Tag Archives: neighbors

Christianity, Faith & Atheism: A mega-post on The Fate of “Eternal Consequences”

eternal consequencesMy good friend Nate posted a couple comments as a reaction to my recent post “Is Progressive Christianity a Slow Path to Atheism?” (follow the link here)

I told him I was going to answer him in a separate post so we can have a broader discussion among some of you fellow readers. Here’s the comment thread and my answer below:

NATE: This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot, and I suppose it’s one of the reasons that I’m an atheist. I don’t think that progressive Christianity necessarily leads one to atheism, of course, but I definitely see how it serves as a path for some. For me, as I began peeling back those layers that McLaren mentioned, I simply saw no reason to continue believing in the Judeo-Christian god. How could I trust anything the Bible told me when the evidence kept piling up that the Bible was just a collection of commentaries by people who lived a long time ago?

 ME: You said, “How could I trust anything the Bible told me when the evidence kept piling up that the Bible was just a collection of commentaries by people who lived a long time ago?”, which is a great question. What if you were to assume for a moment the reality of a God, and yet held separate the various (human) commentaries, past or present, on Him or His works? Then, piece by piece, you began to put a faith back together (“Oh, this fits here. I see how this fits in. I don’t get this…yet, etc, etc) Why I ask is, the more I read, and learn, of scripture, the more I’m coming to understand the allegorical and “larger picture” teachings that a lot of  primarily the old testament was written to put forth. Obviously I don’t get it all, and quite possibly never will. But I’m coming to understand a greater depth of what all the Bible was MEANT to be, rather than what too many of us, as 21st century Westerners, are trying to make it into. This is in no way meant to say that anything in the bible is not relevant to us in today’s society, but that a lot of what we’ve tried to make of scripture, throughout recent history, simply doesn’t say what we’ve tried to form it into. Your experiences with the CoC is ample evidence of this, IMHO.

 NATE: I think I understand what you’re saying. I don’t see it that way, especially if there really is any kind of eternal stakes involved. But I do understand why some people hold the view you’re suggesting, and I think it’s a far preferable view to fundamentalism.

MY LONGER ANSWER: Hmmm…I’m not sure you quite do understand what I’m saying, and I’m certainly not trying to be flippant here, but let me clarify…

To me, belief is a heart issue, not a knowledge issue. You can’t “knowledge” your way into anything without the heart to back it up. I know of several people who could run circles around me with their biblical knowledge yet I see little evidence that any of it has entered their heart in any meaningful way.

I kinda hate to keep coming back to this, buuuuuuuttttt, this too is one of the fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western mindset: when you’re talking about biblical scripture, you need to understand it from within the context and cultural for which it was written.

As I always say when I mention this Western/Eastern thing, trying to understand it within the context/culture/history of 1st century Jews does not in any way diminish the relevancy to us today in a 21st century Western culture…in fact, most often it enhances it.

And I know you’re probably going to ask why, in the 21st century, we have not been given the tools to understand scripture within the 1st century context and if these tools haven’t been passed down how are we to believe the bible is in any way “inspired”?

Well, I see the answer as something like this: There’s a marked difference, at least to me, between “inspiration” and “legacy”. We have been given an overall crappy legacy by our religious forefathers, with a scant few exceptions. Faith is not difficult. Belief is not difficult.

Religion is hard!

Jesus says, “Believe in me. Believe also in the one who sent me.”

Then came the disciples.

Then came Paul.

Then came the Catholic Church.

Then came the Inquisitions.

Then came the Reformation.

Then came the Protestants.

Then came the Calvinists.

Then came the Hobbesists.

Then came Uncle Jimmy’s First Cousin Bubba’s Best Friend Leon’s………….

Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam.

All of a sudden we’re many, many steps removed from the simplicity of what Jesus originally called us to do: Love God. Love others. Tell the “good news”. Make disciples.

And you can’t “knowledge” someone into discipleship either. You can only do this by giving them—showing them—something that they feel compelled to emulate, something they may or may not already have, something they simply may or may not have yet discovered within themselves.

We rush so quickly to glean the “knowledge” of a thing—in this case scriptural understanding—we miss the deeper subtleties that often lead to a deeper faith.

Take the missive, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Seems simple enough, but there are layers and layers of subtlety within those five words. What is love? How do I show love? Who do I show it to? Who is my neighbor? “What does it mean to love myself?

Discussion. Tension. Wrestling. Ultimately…growth.  Faith and belief are not static entities. They change, they grow, they refine.

The problem this represents for the Western mindset is that we are creatures of habit: we glean knowledge, we master it, we feel we “get” it, and therefore it can never change from what we’ve understood it to be. Ever!


Any kind of change in perspective, especially when it comes with something involving “eternal consequences”, freaks us out!  (THOSE PEOPLE are not my neighbor!!)

Yet this often continual change of perspective is at the very heart of what the original writers of biblical texts were trying to accomplish. When you have someone, anyone, on either side of the discussion who refuses to budge in their perspective because they’re simply, “right, dammit!”, where is the growth? Where is the opportunity for true discussion? For the airing of differences?

For the gratitude of diversity?

Knowledge means nothing to God without the leading of the heart.

I originally typed “following of the heart” but that didn’t ring true to me. The heart needs to lead the knowledge. This is the beginning of discernment, and everything stems from an acceptance that there is, in fact, a God.

The path of understanding shouldn’t lead to God.

God should lead you on the path of understanding.

THIS is what I was saying.


Setting Down the Bible-Shaped Sledgehammer

photo courtesy kidsandthebible.blogspot.com
photo courtesy kidsandthebible.blogspot.com

I don’t know if I’m writing from a place of conviction, or if I’m just flogging myself unnecessarily, but it seems to be getting harder to find subjects to write about in a 5-800 word blog post lately. Maybe I’m concentrating on the book(s) more than on blogging, yet I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

When I started Spiritual Drift two…well, almost three years ago now…I had a definite idea in mind. At the time, I was still working 40+ hours a week at Barnes & Noble, and struggling to reconcile my fledgling faith with the untamed jungles of retail customer service.

…and failing badly.

I got to wondering; maybe my struggle isn’t that unusual in this big, wide world. Maybe, there is someone out there that needs a hearty, “Me, too!!”, or maybe what I need is some sane advice other than the voices inside my head who were, at the time, telling me how miserable I was and what a wretched Christian example I was being. And, out of that came this amazing blog! 🙂

It helped that, several months into my journey, I had a life-changing epiphany thanks to the catalyst of a thin, red, non-descript book called, “Crazy Love”. Then, shortly after, my blogging became more of a travel journal of rediscovery—of myself, my family, my faith, and my God.

It’s been a wild ride, and as I’ve told anyone in the last year or so who would bother to listen, I’ve probably grown more in my faith in this last two years than I have in the prior ten, most likely ever since I crossed the line of faith back in college.

But now, the feeling I have is much like one you get when coming home from the journey: The adrenaline has abated; the dust has settled; that surge of initial excitement has waned.

The “now what” has firmly settled in.

Oh, I know good and well my journey is far from over. I’m easing in to what best would be described as the “middle age” of my faith walk. I no longer feel the need to convict the “heathen” around me. I no longer feel the need to point up the ills of society. Mostly because we all know what all of our shortcomings are already, especially me, and I was never that good at wielding a Bible-shaped sledgehammer anyway.

Now, here I sit, not quite sure of what direction to take my old friend Spiritual Drift next. I hesitate to write about my own faith—what I know, what I’ve learned, what I believe—mostly because this is my journey, not anyone else’s, and I don’t say that as an egotistical statement by any means, but only that each of our spiritual journey’s is uniquely our own. I wouldn’t want someone else to follow in the footsteps of my conviction, just as I would warn against following down the spiritual path of someone actually famous: a best-selling author, a mega-church pastor, or even your own small town preacher. Yes, there are great teachings there just as there are some great teachings and discussions in the blogosphere, plenty of faith nuggets to mine, refine, and treasure, and I know many people who do. Yet there are many, many more who hang on every word that spills forth from the pulpit each Sunday, or the page with each post, and personally, I feel their journey is lacking, if not downright stunted, because of it.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. ~ (2Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

I also hesitate to write on hot-button topics, or subjects of inherent controversy; issues that are doing a very effective job of separating the sheep from the goats, though I would hesitate to declare on which side of that fence many of us stand—*bleat*.

There’s been many much better writers than I who have articulated their stand on these issues, and in general how I feel about my current attitude toward writing on them, and I have freely plagiarized their work below…(Feel free to pick the one you think best would describe my feelings. 🙂 There’s several to choose from.)

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~ (Romans 16:17-18 ESV)

“I have yet to meet anyone that has come to know Christ as the result of an intense debate. I know many who have had to wrestle with honest questions on their journey to respond to God’s grace, but these were seldom done within the debate arena. Instead, these were explored within the context of safe, vulnerable relationships.” ~ T.E. Hanna/Of Dust & Kings

“My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.” ~ Donald Miller

“Every article, regardless of its position for or against, is the same. The support arguments; same. The rebuttals; same. The circular thinking; same. The responses are fully expended, (and in the end) we discover we are at the same impasse.” ~ Jen Hatmaker

“When it comes to issues with two-sides and there’s a heated investment in “who wins” — the comments section of the internet is like an asylum of nine year olds in the playground with free reign to sickles and sledgehammers.  It’s not pretty.  You have a first-row seat to the basest underbelly of the reptilian keyboard-caveman Google-expert.  I’m on the fence with a lot of these issues, mainly because 1) I don’t think they matter nearly as much as the volume of the yelling, and 2) we very quickly elevate the issues over people and we destroy bystanders with all the childish anger.” ~ J.S. Park/The Way Everlasting

“Maturing is realizing how many things don’t require your comment.
~ Rachel Wolchin

Or maybe this one…

“While we were busy arguing about inconsequential things, people were dying without a savior because we forgot to mention the gospel. God gave us the opportunity and the information to pass along…and we squandered it.” ~ All of us on judgment day.

Frenemies of Christ ~ Repost from Gary Shogren

I thought this was a great post on what exactly “church” is (and isn’t) , and why we do church in the first place.

Church: "EVERY-body's invited!"
Church: “EVERY-body’s invited!”

Have you met the guy who says:

Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not a “churcher.” I have fellowship with my Christian friends, we pray

together, we talk over coffee, we discuss the Bible, we have a commitment to hold each other accountable. These guys are my “church.” And they are more serious than regular church members about their faith. Doesn’t that fulfill God’s expectation that I meet with other believers? [1]

By all means, get together with other believers. Church is not what you do for an hour on Sunday morning. On the other hand, being the church must include a regular, open meeting with all types of believers who draw together at a predetermined place and time. Meeting with a friend requires a special invitation; everyone is invited to the church meeting.

Sociologists and students of brain chemistry have proven that, no matter how broad-minded we think we are, “like” gravitates to “like”. It’s not in our nature to feel comfortable around people of different personalities or education or politics or level of spiritual zeal, and our brain is hardwired to resist diversity. This is why it’s a constant battle if any group survives without breaking into cliques or splitting up. It’s a miracle, literally, how any church can stick together.

At church you run into those you like, those you don’t, people you look down on and people with whom you connect. When you pull back from a non-homogeneous assembly (Community Church, let’s say) and pour your energy into people who are like you (St. Arbucks, if you will), you are sifting through God’s people and selecting out those with whom you have empathy. And it is at that point that we might swallow a misunderstanding about the gospel.

This verse sounds way too harsh to apply to this scenario, but hear me out: Continue reading Frenemies of Christ ~ Repost from Gary Shogren

Do As I Say . . .

Every morning in my email, I get a daily scripture verse sent to me and several others within our church family, from a friend and former home group member.  Today’s verse seemed apropos for some of the things I’ve been thinking about myself lately (and, unfortunately others as well).  Maybe it will hit home with you as well:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19 ESV)
Some of those in the crowd were experts at telling others what to do, but they missed the central point of God’s laws themselves. Jesus made it clear, however, that obeying God’s law is more important than explaining it. It’s much easier to study God’s laws and tell others to obey them than to put them into practice.
How are you doing at obeying God yourself?