Tag Archives: religion

A rant of sorts

Let me first get something off my chest about the common misperception of the relationship between science and faith. It astounds me when knowledgeable people talk as if science can be amoral, areligious, etc. This week Obama gave a speech in which he made public policy changes regarding stem cell research. All in all, the speech is good. He tries to convince his hearer that his choice to move forward with more stem cell research is worthwhile because of the possibilities of curing a number of disease states–even if one must be “delicate” about the major questions that stem cell work raises.

But one line gets me riled up. He stated that his administration, “would make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” All science is based in ideology. This doesn’t mean that science is loosy-goosy but that one cannot possibly make a decision about which endeavors to undertake and which ones to avoid WITHOUT an ideology. I would much prefer him to say what he meant: “Based on the ideology of utilitarianism (the greatest good for the most), I deem that we should continue and advance the stem cell research programs.” While I would disagree with him on his decision, I would respect him all the more.



Filed under Uncategorized

Bobblehead Christianity

At the Society for Christian Psychology, JKA Smith (a Calvin Coll. philosopher) made an offhanded comment about bobblehead Christianity–the kind where the head is huge but the body is nearly non-existent. This image has really stuck with me.

We fill the head with truth and facts about our faith and we expect that to transform us into Christ. But we ignore the body, or the practices of the faith. He made mention of this problem in a discussion about worldview. He said something to this effect: “I think worldview conversations are important. I love worldview. I’d marry it if I could. But we must pay attention to our practices as they are attached to worldview and shape it in reverse. Worldview discourse places too much emphasis on what we think and less on what we do. We need to include visceral ways of knowing…tactile involvement in worship.” (phrases from my notes, not true quotation)

Seems we ought to take his critique to heart. Where are we overemphasizing truth statements or thinking about self as change agent and underemphasizing performing (use of disciplines) as acting into the truth as a work of the Holy Spirit?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, Psychology

If I wasn’t a psychologist…

I think I’d like to run a mission oriented suburban farming coop. Here’s the idea: Get a block of neighbors to agree to use space in their back yards for small 10×10 gardens. Each family that participates agrees to let the coop manager plant and cultivate small organic gardens. One family would have tomatoes, one would grow squashes, another would grow cukes, another peppers, etc. All the families would have to do is agree to let the manager use their water. If they wanted to participate in the weeding and care of the plants then they would get free produce when it arrived. Once the produce arrived, it would be offered for a “suggested donation” which would be far below grocery store price. The benefit to the neighbors and anyone else coming by would be that they could have access to “locally grown, organic, low-cost, very fresh produce” for their family. Such savings on the produce could be calculated showing that the coop is helping to keep the money of the community in the community.

Now, here’s the kicker. The “suggested donation” would not only cover the costs of growing the produce but allow for a small profit to be used entirely for missions work in an impoverished community, whether in the city or in another country. So, the food we would get for a donation would actually be working to feed individuals in another location.

Okay, so I’ve spent too much time daydreaming this summer…

What visions have you had that would take you in another direction?


Filed under Christianity, gardening

Helping with one hand, hurting with the other

As humans we have the capacity to split ourselves. One minute we can help another, the next we can harm. A friend of a friend of mine recently admitted to taking advantage of another in a vulnerable position. This person seems quite wise. He has good advice when I’m stuck. He is able to see through knotty situations. People come to him for advice and counsel. And to a person they feel the better for it. But now it is evident that he manipulated someone for financial benefit. It wasn’t illegal but certainly immoral and unethical.

How is this possible. Can salt water and fresh come from the same source? It should not be possible but it is. I meditate on this in my own life. I can be gracious to my kids one minute and harsh the next. I can heal and I can kill the soul. We all have this capacity and so we must be on guard against complacency. It is easy to stand in judgment of the one who commits a heinous crime. When this person is a believer, we begin to question their honesty and integrity and disbelieve that any good done prior to the crime was of value. And while we should do that since something was clearly wrong and somehow the person has disconnected from his/her soul, we ought also to explore our own soul for the same disease.

May God help us to be unwilling to entertain or ignore self-deception.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology, self-deception, sin

CS Lewis on suffering from your suffering

Read this helpful quote from my Aug. 1 daily reading from CS Lewis (from his Grief Observed):

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.

I didn’t write the whole quote down but he said something like, the problem with lying awake at night with a toothache is that you are thinking about the fact that you are lying awake all night with a toothache.

Isn’t this so true. We suffer not only from the present pain but also from our inability to distract or think thoughts other than reminding ourselves that we are in present pain.

Is it possible to forget the present pain (or depression, anxiety, etc.)? No. I don’t think so. Nor should we seek to forget altogether. And yet, we can find bits of respite where the pain moves from the front of our consciousness to the back. It is at those times we find rest. Some seem more capable to move the pain to the back burner. And this can be healthy, as long as it doesn’t lead to denial.


Filed under Depression, Despair, Great Quotes, suffering

APA’s resolution on religious, religion-based, and/or religion-derived prejudice

Just got my 2007 annual report from the American Psychological Association. I rarely read this thick document except for the ethics violation reports. But I saw that the board and council passed the above-named resolution. Some key passages to consider in the long document:

Prejudice based on or derived from religion and antireligious prejudice has been, and continues to be, a cause of significant suffering in the human condition. …

Prejudices are unfavorable affective reactions to or evaluations of groups and their members…

…it is a paradoxical feature of these kind of prejudices that religion can be both target and victim of prejudice, as well as construed as justification and imperative for prejudice. The right of persons to practice their religion or faith does not and cannot entail a right to harm others or to undermine the public good.  …

While many individuals and groups have been victims of antireligious discrimination, religion itself has also been the source of a wide range of beliefs about and attitudes and behaviors toward other individuals…

Allport and his colleagues observed that the relationship between religion and prejudice is curvilinear rather than linear, with highly religious individuals having lower levels of prejudice than marginally religious adherents.

It is important for psychology as a behavioral science, and various faith traditions as theological systems, to acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological, epistemological, historical, theoretical, and philosophical bases. Psychology has no legitimate function in arbitrating matters of faith and theology, and faith traditions have no legitimate place arbitrating behavioral and other sciences.

The document goes on to list multiple “whereas” and “therefore be it resolved” statements. The gist of which is to say, don’t discriminate; respect religion and spirituality; avoid prejudice; give no preference (as an Association to either belief or unbelief; recognize that psychology and religion cannot adjudicate either party’s tenets (but psychology can comment on the psychological impact of spiritual beliefs and religion can comment on theological implications of psychology); and try to collaborate if you can.

Problems galore despite their effort not to just paint religion as the bad guy. I’ll post just two. First, what is prejudice? They mention it as an “unfavorable affective reaction.” Okay. So, if I gently and cognitively say that my faith disapproves of certain behaviors or beliefs and based on those differences I decide not to hire you in my private, faith-based school, is that prejudice? I think some would say so. Currently, the debate over the appropriateness of having someone seek counseling to change sexual orientation has plenty of folk arguing that the problem is not affective but cognitive. If you believe you can or should change your orientation then you are accepting dominant prejudices.

Second, the whole document stinks of the separation of science and faith–as if science is all empirical and faith is all unsubstantiated belief. Also, what do those psychologists do who find themselves well trained in both worlds. It would seem from this document that the psychologist training trumps theological training. Again this is thought to be best for “the public good” and yet they do not recognize this as value, non-emprically based statement.

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Filed under church and culture, philosophy of science, Psychology

Do YOU know where you are going on YOUR journey?

This post is prompted by a sermon I heard last Sunday. Duane Davis, student at WTS preached a wonderful sermon on Hebrews 11:8-22 and Abraham’s journey to the promised land. During the sermon I thought of this application to my own Seminary’s quest to teach and train missional church leaders and counselors for the 21st century. A little background: not everyone has been happy with our move to reach the emerging leadership of the emerging church. The emerging church has been willing to criticize sharply the prior evangelical style of church. In their effort to try new things, some emerging leaders, writers, etc. have tried on theological positions that run counter or at least perpendicular to conservative Christian doctrine. Because we at the Seminary haven’t led with our criticisms of emerging church, that has led some to criticize and attack us. One criticism has been the challenge that the emerging church and Biblical Seminary don’t know where they are going. We’re on a journey that can only lead to heresy and rejection of the Gospel–or so it is thought by some. Enter Hebrews 11.

Notice that Abraham travels with much uncertainty. He surely knew that God called him (at least he knew this enough to leave all his family and homeland at an elderly age) and so he went expectantly. I wonder if he grew tired of saying, “Here, Lord? This looks like a good spot. No, you want me to keep going???”. I wonder if he second-guessed himself.  But Hebrews does tell us that Abraham did look expectantly to one thing: heaven (v. 11). In fact, the promise of heirs the number of sand and land was never fully realized in his lifetime. As Duane reminded us, he even had to buy some land to bury his cherished wife. Even at age 100, he had yet to receive the promise of Isaac. Then a few years later he is asked by God to sacrifice Isaac.

We who have the entire canon seem to forget that we too do not know where God is taking us. We have a clearer picture of heaven and clear calls to seek and serve God’s kingdom. And yet we do not know exactly to what God is calling us to. We, like Abraham, may try to bring about God’s promises (these usually lead to bad consequence). God is faithful none-the-less. Unless He returns, we too will not see the full promise delivered.

So, in answer to those who ask whether Biblical Seminary knows where it is going, I say no. We don’t. We do know that God is faithful, the land is foreign, we own nothing, but we trust in his goodness both now and in eternity. We seek to live faithfully in worshipful service to God and in loving our neighbors as ourselves. It would be more comforting to think we had it all figured out. It is tempting to do so since that would make our vision planning much easier. In fact, it is tempting just to say we have it all figured out. That would be more attractive to students and donors. But, we believe a more faithful response is to ask the Lord to send us into the harvest and use as as He can.

One last point. Our lack of knowing just where we are going is not to say we have NO idea nor to say all viewpoints are valid and everyone’s expression of faith is good. Those interested in knowing more what we do seek and believe are welcome to check out our President’s “Missional Journal” at http://www.biblical.edu/pages/resources/missional-journal.html

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, missional, Missional Church

On Churches and sex offenders

It seems to be an increasing question these days: What should the church do when a sex offender finishes their sentence and wishes to return to church or join anew? I’ve written here on this before but want to return to the subject because it is controversial. Of the questions I get relating to this are,

  • Shouldn’t the church be a place where all sinners are welcome? 
  • If a sex offender is disallowed in church aren’t we removing the one thing they need (Christian community?)
  • Should victims of abuse have so much power as to say who can and cannot attend church?

Instead of answering this questions, I think churches need to have frank conversations about the following areas:

  1. Repentance. What is it? What are the fruits of it? What are signs of either inadequate or false repentance?
  2. Protection. There are more than 60 commands in the Old and New Testaments about protecting vulnerable members of society (widows, orphans, aliens, etc. ). True Religion, James says, is one that looks after the vulnerable. What does it mean to protect them. Is it enough to tell them that they are safe even though they do not feel so? Do we ever consider giving them power and some ability to say what they can tolerate?  
  3. Forgiveness/Restoration/Redemption/Reconciliation. These terms are sometimes used synonymously. They should not be. What does it mean to forgive? Does it mean I should act as if it never happened? Where does this idea come from? Restoration to God? The Body?
  4. The Church and access to it. As Christians we are called to meet together for worship and the teaching of the Word? What are the options we might think about that meet this calling but value that same calling for everyone? Can the “church” come to the sex offender? Is he willing to not demand rights to be in church but find ways to worship with other believers while also being concerned about the welfare of others?

That’s a start. If churches would be willing to explore these issues and delay answering the questions I noted at the beginning, I think they will have a better chance of ministering to all. And if either victims or sex offenders are so impatient that they will not allow the body to study the matter, then that probably says something about the interest to care well for all the sheep. If the offender becomes impatient and demanding, whining and complaining, then we have to question his/her interest in being ministered to. There may be other reasons they want in the church. As Anna Salter discovered in her interviewing many many offenders, some offenders see the church as a place of protection from scrutiny due to naivete.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Repentance, Sex

How do you benefit from evil?

I got to thinking again about how much we benefit from evil during a recent NPR story on the controversy surrounding the Olympic torch relay. The reporter mentioned that this tradition of having the torch criss cross the globe on the way to the games started with Nazi self-promotion. Check out this quote on wikipedia (and we all know that a wiki is always true, right? :))

The relay, captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s film Olympia, was part of the Nazi propaganda machine’s attempt to add myth and mystique to Adolf Hitler’s regime. Hitler saw the link with the ancient Games as the perfect way to illustrate his belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.[

So, you’re probably wondering how you benefit from a torch race. You don’t. But, my point is this, good things sometimes have their roots in evil intent.

Can you think of some ways you personally benefit from evil? How about your Hi-def TV or DVD player? Your high speed Internet? Most of our technological advances in electronic media have been in some part devised in an effort to advance pornographic imagery and make it readily accessible.

What about white privilege? We white folk benefit, albeit without any effort, from not having to answer questions about our race. Though much has been done to decrease racism, its a stretch to say in 2008 that white privilege no longer exists. And so we benefit from historic and current evil. What about the fact that we live on land taken from Native Americans?

Like cheap prices at Walmart? It comes on the backs of sweatshop workers in Asia and other 3rd world countries.

Let me get personal for a moment. My wife and I are/were infertile. We decided to adopt. While adoption is a good and beautiful thing, it is possible ONLY when evil has done its work (e.g., death, abuse, rape, drugs, teen sex, poverty, etc.). And so we benefit from evil in that we can raise two beautiful boys not from our own loins.

So, how should we respond to these benefits? End the torch relay because it refers back to Nazi-ism? Boycott new electronic technology? Continue some form of affirmative action? Stop buying at Walmart? Keep kids in foster homes? Of course not for most of these examples (though affirmative action and boycotting Walmart are possible and maybe even probable answers). Instead, I think we ought to:

  1. Remain vigilant about the subtle ways we benefit from evil so we are not blind (1 Thess 5:6)
  2. Make sure that those being actively hurt (e.g., sweatshop workers) are helped by our stand for justice (Eze. 22:29)
  3. Being willing to suffer for the benefit of the vulnerable (e.g., higher prices; jobs going to qualified minorities that might not be as easily noticed). (Phil. 2)
  4. Reclaiming for God’s glory what was intended for evil (e.g., using electronic media to spread the Gospel) (Gen 50:20; Acts 11:19f)


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Cultural Anthropology, News and politics, sin