Sunday, January 31, 2010

is Christian faith a religion?

religion (Definition from Merriam-webster)
(1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

I was just reading Willard's book, Knowing Christ today, and was struck by the following (read the bold- the rest is given for context if you're interested):
Jesus comes through in spite of everything. The most profound critic of society and the "masks", Christian or otherwise, is Jesus himself. In this respect he stands in the line of the sharp-tongued Hebrew prophets and brings it to completion. Berger finds that "the crucial point of the relationship between Christian faith and the antireligious critique is to be found in a theological proposition. The proposition states that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (which is the object of Christian faith) is something very different from religion." Religion has many critics, but Jesus has few. He is a self-authenticating reality beyond the myriad of social cocoons. He belongs to humanity. He called himself "Son of Man."
... Christ transcends all social visions and all entanglements with religion.
In him God breaks through. "Christian faith is not religion," Berger affirms. That is the scalding truth of the matter. Suddenly from under the smothering panoply of human visions there emerges an outbreak of realism - a little breath of something that promises to interrupt and stand in judgment upon all our enculturated "visions" and their possible "alterations" of one into another. It is the Jesus of "all nations", of "all ethnic groups," of all kinds of people, of "whosoever will" -- of the last who are first and the first who are last in human orders. He is the light that gives light to everyone who is in the world. (p146)
Christianity is not simply a human endeavor- not something we have done - it is the response to what God has done. (and continues to do!) It's not that I don't think the church is important. Rather I think that in some way this (the reason for the church in the first place) is really good news for the church. This is a living God we worship, in ongoing creative activity, challenging and transforming us and our tangled up society. As usual I find myself back at the incarnation, my wonder and fear and love deepening each time I understand more of this Jesus I have chosen to follow.

What do you think?
Caravaggio, The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601) (see Acts 9:1-18)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Confession of sin is an essential part of life in Christ. Christ himself, as he teaches his disciples to pray, includes that familiar petition "forgive us our trespasses/sins". I have been praying that prayer almost daily for some time now, and while that line has not lost its intensity, I confess that I do find it easy some days or nights, especially when I am tired, to pass over it quickly, and without the careful thought it surely requires. In those cases it is probably better that I not pray it at all. How are we, practically speaking, to maintain an attitude of sincere repentance and joyful receiving of grace?

On Friday I heard a pastor make a really good point. He was speaking on Isaiah 6, when Isaiah encounters God and cries "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips..." (v5) His main point was this: an encounter with God in his holiness is what makes us truly understand and repent of our sin.

I agree, and ultimately it is God who reveals to us our sin. (Wonderfully it is also he who forgives!) I think God also uses the words of others to help us come to that proper attitude before him, and I wanted to share with you one such way I have found. Sometimes the heart is in the right place already, but the words are lacking; sometimes the words draw us to confession from the heart. The following "Litany of Penitence" is from P. Tickle's book of hours, from the January Compline:
Most holy and merciful Father:
I confess to you and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth.
I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength. I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.
Have mercy on me, Lord.
I have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. I have not been true to the mind of Christ. I have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on me, Lord.
I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, the impatience of my life,
I confess to you, Lord.
My self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people,
I confess to you, Lord.
My anger at my own frustration, and my envy of those more fortunate than I,
I confess to you, Lord.
My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and my dishonesty in daily life and work,
I confess to you, Lord.
My negligence in prayer and worship, and my failure to commend the faith that is in me,
I confess to you, Lord.
Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done: for my blindness to human need and suffering, and my indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept my repentance, Lord.
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me,
Accept my repentance, Lord.
For my waste and pollution of your creation, and my lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept my repentance, Lord.
Restore me, good Lord, and let your anger depart from me,
Favorably hear me for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in me and all of your church the work of your salvation,
That I may show forth your glory in the world.
by the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring me with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

epistemology strikes again

As is often the case, my thinking has been dominated by what I am reading. This week it is Knowing Christ Today, by Dallas Willard.

One of the central points of the book (so far) is the inseparable link between knowledge (primarily of God) and our life as a follower of God - and our life as a human being, for that matter! It struck me that the study of the world through physics is at its heart very similar to the study of God through theology (and living as a Christian): both are a means of seeking truth. Knowledge of the first is important, practical and fascinating; knowledge of the latter is something absolutely crucial to the life of our soul, and thus our whole being. Perhaps that is why I find the two so compelling. It is also interesting to consider that, while science cannot tell us who God is, or in any way provide moral knowledge, it can draw us to him and make us aware of his glory.

That is really all my thoughts for today, but I'll leave you to ponder some questions that Willard asks and discusses at length in his book. Try asking one of them to a friend this week (in the context of a meaningful conversation, of course!).
  1. What is reality?
  2. Who is well off or blessed?
  3. Who is a truly good person?
  4. How does one become a truly good person?
  5. Finally, how do we know which answers to these questions are true?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Enforced Sabbaths

Leviticus 25-26. God gives the people he has redeemed the gift of his laws, accompanied by rich promises of blessing. Included in these laws is the institution of the Sabbath, and the Sabbath year.

After the blessings of obedience come the punishments of disobedience. Notable in these is the 'enforced' sabbath of the land:
Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. (Lev. 26:34-35)
I wonder how often this happens in our own lives: we push and push and refuse to rest in God (and even to rest literally!), and then, by physical limitation or circumstance, are forced to rest. This may work in the life of a student, when breaks punctuate the relentless pace of the semester, but is it really the way we are meant to live? What does it mean for our spiritual life?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Year in Books

As I was trying to figure out what would be appropriate for the first post of the year, I thought about the important role of books. Books tell a lot about a person, and for a moment I wasn't sure I could be vulnerable enough to make this list. But for lack of a better idea, I thought I'd share. I'd appreciate your recommendations at the end.

In roughly chronological order (since I am usually reading more than one book at a time, this was pretty much impossible to figure out), here is a list of the books I read this year, with a few comments:
  • Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. I enjoyed this, especially some of the earlier chapters. Chesterton has a delightful sense of humor.
  • Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics, by Werner Heisenberg. I think more practicing scientists should seriously reflect on the philosophy of the science. I don't think I actually finished this book due to end of year business, but it was interesting while it lasted.
  • Blue like Jazz, by Donald Miller. Thought-provoking and a good read. Can't remember exactly when I read it.
  • Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this, upon recommendation of a good friend.
  • The Same Stuff as Stars, by Katherine Paterson. Young adult book about a girl in a struggling family. Another good read, and not as depressing as it sounds.
  • Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren. You should read this if you want to be involved in discussion concerning the emerging church. See my posts on this book for further comments.
  • The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, by George M. Marsden. I learned so much reading this book that has stuck with me. Especially highly recommended to those who are in academia.
  • My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. Intense but very good. I expected no less from this good author. If you've never heard of him, you have some good reading ahead of you.
  • The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. This is my all-time favorite of the year (probably of the decade!). Tremendously encouraging. Read it, if you haven't already.
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I picked this up to help me get through finals week. I think this was the third time through, but I hadn't read it since high school, so I really enjoyed the richness that I'd forgotten about.
  • Also some poems by Emily Dickinson and Wendell Barry
  • Of course, I have also spent quite a bit of time with physics and math textbooks,mostly regarding but not limited to quantum mechanics.
Books I'm reading (yes, this habit of mine does make my bedside table rather top-heavy):
  • The Two Towers, by Tolkien. Once again, this is a re-read.
  • What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. (Upon recommendation by my housemate)
  • Hinduism, by H.L. Richard (upon recommendation by my Dad)
  • One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, by John C. Polkinghorne. I picked this up at a used book sale for reading on the bus (because it was relatively light-weight) and found myself not wanting to put it down when I got off the bus.
Here are some books that I hope to read in the near future (hopefully in the coming year)
  • Knowing Christ Today, by Willard
  • The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Willard
  • Shakespeare's Sonnets
  • The Return of the King, by Tolkien
This last list is shorter than it should be: partly because I am tired right now and can't think of any others, and partly because I need some recommendations!