Monthly Archives: April 2010


Be Very Afraid

Robert Wuthnow is a professor of sociology at Princeton University and the author of numerous articles and books about American culture. His particular expertise has been in showing how America’s religious faith intersects with life in our culture. His writing is sometimes dense but always useful. One of his more recent titles summarizes a great deal of Wuthnow’s insight: American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short (Princeton University Press, 2008). The guy is prolific if he is nothing else. I cannot keep up with him but I try to “breeze” by his new material now and then to glean what I can from this highly respected social thinker.

55275103 Wuthnow’s newest book is Be Very Afraid: The Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats (Oxford University Press, 2010). This book is not rooted in religion, as such, but it touches on what is

By |April 30th, 2010|Categories: America and Americanism, Books|

The Value of Travel

cover.gif A few months ago (February 9, 2010) an interview in the Christian Century was made with a travel agent/writer who reflected upon the blessings of travel. I found a lot in his thoughtful piece that lined up with my own travel experience.

First, I love travel but I do hate airports. Go figure. I have just grown weary of these places and the hustle and bustle of the busy, security tightened, way of modern flying. Getting miles is OK but in the end I would rather go some other way. But if I am driving more than four or five hours I still prefer to fly.

Second, in the Century interview author Rick Steves said, “The less you travel, the more likely that media with a particular agenda can shape your viewpoint. Those of us who travel are a little more resilient when it comes to weathering the propaganda storms that

By |April 29th, 2010|Categories: Personal, Travel|

N. T. Wright: Is He Really the Most Dangerous Theologian of Our Time?

From the first moment I heard the name of N. T. Wright, about twenty years ago I think, I was told to avoid him like the plague. Why? He was a dangerous man with a theology that would undermine the entire Protestant Reformation. Dutifully I avoided him because those I respected told me to do so. I limited my reading of Tom Wright to a few articles and to only one book about him (not by him). I was told that he embraced a position called “The New Perspective on Paul” (NPP). This position was a damaging (some say, quite literally, a damning) stance on Paul’s corpus of New Testament material because it directly attacked the most important truths of the Reformation. Thankfully a very good friend, who had taken the time to begin to read Tom Wright for himself, challenged me bluntly and forcefully to my face. In effect he told me to keep my mouth shut about Tom Wright until I had really bothered to read him for myself. In the mid-1990s I began to read Tom Wright and have appreciated

Global Mission Must Become Mutual Mission

photo1901 My own denomination, the Reformed Church in America, produces a monthly piece on mission for member churches to use in their Sunday bulletins. The March issue of Mission Today: Reformed Church in America Global Mission, had a particularly helpful look at what drives our shared global mission as a historic American denomination.

In a world that is clearly multicultural, where we now experience unprecedented advance in communications and tremendous economic and political upheaval, all Christians and Christian institutions need to recognize the importance of both giving and receiving, of teaching and learning, of sharing and listening. Simply put, we need to be careful about being intentionally mutual in mission. Mission Today says it well: “The RCA believes in mutuality—that any relationship, if it is healthy, must benefit both parties. Each must give and each should receive.”

When a particular church focuses only on giving then it will tend towards paternalism and chauvinism. When

The Relational Unity of John 17:20-23

Biblical students and scholars have often interpreted John 17 in ways that deny the obvious meaning of Jesus’ prayer for our unity and oneness. Did Jesus intend for us to share in the eternal unity of the Father and Son, or what we call the ontological unity of the Godhead? Yes, in a sense, but primarily the answer is no. We do share in the life of God and we have taken on the divine nature in the sense that 2 Peter 1:3-4 teaches. The ancient church called this process deification. By this the church fathers did not mean that we become God (ontologically) but rather than we become fully human as those made in the Triune image of the relational God. We become more and more like God by the Spirit’s transforming power making us more and more like Jesus.

This is the very key to John 17. Jesus is not praying that we will all join one church or that we will all agree on every point of doctrine. (There is a pattern of true faith that

Could the Church Be Missing Its Spiritual Blindside?

DavidBrooks2 I have quoted New York Times columnist David Brooks more than a few times on this blog site. I find Brooks to be one of the most insightful and helpful syndicated writers today. On March 29 he wrote a column titled: “The Sandra Bullock Trade.” He wrote that in the month of March two things happened to Sandra. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress in 2009 for her role in The Blind Side. Shortly after winning her award she learned that her husband was “an adulterous jerk.” Brooks asks: “Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?”

On the side of the Academy Award triumph Brooks notes that major research shows that those who win the award live four years longer than those who are nominated and never win. But, as Brooks notes, marital happiness is far more valuable than any recognitions or awards. You don’t even need to think about this for three seconds.

The Boys of Summer Are Back

Mmw_baseball_040108_article Spring is finally here and baseball is back. For me the two have been synonymous for as long as I can remember. Spring begins with "Play Ball" and winter begins when the World Series is over. I know many of you think that is crazy but it is me and I love this time of the year. For almost every fan "hope springs eternal" in April. Your team is still in it and no one is buried in the pennant race yet. In fact, many teams are surprisingly good right now and some that seem to be bad this early will turn it around in the next few months.

You may wonder what makes baseball so different since you see it as a dull and slow game. I answer, "It is a thinking person's game. It is paced just right for conversation and thought. It is slow enough to allow for breaks and pauses yet each pitch has a different purpose and result." If

By |April 24th, 2010|Categories: Baseball|

What Great Work Does God Require of Us?

Rublev_trinity_iconThe way of Christ is a truly radical way of living. Our lives are to rest on two virtues: humility and faith. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus lived his life, in the moment of each single day, in a radical (radix: meaning at the root) poverty of spirit. He had no agenda except to do the will of his Father. “I do nothing apart from the Father.” “My words are not my own.” “I only do what I see the Father doing.” And, “Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a man.” This is man living to the fullest as God made him without sin. This is man in communion and fellowship with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. It is life in the Trinity.

God requires that we abandon our own puny plans and genuinely

By |April 23rd, 2010|Categories: Spirituality|

Becoming Fully Present in the Moment

A remarkable thing happens to us, and in us, when we learn to live in the present moment. We learn to live for him who died for us and was raised again for us and thus we live for the moment he has given to us and not for something else or for some other time we dream about.

When we live this way each day, each moment, becomes a kind of sacrament. Every moment contains something in it that we need to fulfill our deepest need. That need is to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. When we live in the moment we become present to our presence in that moment and then to others. Our posture toward everything changes. We wake up wondering, “What will God show me and do in me today?” Or, “How will I really see him in the ordinariness of my day?”

Catherine of Siena described what I speak of this way: “To the true servant of God every place is the right place and

By |April 22nd, 2010|Categories: Spirituality|

Our Essence is Our Emptiness

IconAthan A friend recently wrote that “our essence is our emptiness.” Our true selves are refined into gold by the purifying fire of life and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are made to be divine chalices, human receptacles made in the image of the Triune God for the living God. God made us for himself and he made us to hold within ourselves his glory. Through the purifying power of God he makes room for himself. “It is not I who lives but Christ in me.”

The Western Church tended to reduce salvation to the forgiveness of sin. The East understood that God made us for himself and the fall removed us from God. Salvation restores us to union with God in Christ (Calvin saw this too) and brings about a refining process that brings us into the divine.

We must be emptied of ourselves (not our humanity or uniqueness but our false, independent selves) so

By |April 21st, 2010|Categories: Spirituality|

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