Monday, September 25, 2006

In God(s) We Trust

A new poll by the folks at Baylor University suggests that Americans tend to have one of five views about God:

Atheists
Only 5% of all Americans say there's no God.

Type A: Authority
31% say God exists, and view Him as a "hands on" deity with definite ideas about right and wrong (and a full array of rewards and punishments that are based on those rules).

Type B: Benevolent
23% believe God exists . . . but while they'd agree with people in the first group that God gets involved -- both in the world and in the lives of individuals -- they see Him as more caring and forgiving.

Type C: Critical
16% think God doesn't get involved in the here and now . . . but He does exist, and He does judge you in the afterlife.

Type D: Distant
Finally, 24% believe in the Deity of Thomas Jefferson, i.e. God established the laws of this Universe, set the whole thing in motion, and then walked away; He neither judges nor intervenes in human affairs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Funny, they tried this on people who were listening to one of my sermons, but nothing happened.

Buddhist monks chant. Franciscan nuns meditate. Pentecostals speak in tongues.

But hook them all up to a brain-scan while they're doing these things, and you get . . .

Well, judging by the letters that came in response to this article in Salon, you mainly get a lot of people who are sure this proves whatever they happened to believe before this study came along.

Myself, I can't help but think the Adventist concept of the soul would be a helpful addition to this conversation -- is there anybody out there who's thinking about these things?

Nirvana meets James Dobson

This is one article in Salon where I'm not sure how to react -- it seems the author spent some time at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle; it's your basic (and wildly successful) grunge-Goth fundamentalist church . . . but if the author's right, it's also gone big-time into the idea of "wives, be obedient to your husbands."

And yes, the author has an axe to grind. I'm not sure, for instance, why I'm supposed to think it's so sinister that members of this church actually sell real-estate (gasp!) to other church members.

Still . . . this wouldn't be the first time a church has started pushing people into boxes. And the pastor of Mars Hill is pretty conservative theologically -- in fact, he's been pretty vocal about the "liberal" failings of the "emerging church" movement.

So how about it -- is the author over-reacting? Or is Mars Hill offering a post-modern version of kuche, kinder, und kirche?

And no, I'm not happy with the Magnificat, either.

I don’t like this idea of God judging the earth.

And chances are, neither should you.

If you’re reading this on the Web, after all, then you’re better-off than 95% of the people on this planet. The status quo has been good to you, in other words. It’s pushed you to the top of the heap.

No, “the system,” as a friend of mine likes to say, “is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting right now” – and if you like the results you’re getting right now, then you certainly don’t want to change anything.

You just want more of the same.

And that’s the problem with this whole idea of judgment – it’s based on the premises . . .
  • That the “best of all possible worlds” for people like us may not be “the best of all possible worlds” from God’s point of view.
  • That God may rate something else more important than our own satisfaction.
  • That God may even shake up things so that other people get a chance at the good life.

And when I say “other people,” I mean “people other than us.”

In short, the judgment is an inherently subversive activity. It penalizes winners. It rewards losers. It threatens the status quo.

And why would anyone ever want to do something like that?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pro-life in Pennsylvania

Nice profile of Robert Casey in The Washington Post -- he's running for the US Senate in Pennsylvania.

So why's a pro-life Catholic running as a Democrat? His answer:
"If we are going to be pro-life, we cannot say we are against abortion . . . and then let our children suffer in broken schools. We can't claim to be pro-life at the same time we are cutting support for Medicaid, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children's Program."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's a Zen thing -- you wouldn't understand.

Interesting overview of American Buddhism in The Christian Science Monitor -- with 1.5 million believers, it's now the fourth-largest religion in America (just behind Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). What I find fascinating is the article's statement that it's growing so fast because it doesn't try to convert people.

The Three Phases of the Investigative Judgment

If there's one thing we've learned from this quarter's lessons, it's that the Adventist Church's doctrine of the Investigative Judgment is non-negotiable. It is not open to discussion; it is not open to change.

But even if the doctrine itself has not changed, the uses we've made of that doctrine most certainly have. Over the years, as a matter of fact, Adventists have used the Investigative Judgment as both a comfort and a club.

Phase One: Focus on Daniel
In the immediate aftermath of the Great Disappointment, for instance, Adventists were cheered by the thought of judgment. We liked the idea that God was sifting through the names of professed believers; we liked the idea that God was determining just who was really and truly a Christian . . . and who was such in name only.

And if you were a Millerite who had been mocked, abused, and expelled from church by those so-called “Christians,” then you looked forward to the day when God vindicated His saints in this Investigative Judgment . . . because that was the day those other people finally got what they deserved!

Phase Two: Focus on Leviticus.
But as time passed, Adventists realized that people inside the church could be just as bad as those outside – that Adventists could be hypocrites just as easy as anyone else.

And with that, the Investigative Judgment changed from a means of vindication to one of motivation; it became less of a comfort, and more of a club.

“At any moment,” we told church members, “your name could come up in the Judgment . . . and if there is one sin you’ve not forsaken – one sin you’ve not confessed and put behind you – then you will be lost for all eternity.

“What’s more,” we said, “the day will come when probation closes for everyone – the day when the Great Anti-typical Day of Atonement comes to an end. So you’d better get right with God before then . . . otherwise, you will not be ready to stand before God without a mediator.”

Phase Three: Focus on . . . ?
In the past decade or so, Adventists have tried to make the Investigative Judgment a lot less scary. Spend much time at Loma Linda University, for instance, and you’ll hear that the real subject of this judgment is God – that the Investigative Judgment is God’s way of proving His fairness and love to the questioning Universe.

Hang around Andrews University, on the other hand, and you’ll hear that Jesus has demolished anything that once separated us from God; as a result, we may come into His presence with boldness, because Jesus led the way.

Obviously, there are important differences between these two views.
  • The first draws inspiration from Ellen White’s theme of a “great controversy” between good and evil; the second is more rooted in the Book of Hebrews.
  • The first is more comfortable with Abelard’s “moral influence” view of the atonement; the second with Anselm’s “forensic” theory.
  • The first stresses our freedom of choice; the second God’s sovereignty.

But both views try to make the Investigative Judgment more “user” friendly; both views view it as a comfort (and not a club) -- and just like this week's Sabbath School lesson, both views pretty much ignore whatever it was that Jesus was supposed to have been doing before 1844.

In short, Adventists have always believed in an Investigative Judgment; no discussion there.

But when it comes to what we mean by that belief . . .

Well, that's open for debate.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you own a building that seats 600, then why do you call yourself an "emerging church"?

"The emerging church," said Dennis Colby in The Christian Century, is "a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, up-to-date interpretation of Christianity and a reluctance to directly answer questions."

Close enough -- though The Washington Post's recent profile of "emerging church" guru Brian McLaren points out he's actually 50-years-old! (And no, the article doesn't tell us whether he has any tattoos or body piercings.)

Then too, I can't help but wonder what happens when the members of these churches start having children. Most are the alumni of conservative churches, after all -- churches that stressed structure, order, and discpline. It's easy to understand why they'd grow up longing for something a little more "laid back."

And yes, many "emerging church" members make no secret of their disdain for megachurches. "Too slick and professional," they say, "too much like McDonalds."

Fair enough -- but start raising children, and words like "structure," "order," and "discipline" (much less "slick," professional," and even "McDonalds") start looking pretty good!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Times change.

And so do the meaning of words.

Take “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance. Back in the 19th-century, a “Liberal” favored free markets, while “Conservatives” backed government intervention.

Today, it’s the other way around. The meanings changed, in other words, even though the words themselves did not.

The same is true of this week’s lesson – a lesson that hearkens back to the time when “Conservatives” sought to rule by “crown, sword, and altar,” i.e. the aristocracy, the army, and the established church.

And yes, the “established church” was usually (but not always) Catholic.

Lined up against this cause was an uneasy coalition of Protestants and Liberals – Protestants who opposed Conservatives because they were Catholic, and Liberals who opposed anything that stood in the way of free markets and free thought.

The Fundamentalists and the ACLU had joined hands against the Old Guard, in other words – and if you want an example of the way this worked out in practice, then read The Great Controversy; notice how Ellen White critiques the Conservative establishment of her day. It’s a critique based, not just on religious values, but on Liberal values as well – Liberal values such as efficiency, reason, and democracy.

No, when Ellen White wrote The Great Controversy, it would have been controversial. Provocative. Even “edgy.”

But it was a book you could give to a Liberal President or Prime Minister – a man such as Theodore Roosevelt or William Gladstone – and you could do so knowing he’d understand.

Even if he didn’t agree.

Try that today, however, and they’d throw you out; they’d lump you in with those crazies who think the Federal Reserve is a front for the Trilateral Commission!

That’s because the times have changed. “The divine right of kings” is dead; the old alliance of crown, sword and altar has long since passed away. And whatever it meant to its original readers, anyone who reads The Great Controversy today must do in light of these facts:
  • the Conservatives -- the old Conservatives -- have lost.
  • the Liberals have long since moved on to other opponents (i.e. Fascism and Communism),
  • and yes, the Catholic Church has finally made its peace with democracy.

As you teach this week’s lesson, in other words, it won’t be enough to simply repeat the same things we’ve been saying for the last 150-years . . . for even if you did, they wouldn’t mean the same thing they did 150-years ago.

Talk about the "errors of the Catholic Church" back in 1875, after all, and you could still be a Partner in the Great Alliance Against Authoritarian Regimes. But try it today, and you're going to sound like a bigot.

And no, this isn't an argument for a Sabbath School class that is "polically correct."

I’m just stating facts – the fact that times change.

Words change.

And sometimes, the only way to keep on saying the same thing you’ve always said . . .

Is to say something new.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"When you're in a hole, stop digging."

Back in 2004, roughly 40-percent of American voters said the Democratic Party was "friendly" to religion.

"Whoa!" said the Democrats. "We've got to do something!"

And so, after three years of the Democrats trying to figure out how they can appeal to white Evangelicals and ethnic Catholics . . .

The number of American voters who say the Democratic Party is "friendly" to religion has dropped to 26-percent.

Click on the title for an analysis in Slate.