Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Curling up with the Good Book

Like so many other people this last weekend, I anxiously awaited my copy of the final Harry Potter book and at first opportunity curled up with it and plunged into a whirlwind of reading. Unfortunately, because of the need to share with my wife and the need to sleep before church the next morning I was forced to stop with about 100 pages left to go. While I did manage to finish these very quickly the next morning, it was difficult to leave the book in the midst of the climax. Sleep was hard to come by as my mind raced through all that I had read and pondering what was yet to come.

This experience brought to mind something that Don Miller said in "Blue Like Jazz." He talked about a friend of his and her experience reading through the book of Matthew with cigarettes and chocolate. I am sure a lot of people who go to church would not associate a gospel with cigarettes or perhaps even chocolate, both of these are guilty pleasures, borderline sins. I like the idea though of the Bible being something read the same way we might read another book. How often do we just take the Bible and curl up with it in a big poofy chair? Why not? Do we ever read a Gospel from beginning to end, letting ourselves sink into the story and fully immerse ourselves in Jesus' message?

It is different than Harry Potter in many ways, but I think that it is good to remember the Bible is not just the Good Book, it is a good book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What does it mean to be a "good Christian?"

A friend of mine told me the other day that she had been told by a co-worker that she was a "good Christian." She said the reason for the remark was her willingness to help out a co-worker during a time of great distress and need. Certainly her actions at the time were those that any Christian would have been proud of. This comment for me however raises the question of what does it mean to be a "good Christian." Is anyone who does a good act a "good Christian?" Taken at face value, the concept of a being a good Christan would seem to be some who does a good job of following Christ. After all, that seems the classic definition of a Christian. I think what I am wondering is whether there is something more to be a good Christian than just being a good person. If we were to follow Kant's Categorical Imperative and only do those things that we would want everyone to do, that would seem to at least be a good way of living, but is that sufficient for being a good Christian.

Is there more required to being a good Christian than simply doing good works. An obvious aspect would be the a belief in Christ. If I am doing good works only for my own benefit, or based on the idea that it is better for the whole community, that is not really enough to be a Christian. Part of being a Christian is doing these things because Christ command us to do them. Now, this does make it harder to judge the difference between a good person and good Christian. Unless we are wiling to take the time to question a person's motives, we cannot judge purely from the good deed whether this is the actions of a good Christian or not. In fact it is probably easier to tell a bad Christian, because we can easily point to a number of things that are wrong, but it is much harder to show that a good act is being done for the right reason.

Even if we could find a way to judge someone as a good Christian or not, I still question the value in such a judgment. Where does salvation do to grace and not works fit into the concept of a good Christian. Is a good Christian one who simply believes in God and tries their best to follow God, rather than a someone who actually does a good job of following? Is the only way to be a good Christian to trust that God and God only will make your actions good?

I think in the end I want being a good Christian to mean more than just doing good acts. At the same time I am aware that none of us can be a good Christian all of the time, our own tendency to sin seems to great. I think a good Christian is someone who realizes this, and yet in spite of that still works tries to follow Christ, knowing they are never going to be that good at it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Human Side of Scripture

I love numbers and theoretical thinking. But yet at some level I think my favorite parts of Scripture are the human parts. While it is interesting to parse out theology from the sayings of Jesus, what speaks to me the most are things like the Psalms, the Book of Job, and the Epistles. I think this is because the human side of things comes through most plainly. While theology is thick in the Book of Job, it comes straight from the mouth of a human in the midst of suffering. Most Psalms cover a range of human emotion. They seek less to carefully define God and more to express an intimate relationship with the Divine. Connecting to that deeper spiritual side is something I love to do, but something I struggle to make real for others. I can teach logic, I can explain complex ideas, but I am not sure something like this can be taught. I think the Psalms are not meant to be read, but are meant to be said. We should cry out loud our needs as we read the Psalms, give thanks to God for being glorious and admit our own failings. While I have a lot of theological blogging topics swirling in my head today, I wanted to just pause for a bit and leave this space as a reflection on the beauty of the intensely personal nature of theology, the core of what I do.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dueling Ideologies

I read somewhere, though I cannot recall where and I am not sure I trust the source, that the Pope had recently taken a step back from ecumenical conversations and restated the position that the Catholic church was really the only correct approach to the Christian faith. Earlier today I heard President Bush talking about the challenge facing our world today. As he saw, the key issue were two different ideologies, represented in his eyes by the U.S. and Al Qaeda.

Both of these perspectives got me to thinking again on the challenging with dueling ideologies. People have been highlighting once again the part of the historic Latin mass which prays for the Jews and their conversion. Certainly based on the tone of the language used it is easy to see how it might be considered anti-semitic, but at the same time, for many Catholics and Evangelicals, without Christ, the Jews are doomed to Hell like anyone else.

I raise these examples not to try and critique them or agree with them, but because I think they raise a major problem facing all of us at present. How do we deal with ideologies that are completely at odds? How do we tolerate the idea that something is both true to some people and false to others? There are some things that seem like we can find a compromise on. For example the endless debate between big government national government and leaving things to the states or private sector has room for compromise. What compromise can there be between some of the ideologies present today. How do we deal with ideas such as Catholicism, Islam, and global warming, that all seem to assert things that are true 100% of the time, that there is no way but Christ, or Allah, or that global warming is fact and not some theory.

I think what we really need to be looking for is new ways to deal with these issues. In the past these have been settled by the sword, or the gun, or just by shouting down the other side. But today we need to find new ways that such radically different ideas can live side by side. We need to find ways to hold in tension that X is both true and false. We need to find some non-combative metaphors for discourse.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Theology of "Evan Almighty"

I went to see the movie "Evan Almighty" with my youth group on Sunday. In almost every way it was a very entertaining and I thought well done movie, but one small theological statement in the movie caught my attention. the basic plot is that Evan, a congressman is tapped by God to build an ark, just like Noah. At one point in one of their conversations God says that everything "he" does is because "he" loves Evan. This statement intrigued me and so I want to break it down for a moment.

My initial reaction to such a statement is concern. After all, a great many evils have been done in the name of love. Even such acts as spousal abuse can be done under its aegis. To say that what God does is done for love while touching on the one hand invokes some poor justifications in my mind. Now, if you accept that God, unlike the abusive spouse is perfect being, then the argument could be made that such concerns, while well founded for humanity, are not applicable when it comes to God.

It also struck me that this statement seemed a bit of a truism. Socrates brings up a similar point in discussing what is holy with Euthyphro. He raises the question of whether something is holy by virtue of being loved by the gods, or is something loved by the gods because it is holy. So is whatever God does an act of love because it is done by God, or does God only do things if they are acts of love?

I think where this becomes challenging to me is understanding God's place in the world. In this movie there is considerable strife between Evan and his wife Joan because even once he tells her what is going on she still struggles to believe and to understand what is going on. Evans actions, which are a direct result of God's commands/requests, seem to cause a great deal of harm. Now, the argument could be made that this harm is temporary and that it leads to the greater good of bringing the family closer together, but that is a whole different post.

Does this theology preach is my underlying question? I have raised a variety of objections, but ultimately does this theology come to the heart of what our faith should be/is that God is good all the time? Following God means that we are willing to make the assertion that what is good is good because God does it. Then again, maybe trusting in God would be easier if I had not been taught to be skeptical and question authority as a child.

As I continue to ponder this I am opening to people's thoughts ...