Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reflections on the Goal of This Blog

I have a goal for this blog that I have recently come to realize. At first I started blogging simply because I love to write and wanted a space to share what I write with anyone who may be interested. Then a readership, per se, emerged, that are mostly those who come from a very different way of seeing the world with a few who share much of my worldview mixed in.

I have contemplated on numerous occasions exactly what my goal was in writing to this readership. The love for writing remains a strong reason for maintaining this blog, but I feel another purpose is emerging and within that purpose there is no primary goal of converting anyone to Christ. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to see people come to know Him, that is ever present in my heart, but the goal of this site is not to that end.

The goal at this point is to foster a safe place for the exchange of ideas either between faith groups or between theism and atheism or whatever other worldviews people bring to the table. I may be overly optimistic, but I think that my primary and hopefully attainable goal is to effectuate understanding of each other and that goal is measured by the other person feeling and agreeing they have been understood.

To illustrate, if I am discussing a point and I have misrepresented the belief system I am addressing then I want to be corrected by those of the belief system I inadvertently erred in depicting. I ask a lot of questions and ought to ask more than I do in order to fully understand worldviews that are not my own. I have a long way to go, because I am still told I set up straw man arguments and thus my goal has not been met on my end.

Of course, while I hope that others would also continue to understand my point of view and worldview in the way and fairness I want to understand theirs, the burden of doing this is on me. I cannot impose my goal on anyone else so even if people don’t want to strive to get to the place where I feel I can say you get me then that’s alright with me.

I am not seeking to remove diversity of thought, but to welcome it and understand it. My goal at is not effectuate agreement, but understanding. In that quest there will be as there has been discussion about the plausibility or veracity of truth claims, but that is done not to win an argument, but to gain understanding of not only what that worldview is about, but how it lines up with what I see as real about the world. I measure one against the other to see which seems to have more merit, but that’s just part of my method of understanding and analyzing. I am a very analytical person. I analyze my own presuppositions and worldview all the time, my husband can attest to this.

Anyone who wants to help me in my quest to understand their worldview whatever it may be can feel free to let me know when I am fairly representing their view or when something is in error. Now at times I will repeat questions or assertions because I am still not quiet getting it because through my worldview it’s not adding up and it is not easy to see through another’s eyes. When this happens I just persevere more.

Usually signs of my point of view not being understood is when someone gives rebuttal to something that may be often said or often misrepresented by others in my worldview group, but is not congruent with what I actually was meaning. So I’ll often take another stab at it to a level that may get redundant because I feel an obligation on my part to be as clear as possible to allow for understanding of what I mean. So if I feel I’m not understood I will work harder at this even if the person isn’t interested in understanding me. I think that’s my personal duty to try again to be clear regardless of the others interest. Maybe someone else will come along and benefit from the attempt.

Sorry to ramble so in getting this out, but the goal of my blog has been on my mind a lot lately. To summarize, my goal is to foster understanding between worldviews and that goal is actualized when the other person feels I have understood them, not when I claim to have understanding. My self proclamation of understanding would be meaningless if multiple representatives of that worldview do not agree. Even then I do not seek to ever self-proclaim such a thing.

I appreciate feedback on whether this goal is seen to be too optimistic or if it is seen to be attainable. Also I would like to know if anyone shares this desire to really get into the minds of others who don’t think like ourselves and understand them. Moreover, what practical ways could this be accomplished?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Freethinkers and Brights

A common label used by atheists to depict their style of thinking is the term “freethinkers.” I gather that the use of the term bears the meaning of being those who are liberated from the presumed archaic supernatural beliefs of all varieties.

However, at first glace the term connotes the idea of being released from a bound way of thinking to thinking more freely and broadly about the world. It seems to suggest that thinking for the Freethinker flows more freely to consider more possibilities than the limited view of the supernaturalists.

If Freethinking is more accurately described in the first paragraph that simply the old way of looking at the world has been replaced with a new more correct way and thus one is free of the old and embarking on the new, then, while I disagree with the premise, I accept the accuracy of the term. To put it another way, I understand why the term is used in that context even though I disagree that one needs liberating from supernaturalism as I don’t see naturalism as a more true view of the world.

If the second paragraph also contains the meaning of the use of this term in that the atheists believes they can see more broadly about the world than the theists then please consider the following. If, however, I was incorrect and the term is not used in this manner at all then simply ignore the following.

I cannot speak for all theists, nor all Christians, but I am going to speak as I usually do as a Christian and briefly compare and contrast the idea of freethinking between my worldview and that of an atheists/naturalist.

As a Christian I can look at the world and find something true and valid in any worldview, religion, or non-religion. For instance, I see nature as really there just as the naturalist does. But I also agree with the theists and spiritualists out there that a supernatural world also exists. I see a reality to spirituality like the Buddhist does. I see a God who is there and speaks to His people like the Jewish people do. I agree with the witchdoctor that there really is a dark power that he taps into. Thus, I find it difficult to see one who sets themselves apart from all the religions of the world and holds only to naturalism as a free thinker.

I am not advocating pluralism. I do not accept that opposite truth claims are equally true. The world’s religions have many opposite truth claims, however, there are things we have in common and things that I can see as mostly true, or somewhat true, or having a little truth, but a lot of distortion of that truth.

I would imagine though that a worldview that can see truth in more places would be more freethinking than one that only sees truth in naturalism and sets itself apart from the thinking of most of the world. Even the emerging term “Brights” depicts a mentality that naturalist/humanists/atheists are more intelligent than those who are not thinking their way. I’m not convinced that mentality is purposeful, I hope it is not. But I think the use of the terms gives the need for consideration of what exactly is being professed.

I’m not offended by the terms, but I wanted to analyze them a little. Maybe you all can tell me more about the use of these terms and what they mean to you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unity Amidst Diversity

It is quite possible to ascribe to different ideas and yet not be adversely related to those with different ideas. For instance, within the sphere of Christianity there exists a plethora of denominations, streams, movements, and cultures.

Historically, Christians have often aligned with others who share the same theological doctrines while being separated intentionally or unintentionally from others with different doctrines. This began to transpire early in the Protestant Reformation. As several grassroots movements began to sweep through Europe with the idea that Christians could read and interpret the Bible for themselves without having papal authority set forth the accepted interpretation a huge shift began in the Church that birthed what we now call Protestantism.

However, the freedom for each person to study and interpret the Bible created a door for diversity of interpretation. Christians began to align together based on their common agreements of doctrine. While the Church as a whole, both Catholic and Protestant, still shared many common theological positions there were some things that set them apart from each other. This is because they began to align on their differences instead of their similarities.

Then with the difference illuminated, those differences began to be construed to cause divisions between believers. To illustrate, if one group believed in baptism by sprinkling and the other by immersion their group would become known by that difference rather than the 85% of things they agreed upon.

In modern times, there is another shift happening in Christianity where believers are choosing to unite not based on commonly held interpretations of Scripture, but around Christ Himself. The Church is rapidly coming into unity around the knowledge that we are a family regardless of intellectual differences and that is where we unite. We don’t have to have unity of ideas to have unity between us.

I can disagree with something a pastor teaches and it not cause division or opposition. My husband pastors a church we started a couple years ago. One of the important things we want to get across to people when asked what denomination we belong to is that we are neither denominational nor non-denominational nor independent. We don’t ascribe to one particular denomination, nor do we consider ourselves separated from other denominations nor independent from the rest of the Body. We see the Church as a family and us amongst the family not choosing a side or a flavor separate from the rest of the good flavors out there. We have come under an international ministry for accountability purposes, but we value the entire body of Christ and see wonderful good things in each and every part of the Church regardless of where we may do something differently or disagree.

I say all this to explain that whenever I talk about difference of interpretation or opinion between me and other streams of Christianity, I am not setting myself out to be opposed to them. My disagreement is not adversarial nor does it set those I disagree with out to be somehow less Christian than I. I simply do not see disagreement that way. I think no less of those I disagree with then those with which I agree.

The same mentality extends to those who are not of the Christian faith. My disagreement with atheists or even Buddhist doesn’t in my mind set me apart from them or cause me to be adversarial to them. I think we can engage with ideas without being opposing on the personal level and I think we all have shown that here by living it out when we engage in discussions where we obviously disagree and yet can be friends at the end of the day.

I read recently that C.S. Lewis enjoyed surrounding himself with people who thought very differently from himself so that he could always have his thinking challenged and also so that his friendships weren’t so superficial to be based merely on agreement but could withstand disagreement. I hope to follow his example in this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Musings Upon Reading More About Reformation

As I am reading through McGrath’s book on the Reformation I noticed that prior to the Great Awakening there was this mentality in the Church that revolved around intellectually believing the right doctrines. If one accepted the right beliefs then they were considered among those who are Christian. It wasn’t until the Great Awakening, with a few exceptions, that the focus began to shift to whether or not one experienced conversion. During the Great Awakening people were having experience with God when they came to faith in Christ that was considered conversion experiences. From these people began to tell their testimony of when they met Jesus rather than the focus being on ascribing to certain intellectual propositions. The Moravians, a Christian group in Germany, had already had these type of experiences and already emphasized personal relationship with Jesus over doctrinal beliefs. Also there are many books written by individuals prior to the Reformation who spoke of such experiences and depth to their walk with Christ.

But it seemed in this age that there was a distinct shift from what one believed in their mind, to what one experienced in their heart. The faith from intellectual belief deepened to a faith which had personal experience.

Reading on, I read about Jonathan Edwards; a man who is often mischaracterized by most. Throughout my Christian school education and on into my college years at secular colleges I was taught this fiery man was one of those sorts of preachers that made Christianity look bad. The problem is most focus only on his most famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. There is a whole story surrounding that sermon that I won’t go into at present that makes sense of that sermon. However, there is so much more about this man. I recently read something by him regarding the manifestations people were experiencing in his day, akin to the Pentecostalism of today. He addressed every common argument I have heard against such a thing being God showing point by point how it very well can be God. I realized I want to study this man more as well as some of the other key people in those days. He is certainly a more interesting fellow than I once realized.

The last thing I wanted to address was the difference history reports between the ministry that came out of the groups of Christians who were all about knowing Christ experientially and those who were staunchly about what doctrines one maintained. The missions sent out from the experiential group were all about helping the people preserve their cultural identity and protecting them from the advances of colonialism. They would work to get to know the people, be helpful to them, learn their language, and transcribe their cultural stories so that they would be protected for future generations. The Moravians who settled in North Carolina befriended the Native Americans and lived amongst them. However, the missions that came from the more staunch groups were combined with financial prospects of commencing trade, converting the native people to the ways of the colonizers, and often they brought harm and trouble upon the people.

I am often met with the argument of the No True Scotsman. However, I think there is really a difference between those who follow a set of doctrine and moral laws and those who claim to know God experientially and have real relationship with them. These two groups had stark differences—one seemed to walk out the life of Christ with hearts full of compassion and love and the other trying to fulfill a mandate of reaching the world with the Gospel without knowing God’s love experientially. I am not sure that truth or love can be lived out with only intellectual understanding of it, I think it takes a transformation of the heart that has come into relationship with the living God.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Anthony Flew's Story

I was perusing books in the religion section of Borders last night. I picked up Anthony Flew’s book on his change from atheism to deism. The majority of his book is on why he was an atheist in the first place and with the last few chapters devoted to why he has renounced his atheism. He said that he often argued that he was not going to believe in the existence of God until presented with good evidence of his existence. He now believes that science has produced such evidence. He believes that the Intelligent Design argument gives sufficient evidence for a change from his atheistic position.

He also asserts in his book that he is in the process of tackling evidence for Christianity supplied upon request from N.T. Wright. He speaks highly of Wright and says that the evidence Wright has compiled is by far the best collection of data for the cause of Christianity. He hasn’t accepted it as true of it, but it appears he is taking a new look at the information to see what he finds.

He says that even though he now believes there is a God, he has no experiential contact with him to date. But he seemed to leave that open as something that may or may not take place in the future.

I know that Anthony Flew’s change of mind is old news, but I am curious to know who has read his book or followed the story and if it gave anyone pause to reconsider the evidence.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Separation of Church & State

Protestantism was birthed in the 16th century as a grassroots movement to reform the existing church. Soon it exploded into a division separate from the Catholic Church. The reformation made its mark on Catholicism as well as causing important renewal to take place. However the rise of the protestant church had a tumultuous phase before it found peaceful co-existence with Catholicism.

I am currently reading a book on the history of the reformation entitled “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” by Alister McGrath. I am only a third of the way through the book at this time. However, my mind is arrested with the thoughts concerning the drama of the reformation period of history.

I did not previously realize that so much political angst marked the early days of the reformation. Political leaders, governors, Kings, Queens, etc. were dictating what flavor of Christianity their country would align itself with. Some broke off their political allegiances with the pope and established a protestant variant as the religion of the land only to switch back to Catholicism when the next royal took the throne. Kings and Queens were even dictating doctrine and had their hands heavily involved in what the beliefs would be of their respective lands. Basically they were dictating what beliefs best supported their thinking and their power.

Injustices that occurred during the reign of Mary Tudor or other Royals who persecuted those who were not of the state religion were not as I once thought actions of the church that were contrary to the Christian faith, but actions of government that had nothing to do with the Christian faith. It would seem that much of what occurred was politics and not condoned by the church. Not that the church wasn’t involved in the politics of the day vying for state approval, it certainly was involved it would seem. However, in all I read about the turmoil of the age, it all seemed to have little to do with the Gospel and much to do with politics.

As an American used to not having the government tell me how I must believe, it seems so foreign a concept to have the governing authorities dictate religion to the people. However, America is the great exception to the normal way of things in this world. It was because of the problematic policies of Europe that our Founders sought to protect the church from government meddling. Constantine is not seen as a favorable ruler by many American Christians for we do not think the church ought to have ever been enjoined to the state in such a manner.

To have the government dictate religious belief seems akin to going to the doctor to have your car tuned up. Religion might have something to say about governing such as providing leadership principals, ethics, philosophical grounds for laws etc, but the government doesn’t have any jurisdiction dictating religion. It is precisely because religion had something to say that the government was given this restriction. Jefferson wrote so eloquently that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thus, the Founders believed, our freedom is inextricably tied to our God given unalienable right to liberty and thus the government of America limited itself to make no law regarding the establishment of religion.

I am grateful to live in a nation that values the market place of ideas. I am glad that people don’t have to believe the way their government institutes and that we are free to believe in accordance with our own reason and faith as we choose whether that be Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Atheists, Agnostic, or in Flying Spaghetti Monsters. Certainly there are beliefs that are better for a society than another, but a free society is better than one whose beliefs are forced.

As a Christian, it would be unethical for me to support a nation that dictates everyone be Christian. I will stand for the freedom of others of other worldviews just as quickly as I would stand for Christians to enjoy this freedom. God gave us the freedom from the beginning of time to choose our own path and it’s not for me to impose restrictions on humanity God did not impose in all His wisdom and power. True love is only known through freedom, I wouldn’t want a world where love couldn’t be fully experienced.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Healed Heel

All last week I had this pain in the heel of my right foot. It plagued me. I was limping around attempting to keep my weight off the heel and yet it hurt whether I was sitting still or walking around. By Sunday morning the pain was at its worst. I was limping worse than I had all week and was uncertain as to if I would be much help setting up the space we rent for church. We started the morning off, before setup, with a time of prayer. My husband asked Jesus to heal my aching foot. I didn’t think much of it at the time; my concentration was on my pain more than on praying.

We began to start the set up process and I tentatively began to do my usual tasks. In about ten minutes I was walking from one room to the next and it suddenly came to my attention that I wasn’t limping. I stopped and walked around, testing out my foot and realized I had no pain whatsoever. I, who believe in miracles, was still skeptical that it was totally gone and thought maybe it was a temporary relief of some kind. I went throughout the day with no pain, into the next day with no pain, and even went to the gym last night and did a mile on the treadmill with no pain. Now on the third day, there is still no hint of a problem with my foot.