Category Archives: New (and renewed) Directons

On Hanegraaff and Orthodox Christianity: Or, a Church Service Worth Attending

Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man”, has recently converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and apparently this is causing quite a stir in the evangelical community.

On returning from a trip to China several years ago, Hanegraaff remarked, “I saw Chinese Christians who were deeply in love with the Lord, and I learned that while they may not have had as much intellectual acumen or knowledge as I did, they had life. I was comparing my ability to communicate truth with their deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Since that time,” he added, “I’ve been impacted by the whole idea of knowing Jesus Christ, experiencing Jesus Christ, and partaking of the graces of Jesus Christ through the Lord’s Table.”

One of the recent articles I read on the subject was from Ed Stetzer. Writing on Christianity Today’s website, the focus of his article was on the possible reasons why the Orthodox liturgy is so appealing to evangelicals today. One of the things he says is,

The early church was indeed more focused on the Eucharist and was more liturgical in structure, nature, and expression. There are things we can learn from that today, but we have to also acknowledge that much of what we see was, indeed, cultural. As a missiologist, I’m not drawn into early Christian cultural forms and am concerned that some are equating them with eternal truth.
The evangelical bent towards Western individualism has opened the door to an ‘every Bible for itself’ mentality where, combined with the digital age, rogue armchair theologians can be equipped with major influence without proper ecclesiological accountability. It’s a bit of a “me version” world of Bible translation. Lacking a central definition and protection of truth can cause (and has caused) much of evangelicalism’s problems.
In Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, that is not typically the case. In these church structures, there are tighter reigns on vetting truth and defining orthodox beliefs. Some see the Church organizationally as a means to preserve biblical truth from the changing tides of cultural waves.
The question I want to answer: Are we looking for the right things? Do we want to model with exactitude the cultural form of the early church? Is that the ultimate value?”

Personally, I’ve not been drawn toward the Orthodox faith, but I can see the appeal in a return to the “structure, nature, and expression” of the first century church (or the few centuries after). The difference as I see it though is that the cultural aspect of these early churches is exactly why they appeal to me; this is one of their ultimate values.

Yes, I believe that all scripture is “God breathed”, though I interpret that to mean God-inspired, not God-dictated.  What the Bible is is a library; a collection of sixty-six different books, historical narratives, poems, epistles, and so on, written by almost as many authors, all with specific backgrounds, with specific gifts and abilities, with a specific audiences in mind, all during specific points in time and history.

In other words, the Bible, to me, is entirely cultural. If we are truly “looking for the right things”, then we need to read the Bible through a lens of cultural and historical context: Who was speaking and what they were trying to say; who was listening and what they would have heard. These are fundamental keys to understanding this elusive Truth (big-T) that we all seem to be striving for in our rambling, stumbling walk with God.

As to whether or not we “want to model with exactitude the cultural form of the early church”, I am not sure. I wouldn’t be so quick to turn negative on the notion though, because gaining a proper historical and cultural perspective on scripture doesn’t automatically negate the relevance of the written gospel in 21st century America. On the contrary, it should give us a more detailed insight into what the writers of the early church were thinking, and the particular issues they were addressing. These issues, and the answers given by the likes of Paul, John, Moses, and Isaiah, give us a look at what the people of Israel struggled with, how they did (or didn’t) handle those issues, and what we can glean in application to our lives and times today.  Is the Book of Revelation an apocalyptic tome of end times destruction? Or, did John have a specific audience (or audiences), and specific issues in mind in addressing the seven churches scattered throughout the then-known world? Was it all of this? Was it neither? Wrestling with these types of questions is both the difficulty and the draw these sixty-six books hold for us today almost 2000 years removed from the last known penning of scripture.

This pursuit itself draws us into a kind of tension, wrestling both with our own interpretations as well as the contradictory interpretations of others. This is the very nature of the Bible, and is indeed, in my humble opinion, one of the key factors that convince me of the “God breathed” aspects of scripture. The Bible is supposed to have this tension. We’re supposed to lean into this tension. We’re supposed to wrestle with conflicting understanding, and yes, with conflicting scriptures. In this regard, the 1st century Jewish scholars excelled.

I think the most difficult hurdle that we, as Christians (with a wide blanket covering the over 40,000+ denominations within the U.S.), face when wrestling in this tension is this: We hate to be wrong! We need our truth box (small t), and we need everything we learn to fit inside of it, including our interpretation of Truth (big T).

Of course we certainly don’t want to be wrong. We don’t set out to be mistaken (which is admirable). But even when confronted with differing interpretations, understandings, or perspectives of the same scripture, we struggle within our stronghold of “belief” and, instead of inviting conversation and debate (which the first century church/synagogue was all about), we throw up all these walls around our little, prideful viewpoint, lobbing truth bombs (small t) onto an already incendiary minefield of dialogue, reducing the entire exchange to a shouting match of he-said-she-said, right/wrong, good/evil, nanananana-I-can’t-hear-you-anymore nonsense.

This is what the world sees.
In fact, this is ALL the world sees.

As Stetzer wrote, “People are trying to find the way back to the practices of the early church, and all claim to have the roadmap to get there…We do not see all that God is doing in the world, and we certainly don’t determine who is or isn’t a follower of Jesus.”

To me, that means if Hank Hanegraaff and his wife feel closer to Faith and Truth within the Eastern Orthodox religion, then who am I to say he is wrong? And yet, thousands are rushing to do just that.

Hanegraaff himself says, “People are posting this notion that somehow or other I’ve walked away from the faith and am no longer a Christian. Look, my views have been codified in 20 books, and my views have not changed.”

Churches, evangelicals, Christians…When it comes to wrestling with the differing views of others–within and outside of our own faith–we can do better.

We MUST do better.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; by your love for one another.”

Jesus deserves better.
“I have come so that they should have life, and life to the full.”

And God certainly demands better.
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Stetzer challenges his readers this way: “I believe we need to go back to scripture for each and every generation of Christians and ask, ‘What would it look like to live out this timeless scriptural faith in this time and in this place?’”

Now there is a question worth contemplating.
In conversation.
With others.
Preferably of differing viewpoints.
You know, just for fun.
That would be a church service worth attending!
**Quotes are from the article “Hank Hanegraaff’s Switch to Eastern Orthodoxy, Why People Make Such Changes, and Four Ways Evangelicals Might Respond” by Ed Stetzer http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/april/how-should-we-respond-to-hank-hanegraaffs-switch-to-orthodo.html

God help me, I’ve missed social media

Okay, I’ll admit it; I’ve missed social media. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s a lot NOT to miss about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, et.al. But one of the things I’ve missed about it is the fodder of ideas it gives me to write about.

Sure, there’s a lot NOT to write about, too. There’s topics that no one wants to engage in because we’re all too busy hoisting the flags of our own opinions. But I’ve missed the inspiration that social media once gave me to examine myself, my beliefs, my truths, and where it is I think those truths and beliefs fit into a world that so desperately needs voices of reason and hope.

One of the things that bugged me most last week, prompting my last post, was a severe case of the “Coulda, Woulda , Shoulda’s”. I let myself get bogged down with all the crap I hadn’t been getting done; being a more committed writer, a more engaged father/husband, a better contributor toward the day-to-day running’s of the house, etc. The weight of the world had settled firmly on my shoulders and I let myself become emotionally and mentally buried. And, yes, I see the irony in admitting this in a post saying I’ve missed social media, but still, I’m just sayin’…

I’ve noticed lately, without the interaction of social media, the artistic muse seems to have flown off to the furthest reaches of my creative imagination. Maybe it’s not the sole reason for my creativity drying up, but it’s certainly played its part. After all, there’s no shortage of prime topics to choose from among the entire world’s opinions on everything from politics to religion to cute kittens to what constitutes “good” music.

I’m also painfully aware that it’s been over eight months since my last book, the non-fiction These Threads of Faith, and a year and a half since The Privilege of Sin. (Admittedly, Kaitlynn just hasn’t wanted to do anything interesting lately, and The Drifter, Nick, just wants to wander back into the forests of Montana and get lost.)

I think, as humans, we are beings born for relationship. Even if that relationship sometimes takes the form of tweets, Snapchats, instant messages, and “likes”. Like anything else, the lure of social media can be abused, but it’s taken its place firmly in our modern-day culture and we’d be better for taking advantage of the positives available through it while remaining mindful of the negatives, the downers, the addictive tendencies, and all that.

So, over the past several weeks, I’ve been making small inroads back onto Facebook (Kent Roberts, Author), I’ve been lurking more and more on Twitter (@AuthorKentR). But, I’ve got to admit, I still don’t see the point of Instagram (thespiritualdrifter).

Like money, potato chips, love and fine whiskey, there is nothing inherently wrong with social media. But, like all of those things and so much more, it can easily be abused by us humans–a species hungry for attention, approval, and affirmation.

And writers are the worst for being clingy and needy like that.

Nonetheless, and BTW…I’ve missed you guys!

On “luuuv” and the Power of Words

I suppose, after writing books and blogs and other such things for over five years now, it shouldn’t surprise me the power of words.

But it does.

It shouldn’t surprise me, with “fake news”, alternative facts, and both the love and vitriol spread wide across social media, the influence—intentional and not—that our words can have.

But it does.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was one of the main reasons I hesitated to say anything amongst all the storm and rage of this past political and politically religious season. First, because I wasn’t sure what to say, And second, I wasn’t sure, even if I did speak up, how it would be received. And yes, it got to the point where I had written my “last” Spiritual Drift post (which I’ve obviously reconsidered), and closed up shop on my personal Facebook page.

It was only when I did those things, closing the door on the blog, pulling the plug on social media, that I found my voice, and more importantly, found the resolve, to say something, to say anything.

Both the voice and resolve came from this…

Hypocrisy.

Not “their” hypocrisy, mine, as I said in “A Christian Without a Religion”:

It’s not them, it’s me.  My own hypocrisy is in continuing to sit there. Numb. Dumb. Mute. Confused and angered. Unable or unwilling (fearful actually) to speak out.  Because apparently I’m the weird one.

The hypocrisy I felt was in my silent assent to all that was going on around me. I may not have been agreeing with what was happening, what was being said, what was being done, who it was being done to, and why, but in my silence it gave the appearance that I was.

I was agreeing.

I was complicit.

I was approving, conforming, like-minded.

This wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t true.

And once again I was struck by the power of words. And the hidden power of not saying them. The realization shouldn’t have surprised me.

But it did.

So I’m beginning to speak out.

First though, I wanted to thank everyone who commented or private messaged me with their words of encouragement. That meant, and continues to mean, a lot.

Secondly, I want to say that I am not leaving the church or my faith as some were fearful I might have decided.

I’m not.

Yes, I’m done with “religion”. But this is one of the most freeing decisions anyone of faith can ultimately make. At least in my mind.
I’m not following a pastor.
I’m not following a church.
I’m not following a doctrine.
I’ve chosen to follow the Way of a brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee.

And let me clarify something else. If the Spirit does move me to leave a particular church, or pastor, or doctrine, it is not, nor will it ever be, out of anger, frustration, or selfish motives (“I’m not getting fed”, “I don’t like the music/message/coffee creamer/carpet color.”)

I also won’t stand to be accused of “church hopping”, as I have heard time and time again from the pulpit.

Over the last twenty years, my wife and I have attended three different churches; each move facilitated by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Literally, it was time to move on, and God made that abundantly clear. And, if that time comes again, I will listen and obey.

Hear me on this: I love the people of my life/home group. I have made some cherished friendships within the church.

And yet these were also factors that weighed heavily on why I was fearful to speak out. Why I sat in my hypocrisy for so long.

I didn’t want to rock the boat.

It is only recently that I figured out that I am not, in fact, rocking the boat. I’m stepping out onto the water; mindful of the waves, mindful of the storm, but keeping my eyes affixed on the brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee in whom I’ve placed my trust.

It reminds me of the words of Frederick Buechner:

To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed.  –From “The Sacred Journey”

And those of John Eldredge:

The reason we fear to step out is because we know that it might not go well. We have a history of wounds screaming at us to play it safe. We feel so deeply that if it doesn’t go well, if we are not received well, the reaction becomes the verdict on our lives, on our very beings, on our hearts. We fear that our deepest doubts about ourselves will be confirmed. Again. That we will hear yet again the message of our wounds, the piercing negative answers to our Questions. That is why we can only risk stepping out when we are resting in the love of God. –From “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge (emphasis mine).

That is why it’s been hard to sit quietly in church as a pastor mocks those who feel the gospel is “all about luuuuv, luuuuv, luuuv” with hands placed gingerly on swaying hips as scorn lines his face.

Umm, he’s talking about me.
Because, umm, it is all about love.

God is love. (1John 4:8)
God is in Christ. (John 17:23)
And Christ is in me. (Col 1:27, 2Cor 13:5, Gal 2:20, to name but a few)

Therefore, if I am in Christ and He is in me and God is in Him, I am love.

I am resting in that. Almost like it’s a peace that passes understanding.

You see, a one-way ticket to heaven is the by-product of why I believe, not the sole reason. My faith is manifest in how I choose to live my life here and now. Eternity doesn’t begin “some fine day, when this life is o’er”. It has already begun. It has always been.

I am an eternal being.
I am in an eternal being, and He is in me.
I am luuuv!  Proudly!

A Christian Without a Religion

Broken Cross photo by Cantabrigian (deviantart.com)
Broken Cross photo by Cantabrigian (deviantart.com)

“For the last few years, Christians— particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.” –Thus begins a recent article by Stephen Mattson on Sojourner.com entitled “American ‘Christianity’ Has Failed”.

Thus is also a large part of the reason why I have no words. Why I can’t even…
The irony. The hypocrisy. The pride. The fear. The anger.

This is why we can’t have nice things. This is why I’ve recently deleted my Facebook account. This is why I said I’d written my last Spiritual Drift post.

But then again there’s nothing like a vow of finality to get the creative juices flowing.

My Own Hypocrisy

It’s becoming harder and harder these days to sit in the pews of church and stew in my own hypocrisy. When I hear offhand ‘jokes’ coming from the pulpit about a certain U.S. state being “the land of fruits and nuts”. When I hear fellow ‘Christians’ sitting around a men’s breakfast gathering, swapping stories about particularly touchy neighborhoods they used to patrol as former cops, including the homosexual community, spitting the word between clenched teeth then clarifying, “fags, we used to call ‘em” to nods of understanding and chuckles of solidarity.

I say “stew in my own hypocrisy” because the hypocrisy of the church has been on display for years now. Centuries even.

It’s not them, it’s me.  My own hypocrisy is in continuing to sit there. Numb. Dumb. Mute. Confused and angered. Unable or unwilling (fearful actually) to speak out.  Because apparently I’m the weird one. I’m the ‘no rules’ progressive. I’m the bleeding heart liberal. I’m the one practicing ‘hypergrace’. All accusations I’ve heard over the past months and years. Most all given in contempt with a dismissive wave of the hand if not all-out red-faced anger.

I guess those are supposed to be a bad thing. Continue reading A Christian Without a Religion