Plane chats and comforting words

On our trip back from Winnipeg, Julie and I had the “opportunity” to sit with a chatty fellow on the plain. While Julie was right next to him, all three of us interacted throughout the journey back to Vancouver, which in the end was a pleasing experience considering that I was not enticed by the French version of Will and Grace playing on the TV’s. This man was a professor of Transportation Economics at the U. of M., and was quick to fill us in on all the latest happenings and present predictions in the world of transportation. The book he was reading on the history of the automobile from 17??-1842 looked quite fascinating (boring???) as I did not even know the automobile existed at that point in history.
All said, the topic eventually lead to human values and religion. It was at this point, already knowing that I was a theology student, that he popped the question, “how do we know which religion is the right one when they all claim to be the right one.” Now, on the spot I honestly did not know how to respond as I usually take the route of careful reflection when it comes to these matters. Therefore, I kind of dodged a straight answer and related my understanding of my own religious experience and how it is a process of discernment done in the company of others, rather than the smörgåsbord approach so many individuals seem to take these days. With that response I think he realized I was not prepared to paint myself into a corner and the conversation shifted to something else.
The rest of this week I have found myself wondering if my answer was adequate and if perhaps I should have been quicker on my feet to challenge his question, particularly the part about how all religions claim they are the only right ones. I felt somewhat discouraged actually, thinking that here I am, a theology student, and I am talking about is my personal religious experience. Shouldn’t I say more???
Then today I read an article by one of my professors, John Stackhouse, which ended offering some comforting words. Discussing the modern approach to evangelism as traditionally having taken the line of “we’re better than all of you” Stackhouse points us to the example of the Apostles where the primary focus was relaying what they had seen, touched and heard (1 John 1:1). Basically, their response to the religiously diverse atmosphere of the 1st century was there own experience of encountering Jesus Christ himself. Stackhouse follows this verse with the comment that I found most comforting, stating that “Jesus called us to be his witnesses, not his experts in comparative religion.”
The reason I found this article encouraging is because my goal as a Christian is to be faithful with my whole life as a witness to Christ, not just my ability to logically prove something beyond a shadow of a doubt. While I recognize the danger of using this concept to shirk the responsibility of intelligibly communicating the Christian faith at all, I was glad to know that my Christian witness is far more just providing the “right” answers to questions from a gentleman on the plane…
Thanks John!

A Good Church Sign - Really???

I have been meaning to comment on church signs for a while now, and this past week while Julie and I were in Winnipeg I saw a sign that gave me the final oomph of motivation to share my thoughts.

I have long thought that churches attempts at connecting with the surrounding culture in the form of catchy sayings is an utter waste of time and likely does more damage than good when it comes to the impact the church has in the world. I have always held the opinion that beyond general ministry information and the all important “everyone welcome,” a church’s sign should not be the place for uncreative and lame attempts at humorous nuggets of Christian “wisdom.” Usually I just end up groaning when I read them (like with this one: God doesn’t reply to email, only knee-mail). However, the ironic part about the sign I saw in Winnipeg at my grandparent’s church is that I actually liked it! Here’s what it said:

Forgive your enemies
It messes with their heads

For some reason this sign struck a chord that actually made me think and appreciate the challenge it gave. Perhaps it struck me because it suggests something lacking in our world: forgiveness. And the reason I liked the “messes with their heads” part is because I think a well articulated theology of forgiveness does go against the grain of a world obsessed with personal satisfaction and power, particularly at the expense of others. I am sure that much more that could be said theologically, but what I liked most was that the sign wasn’t cheesy, but clever and humorous, almost edgy in fact. And coming from a small community church in Winnipeg, this was a pleasant surprise.

All said, I guess my experience with this sign has given me hope for church signs. I still think a “less is more” approach is most suitable, but this one example reveals that churches may be able to say something relevant, even through the medium of their sign…

A New Kind of Freedom

In preparation for a summer class that I took from Tim Geddert called “the Church and God’s Mission in the World,” I did quite a bit of reading related to the New Testament understanding of community. One of the books I read is Robert Banks’ book titled Paul’s Idea of Community. Early on in the book Banks suggests that freedom is an integral part of interpreting Paul’s view of community. This is contra to the common held interpretation that elevates salvation as the central motif for a theology of Christian community. While salvation remains an integral part of Pauline theology, freedom is what Banks’ argues to be the center of interpreting Paul, and in the case of this book, Paul’s view on community.

The vision of community that Banks draws from Paul is a refreshing image of unity and participation that encourages any Christian in the 21st century to continue working towards the realization of true community. Invaluable in maintaining this theme is Banks’ theological basis of the radical freedom that Paul advocates. In our age of extreme individualism, where freedom is almost always understood as the distinct freedom from any binding relationships, Banks presents an interpretation of Paul that challenges any such view. What is important is that freedom is not from something, but for something. In the case of Paul, Banks argues that Christians have freedom for a “new community.” Freedom into community is balanced under the following three headings:

: from sin and for Christ
-Dependence: on Christ and the Spirit
with others and the world

The reason this is an effective foundation for understanding Paul is that freedom is far more than the personal result of salvation. Freedom is the reality of life lived under the lordship of Christ, in direction from the Spirit, and in ongoing relationships with fellow Christians. Basically, freedom expands our Pauline theology to include so much more just individualized salvation. Therefore, this book for me was an inspiring reminder that the Christian gospel doesn’t end at personal salvation, but reveals a freedom into which people enter into the richness of community!

How exactly does this community look? Well, I’m still working on that one…

Out of the Silence…

I’m not going make a big deal out of the silence as of late, except to say that I am still here. So if you're still reading my blog, the following phrases represent several concepts that have been running through my mind in the past month. I’m sure I could expand more on each thought, but for now I just offer some questions that have been swirling in my head related to the ideas.

Strategy or Doctrine?

A major challenge facing churches in the 21st century relates to the question of cultural relevance. How do we distinguish between what are mere strategies what is unchangeable truths? Fun stuff for anyone wrestling with the church’s practical relationship in society…

Distracted Loneliness

Is our obsession with technology a form of distracting ourselves from the fact that we are simply lonely but unable/willing to invest in relationships beyond cyperspace? (ie. Facebook, to which I am also a participant!)

God’s Shalom Project

Do we really believe and embrace the hope that God is in the process of restoring reality? Do we as Christians embody shalom in our lives?

Versatility of Love

Realizing the challenge of universal and timeless ethics, is it possible that the principle of love in the New Testament can guide our practical decision making in regards to ethical dilemmas we have in our personal lives as well as society in general?

Stuck In-between Reality and Ideals

Is it okay for Christian communities to settle for the best realistic option, even if that is less than ideal? How do we live in the tension that the Christian ideal, while experienced in glimpses, is not yet fully realized?

Cultivated Doubt

In our age of skepticism towards organized Christianity, both from within the church and from society, how do appropriately deal with the doubts we have? Do we cultivate doubt or learn to live with it?

Freedom – Do we really get it?

How is the understanding of freedom as “freedom from something” give us a narrow view of what Christian freedom truly means? How can an understanding of “freedom into something” challenge individualistic interpretations of the Christian faith?

Paradoxical Authority

Do we really believe that the biblical witness of true power in the form of unprotectedness and vulnerability will ironically turn other types of authority upside down?

Christian Theology of Everything

In a time of continuing scrutiny directed at Christianity from all sides, are Christians willing to engage the task of articulating their understanding of the universe and existence that is both biblically sound and scientifically believable? (yikes!)

If you have any thoughts or questions on any of these feel free to comments. I hope to elaborate on several of these topics as I continue to reflect…