Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites... and Other Lies You've Been Told

This is a very helpful book. Prof. Wright has presented something that I strongly believe we need to sit down and think about. As an academic who studies evangelicals I am constantly weighing through alarmist self-condemnation and finally someone has had the guts to say that it simply isn't true. Whatever else I say about this book, I think it needs to be read and taken very seriously. Wright calls us to love the truth and be suspicious of statistics, especially when someone is trying to sell you something.

Wright wades through a variety of claims made about Christians, with careful attention to Evangelical Christians. He shows how these claims are often based on erroneous, suspicious or poorly interpreted statistics. He draws on large sample statistics to try and get at what the real situation might be. To his credit this could be very tedious writing, but Wright moves us along at a pace that avoids bogging us down in the details but gives us enough information to see whether or not there is any substance to the claims. I find he is fair. He doesn't paint an overly rosy picture, but he also doesn't paint the doom and gloom we often hear from pulpits.

Wright could have spent a bit more time on the disconnection between his statistically measurable aspects of Christian action and morality. The reality is that the agendas for negative publicity are often filled with strong assumptions about the nature of Christian action and morality. This isn't as much a critique of Wright's choices here as it is of the ideologies behind the internal negative reports on Christian morality. He does get at this with his lovely term "cranky nostalgia", I would simply call it ideologically driven romanticism.

For me the litmus test in terms of bias came when Wright addressed the powder-keg issue of homosexuality. I felt he was very focused, not presenting his own bias but sticking to his task of evaluating Christian attitudes, as measured by the statistics, towards gay individuals. I wonder if he could have been as unbiased towards Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses as well - he seems to lump them in with other religions despite the fact that they are Christian sects which emerged around the same time as many other "evangelical" sects. Historically it is more helpful to lump them in with the groups they are most related to, regardless of their adherence to classical categories of orthodoxy. The only reason I point this out is that it is a place where Wright's bias does show through.

All in all this is an excellent book. Wright punctuates it with humour (albeit fairly geeky humour) and keeps his analysis succinct and relevant. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dishonesty is Not a Virtue

I'm reading a fascinating book (review to follow) that maps out the abuses of statistics Christians use to engender fears that sell products. Seriously. It is a bit depressing in terms of the moral integrity of evangelicals, but optimistic about the future of religion in society. A strange mixture. Josh McDowell comes off as one of the offenders here, that shouldn't surprise me as that guy is also dishonest about history (Evidence that Demands a Verdict provides some horribly skewed views of history and scripture). I'm not sure he does this intentionally, but is probably caught up in the apologetic culture that uses alarmism as a tool. More evidence, to me, that we evangelicals who purport to be lovers of the truth are actually not that honest to begin with. God help us.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Artist Draws Cross-eyed Jesus!

My friend David, aka NakedPastor, often posts his art. Recently he posted a picture of Jesus as a youth (with a very modern haircut - must be prophetic!) I couldn't help thinking of the pun, cross-eyed Jesus, when I saw it. But there is something about making the cross central to our theology that is very Jesus-like. Just saying. BTW David's blogs is one of the ones I frequent the most, very thought provoking conversations. Give it a look, I'm sure you will agree.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Piles and Piles of Reading

I'll probably be sporadic for a while yet. I am working my way through a pile of material for chapter one of my thesis. So far I've completed a pile of books and articles that deal with boundaries around the term evangelical. I think it was McGrath who said that those who give you tight definitions of evangelicalism usually have an ax to grind. But there are certain contours of evangelicalism that are helpful to recognize, especially for me when I am trying to say that the theology I'm developing is in some way an evangelical theology. Something important for me to be able to say about my work.

The nice find in this was George Rawlyk's (editor) collection of essays by many big hitters called Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience. Not only does it help set out the differences (as well as similarities) between the American and Canadian evangelical experience, it helped me understand some of my own orientations being a Canadian.

To finish up that section I have found a copy (used) of Harvey Cox's Fire from Heaven. I should really just tear through it but it is delicious to read. I also have Stackhouse's Evangelical Futures on the way - this is my third try at procuring a copy of that book! For the record Stackhouse's article "Who Whom?" in Aspects was really good.

The last two nights I transferred my copious notes (from the margins of these books - I write in the books I own, I know horror of horrors!) to Nota Bene. I have a bunch of longer notes in my journal to transfer yet, but the process of revisiting the material is helpful for my brain.

The next pile of books has to do with evangelicals engaged in projects of social transformation, critiquing evangelical social engagement or discussing the relationships between evangelicals and culture. Everything from Gushee to McLaren! This is the section with some of the least academic books in it - but those will probably not take long to read. I weeded it out quite a bit before starting as I tend to read a lot of these 'practical' type books anyway. I hope I can find a few gems amidst the rubble.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque

US politics is often just at the periphery of what I pay attention to. But this one sorta bugs me. From a Christian ethic it seems pretty clear that supporting the building of a mosque and Islamic information center would be the right thing to do. It would be a turning of the other cheek, that is a strong message that the views of a few religious extremists will not win the day but where hatred has been sown we will extend grace. Not that everyone responding is a Christian. But supporting the mosque strikes me as the opposite response to that of Bush - which was blow the "enemy" up. Violence never solves problems - just look at the mess we are in overseas to see what the fruit of violence really is. Someone must stand up and say no more.

I get that people lost loved ones. I had a friend working not far from ground zero myself and felt the angst of not knowing, though that is but a taste of what I'm sure folks went through on the day. Even if you lost loved ones is an eye for an eye really a good response? Should we hate non-Europeans because of the actions of a few? And where is the repentance from the US on the part they played in building the culture of fear that was such fertile ground for the terrorists? And how about the loss of the parents and friends of those terrorists? Or worse, the subsequent innocents killed by Bushes retaliation? Violence begets violence. None of us are innocent. None of us deserves to be the object of terrorism. And, most importantly, none of us deserves to be the object of hatred and marginalization. So why is this issue not clearer? Why can't we see a glowing example of the principles of tolerance and good will that countries like the US say they have enshrined?

What is the difference between opposing this mosque and Jihad?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Thinking it Through

If you are like me then sometimes you don't think things through fully before you launch into them. I'm getting better as I age, but can I tell you stories. For me this is one of the reasons that I'm so passionate about precision and clarity in evangelical terminology. Not only is it so that we can have better interface with those beyond our religious community, thinking it through allows us to better understand the implications of our own doctrinal assertions. I feel like too many evangelicals (and other religious folk) think that doctrines, theologies, understandings just drop out of heaven fully formed and completely obvious to everyone else. This is probably one of the best lies the 20th century evangelical church has swallowed (as if lies could be good). We might chuckle at the above post. But how often does our misunderstanding of the gospel lead to bait and switch (ie. dishonest) practices? Just saying.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

National Gathering Speakers

We had some really interesting speakers at the Vineyard National Gathering this year. I think there are going to be podcasts up at some point. Gary Best introduced the speakers and talked about how all of them were calling us forward as a movement. Considering the transition we are in, from a couple leading us (Gary and Joy Best) to a team leading us, I think it was a good call. Most of the speakers made no bones about their specific agendas. Wess Stafford called us to not miss the children from his intense passion to see children come into the Kingdom. Sam Owusu was passionate about the need to address our white ghetto reality, because he is passionate about tackling racial boundaries in our churches. And Christy Wimber, in her uncareful way, called us to not forget our roots as a movement of risk, betting it all on the Kingdom time after time. (I had a love hate relationship with her talk, but that is similar to how I feel about John Wimber's theology.)

Probably the most balanced voice we heard from (apart from Gary who is such an excellent communicator) was Terry LeBlanc. You would think that Terry would call us to not ignoring the natives in our churches - that'd be in keeping with the rest of the speakers - but instead he showed us how to walk our path with wisdom, paying careful attention to the past as we move into the future. His reading of the Creation stories reminded me of Paul Ricoeur's treatment of the Adamic myth in Thinking Biblically. It was excellent.

All in all the speakers gave us a lot to think through. I know I came away encouraged and ready again to take some risks for the Kingdom.