"It seems as if it is almost certain . . ."
It's how Russell Fuller, a PhD from Hebrew Union College, started his first sentence in trying to defend his belief in a literal six 24-hour day creation account from the Book of Genesis.
It was from one of the videos playing at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. I made a quick visit there on my way back from a deputation service in Tennessee back in June 2010.
As they say, there was an attempt . . . or should I say, "It seems as if there was almost an attempt . . ."
Here's another response to a student from the first on-line Christian Beliefs course from June 2010. The question was about whether it is okay to just accept what has been traditional taught and believed. Here is my response:
About your question of whether we should then question all the beliefs we have always known and accepted as true. I'm not sure we need to go back and look at all of our family's or church's beliefs and question them without a good reason to do so. On the other hand, as questions arise, especially as we interact with people from other Christian traditions or other belief systems, we should not just accept them (or our positions) hands down, but learn to listen carefully, ask questions, not get too quickly scared of uncertainty, and not settle for easy answers. God will be faithful and walk with us as we learn more about Him (and what we believe or need to believe about Him.
I'm cleaning out the email this weekend as the new semester approaches.
Here is a response I sent to one of my students in the first on-line Christian Beliefs courses taught at MVNU. This was back in July 2010. I believe it was a question about the Nazarene teaching on two works of grace. As follows:
There are two ways to look at the Christian life:
1) I'll sin everyday but I'm forgiven and will go to heaven anyway (a little on the pessimistic side)
2) I'm a Christian--a child of God--I don't have to sin, but how? (on the optimistic side, but still searching for a better way)
The question of sanctification responds to the second question. As a believer, we don't have to sin, but sometimes we do bad stuff. I have yet to meet a new Christian that didn't struggle with the question "So, why do I keep screwing up even after I become a Christian?"
I think the second work of grace brings about the possibility of the purity of intention as a sort of doorway, a moment where God's grace enters our lives in such a way that we can believe and obey--that we really don't have to sin any more. I can make better choices [because I am aware that they are even a possibility whereas before I had neither real knowledge nor desire to do good]. Instead of relying on myself, I trust wholly in God to give me the power and ability to do what He asks. We have more growing to do, and sometimes, we might screw up again, but we are committed with our whole lives, not just our hearts, to "walking with the Spirit."
Sure, we might stumble, but not intentionally, and we might even really screw up, but we understand the burden of our responsibility to God--the need for forgiving and receiving grace, allowing God to lift us back up.
We also know what it means to live in a way that draws others toward God.
I think the first work of grace allows us to see God for Who He is, and the second work of grace allows us to see ourselves as God sees us.
Occasionally, I get questions about a variety of issues not only from students but from colleagues inside and outside my denomination. Here is an inquiry from a pastor friend that will remain anonymous. I will add that this pastor serves in a geographic area that is still considered largely Christian and fairly strong in terms of Nazarene presence. Even still, there is always a challenge when church folks forget who they are.
Because of your takes on other aspects of our tribe and constant cultural engagement/study, I thought maybe you could help or point me in the right direction.
We contribute as a mission giving church through the World Evangelism Fund (WEF). It’s not a tax or tithe imposed on each church but it is a way of showing tangible connection to other churches. There was a time when our local church needed help getting started, and every local church provide for others to get up and running through WEF funds.
Connectionalism is the term used to describe the kind of church we became and is derived from our Methodist heritage. Nazarenes are not just independent churches vaguely connected by name or theological tradition. Many of the early Nazarene congregations were Congregationalist, and so we retained a sense of local church freedom to participate without making it a requirement. There some early Nazarene churches that came from an Episcopal system in which a bishop could tell pastors and thus churches how much they were to contribute and excise offerings from local churches.
The Church of the Nazarene is a Connectional church, that is one that is directly connected to every other Nazarene church. We are a global family. The Board of General Superintendents emphasized this point at the last General Assembly. We are a Christian, Holiness, MIssional, and connectional church. We are not left to our own devices (solely independent) or imposed upon by an outside hierarchy (solely dependence). We choose to be a church that is interdependent and interconnected, much like a family.
Think of paying to the World Evangelism Fund as a family plan for cell phones. One plan covers all of us, but we all contribute to it once we have matured. Not all brand new churches and new districts are expected to contribute until they have matured spiritually and organized itself well. Soon they will mature and they will contribute toward the propagation of the Church next door and worldwide.
In Benin-Togo, I worked with a budget of $1500 per month that helped me work with a district in which we started with 19 churches and ended up with 250 in four years. Our budget from WEF never increased but God provided in other ways, and the local church learned to support its growth. God gave us what we needed to start through the generosity of a global church family. Within another few years, this district grew to over 1000 churches, divided into five districts. The original district has sent multiple missionaries to other parts of west Africa and its churches pay into WEF just as churches that helped them when it was young. Today these churches now help other churches and districts around the world.
I used to tell village leaders as we sought permission to start a church in their village that the local church would not one that is planted by an outside missionary or a “big man” pastor. It is a church that is connected to a global family. When a Church of the Nazarene is started in a new place, it is connected to every other Nazarene church in the world. Every church would pray for and give to all of the other ones. I remember one time, the chief and the elders applauded and hooted when we said these words: "We are a global family, and your village will now be a part of it." I’ll never forget it.
The resurrected Jesus promised, "Remember, I am with you always, even until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NRSV). We promise by our presence as a local church--the Body of Christ locally expressed-- that we will never be alone and always be remembered by every local church in our global family.
The Rebel Force Radio podcast has produced ten hours of commentary and reaction to the film. It really shows the extremes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction regarding the film.
(Click on each one to go to the episode page.)
In light of some of the extreme distress in the fandom, I want to leave you with one of the best moments from The Last Jedi--Yoda's conversation with Luke on Ahch To.
For all of you that think the canon is being betrayed by J.J., Rian and their ilk, here is a short 30 minute podcast Imaginary Worlds episode on The Canon Revisited. The host Eric Molinsky invites Ben Newman, a rabbi friend, to discuss the expansion of the SW canon. It is sweet to hear them talk about biblical hermeneutics and midrashim in light of the Star Wars Universe (link below).
I've always thought there have been religious elements to Star Wars fandom. In the absence of actual religion, people will try to find meaning somewhere else.
For me, Star Wars is not my religion. I don't need it to define my life. I don't take the films or the Star Wars universe so seriously. I don't need to. I enjoy it, but that's all.
I have seen the film three times: opening night, once the next week, and again last night.
First of all, nothing brings out the kid in me like the opening crawl and blaring anthem at the beginning of a film in the Star Wars saga. I still watch these films as that kid. It's a swashbuckling Saturday matinee epic adventure for a 21st century audience.
I love it . . . but it's not my religion. I had to learn early on to stop taking it so seriously, man.
My first viewing, however, left me ambivalent. I loved some things, and I didn't care for some other things. First things first.
What I loved after the first viewing . . .
A great listen for those that loved the film, go to Rebel Force Radio page and listen to their reactions about one hour after seeing the film on opening night (link below):
Every time I teach Gospel and Culture, I'm amazed at the range and scope of the topics chosen by students for the Critical Contextualization Project. They choose a belief, practice or symbol from a religion or cultural group and followed Paul Hiebert's four-step process of critical contextualization (Understanding Folk Religiions (2000): 21-29). They presented this week briefly in class and wrote a 3,000 word research paper using an adapted form of Hiebert's process:
Phenomenological Analysis (what in the world is it),
Ontological Critique (compare and contrast with other cultures and religions),
Theological Evaluation (what the Bible and theological sources have to say about it if anything),
Missiological Transformation (how to respond with the Gospel if encountered in mission and ministry).
Here are the topics my 33 students covered this year:
Here is a list of books I use as required reading regularly in my courses at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Merry Christmas!
There are 27 books representing eleven courses. There are 32 authors. Only four are women. Five are non-white or persons of color.
I might be doing some curriculum revision so I wanted to see all at once what my required reading list looks like.
Jon and Margaret took us to a wonderful Portuguese restaurant along the coast. Jon was surprised I had never really had coffee before, except for a nasty cup of American Sunday School coffee a time or two. So, he ordered a single shot of espresso and mixed in six cubes of sugar. "Here, try it this way," said Jon. I did. It was like liquid candy with caffeine!
I have never turned down a cup of coffee since then.
I have reduced the amount of sugar, obviously, since those days. I've also increased the shots of espresso, of course. Thankful this weekend to have another cup of coffee. It is truly the small things in life no matter where we find ourselves.