an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Category: Contemporary Issues (Page 1 of 7)

There’s this Thing about the Kingdom of Heaven

The kingdom of heaven does not and cannot come by being imposed upon others by human government. It cannot be legislated. The kingdom of heaven arises and grows when hearts and minds and spirits of humans are changed as they choose to trust and follow Jesus. The role of Jesus people is to follow Jesus so others see how good that is. Salt of the land. Light of the world. A city on a hill.

About that “rapture” stuff… It’s not in the Bible.

Skye Jethani gives a very quick and fairly thorough debunking of a contemporary, mostly American misunderstanding of end times. What so many American Christians believe about a “rapture” isn’t in the Bible and wasn’t taught by Christians before recent times in North America. Of course, he takes much flak for his video in which he gives accurate Christian teaching on this topic, even though he is simply explaining what Christian scholars have long known to be the meaning of the various passages in scripture which some believe support the idea of the rapture. Check it out here.

Skye Jethani got so many comments (many apparently from people who didn’t actually watch the video!) that he did a follow-up podcast with a couple of Christian teachers, Mike Bird and Mike Erre in which they give even more background and demonstrate how a rapture is inconsistent with scripture.

If that’s not enough for you, here’s a brief article by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright called Farewell to the Rapture.

On the cyclical nature human moral behavior(?)

I’m not sure that my choice of the term “moral behavior” does justice to this rather rancid topic. However, I wanted to point to Alan Jacobs rather excellent brief analysis of the cycle of human reaction to being offended and to having behavior and speech restricted by the moral police. A quote:

Paul is the greatest of psychologists: he knows that human beings perfectly well understand legalism, which they rename “justice,” and perfectly well understand antinomianism, which they rename “freedom.” What we can’t understand is the grace of God

Alan Jacobs

Check out Alan Jacob’s brief and excellent essay here.

You don’t know who Alan Jacobs is? Read about him here.

At last! A Good Overview of the Kinds of Policies we Need Regarding AI and Trust.

Bruce Schneier is a respected computer security expert who lectures at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Schneier is one of those rare humans with deep understanding and competence in several areas of mathematics and computer technology and recognized ability to analyze and recommend policies that make the world a safer and better place to live. I just finished reading an essay he wrote entitled AI and Trust in his latest newsletter. It is quite good at analyzing trust relationships and recommending policy that reduces the negative impacts that AI would otherwise have on society. It’s nearly 3500 words, but not overly technical.

Here’s an extremely important point from Schneier’s essay:

AIs are not people; they don’t have agency. They are built by, trained by, and controlled by people. Mostly for-profit corporations. Any AI regulations should place restrictions on those people and corporations… At the end of the day, there is always a human responsible for whatever the AI’s behavior is. And it’s the human who needs to be responsible for what they do—and what their companies do…. If we want trustworthy AI, we need to require trustworthy AI controllers.

The opening portion of the article is a discussion of the difference between what Schneier calls interpersonal trust and social trust. I found his discussion of trust illuminating and important. This is a well-reasoned, articulate article that I will be recommending to thoughtful people. It is accessible to those who do not have deep technical knowledge of AI. As far as I can tell there is no paywall.

Praying about the Violence in Palestine and Israel

I’ve been wondering how best to suggest we pray regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine. The topic is overloaded with politics and anger, which do not help. I want to avoid pouring any fuel on that fire!

Today I ran across a brief and helpful essay by Yohanna Katanacho, a Christian who teaches at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (yes, that Nazareth – the one Jesus grew up in!). Professor Katanacho, whose story of being born in Jerusalem and coming to follow Jesus is extraordinary, gives excellent biblically-based advice on how to pray in this essay. You can view his brief essay here. I highly, highly recommend it!

You can hear Professor Katanacho’s personal story briefly told in the October 15, 2023 replay of an interview with him on the Regent College Podcast.

If you’d like more introductory background on the the region of Israel and Palestine, its history, and how we might think of the conflicts in the area as Christians, I’d recommend recent episodes of the Regent College Podcast, particularly those released in October and November of 2023.

Recommending Two Books by Esau McCaulley

I just finished reading How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley. It is a deeply redemptive American story that our culture sorely needs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is not only the narrative that we need today in our culture and church; it is superbly well-written. It is the best thing I’ve read this year. McCaulley writes in the form of a memoir provoked by his need to give the eulogy at his father’s funeral, and also by his desire to pass on a true family history to his children. Along the way, his commentary on American culture is compelling, with fine illustrative examples.

Some time ago, I also read McCaulley’s Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. I also had an extremely positive reaction to this book. At the time, I wrote to a friend that Chapter 6 was the finest piece of Christian writing and thinking that I’ve read in a long, long time. It was profound, biblical, encouraging, and powerful – a really fine example of Christian thinking and communication for today. As a Quaker Christian, I found his perspectives resonating strongly – his title is apropos. It convinced me, at the time, that I’d want to read pretty much anything McCaulley writes! (I should have written this recommendation years ago. Better late than never.)

I am finding Esau McCaulley to be one of the most gifted writers of our time. His writing is a gift God gives particularly to the American church of our day, and to American culture more generally. Highest recommendation.

Lactantius, on defending Christianity

Lactantius was a Christian writer in the 3rd and 4th century who wrote the Divine Institutes to explain Christianity to Roman critics, to whom it must have seemed quite foreign. Apparently, his wise words were often ignored through the centuries.

Religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, book 5, chapter 20, from the 10 volume 1885 translation in The Ante-Nicene Fathers

A translation of the Divine Institutes can be found online from several sources.

The Temptation of Power and “Success”

I was listening to Lectio 365 last year and was struck by a simple statement made as a part of the devotional for the morning. I jotted down the quote in my notes. It wasn’t really a new thought; but the simple, direct phrasing has remained with me ever since. Here is what was said:

Jesus lived in an age of tyrants, governors and bureaucrats. The temptation right from the start was for the Church to adopt the attitudes, hierarchies, and power structures of every other organisation, full of ambitious people seeking to climb the ladder of success. But Jesus turned it all on its head. If you want to be great, you must be servant of all.

from Lectio 365, Morning Edition, August 25, 2022

Of course, see the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-46, and other passages. Jesus is very clear on this topic. This seems such an important point in light of what we see in human organizations claiming to represent the church, both today and across 2000 years. Like the humans of Genesis 3, we humans are so quick to trust what seems good it us instead of listening to God.

I am reminded of the wisdom of Micah 6.8.

Note for Hot Topics – Christian Nationalism

These are notes that may be of interest to those who have heard my message on Christian Nationalism, which I identify as a heresy.

For a brief introduction to the concepts and problems of Christian Nationalism, I refer those interested to an article by Paul D. Miller at the Christianity Today website. Miller provides a good introduction to Christian Nationalism in the 21st century from a sound Christian perspective.

I mentioned an article by Brian Zahnd that I read while preparing this message. It is entitled Thinking Tikkun Olam in Istanbul. I’ve saved in my Evernote files a classic quote from this meditation: the means are the end in the process of becoming. Ponder that for a while!

I would also recommend Zahnd’s book Postcards from Babylon: The Church In American Exile. He also recently made a video with the same title that includes interviews and comments from various Christian scholars. You can see a trailer here, or purchase the full version here. This video is also available to stream online from Amazon, from Google Play, and from iTunes – and even from Vudu! The lowest rental fee I saw recently was $2.99.

The Holy Post recently did a podcast episode that features Christian Nationalism that may be of interest to some. This podcast considers the historic roots of Christian Nationalism, which are quite, er… disheartening?

Notes for Hot Topics – Sex and Gender

These are notes that may be of interest to those who have heard my message for June 4, 2023 in the hot topics series. In this message I address the topics of biological sex, gender identity, and sexuality. I referred to several resources in the message and will link to them here.

I have read, referred to, and been influences by several works by Mark Yarhouse in this portion of the Hot Topics series. The books I found helpful include Homosexuality and the Christian and Emerging Gender Identities which Yarhouse co-wrote with Julia Sadusky. Yarhouse leads the Wheaton College Sexual and Gender Identity Institute which provides other resources that may prove useful.

I showed a picture of Franklin Roosevelt as a young boy to illustrate changing notions of femininity and masculinity. There is a Smithsonian Magazine article entitled When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? It discusses notions of masculinity and femininity across the generations.

The study of how people categorized the fruit of the spirit from Galatians 5.22-23 is on page 32 of the book My Brother’s Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (and Don’t) Tell Us About Masculinity by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. I read about it in Debra Hirsh’s book Redeeming Sex.

I highly recommend several talks by Sarah Williams, Research Professor of Church History at Regent College. These include:

  • Sex in the Post Modern Story – I have linked to Sarah Williams’ three-part talks at Corban University in the past. They are really terrific and relatively easy to follow in spite of tackling big issues. In the first, she shares some powerful personal experiences. In the second she addresses not only issues of sex, gender, and sexuality but a vision for what it means to be the body of Christ! These are available on SoundCloud.
  • A Sexual Reformation? Marriage and Sexuality in the Contemporary Paradigm – This is a very accessible one hour talk on the invention of “sex” as something apart from covenant or producing children. It was given as part of the Christian Thought and Culture class at Regent College.
  • Marriage, Sex, and Family in Historical Perspective – This is a 16 hour class from 2019 given at Regent College considering cultural understandings of gender, sexuality, marriage, and family from the early church to the present day. It’s one of the most helpful classes I’ve ever worked through.
  • Sexuality in the Modern Paradigm – This is a two-hour evening public lecture at Regent College on how private moral decisions have important public implications.
  • Mapping Gender is an 18-hour course taught in 2010 at Regent College around questions of identity, gender, sexuality, and theology. It is massively informative and helpful.

This is the 1930 Lambeth Conference, Article 15 pronouncement by the Church of England.

The National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness offers a downloadable PDF entitled LGBTQ2S Terms and Definitions. The LGBTQ2S Learning Community also offers a number of related training resources.

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