Some ways that evangelical Christianity seems to me more Qur’anic than Biblical

1. Emphasis on eternal hell.

Generally the Bible dichotomizes Eternal Life as opposed to Destruction/Perishing, and only rarely as opposed to Eternal Punishment. And I don’t think there’s ever clarity that the individual is eternally present & conscious amidst torture. The worm does not die, the fire is not quenched… but worms and fires eat and burn up people, and then the people are gone. REFERENCES?

Hell as a place for punishing an individual eternally seems to be a much more prominent feature of the Qur’an (at least in the first surah or two that I’m reading… obviously not a scholar on the topic!)

However, the latter view is (in my subjective experience) generally the main / orthodox view amongst conservative / evangelical Christianity.

2. Emphasis on the ENTIRE scripture as straight from God’s mouth and utterly authoritative.

The entire Qur’an (I think) claims spoken from God’s perspective, to Muhammad, for immediate/direct line-by-line application to every area of life. Given pristinely, 100% authoritative / true.

Whereas in the Bible you’ve got swaths of history with varying appearance of historicity / symbolism, referenced and emphasized in alternatingly high and low emphasis by Jesus (never quoting Joshua, for example), authors appearing to debate each other within both NT (law/gospel) and also OT (good happens to the good / bad happens to the good), sexy love poems that never mention God, etc. Jesus actively transgressing on previously declared law codes, etc.

Again, it seems to me that evangelicalism/orthodoxy sees the Bible more like the Qur’an sees itself than like the Bible sees itself.

Something the New Testament and the Qur’an actually do share outright: Respect & homage for previous tradition.

I had heard that the Qur’an had some validations for Christianity and Judaism, but I didn’t imagine they’d be so densely packed within the text! The Qur’an affirms that Christianity’s and Judaism’s God is THE God just about as thoroughly as the N.T. affirms that Judaism’s and Christianity’s God is THE God. (A lot!)

 

(DISCLAIMER: I’ve read through the whole Bible but once, and largely when sleepy. I’ve read about 1 Surah (//book) of the Qur’an so far. Count me as authoritative AT YOUR OWN PERIL.)

In which I brag on my high school girls…

Today when I met with the group of 10th grade girls I mentor we talked about our goals and plans for the year. As a part of planning some of our discussions, I had each of them brainstorm quietly on a piece of paper a few topics they’d like us to address. When I brought them home and started to read them, I was BLOWN AWAY by not only the depth of their thoughts but the breadth! I love to brag on these wonderful ladies, so I thought I’d share my compiled outline of their thoughts. I’ve reworded and done a tad of fleshing out (like on “sin”) to make it be a proper outline, but all the ideas are theirs — there is not a topic here that doesn’t come from what they wrote down!

Suggested Discussion Topics for 2013-2014

1. Who Is God?

  • Character & attributes

2. How do we experience God?

  • Do you have a personal relationship with God?
  • Do you ever think God’s not listening or you don’t see him in your daily life?
  • Talking to God (Prayer)
    • What is prayer?
    • Why should we pray?
    • How should / do we pray?
    • What experiences do we have with prayer? (Is God answering your prayers?)

3. Why does God matter to us?

  • Sin.
    • What is sin?
    • What does God think about sin? / How does sin affect our relationship with God?
  • Salvation.
    • How does God “fix” sin?
    • Repentance, Forgiveness, & Reconciliation.
      • What does it mean to “repent”?
      • What is forgiveness?
  • Predestination vs. Free Will

4. What does it mean to be a Christian? / How do we respond to God?

  • What is a Christian?
  • Church history / denominational family tree
  • What does the Bible say Christians should do / be like?

Love God

  • What is worship?
  • How can we love God (more) ?
  • How do I be more Christ-like / How do I live out my faith?

Love Others

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor? / Who is my neighbor?
  • Loving my enemies
  • The body of Christ: Community, Encouragement, etc.

General

  • What is the Bible? How should / do I read it?
  • How to be an example / mentor
  • Dealing with tough stuff (e.g. death, depression, loneliness, etc.)
  • The female body: body image, modesty, etc.
  • School: Managing time wisely
  • How to be a light at a Christian school (dealing with disagreement / hypocrisy)
  • Revenge
  • Witnessing: Being a light / telling others about Christ
  • What does the Bible say about how to be a righteous woman?
  • Being a Christian even in the midst of “coolness” / Dealing with peer pressure
  • Healthy relationships
    • Family
    • Romantic
    • Friends
    • Dealing with conflict
    • Gossip / accountability

Ok, folks — there is PREDESTINATION on there! I am so impressed. (Not to mention my other mentee / friend, who just started her own blog with the question “What is sin?” I mean really — how do I get to be friends with all these fantabulous humans???)

Projecting my high or low view of myself onto God…

So stuck.

Again.
Nothing new to see here. move along, folks.
I read the old testament, and I’m like, “this is a story, told and written, by people, about people and God”.
Reading the Bible has done anything but create revival in me.
Perhaps I “should” be going to something like BSF? Where you go through the Bible and perky people say exciting words about it?
I think my view / approach to Christianity is that it’s the worst worldview / religion except for all the other ones.
Or, perhaps, it’s the worst one for me except for all the other ones.
In other words, there is a God I know is real, and only via Christian imagery / views / language / worldview can I relate to this God.
Or perhaps, there is a God, and my choice is either to make up my own image of who that is from scratch, or sketch my imagery for God around the scaffolding of a religion of which God can be purported to be the purposeful and unique founder.
Every time I come back to journal it’s more depressed, more grim, more flat and aimless and purposeless.
And so I call / mentally yank at the invisible intangible rope descending down out of a cloud of uncertainty, which I trust is tied to God, who I trust underlies all things, and I say God please do what you would do, what you must do, and also what I want you to do — to … to what? To alleviate the pain of uncertainty? Pobre mi. To make me not be so confused? I weary of pleading for that. I and thousands of others… always pleading… sometimes receiving? Never receiving? I pray saying that I assent, consent, and yearn for your utter and total intervention as well as enlightenment or even indoctrination of my mind and soul.
Oh, for those (arrogant, dysfunctional) exuberant days wherein I walked alongside my (selective, convenient) bastions of certainty, knowing my place in the universe, knowing my role as merely stirring my own little swirls in the already sufficiently radiant and glorious pools of color and majesty with which God has already filled the sky. Tangibly confident both in God’s already-victory in the universe, and in my contributive role.
I actually don’t believe any thing fundamentally different from those notions to this day; it’s just my aspect, my countenance, my pace and breath and gait and feelings and outlook that are changed. I sluggishly raise my hand and mutter “aye”, assenting to the same truth-claim, the same picture of the universe, where God wins and I can choose to be involved, but I thrill not at my involvement, nor even at the victory. Why? Because I don’t feel like I’m awesome. Funny, how arrogance can breed so profusely the experience of humble and adoring worship.
Why? It’s fairly simple; when I feel awesome, powerful, successful, and glorious, but my theology tells me that arrogance is wrong, then I merely continue to be awesome by projecting all my exultation and exuberance onto God. My future looks promising; I’m excited; I feel awesome about myself… but I know better than to attribute that awesomeness to myself, so I affirm in soaring poetry that all this glory and awesomeness is God’s, and I am merely a tiny pawn basking in it.

Nice.
I mean, it’s probably the right thing to do if you’re saturated with exuberance — put it onto God… But the question is where is the exuberance coming from in the first place. It’s a bit phony, struth, to project vainglory-derived exultation onto God, in the same way that I now project self-deprecatory depression onto God, or perhaps onto “worldview” / “reality” / etc.
Cool. Nifty. I can sit here for 30 minutes and problematize how whether I’m excited or depressed, it starts out with how I feel about myself, and then I project it onto Life, the Universe, God, and Everything.
I can sit and problematize myself.
I suppose then I should prescribe an alternative, yes?
But before I so constructively proceed to do so, I must air the chip on my shoulder about my long wounding over having so many times “figured out the better way”, the “right” alternative, and henceforth been powerless to enact it.
I look at the vanglorious Daniel of 2009 and spit psalms of imprecation against him; how the wicked exult, how they rejoice, while the (righteous?) rest of us lament. Yet my lamenting self is no more righteous than the offender of 2009; we both paint the world and God in exactly the colors we see when we look at ourselves; either in swirling beautiful vibrancy, or in flat gray muddled mess.
God, I’m quite sorry for painting you the way I see me.
Here’s an interesting question; do I do the same to Rebekah? Sometimes yes, sometimes the opposite… too many factors… moving on…
The solution is both clear and rather difficult/impossible.  It’s the deeply Zen / Christian (/ etc.?) thing: stop thinking about yourself. Boast in my weakness, delight in God’s fullness. Move past the ego, move into recognizing togetherness with all…
I experienced something like that on a retreat recently; a group of us were supposed to ask helpful questions to a certain person, and in that space I transitioned from resenting my weaknesses and others’ strengths in question-asking to rejoicing in both, in that my weakness left a space for their strength, and vice versa, and we could each move deeper into our own area of strength because none of us were trying to be everybody/everything.
It was real for that hour. It was real for a week after that.
Everything fades.
God, I’m going to continue about my day now, and I’m asking that you help me see and appreciate you as you are, rather than as a receptacle for my overflow of low or high self-esteem.

E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Today I was listening to my “audio cathedral” playlist on iTunes (yes, I’m a total church choir nerd!) and was struck yet again by the simple beauty of the Paul Manz song, “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come”.

If you have never heard this song before, I suggest you listen to it right now — or at least read the words below.

(I prefer the men’s choir TTBB arrangement, but the SATB version is pretty too!)


Peace be to you and grace from Him Who freed us from our sin
Who loved us all, and shed his blood , that we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord , the Lord almighty God
Who was and is, and is to come, sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein! Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon, for Christ is coming soon.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come, and night shall be no more.
They need no light, no lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their All!

Hauntingly beautiful.

Anyway. It’s written by Paul Manz, who is sort of like THE Lutheran organist. (True story: I grew up listening to Paul Manz hymn festivals and organ pieces on roadtrips.)

I found out that “E’en So” was my mom’s favorite choir piece when I started looking at colleges because apparently it’s the signature piece of the Concordia Choir (St. Paul). Once the band (which she was in) went on tour with the choir and I think they got to sing the final piece together, which is pretty cool. So I’d heard a lot about it, but I’d never heard the song performed until the Cantus concert we attended right after we got married in 2011. They sang the men’s chorus arrangement, and it felt like a full minute before anyone dared clap afterward. I was hooked.

Listening to the words today —  “Lord Jesus, quickly come”, longing for the perfection of heaven — it struck me how perfectly this song represents the core of Lutheran theology. To me, having been raised up in both the music and theology of the LCMS, “E’en So” encapsulates the Christ-focused, crucifixion-based, heavenward-bound spirit of the Lutheran Church. The hopeful-yet-minor melodics, the yearning simplicity, the open fifths at the end that sound heavenly but not too “major”… to me, “E’en So” captures both the depth and the transparency, the grit and the release, the Good Friday and the light of Easter morning that appears in the Gospels.

And, while there are some things I disagree with about the LCMS, to me “E’en So” and the messages it represents will always remind me of my Lutheran roots.

So I’m curious — what other hymns or choral songs do you think would be the “anthem” for other denominations? (I would take a stab, but I don’t feel like I know other denominations well enough just yet!) I want to know what you think!

 

Are Suburban Churches Triumphalistic?

Hello, world!

So we’ve been out of the loop here on the blog for a little bit, mainly because we drove to Philadelphia for The Justice Conference at the end of February, and then we had to RECOVER from driving all the way to Philly and back! (That’s a 38-hour round trip, by the way. Yeah.)

Anyway, today I wanted to muse a little about one of the significant principles that was added to my think-tank at the conference.

One of the workshops I attended was a fascinating one about the importance of lament in the church (given by Soong-Chan Rah, who is AWESOME). During this workshop, which I originally thought was going to be about Lent, Soong-Chan Rah talked about how the absence or presence of lament is part of the divide between wealthy congregations and congregations who deal with poverty. Predominantly white, upper-middle-class, often suburban congregations often focus on God’s blessings and God’s goodness and how they are “blessed to be a blessing” — aka they are supposed to give money to poor people. (I literally just heard a sermon on this this morning.) Rah calls this a “triumphalistic” theology — one that focuses on victory and good things and success (some even going so far as to claim that believing in God will actually bring you more wealth).

The problem with a triumphalistic, God-blessed-me-with-this-wealth mindset is that if God is responsible for making me wealthy, I’m inversely saying that God is also responsible for making others poor.

What, then, are poorer churches to think when they find themselves in dire straits and tough financial circumstances? If God “blesses” rich people with more money than they need, does that mean that God DOESN’T bless poor people? If rich Christians are “blessed (given money) in order to be a blessing (give the extra to poor people)”, then are the poor simply receptacles for the second-hand blessings of the rich? (The answer is NO, in case you were wondering.)

Viewing Christianity through a triumphalistic lens like this (and taking it across to its logical conclusions about poor people), it becomes clear why economic integration is difficult in the body of Christ: the rich and the poor view Christianity, their lives, and even God from totally different perspectives. How could poor Christians ever believe that God created them to be perpetual recipients of someone else’s kindness? And how can rich Christians step outside their victorious lives to understand what following Christ looks like from a position of hardship and lament?

It seems that God looks a lot different when life is hard than when life is easier. And, seeing as how I’m not an expert on life being hard, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut on that topic until I can do some more research rather than speculate on what God and Christianity are like from a perspective of lamentation rather than triumphalism.

But in the meantime, I’m thinking long and hard about what I believe about God and what God tells me I should do in relation to the poor.

What do you think? Is there really a theological line between rich Christians and poor Christians about God’s relationship to our circumstances? I’m just digging into this, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

Back to the Bible…

Wow. So I just looked and the last time I posted on here about my Bible-reading was in September. Yikes! Part of that is because, well, I haven’t been so good at my Bible-reading lately. (Which is bad not because reading the Bible every day makes you a good Christian, but because when I read the Bible daily-ish I feel more peaceful about life.) But no worries — I have returned to my Bible-reading plan of choice just in time to share with you some thoughts about Leviticus today! Woohoo!

I’m not gonna lie — I’m kind of excited to be done with Leviticus. It’s not the most engaging of narratives… in fact, it’s not a narrative, but a list of rules and guidelines. But even amidst all those regulations about goats and shekels I found an interesting tidbit today:

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. 26:35)

This comes during God’s explanation of the consequences for repeatedly rejecting and disobeying God’s laws. I find it fascinating that the earth/land is personified as a victim of the people’s sinful rejection of God. Because the people have forsaken God’s commands (including the lying fallow of the land during the jubilee years), one consequence of their disobedience is not only to be driven from their homes but for the land they have abused to be taken from them and let to rest as it should.

Hmm… yet another verse emphasizing our call to care for our earth. It makes me wonder how so many people thought (and still think) that the earth was/is our plaything to be used or abused at will.

Humans sure have a messed-up view of authority. For example, we are given “dominion” over the land — but as we see here, that should mean careful, tender guardianship, not selfish exploitation. Same with people (usually men) who really push male headship — if you really believe in that, it should mean you lovingly care for and support your wife, not control or rule her. Same with children — parents should take “raise them up in the way they should go” as a call to Christ-like modeling and tender care, not a controlling demeanor of punishment and “justice”.

God doesn’t control us! As strange as it sounds, God actually allows us the free will to make our own decisions, for good or ill, up to and including rejecting him. (And he gives us a lot of do-overs, too!)

So where do we get the idea that leadership equals domination and guidance equals control?

Don’t Overemphasize the Buddy System as an Ethical Model.

I wrote last week about how seeing the Buddy System as an ethical model can help me understand the value of caring for those closest to me. However, the human tendency is to overemphasize and overindulge in the ethical model of the Buddy System.

In other words, in life, we’re generally TOO focused on our buddies, at the expense of other people’s buddies.

We habitually ignore or even devastate other peoples’ families and friends if it allows us to better care for our own.

Some Examples:

I’ll have…

…More money to spend on my family & friends if…

  • I work in a lucrative industry that hurts your family & friends.
  • I give meagerly or not at all to nonprofits that would benefit your family & friends.

…Better prices when I buy things for my family & friends if…

  • I buy from companies that ultimately employ your family & friends in a sweatshop.
  • My government screws up your family & friends’ country’s economy.

…More time and energy for my family & friends if…

  • I don’t concern myself your family & friends’ well being.
  • I buy myself convenience & comfort without regard for your family & friends.

What might that look like in the buddy-system-metaphor?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I overfeed my buddy while others’ buddies go hungry?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I harvest and hoard all the food?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I steal somebody else’s buddy’s food?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I kill and cook somebody else’s buddy?


That’s not now the buddy-system should work. Here’s how it should work:

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I feed my buddy and myself first, and then feed others.

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, and I only have enough food for my buddy and me. I feed us, and look for other ways to help others.

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, and we don’t have enough food. The two of us share what we have and search for more.

Don’t get me wrong. Over-applying the Buddy System is WAY better than not using it at all, which looks like this:

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, but I don’t care; I only look out for myself, and I’m doing fine.

Real humans, real life — I’m a parent, but I neglect my kids. I’m a friend, but not in a caring or helpful way.

And that stuff happens. Sometimes we’re so selfish we ignore not only OTHER people, but also OUR people, eschewing both the “Buddy System” and the “Everybody System” and just living in the “SelfCare System”.

That’s an interesting breakdown: | Buddy System | Everybody System | SelfCare System |

3 systems that run in parallel, are all true & important, but are also in tension with each other:

Everybody System: Act as if everybody matters.

Buddy System: Act as if I’m especially responsible for those closest to me.

SelfCare System: Act as if it’s important for me to watch out for myself.

I highlighted the Buddy System in last week’s post as a way of understanding how truly important it is for us to give special care to our family and friends and to the local communities we’re a part of. But it’s really important to remember to keep the buddy system in its place — namely, as being one of three key systems none of which can be ignored. And it’s important to remember that of the three systems, the Buddy System is not the most ignored or endangered. The title of “Most Ignored Ethical System” goes to the Everybody System in a landslide, because our psyches are set up to care for ourselves and those closest to us — i.e. those who can “pay us back” in one way or another.

So even though a few of us obnoxiously idealistic ethicists out there may occasionally forget why it’s important to give disproportionate care to the people close to us, that’s not the major error that plagues our world, because frankly, it’s not that common. A quest or movement to urge people to care about… the people they care about… is not in dire need. In other words, Don’t Overemphasize the Buddy System as an Ethical Model!