, I was “born in the USA.” I am grateful for the many positive and admirable qualities this country contributes to the family of nations and for Pic 4the benefits I have enjoyed as one of its citizens. But not everything about this country is positive and admirable. And I feel that tension most keenly on these distinctly American holidays.

I felt it again last night as I watched the annual Memorial Day Concert on PBS. I hadn’t intended to watch it, but there were a couple of artists whom my daughter, who was visiting, wanted to see, and before you could say Francis Scott Key, I was caught up in the pageantry. I was also really, really “conflicted.” Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun

Dear Kathryn:

It has been five days since my last letter to you. In that time, you have sent three notes to me, and I wanted to let you know that I received them. Each one posed thoughtful questions with regard to my current views on important issues, and I thank you for sending them.

In response to my two letters in which I tried to answer the question “What exactly is the Gospel?” you asked me to say more about how I understand the term “salvation.” You wondered what I believe was accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross, and you asked what I now believe about hell as a place of conscious torment and punishment for those who die in their unbelief. Those questions were all in the first of your three recent notes. Continue reading

What Exactly Is The Gospel? (Part One)

Dear Mr. Lough:

You have referred several times to evangelical Christianity in this exchange of emails. You’ve made it clear that, although evangelicalism was the context for your early Christian formation, you no longer share some of the movement’s foundational presuppositions. In your last letter, however, you said something I had not heard before, and it raised a question I’d like to pursue.

You wrote, “Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom.” Could you say a bit more about that? Continue reading

Circumstances Can Alter Perception

Dear Mr. Lough:

In your most recent letter, you somewhat sidestepped the question of whether you consider yourself a liberal (just kidding, I know exactly what you meant) :-), but it still raised some additional questions. I pose them now as follow-up, if I may.

First, I know how much it hurt you to lose your job as a teacher, but do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn’t? Second, have you ever considered that you might have formed some of your current positions and opinions as a reactionary response to that unpleasant situation? And finally, when I had you as a teacher, you spoke very critically of a number of well-known liberal scholars and writers. Have you changed your opinion about any or all of them? Continue reading

The Evidence of Right Belief (The Road to Easter, #9)

Dear Kathryn:

I wasn’t planning to write again until I heard back from you, but the wheels just kept turning after I pressed “send” on yesterday’s letter. Here, then, is a bit more of my thinking about the dynamics of belief, the characteristics of truth, and the marks of authentic faith.

I need to say at the outset that there is nothing scientific about my observations here. It is mainly just a gut response from a guy who has been around the track (or up and down the field, or choose your own metaphor) for a lot of years and has drawn some conclusions from that experience. Continue reading

The Biggest Change I’ve Made (On the Road to Easter, #8)

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you for sharing with me your current thinking about the place of the Bible in the life of the Christian and the church. I will need some time to ponder all that you wrote, but I have already found it helpful and thought-provoking. So, let me ask you this. Would you say that your attitude toward the Bible is the area where you have experienced the greatest change in the past ten years? If not, would you care to say what does fit that description?

Peace, Kathryn. Continue reading