This meme comes from a website called "Philosophical Atheism", and gets reposted on my twitter feed from time to time. I used to more or less ignore it, but I noticed recently that the meme is dangerously ignorant, despite that it is seemingly posing rational questions.

I'm not really quite sure where to begin ... so I guess I'll just begin at the beginning.

First, the idea that God is "the mastermind" behind the Bible is a jab at what Christians call the "inspiration of the Bible". In Christian philosophy (called Theology), the Bible is seen as written by humans, yet somehow guided by the Spirit of the LORD. What this means is that the message and the meaning of the scriptures contain universal, wise, deep, unmovable truth. But that truth comes through the stories, language and (broken) culture of a particular people in a particular place at a particular time in history.

This means that the Bible includes many things: inconsistencies, inaccuracies, stoning, torture, bigotry, slavery, patriarchy, and very conservative sexuality (as in the case of homosexuality), except when it is hyper liberal (As in the case of Abraham and Solomon's multiple wives). But through all of that comes unbelievably accurate insights into the human condition. Even if that is all the bible is, it's enough to guide and instruct us - because the Bible is at least a revealing library that holds nothing back in unveiling human condition.

The problem with the above meme therefore, and the problem with the closed/hardened conservatives I think the meme is decrying is that neither understand the nature of the Bible. From beginning to end, the Bible is a demonstration of a people being moved one 'click' at a time out of a thoroughly ancient worldview, and out of a slavery worldview into a love-relationship with a mysterious yet known presence who calls itself "I am" and "LORD" and finally, "Christ". 

And in moving that particular people, the Bible can also move us - because it shows us our own insecurities and depravity, while at the same time showing us the beauty of our unconditional acceptance in the midst of our fallibilities. In the Bible, the dynamic of depravity and love is framed in terms of something called 'covenant', which can be understood as a binding contract between two parties (the Lord and Israel). But it's also framed in terms of slavery and freedom. Incidentally, this is why there can be so many versions of the Bible. It's not about the actual words. It's about narrative, and it's about how the narrative and the language of the narrative connects with readers and hearers. I am admittedly trying not to dig too deep here into issues of greek or hebraic syntax - because there are certainly better and worse translations of the Bible out there. 

"The Gods are angry" is how you could summarize the worldview of the Ancient Near East. In other words, the view of everyone from scholars to peasants was that the universe was unpredictable, unruly, and didn't like us very much. Now days, you might hear someone say "the Gods are a myth, but the world is a harsh, cold place". So I ask: what's changed? I submit, not much. 

Survey your world. I'm betting you will find most people believe in something similar to "life is unfair/harsh/unforgiving" and a good many modern people are stuck in the slavery of the work week along with modern obligations, technology, bills, and that impending sense of wanting "something more" but never knowing what that something is. And even when are lucky enough to attain 'it', we still want more. We are never finished acquiring, spending on and searching for meaning. Regardless of our income level, we crave an etherial, unattainable 'more'.

But with the Jews, something was different. Their God wasn't angry. At least, not always. First and foremost, this God loved. This God's love created and ordered the world, and that Love picked an underdog nation out of the grip of slavery and deliver them into freedom. 

But then there are times where this God looks like a hormonal teenager; flooding the world to kill everyone, charring a city, and commanding what we now call genocide (which was pretty common in the ANE), along with many other things we now gasp at.

As we should ....

Because much of what we find out later on in the Bible through the life and teachings of Jesus shows us (explicitly and implicitly) that what we read earlier in the Bible is an incomplete picture. In his first letter to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul frames this idea as looking through a broken mirror.

This means that when our picture of God comes only from certain Old Testament stories (i.e. the picture of God we get from fundamentalist theism and atheism), it's like trying to clearly see someone by looking at them in a shattered mirror. Another way Paul frames this idea is that it's like looking at  shadows (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 10:1). So if the entire first half of the Bible is like a broken mirror and a giant shadow of reality, it should come as no surprise that at times it doesn't make a lot of sense or contains questionable ideas. Yet so often we go ahead and assume we have a full picture, based on nothing more than the "raw data" of the stories themselves.

The Bible contains an extremely long narrative arc - even from Genesis to Malachi, there is a expansion of understanding about who God is and what God wants (this alone is worth a few posts ...). Then by the time Jesus rolls around, he is saying things like "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father". So when we look at something like the story of the Flood and base our picture of God on that alone, we are - frankly- dead wrong. God looks like Jesus first and foremost. Every other picture or conception of God, no matter how well-reasoned, is sorely incomplete. 

This is why I have a hard time stomaching both conservative fundamentalism and liberal atheism. They are two wings of the same bird.

This question plagues me.

I've been in Church situations where I felt the direction we were headed didn't align with values I believe are essential to our survival: being open, forgiving, kind to one another, gentle in disagreement, and eager to engage thoughtfully and humbly with one another.

At times, I've seen leadership flaunt naivety and bigotry as a virtue. In other situations, I perceived a lack of mission, and no urgency. Most recently, I experienced unilateral pushback against anything that didn't look overtly "Christian" (read: simply trying to speak the language of our culture was viewed as sinful/wrong). In each of these cases, staying at the church became damaging to my faith and growth. I'm not talking about anti-evolution ranting or anti-gay marches. I'm talking about churches where either the leadership or the congregation (or both) put all the focus on getting back to some bygone time when 'things were better'. Or churches that wanted to keep things just as they were, even when it was painfully obvious that deep change was needed in order to reach into the community.

Churches which stay stuck in the past or refuse to adapt and change are essentially museums. At one time they may have been beautiful, but their time has passed. Now they are pushing their congregations just to keep the lights on and maybe paint the sanctuary. All of this effort is to continue playing church, without actually being the Church. Trying to pull this kind of a group into the future quite frankly, feels like a waste of time. If people don't want to move into the future, they simply won't until something big changes their minds.

It's as if some churches are presently hanging by a rope off the side of a cliff, but are swearing they are on solid ground. Sometimes you have to let go of the rope. As Tim Keller points out, "it's not the strength of our faith but the object of our faith which saves us". We need just enough faith to grab hold of Jesus, the branch, which can saves us as we tumble off the cliff. And make no mistake, we all tumble off the cliff at one time or another. From another perspective, we are always falling off the cliff. We just don't see it until it's almost too late most of the time.

Churches which aren’t changing meaningfully are dying to that same extent. All this means is that because the needs and context of our culture are shifting all the time, and while we stand on the Rock which 'does not change like sinking sand' --- our context as the Church DOES change. We need to be willing to change our modes of communicating in order to speak meaningfully into our culture. As it stands, too many churches are only preaching to the choir. Yes churches may still grow while in these old modes of doing church, but that growth is too often driven by Christians from other churches coming into the fold. So it’s not really growth – and in smaller communities in the North which rely on natural resources, we often benefit from economic displacement and the temporary 'growth' that follows.

When I am thinking about whether or not I can stay at a church in my context, I ask myself one important question: "Is this a church I would invite my friends to?" I have friends who are post-Christian, some who are agnostic, and some who are atheists. If I would not be comfortable inviting them into the church I attend, it's a safe bet that church is not for me.

But what would that church look like; the one to which I would invite my friends? It would be open, unafraid to ask probing questions; It would change with the times: not it's doctrine, but it's approach. It would thoughtfully and 'Jesusly' address the real day-to-day, grind of life concerns modern people have. That church would challenge the status quo of both secular and religious culture; both liberal and conservative ideology. It would be a church which has both eyes open.

I've been to churches like this. But they seem few and far between. Rather than the norm, they feel to be the exceptions. So I have nothing against churches who don't 'live up' to my ideals. And I have nothing against churches who refuse change, but I am sad for them because unwillingness to engage culture and at least speak it's language (even if it's in disagreement) all but guarantees our days are numbered.

We Canadians don't live in a Christian culture, and we're likely not getting that back in our lifetimes. We live in a Post-Christian culture which disregards Christian belief as outdated, but which benefits from many of the best ideas of Christendom (a system which is built on providing care for the poor, a justice system which attempts to be humane, institutions which attempt to promote strong ethics, and so on).  Thankfully, our society has also gotten rid of some of the worst things that came from Christendom (the crusades to the slave trade and residential schools).  Living in a post-christian culture should be proof positive that the bygone time many churches are pining for is in fact a nightmare for most people (this blogger included). We saw the result of bygone church eras, and we knew in our hearts something was seriously wrong. For starters, institutional, Governmental Christianity is not true Christianity. ,The institutional system grinds away the gospel in favour of things like nationalism and pick-and-choose morality, which are much easier messages to preach than being saved by grace through faith apart from our 'good/bad' merits.

So when is it ok to leave a church? When that church stops looking like Jesus. I thought at one time it was about mission and vision, but it's not really. Mission and vision put some skin on the spiritual direction the church is headed, so they're important but they aren't the be-all-end-all. Christ is the be-all-end-all, and one of the prime lessons we learn from Jesus is that He was humble, kind, and engaged extremely thoughtfully with outsiders. Churches who aren't looking out beyond their own walls and thinking openly and deeply about how to reach people who aren't yet in the seats, then it's most likely a dying entity. To this extend, it's not really even a church. It's more like a club of insiders.

The church needs to be FOR outsiders, FOR their communities and FOR sinners. Because God is. After all, God made us the Church, and he knows, we are far from being saints.

The hope I have is that Jesus brings New Life into and out of dying things. Sometimes the life is elsewhere, and sometimes it's already bubbling below the surface waiting to burst out.

When is it ok to leave church?
The short answer: I don't know. It's complicated. But everyone's got a line in the sand.

Is there someone in your life whom you love and whom loves you back? A parent, a good friend, a sibling, a spouse? Think about them over the next few minutes it will take to read this post.

Here's the big question for today: how do you know they love you?

They say nice things to you?
They Bring you gifts?
They are there for you?
They tell you they love you?
They put you first, even before themselves?

All of this is excellent, but it's not water-tight. Even with all of the above, the fact is that it takes faith to believe that your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling, friend loves you. Without that faith, a breakdown in trust occurs and no love can be exchanged from there forward.

Perhaps the most accessible example of the breakdown of trust is when a teenager stops believing his parents love him. The teenagers parents know they love him and they are doing their best to love him, but for some reason, he just doesn't believe it. Faith has broken down on the part of the teenager, so the relationship becomes strained.

A similar thing may happen in churches where religious people will do unloving things in the name of God, and this will set in motion a chain of events that eventually erodes faith in Jesus, whom religious people claim to represent.

Think of it this way: when a person betrays or hurts a loved one, why is it that they often say "but I love you". Do they? They are saying they do. Betrayal certainly doesn't show love, at least not in my understanding of Love - which is that "Love does no harm to a neighbor" Romans 3:10. Yet people use love as a get out of jail free card when they hurt others.

To bring this to a point, being brutal with your words to "speak the truth in love" isn't actually loving. It's being a jerk. We need to stop doing that. And we need to stop blaming God for when people do evil things.

Love, like many other things, takes faith, and faith is made real by actions.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. 
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. 
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:11-21  

No wonder it takes faith to believe. But even more than that, it takes building an actual relationship with God - through prayer, reading his Word, going spiritually deep with others, and practicing the art listening to God's still small voice as you process through the daily grind of life.

To believe the Gospel (The announcement that sin and death have been defeated, that there is a way out, and that Jesus IS the way out) is to first come to the humble understanding that I am more sinful that I dare imagine, yet more loved than I dare dream.
"Even truths born out by rigorous analysis are often laid asunder by a rapidly changing world.  Last year’s truths are often today’s red herrings.  As rapid technological change transforms politics, culture and economics, we need a new approach that is based less on false certainty and more on simulation." - Greg Satell

Greg Satell is no intellectual slouch. Recently, I came upon a number of compelling pieces he wrote about beliefs and the problems with hard data and modern the scientific worldview, from the perspective of a hard data analyst.

Here are some more thoughts on skepticism and faith.

Something else we do without irrefutable proof: we trust people.

“What I have a problem with is not so much religion or god, but faith. When you say you believe something in your heart and therefore you can act on it, you have completely justified the 9/11 bombers. You have justified Charlie Manson. If it's true for you, why isn't it true for them? Why are you different? If you say "I believe there's an all-powerful force of love in the universe that connects us all, and I have no evidence of that but I believe it in my heart," then it's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that Sharon Tate deserves to die. It's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that you need to fly planes into buildings for Allah.” 
― Penn Jillette

Episode 2 of the Reluctant Christian podcast is up!

I started a podcast! Mostly it was for my love of audio production and the enjoyment I get from hearing compression on my voice. I know. I'm lame.

If you like it, subscribe on iTunes, Podcast addict or any other podcasting app that can search the iTunes database. I'll try to release something worthwhile at least once per month. I'm working on doing a couple of interviews with pastors and skeptics, which will be a ton-o-fun!

Here is the iTunes podcast feed:

Also, feel free to rate the show with positively positive reviews :)

Check out Part 1

The Bible is many things. I want to zero in on one today. The Bible, among other things, shares experiences that real people had with God, and then it shares an unfolding story of historical reflections on those experiences.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Israel is commanded by God to wipe out their enemies. It's serious, unfiltered tribal warfare. The writers are convinced wholly that God told the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, babies and all. And as the story goes, Israel does it (well, they mostly do it but that's beside my point).

Faith is about trust. I know - that's obvious. But what isn't obvious is that faith really isn't about one book vs another or even one ideology vs another.

It's first and foremost about the trustworthiness of the person or people at the foundation. Are they reliable witnesses to the information they are presenting, and can their testimonies and conclusions be trusted?

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