Friday, October 26, 2007

A Life Worth Living

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Grace vs. Works

The Scripture is only fully revealed when it is embodied. KaiV oJ lovgo" saVrx ejgevneto kaiV ejskhvnwsen ejn hJmi'n [And the Word became flesh and lived among us Jn 1:14]. In the same way, faith without works is dead.

Within the thoughts of Scripture are often found dichotomies. This was never a problem in Ancient Near Eastern [ANE] thought which maintained that humanity had limited understanding. To the Western mind though, this is shear nonsense or worse...contradiction. Proverbs 26 reads as follows:

4 Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you will be a fool yourself.
5 Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.

So which is it? The ANE mind says: Yes.

So it is with grace and works. It is only by grace that we are saved. We are all fallen, broken, and relatively self-centered. As much as we make progress in overcoming such a state of being, we will always remain in some way all of the above. By grace alone then, we are restored to relationship with God.

At the same time we learn that faith without works is dead. We read in Mt 25 that in as much as we fail to do onto the least of humanity, we have failed to serve Christ, and he bids us depart from him and his kingdom. In 2 Timothy we are told to run the race to the finish, and that it is a struggle. The idea is that we might give up the struggle and forfeit the race.

What is it then, grace or works? The answer cannot be works, so it is Grace. Yet grace apart from works? No. Somehow the two cannot be fully separated.

Again, the dichotomy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Way of Sin?

My wife must have turned the station when she used my car, because it was on Christian radio. There was a woman on there talking about how we had to let people know there is a such thing as sin and that they are sinners.

Something about it frustrated me. It's not that i don't believe in sin, but what is it? Today i spent a number of hours talking with a friend who was the king of metaphors and slang. A number of times i had to say, "Could you give me a concrete example?"

What is sin?

i understand sin to be a lack of love. It is a departure from the Jesus Creed: Love God & Others. In this case, we are all "sinners". In fact, you'll find many in the Church who actually seem guilty to a greater extent than those they call "unbelievers". i think we need to level the playing field. We are all guilty of sin: Failure to love.

It is this failure to love that leads to broken relationships, from the home to international tensions. Yes, i think we need to repent. But let's not show "sinners" the way of "sin". Instead, let us actively reveal the pathways of love, by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus does not call us to be revealer's of sin, but of love.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Guest Post: Dinner with the Antichrist

Dinner with the Antichrist (by Jim Wallis)

Last evening I attended a reception and dinner in Washington for evangelical Christian leaders, which is not an unusual event here. But the topic and, especially, the main speaker would seem highly unusual to many. The event, called "A Global Leaders Forum," was hosted by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Micah Challenge, a global advocacy campaign focused on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are aimed at cutting extreme global poverty in half by 2015. The topics that brought 250 evangelical leaders together from around the U.S. and world were indeed global poverty and the urgent issue of climate change. Both issues are now firmly on the agenda of the evangelical mainstream, as last night's impressive list of leaders demonstrated.

The speaker for the evening was none other than Ban-Ki Moon, the new secretary general of the United Nations, which is driving the MDG initiative. Growing up in the evangelical world, I remember the great debate about who was the real "Antichrist" as described in biblical prophecy--it was either the pope or the United Nations. As Washington Post writer Dana Milbanks noted this morning

In the wildly popular Left Behind series of evangelical Christian novels, the Antichrist takes the form of the secretary general of the United Nations, sets up an abortion-promoting world government and becomes the Global Community Supreme Potentate. Last night, the National Association of Evangelicals met for dinner at the Sheraton in Crystal City. The keynote speaker? Why, the Antichrist himself.

Last night, the supposed Antichrist was listening to gospel music, speaking of his own faith, quoting scripture, celebrating a new alliance with "the evangelical church" on the critical issues of poverty and global warming, and bringing the conservative Christian crowd to its feet in smiling agreement with the secretary's agenda.

Indeed, leader after leader insisted this was a biblical agenda. A prominent leader from the Religious Right came up to sit right next to me, and then engaged me in an amazing conversation about finding common ground. This dramatic shift in the public agenda of the evangelical community is affecting American politics in very significant ways and promises to change them, especially if the political labels of left and right slowly slip away and are replaced by a common commitment to focus on the key moral issues of our time. Those issues are now defined more broadly and deeply than before and include the plight of God's poorest children and the fragile state of God's creation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rivers of Belief

When Right is Wrong

"If you can find something everyone agrees on,
it's wrong."

-Mo Udall

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nothing New in the Old Apologetic

i was listening to a seminar yesterday called "The Uniqueness of Christianity". Someone gave it to me on CD. They thought it was a "must listen". i always appreciate people's sincerity and excitement. So with no ill will toward the innocent party, here's my critique...

It was a rehash of the old apologetic (defense of the Christian faith). Two problems: It held too many false dichotomies, and it used circular reasoning. Works great for tricking baby boomers who thrive on misguided scientific evidence. Not good in a postmodern world where empirical evidence is always suspect and somehow less convincing than personal experience.

First, the argument ran something like this: 'There are only two types of religion, those without a savior and those with a savior. Only Christianity has a savior and all other religions are based on a system of works'. Sounds good, but it is a false dichotomy. There are many religions and belief systems that don't see a need for either works or a savior, but simply enlightenment or moral responsibility. My guess is there are also other faith systems that do include a savior. Also, we can't forget that even in Christianity we declare that "Faith without works is dead". You can spin this any way you want, but in the end, works are necessary, even if it just reveals the validity of faith.

Second, you can't prove the Bible by using the Bible. Most of the seminar was taken up by showing how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus. What did they use to prove this? The New Testament. This is a circular argument because in order to believe these OT prophecies were fulfilled, you must hold an apriori belief that the NT is an unbiased, God inspired account of historical events. If you do not start with this presupposition then you will simply conclude this: 'A bunch of Jewish people who were very familiar with Jewish prophecy, penned an account that showed how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. Since i believe the NT is a fabrication, i therefore do not buy the proof that these prophecies were actually fulfilled. End of argument.' (assumed argument of non-Christian, not my personal view)

The same idea goes when you start talking about Paul who was a Jewish persecutor of Christians and then converted. The argument goes like this: "Why would Paul, a persecutor of Christians, become a follower of Jesus and die for this cause?" Answer: "NT is True". This sounds like a convincing argument to a Christian, but not to a non-Christian who simply says: 'There was no Paul' or 'Paul just made that up to make his case sound stronger'. And then the Christian says, "No, it's all recorded here in the NT". And the non-Christian says, "You mean the book that i think is a fabrication?"

It's time for a new apologetic and i don't think it should be based on empirical "evidence". We can keep the old apologetic for NT theology classes. It is a great tool for the Christian faith, just a poor tool for proving the gospel.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy Mad Hatter Day!

What Is It?

MadHatterDay is a holiday in October. It fills the need for a second crazy day in the year, almost exactly half a year from April Fools' Day. The real spirit of MadHatterDay is turnabout: The nonsense we usually have to pretend is sane can be called madness for one day in the year; the superficially crazy things that really make sense can be called sane on MadHatterDay.

MadHatterDay is 10/6. The date was chosen from the illustrations by John Tenniel in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wherein the Mad Hatter is always seen wearing a hat bearing a slip of paper with the notation "In this style 10/6". We take this as inspiration to behave in the style of the Mad Hatter on 10/6 (which is October 6 here, although in Britain MadHatterDay occurs on June 10...but I digress...) Some astute observers have noted that the paper in the Mad Hatter's Hat was really an order to make a hat in the style shown, to cost ten shillings sixpence. However, it is well known that Time Is Money, and therefore Money Is Time, and therefore 10/6 may as well be the sixth of October.

Learn more here!

Dear Mr. President, Part II

Looks like our voice is being heard in the White House, even if it is a bit muffled. All those walls make it hard for sound to travel. Bush is reconsidering his spending on SCHIP, and i don't doubt that has something to do with his own voter contingency (us religious folk) speaking up. Thanks to all of you who took the time to write a letter! Here's the first part of today's article on CNN:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush signaled a willingness Saturday to spend more than what he had recommended for a popular children's health program, but provided no specifics on how much higher he would go.'

Dr. Gwen Wurm checks Christina Brownlee, 5, at the University of Miami Pediatric clinic on October 3.

The president on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would increase spending for the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years. Bush has called for a $5 billion increase. Several Republicans in both chambers have sided with Democratic lawmakers on the issue.

"If putting poor children first takes a little more than the 20 percent increase I have proposed in my budget for SCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find the additional money," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Democratic lawmakers say votes to override the president's veto will be held in mid-October. That effort is not expected to succeed.

The program provides health insurance to children in families with incomes too great for Medicaid eligibility but not enough to afford private insurance.

Bush used his radio address to once again make the case that he believes the spending increase sought primarily by Democrats is a step "toward their goal of government-run health care for every American."

"Government-run health care would deprive Americans of the choice and competition that comes from the private market," he said. "It would cause huge increases in government spending."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dear Mr. President,

The President has sworn to veto a bipartisan bill that would extend health care to our nations poorest children. This bill would cost less than the war in Iraq. Please look further into the issue and send the President a letter letting him know what you think of this kind of neglect. Here is the letter i sent him:

There is a chasm occurring in the Evangelical Christian ranks. Many of us are waking up to our Scriptural mandate to meet the needs of those in need. Through the prophets we witness God calling nations to account. Even non-believing nations. They are called to account for how they treat their marginalized citizens and for failing to care for the basic needs of their people.

Pastors, such as myself, in increasing numbers are teaching the full message of the Scriptures. That is, Love God and love others. We are teaching our congregations that there is no Christian political party. We are telling them that neither the left nor the right can continue to determine faith issues any longer (especially the right), because both have failed, focusing on only a couple of peripheral issues.

SCHIP is an issue that we hold dear to our hearts. Vetoing this will be the Christian equivalent to the 'shot that was heard round the world'. You would be supplying the bullet. The echo will reverberate off the walls of our sanctuaries.

I stand with Sojourners and a great multitude of Evangelical Christians in saying this:
The reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) has overwhelming bipartisan support. I urge you to reconsider your position and sign this important legislation.

Rev. Keith J. Foisy