Altar Calls: are they any good?

I just spoke at a teen camp where one of the campers asked me if I would be having a “sad chapel.” When I asked what she meant she said, “Well… you know… when you ask us to think about our lives and stuff and then we come up to the front and everyone’s crying and everything.” Interesting request, don’t you think?

A few years ago I was at a different youth camp where some of the middle school girls enjoyed gathering together to talk about various life issues. The issues usually had to do with boys–more specifically breaking up with boys–and without fail they would end up crying together. One day they invited my wife, Joy, to one of their sessions. One of the younger ones was frustrated. “I can’t cry. What’s wrong with me?” Though Joy assured her nothing was wrong, she went with the suggestion of one of her friends: to go outside and try to hurt herself. I promise you I am not making this up. Her attempt consisted of throwing herself to the ground, but this only added to her frustration. She wanted so bad to join in the festivities but just couldn’t get the dang faucet to turn on!

At that camp, the teens were lining the “altars” (there weren’t any, they just crowded around the front of the chapel) for any and every reason. The director thanked me after one particular chapel time and noted it was a “powerful service.” I really didn’t remember the message being all that emotional. In fact, I believe I spoke on anger. But this is what they wanted. And this was what the teen camper in our first story was looking for too. Should I have obliged?

From what I remember about church history, even though altars have been around for mellenia, the altar call started during the spiritual revivals of the 18 century Great Awakenings. Charles Finney (whom I affectionately refer to as Chuckleberry Finn) used them a lot, though often it was for getting people to respond to the abolitionist movement (Side note: once again we have a tradition of the church that is rooted in social action and has become something completely different today… sigh!). Today, altar calls are usually a challenge by a preacher to his/her listeners to take action in their spiritual lives. The preacher will ask if anyone would like to “come forward” and “take that step of faith” to either give one’s life to Christ, rededicate one’s life to Christ, promise to go on a missions trip, tell their neighbour about Jesus, stop lying, start giving, renounce Ozzy Osbourne, or some such thing. Whatever it may be, usually all the above are also mentioned as tag-alongs so that everyone knows they can go to the altar for any reason at all. After all, it is every preacher’s hope and dream that the altars will be jam packed with worshippers, preferably of the weeping variety.

I hate to admit this, but that really is every preacher’s desire. It’s like a measure of success for us. It shouldn’t be, and though we all would deny this, there’s something deep down that wants to see it happen. Of course, if we are not successful in this, we’re quick to say, “Oh it’s not about the emotions!” But the moment we strike gold, we are enraptured and not wanting the moment to end. This is why after just about every sermon preached in protestant churches everywhere the worship team or band are “invited back up” to play a song.

But should we be doing this? I’m not just questioning its effectiveness, I’m wondering if it is even ethically right. Let me state right away that I am not referring to the act of praying at an altar. That is something that should always be in the church. But this “call to come forward” is something I get less and less comfortable with as I get older. I may be off the mark, but consider the following arguments for not using them anymore (or at least not near as often):

1. It is so easily abused. Since every preacher hopes to be considered a “powerful speaker,” sometimes this ritual becomes a manipulative tool. Many of us can remember sitting through hour-long altar calls because of a preacher who couldn’t handle the fact that no one was responding to his call. I think the only time I ever felt suicidal was after hearing a preacher suggest we sing “I Surrender All” just one more time for the seventeenth time. The song has five verses, but at the right speed it can feel like miles longer.

2. It seems so… so… Benny Hinn-ish. Maybe even Jim Jones-ish. If you watch it happening and pretend it’s something you’re not accustomed to, it looks like a kind of mix between a Barry Manilow performance and something from the Home Shopping Network. Speaking of what it looks like, it should be mentioned here the strangeness of having people kneel at an altar that faces a stage (Yes, my Catholic and Orthodox friends, we don’t have an apse or a worship space… we protestants use a stage) where there is either the preacher standing or a band playing, or both. Does this image bother anyone?

3. It results in a lot of decisions made based on emotion. This is especially true with youth. We ask them countless times to commit to something during a time of identity searching and provide little follow-up. Of course, who can blame us for the lack of follow-up? It’s near impossible considering how many challenges to commitments are pitched… er, preached. So all of these decisions that were made in the heat of the moment easily become forgotten or a good source of undeserved guilt.

4. It gives the church a false sense of legitimacy. We hear things like, “Last Sunday forty-three people came to the altar and rededicated their lives to Christ,” and we are excited. We can’t wait to report this to denominational leaders. This is not what legitimizes the church. Yes, we should share the gospel with people and yes, it’s understandable to be excited when they respond to it positively. But considering the point made previously (#3), it seems to me that something much more substantive needs to be given such energy and celebration.

5. For young people, it can become something very different from what we’re intending them to be. The words of the young girl referred to at the beginning of this article speaks perfectly to this. She was hoping for those goose bump feelings and physical encounters. At youth camps, altar calls can be a teenage boy’s dream: a place to freely hug as many girls as you want. In fact, you can go up to one, throw your arm around her and sit/kneel cheek to cheek for an extended period of time. This leads many speakers/pastors to ask the worshippers to please pray with people of the same sex. Funny, isn’t it? Taking precautions to avoid inappropriate behaviour during a time of worship.

6. Is it really accomplishing anything? Perhaps we can remember times in our lives when we made important decisions during an altar call. But would these events have had no chance of taking place without the call to come forward? Couldn’t they have happened in a small group of praying believers or in a one-to-one spiritual mentorship meeting?

Now I must admit at this point that many people have made significant decisions to turn their lives around for the good during altar calls. So should this outweigh all of the points made above? I’m reminded of my friend in high school who said his dad found Christ after watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the early 1980’s. Most of us would agree that the ministry done by these two not only lacked ethical integrity, but was downright deceptive. So perhaps we should forget all of that and say, “Hey, many people made significant spiritual decisions as a result of the PTL TV broadcast. Let the show continue!” Or perhaps we should take a lesson from what happened in that circus and take steps to avoid such thing ever happening again. I like to think we did that with Jim and Tammy Faye. Maybe we should do that with our altar calls?

The alternative? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions. I hope you can add to this list:
1. More sermons need to end with questions. Tough questions. Questions that aren’t accompanied with step-by-step answers. Questions that make them think a little more and feel a little less.

2. Why not have altars placed at the side of the sanctuary/chapel/room rather than at the front? This makes more room and avoids the Koresh-esque look of our prayer times. It would also allow for the public proclamation element while helping diminish attention-seeking motives for going to them.

3. Let’s be satisfied more often with a sermon simply proclaiming the good news and allowing that good news to do its own work. This is neither lazy nor negligent. In fact, it is quite an act of faith. The good news doesn’t need a strong sell. It is compelling and wonderful just the way it is. Besides, think of the amount of times you’ve heard a preacher ask people to make a decision “right now.” It’s the biggest decision of one’s life next to marriage and career choice. Would you ask someone to get married “right now” or would you recommend they think about it long and hard?

4. We should try to be more creative with the application of our messages. We do not need to ask for commitments after every sermon. We can give practical advice on what to do with what is learned and we can think of creative ways to do this.

5. Let’s try not having the band/worship team come back up to the platform as often. Usually when they do it is one of the more popular ballad-like that are sung. It used to be “I Surrender All” (shudder). “Refiner’s Fire” and “Shout to the Lord” had their day. Today it seems that “In Christ Alone” and anything by Chris Tomlin is what we hear Sunday after Sunday (Note: “Our God is Greater” is white hot right now!). Isn’t this a bit overkill? Let’s not sacrifice meaning for schmaltz.

I think if we change and allow this practice to die out (at least the practice as we know it) Chuckleberry Finn would more than understand. The girl at the camp last week may not, however.

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When Pink says @#*%$!, why do I end up feeling good inside?

So Pink’s latest song has been playing over and over in my mind all day. Its title… “Effing Perfect.” As you may have guessed, the original version uses the actual f-bomb continually throughout the entire song. This, of course, is a quandary for a minister. Here we have a song that is uplifting and powerful, but it has one of the most offensive terms in modern English. It is a lot like what Voldemort is to the good folk at Hogwarts: a word “whose name must not be spoken.”

Let me first acknowledge how funny it seems that in this blog post I will be saying “f-bomb” and “f-word” as euphemisms for the actual term. It’s funny because every one of you reading this know exactly what that word is. You’re thinking about it right now. I’m not fooling anyone here, but, of course, if I was to just type it out as is, I could get myself in a lot of trouble. I could lose my job over that. …ok, weird statement there all things considered… I’ll move on.

So we all understand that foul language is something that most of us would rather not hear profanity if given the choice. It can be disturbing and unpleasant to listen to. This is preaching to the choir, really, so let me get to the other side of the coin right now. Perhaps this song, and others like it, may give us hope despite their questionable word-choices. In the song in question, Pink is practically shouting to her listeners that they need to see themselves as beautiful. Conceptualizing Pink’s typical audience and watching the video give you the impression that the song may be directed more towards youth, particularly teenage girls. In a culture that is obsessed with image this is a message that needs to be given—shouted out loud. Even tonight at youth group I had a teen girl tell me that she was ugly. She was quite convinced of it. Should Pink use this word, though? As much as I discourage using words like this, allow me to come to the artist’s defense on this. For starters, many of her listeners use this word. A lot. And for so many people, when trying to express a strong feeling or emotion, words like this are chosen. And many times those words seem to accurately convey what they are feeling, whether we like to hear it or not. If I was to try and explain just how perfect my daughter is, especially if she was doubting it, how would I express that? For Pink to say, “you’re very perfect,” or “you’re darn perfect,” or even “you’re absolutely perfect,” just does not seem to capture the truth and its deep meaning. There is not enough emotion attached. Would I use this word if I had written the song? No. But I can’t say that I would have been able to come up with an adequate alternative to match Pink’s.

While listening to this song it is almost impossible to not feel the strong and affirmative message. Hearing the lyrics, especially with the accompaniment of the tender and moving video, is enough to make one feel compassion, love, peace, even a sense of renewed hope in humanity.

It seems a bit strange now that once upon a time youth pastors’ music-related concerns were about artists like Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss having hidden “back masking” messages that seeped into young minds. (I must say that if Queen is able to actually write and record a song as catchy as “Another One Bites the Dust” and somehow manage to insert a message that pot smoking is fun, they’ve got more talent than I can even dream about.) Whether or not those secret embedded messages were intentional or not is up to debate, though practically no one cares anymore. One thing is for sure: if the artists today have something to say, they’ll say it.

And how can we discuss music artists dropping the f-bomb without mentioning Eminem. Again, like him or not, this artist knows our culture well. He is a master of connection with people living in the 21st century, particularly the young and those on the fringes. And his use of strong language is just the tip of the iceberg. His songs are laced with violence, dysfunction, and disturbing images. It doesn’t take a long look at his lyrics to realize that Eminem wears his heart on his sleeve. What is going on in his life, be it great or awful, he writes and raps about. If he’s enjoying great wealth, you’ll hear about it. If he’s being a neglectful father, you’ll hear about it—from him. So, naturally, this includes rather strong language. While we, the morally vigilant, wince and worry about how this will make our teens swear more, millions are listening saying, “Yes, that’s how I feel.”

And, hey, let’s look on the bright side—we have less and less instances of today’s musical artists teaching our kids through a backwards language to worship Satan.

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What has changed in youth ministry over the past twenty years? I hate my answer to this question…

I began my career as a youth minister 21 years ago. I enrolled as a youth major at Bethany Bible College and under the tutelage of Dr. Danny Gordon, the journey began. What has changed since then? I almost wish I wasn’t writing about this. The answer bothers me. And I don’t mean it bothers me like when I step in a puddle of my dog’s pee in my sock feet. I mean bother me like it keeps me up at night and even churns my stomach at times.

First, a bit of back ground: 1) I love youth ministry. For four years I trained specifically for it and for the past 17 years I’ve continued that training by serving in it in both full- and part-time capacities. 2) I am painfully aware that in my profession it is rare for someone to last 17 years. I turn 39 this month, which works out to be about 76 in youth pastor years. The last youth ministry conference I went to it seemed I was lost in a sea of DC clothing and intentionally dishevelled hair. But I still felt very much a part of the landscape. We youth pastors are a tight group. We can spot each other from a mile away. And we instantly love and understand one another on a level that cannot adequately be explained. 3) I have always believed in critical examination and reflection on the church. This is not to be a negative force that tears down the church, but rather a positive force that is not afraid to ask the hard questions.

So this brings me to the answer. I’m afraid that it’s rather short. In fact, it’s only two words. Here it is: Not much.

I teach Introduction to Youth Ministry and in that course we talk about the pioneers of this great ministry. People like Percy Crawford and Jim Rayburn were innovators. They used swing music to reach the teenagers of 20’s and 30’s. They pioneered rallies, Christian concerts, sports ministries, youth camps, “mixers” (for those of you who aren’t youth pastors, these are “ice-breaker” games that help people get comfortable with each other in a group), and even the use of humour in speaking to teenagers. These are things that we take for granted today, but once upon a time they were breakthrough ideas. Some things have changed for sure. Incidentally, you’ll all be glad that one thing that has changed dramatically from someone like Percy Crawford is his dating style. He was 29 when he first dated his future wife. She was 15 at the time and attended his youth ministry. Ummmm… don’t see that much these days, thank the Lord.

But other than that, so much of what we do now is no different from the pioneers. We feel good about the ideas we incorporate that seem so “outside the box,” but are they really all that different? We still play game after game with teenagers, often not questioning why. We still try to make our facilities the coolest hang-out place in town and convince teens that we too are cool. We still turn the music up to deafening levels and give away T-shirts, CD’s and “whacky” prizes. We still herd them into large group settings (rallies) and try and convince them to “make that decision” to follow Jesus. We may also challenge them to sexual purity or being “radical for Jesus.” This last message is one I’ve both heard and preached myself—ad nauseum, I might add—and I’m not sure that it’s made the impact we all hoped it would. Could it be that our message just isn’t deep enough?

Please understand that this is not a scathing arraignment on youth pastors. After all, I are one. But I do believe the time is now for us to question everything we have been doing and what we plan to do in the future. Let’s be different. Let’s be bold in trying different approaches to bringing redemption to the teenage population. The pioneers have paved the way (aside from dating practices), and now it’s our turn to start paving some new roads. Teens are still leaving their faith behind after graduating high school. They’re doing so in droves. The sacred counting of heads on mid-week nights and special events isn’t enough. Neither are our pep talks and capture the flag tournaments. Surely there is something deeper.

I’m not giving out answers here. But I’m looking for them. I must… I love youth ministry.

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Is Belief in God Poisonous?

I recently watched a video of a presentation given by a renowned speaker and atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who made the following case: religion poisons people and our society. I thought I’d write a reaction to it. But before I do that, I really need to establish two things:

1) This should also not be thought of as an emotional defense, as if someone said that their dad could beat up mine. Plenty of religious people before me have done so, and I don’t feel the need to repeat. I simply wish to join the conversation. It is neither healthy nor worthwhile for any of us to be close minded and not willing to engage in discussion on relevant issues such as this.

2) Hitchens is brilliant. I may not agree with him on many things, but I cannot deny that he makes strong points and is a great communicator. He’s funny, perceptive, and engaging. And I must admit, for me to address things he brings up is a little like a high school basketball coach critiquing Lebron James’ dunking techniques. He is an expert in his field. I am an amateur who simply wants to join in the conversation. My reaction is not intended to discredit his views.

Below I have time markers where you can hear Hitchens make the statements that I am attempting to address, though I would strongly suggest you watch the entire video. It is very educational and thought provoking.

5:53-6:19 – Religion is based on lying to ourselves. The example he gives for this assertion is that we’ve called diseases (e.g. AIDS) punishment from God. For this I would admit that churches in the middle ages and in Podunk fundamentalist churches have communicated this. I’ve seen the latter covered quite well on the news much to my (big time) chagrin. It’s embarrassing that people would say such things, but I must insist that this is not truly a Christian worldview, and I suspect it isn’t a worldview held by a lot of religions. In fact, the oldest book of the Bible has characters maintaining that the cause of their friend Job’s inflictions (including disease) is a result of his sin and yet Job defends God and his own integrity, rejecting their counsel.

7:02-8:02 – We’re no different than the pagans. In his presentation, Hitchens says that it is insulting to human beings to say that we would not have morality if it wasn’t for God. He cites people who challenge his atheism by asking “Where would our sense of morality come from if not from God?” I see his point that implying that human beings are incapable of good without religion can be an insult to humanity. People are capable of good and evil regardless of their relationship with religion. Yet I would still ask this question—just without assuming that without God we’d be savages. I am certain that many have indeed said and/or implied such a thing, but this question can also simply be asking, “Where did this human sense of morality come from?” It is a very good question really. So is “Where did love come from?” How did something as complex as love come to be on its own? I can speak for Jesus followers at least: we wish to be in communion with God, and he does call us to righteous living, but he does not give us a corner on the market of morality.

Later in his presentation (15:01-15:48) he says “Name me an ethical statement that was made or a moral action that was performed by a religious person in the name of faith that could not have been made by a person not of faith… so far I haven’t any takers.” Hitchens makes an excellent point here with which I will not argue. Non-religious people can do all the good that religious people can do. And, yes, this does mean that we have some explaining to do. I could offer at this point that God empowers me to do good, but it’s not my birthright. He does add at the end, though, something I find interesting. He says, “If I were to ask… think of a wicked thing said or an evil thing done by a person of faith in the name of faith, no one would have a second of hesitation in thinking of one.” I agree with this as well, though I’m not sure what it has to do with his argument. One could easily ask, “Name me an evil thing said or done by a person not of faith.” We’re all equal aren’t we? I thought this was the point he was making. If he’s pointing out hypocrisy, I can agree that religious people can be hypocritical. But this isn’t their birthright either. Who is hypocritical? Humans are.

On a side note, he referenced the Exodus as a story where people thought raping and murder were completely acceptable practices until they arrived at Sinai and found out that God outlawed it for them (8:02-8:36). He did have a joking tone when telling this, but just for clarification, this is not how the Sinai event took place. It was not a discovery of morality. Goodness and conscience existed before Sinai, otherwise we wouldn’t have Noah being described as “righteous” (Gn 6:9). Rather, it was a covenant between the Hebrew people and God. They would agree to these laws no matter how their neighbours lived, be it good or bad. It should also be noted that since this was a covenant, we see no dictator God demanding something. Rather, we have God reaching out to human beings and making a covenant in the same way that human beings made with each other, complete with expectations on his part. No dictator would ever do such a thing.

4:02-4:36 – The link of life. Hitchens also makes note that we are all linked together in life. Not just with animals, either, but with plants. This is actually something I can run with. It does seem wonderful and spectacular to me and I find it exciting that we can actually see this with our advanced scientific technology. But does this eliminate God? The universe has order and it seems to all be linked—yes. But that doesn’t immediately excuse the idea of there being a creator. In fact, even the big bang is an event so complex that to excuse the idea of intelligent design altogether seems a bit naïve. Would seeing something miraculous like this really obliterate belief in a creator?

9:08-9:27 – God-like Psychos? I found it very interesting that Hitchens contended that the theological concept of humans being “made in the image of God” is problematic when we consider psychopaths. How can those who take pleasure in breaking rules of morality be “made in the image of God.” I assume he means that it is problematic because it would be synonymous with saying that God’s image is psychopathic. But anyone made in God’s image can be tainted. In fact, we all are. But we all are equal. ALL of us. I am no better than the psychopath and the Pope is no better than me.

10:54-11:45 – Who wants another Kim Jong Il? Another point Hitchens makes is that religion is like a dictatorship. He says,
“Ask yourself if you really wish it was true that there was a celestial dictatorship that watched over you… all through your life, night and day, knew your thoughts… could in fact convict you of thought crime—the absolute definition of a dictatorship… that admonishes you like this under permanent surveillance, control and supervision and doesn`t even let go of you when you’re dead because that’s when the real fun begins… who wishes that were true?”
And I have to agree—that would be awful. But is this always what a devotion to a deity is? As a follower of Jesus this has not been my experience. Furthermore, in no way does Paul, Peter, John, or any other NT writer promote servitude to a dictator God. Rather, they promote relationship with a loving God who bends to our human world to meet us there. It’s like a parent-child relationship (hence the “Heavenly Father” and “His children” rhetoric). Yes, he does call us to servanthood, but according to Jesus we do this by serving human beings. Sounds good, doesn’t it? As for thought crime, the Christ-follower does indeed feel “convicted” of bad thoughts. This is not because s/he is convicted by a dictator. The use of the word “conviction” is a way of expressing what one knows is wrong and credits God with that knowledge. After all, God is the author of all that is good. So, if you are not a believer and you think about what it would be like to rape, you wouldn’t say, “I don’t have to feel bad about that. I can think that all I want. I’m free.” No, you too would feel guilty, recognize it is wrong and seek to turn your thoughts to better things. This isn’t a result of any dictator either.

13:55-14:11 – Rape is ok with God? He points out that in the book of Exodus God asks his people to kill others. I have no answer for this. In fact, I wrestle with this very much. However, I bring this up only to clarify something. When stating this, he includes rape. Just for the record, nowhere in Exodus or any other book of the Bible does God ask anyone to do such a thing. He also includes racial cleansing, which I think is quite a stretch. God did tell them to obliterate an entire city (again, I have no answer—this disturbs me), but that’s not quite what you could call racial cleansing.

13:24-14:42 – What about Mother Teresa? As you can well imagine, many religious people have posited this question to Hitchens: What about Christians who did wonderful things like Martin Luther King Jr.? His answer just wasn’t enough for me, at least regarding MLK. It may be true that he was criticized for being too “left,” for having too many atheist friends, and that he had Christians opposing him, but it wouldn’t take much research to find that he was dedicated to Jesus Christ. And this is where I have the hardest time accepting his position(s) completely. Hitchens is clearly bright, insightful, and impressively smart. But to dive in with this philosophy I have to dismiss MLK, Mother Teresa, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonheoffer, G. K. Chesterton—even modern-day academics like C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright—as ignorant dictator-lovers.

18:15-18:23 – Fools. There is only one thing that Hitchens says that truly did bother me. He referred to “fools who believe in astrology and religion.” Now this doesn’t bother me in the sense that I feel attacked or defensive. In fact, this statement would have bothered me even if he had simply said, “who believe in astrology.” In conversations like this, my postmodern mind can’t help but reject this as a no-no. The indictments he holds against religion are often spot on, but they are often indictments on behaving in ways that is represented in attitudes like this. The moment we say, “you all are wrong and only I/we is/are right,” we are exiting the discussion and sitting on our self-made thrones. Christ followers who read this, let’s not do this. For that matter, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, and all people, be you religious or non-, let’s all refrain from this together.

Does religion poison? I would offer the idea that humans poison. We do it to ourselves all the time. For every religious ignoramus there is a non-religious one, a rich one, a poor one, a sports one, an arts one, etc. And there is always a chance to remedy that. Always. It is a part of being human. There is redemption. Let’s reach for it.

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Slow down… you’re as bad as a porn addict!

I never thought I’d compare a porn addict to someone who is too busy. But they have more in common than I thought…

Yesterday in a youth ministry class we were talking about theology and ministry. The point was made that your actions will communicate what your theology truely is. For example, if I treat people who are beautiful in my eyes better than those who appear ugly in my own eyes, that will more accurately communicate my theology of creation than what my mouth may confess. Similarly, if constantly worry about the future I am displaying my beliefs about God’s provision, despite whether or not I say I believe that God will provide. I then asked the class a question I’d like to pose to all of us:

“If you were having a conversation with a group of people and one—a pastor—admitted to having a porn addiction, would you be shocked?”

The answer, of course, is yes. Addiction to pornography in a world where access is free is disconcertingly common. But an admission to such a struggle brings us to the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve: we are ashamed. Now consider this question: If the admission was workaholism, would you be shocked?

Why does this not alarm us? We who are Christians claim to believe in Sabbath. It’s a big theological principle for us. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. That’s right… God speaks through fire and commands the Israelites to honour the Sabbath. It made the top ten! True, Sabbath looks different in today’s culture than it did in Moses’ day, but how can it be that we have such little concern about it?

I am not writing this to discuss Wal-Mart being open on Sundays. In fact, it’s embarrassing that this is the only issue we’ve addressed concerning Sabbath, complete with the hypocrisy that we’re more than glad to eat at Appleby’s on Sunday. We, the church, ought to be known as people who live quiet and contemplative lives amidst a culture of busyness, stress, and hyperactivity. Instead, it is not uncommon to find someone proud of their out-of-control schedule. I’m not sure if this makes us feel important, legitimized, or something entirely different. Sadly, to speak for us pastors, we are the chief of sinners with regards to this. The porn and crack addict hang their heads in shame while the workaholics wear their badge proudly. Ironic considering that broken homes, relational stress, and physical sickness have been caused by all the above. I’m not even sure that I could say with any degree of confidence that, say, crack has done more of this kind of damage than the others.

So our Father who loves us tells us to slow down. Maybe it’s time to waste time chasing cars.

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A Rejoinder on the Science Issue

So we had a fairly spirited discussion on the science topic, mostly concerning evolution. I thought it might be good to simply write another entry to kind of answer some of the objections. Isn’t this fun??

First, it does appear that I was doing nothing to debate the issue. And I have to agree, which is really my point in this writing. I have no intention on debating the issue. This is because I really have little knowledge on this kind of thing. I have never performed carbon dating or radioactive dating. In fact, I don’t think I can tell you what that is. I’ve only heard guest preachers tell me its kooky talk. I realize that there are a lot of creationist scientists who don’t believe in evolution, though they are in the minority. The majority of scientists seem to believe in the evolution of species and some, but certainly not all, believe that there could be some kind of intelligent design (God, aliens or whatever). In fact, there are so many that believe in evolution of species that it has made its way into middle school textbooks. And I’m not sure I buy the argument that this is an evil plot to supplant Jesus from the schools. I don’t think he’ll be leaving the schools any time soon anyway. But the Bible simply tells us that God made the earth—and in seemingly record time. It gives us two chapters and hardly any information on how he did that. I’m not surprised it’s so complex that we’re still trying to make heads or tails of the particulars even in the 21st century. God’s like that.

Second, I think I should explain the comment “the bible is spiritual and theological” and “doesn’t even try to be scientific.” This was not meant to imply that the beauty of science is not found in the Bible. It certainly is. The Bible is the greatest literary work in all of history (maybe my retired-English-teacher-friend wouldn’t agree…) and within that wonderful, mysterious, and life-changing book we find romance, action (well, ok, violence), suspense, beauty, life, death, hope and despair. So it has science, but it’s not scientific. It also has parables of businessmen and their servants, but the message is intended to be lessons on and explanations of the kingdom of heaven, not business principles. If businesses today believe overwhelmingly that shrewd manager in Jesus parable made a bad business decision, it doesn’t matter to me. The Bible even has references to sports. An athlete could use the principles to apply learn how to behave when playing sports, but to use the Bible as a handbook on how to become a great athlete would be a big mistake. That’s why I say that Genesis is not supposed to be our blueprint for all things science. It simply tells us that God has made everything and is, therefore, sovereign. I may find out in heaven that he used a glue gun in the process and it wouldn’t bother me one way or the other.

Third, I have heard of Galileo’s faith, but the point is that the papal decree had to do with his holding to the silly notion that the earth revolves around the sun. Again, we don’t care today. Back then, the church cared enough to issue a papal decree. After all, Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still not the earth—plain and simple. But now we’ve gotten over that. Will Christians in the future look at us and shake their heads? Will they wonder why we were so worked up over evolution? Again, we do the same with global warming. So the scientists could be wrong on this one. If they are, they’re going to have the Y2K-like egg on their faces, not us. If they’re right, we’re the ones with the ozone all over our faces. I have read/heard different expert’s ideas on this being a big hoax, but they seem to be in the minority. Would it really be that bad to simply listen and even take action? I mean if we’re going to talk about Genesis, God told us in that same story to take care of the earth. We should be the first people concerned, not the last.

I guess the bottom line is, does evolution (not including the belief of no intelligent design) or any scientific discoveries really have to challenge our faith so that we have to read apologetics books to find out how to defend ourselves? Does it have to challenge our faith at all? Heliocentricity doesn’t.

One last thing… When I said that it kills me when people say, “You have to have more faith to believe in evolution than in creation,” I meant that I find this ironic. What kind of ammunition is this? Faith is what we’re all about and it’s used as an indictment on those who practice it in science. Just seems funny.

Maybe “the big bang” was supposed to be a name referring to the war over evolution and creation?? Anyway, I have to go. I’m craving chicken soup suddenly.

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What is our problem with science?

In the 17th centuries, Galileo went to bat for Copernicus asking that the church not condemn his idea of heliocentrism (the Earth revolving around the sun rather than the other way around). This seems silly now that the church ever had an issue with that. But are we making the same mistake today? I mean really… what’s our problem with science?

Last night I read a news item stating that Nunavut has been experiencing unusually mild temperatures and rain as a result of a lack of sea ice. Last summer I can remember reading that a large iceberg broke off of a glacier in Greenland worrying scientists about the warming oceans. The one that really got my attention, though was an article stating that because of the warming of the oceans, Phytoplankton is disappearing at an alarming rate, which is a microscopic marine algae that produces half of the world’s oxygen. So either the scientists are telling us the truth or they are creating a big farce to get everyone into hysterics. I really don’t know much about this stuff. I’m just thinking that the scientists know must at least more than I do.

According to Christianity Today magazine, “Evangelicals have become the surprise (in many minds) proponents of policies promoting care for creation.” Isn’t it strange that this is a surprise to many people? Why did it take us so long to think that this problem is real? Should it be that hard for us to listen to those with scientific training?

And then there’s evolution… I have to admit, even this seems like a silly thing for us to be arguing about. I have watched countless videos of Christians speaking against this theory with little to no scientific education. The Bible is spiritual and theological, but it is not scientific. It doesn’t even try to be. Isn’t the issue that we believe God created us all (as opposed to believing that scientists are untrustworthy, foolish, and having a secret agenda)? Anything more than that is… well… theory. And that’s what scientists have. Theories. Why spend time saying things like, “I didn’t come from no ape!” or “You have to have more faith to believe in evolution than to believe in Creation”? (That second one—it kills me.)

We take it for granted now that the earth revolves around the sun. We also take for granted that we believe this because of scientific discovery. But once upon a time this got Christians all up in arms. So what about us? What is worse? A) to go down in history as a church that listened to scientists and were later found to be mistaken, or B) to go down in history as a church that didn’t listen to scientists and were later found to be mistaken?

I can’t help but wonder.

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