Archives For doubt

This last weekend, Sunday afternoon, I had a medical emergency.images

I was home alone, my wife out on a walk with the dogs at the park.

When suddenly, I could not see.

Now, I wasn’t stricken blind like Paul.  I could see…sort of.  But my eyesight was suddenly obscured with blind spots and auras.  The world looked like a broken mirror.  As I struggled to read WebMD (obviously, the first and most reliable course of action in any medical emergency), I realized just how severe the problem was.  I could not make out more than fragments of words and I was beginning to be overtaken by a headache.

I called my brother, a nurse, who told me that I should immediately call 911.  Now, I’ve never called 911 for myself, so this understandably made me more panicked.

The afternoon was filled with my first ambulance ride, my first CT scan, and the first time I have ever been scared that I was having a stroke.  The episode lasted a couple of hours and then went away, as inexplicably as it had arrived.

The doctor had no answer, other than that I did not have a stroke.  I chalk it up to stress, a “quasi-stroke.”  In talking with others, I learned that I’m not the first person to experience something like this.

While being transported by ambulance and laying in my first ER bed, and contemplating the possibility that I might be having a catastrophic event happening to me, I thought about these few things: about life, about suffering and about what I think of God.

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I used to be an alarmist.2010-02-19-ec-peterjpg-93a862e09c069b80_large

I used to read every article, every Barna report with dread and fear.

Millennials are leaving the Church.

Fewer Americans than ever identify as Christians.

“Oh no!” I thought.  The Church is shrinking, losing influence, becoming irrelevant.  Soon, Christians will be a minority on the sidelines of American culture and we’ll all be sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Last week, I discussed the exodus of millennials from the Church and the oft-repeated idea that is because they are “entitled.”  Today, I want to take on the whole exodus itself.  Because invariably, the statistics come across as some kind of apocalyptic doomsday scenario for the Church.

But one day very recently, I just stopped panicking.  I stopped believing that the world would end if the Church ended.

I started wondering what if it was actually a good thing for a generation to leave the Church. Continue Reading…

Can God use a talking ass to communicate to us?

Sure He can.  Those asses have names, like Martin Luther or John Calvin.  Ha!

I believe I’m on record having called John Calvin a “wang,” and I stand by that.

Of course, those aren’t the asses I wasn’t actually referring to.  In one of the most fantastical, unusual, perhaps unbelievable stories of the Old Testament, Balaam’s donkey opens his donkey mouth and speaks to him.

One of the perennial debates that goes around evangelical circles is the topic of biblical “inerrancy” and “historicity.”  Did the events in the Bible actually occur?  Can the Bible be trusted as a factual document?  My buddy, Zack at The American Jesus wrote a really challenging blog a few weeks ago about the topic.  You’ll have to make up your own mind about his assertions.

But every time this debate surfaces on my blog reader, I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that we’re missing something.  My “missing the point” radar goes haywire. Given two choices – to either believe all of the Bible, or be a heretic, there must be a third choice.

I finally found the third choice.  And it has everything to do with Balaam’s donkey.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Raise your hand if you love C.S. Lewis.  That’s what I thought.

Raise your hand again if you believe stories like The Screwtape Letters or The Chronicles of Narnia provide apt analogies for truth about God and humans.  Yep, me too.

Now, raise your hand if you believe C.S. Lewis’ stories are factually true.  Uh-huh.  Just as I suspected.

See, there is a very real difference between a story that is merely factually true in its reporting of the facts, and a story which illustrates and leads the reader to a greater truth.  Lewis was a master of allegories which, while not true the way we expect a newspaper article to be, provide illustrations of rich truths of the human spirit.

When we discuss the Bible merely in terms of facts, arguing which facts are to be believed, we are really kidding ourselves.  We are pretending to think critically about scripture, when really we are only scratching the surface.  We are missing the intent of scripture.

Let’s say some future civilization digs us all up and finds the tools in your garage.  The future people have no idea what they are.  They can study and hypothesize about the facts of the tools – their material makeup, their shape and form.  But their understanding will be fundamentally shallow until they discover the tools’ intended purpose.  The facts won’t produce understanding until intent is included.

Flatly Factual Fundamentalists

Bart Ehrman has written another book, which inevitably tries to make our entire faith look foolishly unfactual.

Do you know what kind of religious background produces a Bart Ehrman?

Fundamentalist.

The teaching that you either must believe every word of the Bible is factually, literally true, or don’t believe it at all.

That’s a false dichotomy.  It’s a dichotomy that is driving away droves of young people who think they have to choose between their brain and their faith.  It’s a dichotomy that the Bible doesn’t even present for readers.  It’s a dichotomy that glosses over the literary beauty and the intended purpose of the text and forces people to base their faith on only a surface understanding of the Bible.

The point of the Bible is not a bunch of cute little stories, all existing independently, and whether or not they happened. It’s about something so much bigger than a boat or a donkey.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying

Is the point of Genesis 1 that God created the world in six days, or that God is our amazing creator?

Is the point of the Bible that Isaiah supposedly wrote the book of Isaiah or that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews? (He didn’t.) Or is the point that scripture is “God-breathed?”

Is the point of scripture to be a purely factual account – a history textbook?  Or is the Bible a piece of literature whose function is to point to a truth that is bigger than even its pages can hold? (Didn’t John say the gospel accounts, nay the whole world could not hold the whole truth about Jesus?)

And the big question of the day:

Can God use a talking ass to communicate to us?

I think He can.

And if God can do that, then God can use an ancient text, written over centuries, whose authors were fallible humans, as a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts and show us the truth about who He is.  If I start with the belief that scripture is God-breathed, then it no longer matters if Balaam’s donkey actually talked.  The question is what does this story say about God?  How does it fit into the whole story?

God can use stories, fantastical, even legendary to show us Truth.  And learning and embracing this was how I learned to stop worrying about “inerrancy” and love the Bible.  I don’t love the Bible because of its facts (lowercase.)  I love it because of its Truth (capital.)  I believe the Bible is inerrant, meaning the Bible is exactly how God intended it, not merely that Jonah survived in a fish for three days…

…But who knows.  Maybe I’m just another talking ass.

What do you think?  Does the inerrancy debate even matter?

Daily-Foam-Crafts-2012-CEB-adRemember craft time in Sunday School?

Or church camp.  You know how it goes.  The teacher or counselor guides the kids, color this, glue that.  Add some glitter.  And at the end of the hour, a bunch of kids have completed the project.  They all have uniform little bookmarks or light-catchers, or some other trinket that tied neatly into the Bible lesson of the day.

Crafts from church or camp are tangible things that kids show off, which prove to the parents that they are getting their money’s worth.  What kid comes home from camp empty-handed?

One of the ironies of my occupation as an art teacher is how much I cannot stand “craft time” at church, camp, or Vacation Bible School.  I’ve always avoided leading these activities as much as possible (though I’ve still found myself roped in from time to time.)  But it’s not just that I’d rather not lead craft time.  I think all the craft times your kids will enjoy this summer are actually a very appropriate metaphor for the broken Christianity they will be expected to embrace when they are adults.

It’s time for American churches to let go of “craft time” Christianity.

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People say a lot of things about God.

Sometimes, people say good things about God.  But an awful lot of what is said about Him is misinformation, slanderous, flaming, blaming, offensive, ranting, blasphemous, infantile or just whiny.  Really, God’s reputation is attacked every day as He gets way more blame than He deserves, and probably far too little credit.

And when slanderous things are said about God, there will never be any shortage of people to defend God, to argue, to picket, to protest in righteous indignation, to tell us what God thinks and how God feels.

If any of us got to be personally attacked liked that day after day, we’d feel pretty lousy. But I think God’s silence in the face of perpetual attack and blame is one of His most instructive attributes.

These are four things God’s silence has to teach us when it comes to defending ourselves, our reputation and our faith.

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If you’ve been a follower of this blog for some time, you know that there is one thing my wife and I want to add to our resumes.

Team Matt and Cheri want to be parents.

At least, we want to be parents as much as anyone can want a little person to turn their lives upside-down.  We want it enough that we’ve 216723been pursuing parenthood for over eighteen months.  But it hasn’t been as easy as following the recipe we learned in junior high.

Through our ordeal, we’ve shared war stories with lots of other wannabe parents.  I’ve read countless blogs, and even a couple of books, and have heard plenty of well-meaning wishes from friends.

But one thing has troubled me.  I’ve found it in blogs everywhere, even in some books.  It’s been a subtle, even inadvertant theme of some well-wishing acquaintances.

The idea is that if I just have faith that God can do something, then He will make it happen.  If I simply believe that God can make us parents, then it will be so.  Some people believe God will make them rich.  Others believe God will make them parents, with just the right amount of faith.

That leaves me wondering.  If God can overcome the forces of hell, can’t He overcome my lack of faith?

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