Disappearing Church

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The church is evaporating: Christianity is not overcome by siege, rather the end comes from within. The church is not destroyed; it is emptied of its essential truths, becomes a mere shadow and eventually disappears. Kind of like the fall of the Roman empire.

 This kind of thing has happened before: In the early 20th century, in the face of pervasive modernism, the church was faced with the choice, do they maintain their core beliefs which embraced the miracle stories or do they nuance them? Modernism and miracles simply could not coexist peaceably. So if the church wanted to remain culturally relevant, if it wanted to remain a respected institution in society. Then what was previously thought to be historical fact, would now need to become myth literature. The archaic beliefs of resurrection, walking on water, and the virgin birth became a smile and wink kind of affair. “We all know the stories are not true, but the enduring principles remain.” This effort at cultural respectability resulted in the emptying of liberal churches, it didn’t take people long to realize that if the stories were false, there was no point in keeping up with all the traditions and commitments. The principles (which amount to “be nice”) you could take with you to the beach on the weekends. Secularism owes a great debt to liberal theology.

The church is the bad guy: Orthodox churches remained strong as Liberal churches haemorrhaged. But now according to Sayers, even orthodox churches are disappearing at alarming rates. Why? Churches today are imbibing a system of belief built upon post Christianity’s four fundamental truths:  individualism, hedonism, consumerism and relativism. The basic pre-suppositions of the post Christian world are as follows:

  1. The highest good is individual freedom, personal happiness, & self definition.
  2. Any system of belief that restricts point one, needs to be reshaped or destroyed.
  3. Affirm all forms of self expression, intolerance is justified for any who don’t.
  4. Deconstruct existing institutions, traditions, morals and beliefs, accepting only those that fit you.

Those who once guarded the moral commands are the new enemy to be demonized and defined against; in their place the maverick, the rebel, and the releaser are the new elite.

Groups who continue to operate from a moral code during a revolution of release are tarred with the brush of being controllers. In these eras, including our contemporary revolution of release, anyone who holds to external religious truths, who submits to moral commands and traditions, will be automatically tarred as controllers, repressive and oppressive.

No church likes to “be the bad guy” but that’s what’s happened. Christianity is the “cultural straightjacket”, the impediment to freedom, pleasure and progress. Churches are desperately trying avoid falling under the disapproving glare of the broader culture. But is it possible to remain “cool” to thrive as a church working within the new system which is defined by individualism, hedonism, consumerism and relativism? — In short, Sayers says no, but the problem is, countless churches are willing to try, not just because of external pressure but, because they have employed  individualism, hedonism, consumerism and relativism into their practices and belief.

The church growth movement as well as the health and wealth gospel are built upon these very frameworks. “Its all about you church” is the mainstream regardless of theology. Church is almost exclusively a consumeristic enterprise now. Sales pitches to get crowds, slick marketing campaigns, and the embrace of “on to the next shiny thing” mentality within our churches betray what we are really believing. In addition legions of churches are quietly tweaking their views on sexuality to be more embracing of today’s mood. They are moving from a particularist view of Jesus to a universalist one with soft quiet steps. Whatever the public doesn’t want to talk about, the church is silent on. The authority of Scripture is a very nuanced conversation now. The church has become just another fragrance of selfishness in a culture of selfishness. The church as yet has not embraced full throated hedonism, but certainly half hearted-hedonism, we gently and regularly caress the sins of the mind, taking comfort in their promise to protect us from the palpable sting of consequence.

These efforts to keep the church relevant, says Sayers, will ultimately result in the church being swallowed up and digested into the broader culture.

The world in which we live: I’ve inserted an extended quote into this review as I think it gives us a very good glimpse of the western world of which we are at part.

Rorty felt that many philosophers, in particular the Europeans, got too worked up over the fact that there was no meaning in the world. Instead of mourning the loss of meaning and heroically staring down nothingness, Rorty advocated, in the words of Peter Augustine Lawler, an “easygoing, sentimental, ‘nice’ culture.” Instead of religion, instead of philosophy, instead of trying to work it all out, Rorty advocates pragmatism, that we should simply accept our mortality and go about the business of creating a pleasant life for ourselves.

This was what Allan Bloom called “Nihilism without the abyss.” The late Richard John Neuhaus wrote that Rorty’s secularist thought essentially stated, “Make it up as you go along; take ironic delight in the truth that there is no truth; there is no home that answers to our homelessness; definitely (but light-heartedly!) throw the final vocabulary that is your life in the face of nothingness. And if your neighbour or some inner curiosity persists in asking about the meaning of it all, simply change the subject.”

This is a culture in which we believe that ultimately, life is meaningless, but we are insulated from the full horror of such a belief by the distracting and anesthetizing qualities of our public culture. Our existential angst is drowned out by cooking shows, discount airfares, smartphones, and celebrity gossip. But what of those who still cling to desires for something more, a yearning for a transcendent belief, centred on more than just a tolerant society?

Rorty does not advocate that those who believe should be expunged from society altogether, rather such people need to keep their spiritual and metaphysical longings to themselves, or be joshed out of their beliefs. See them as nuts, roll your eyes at them, and if they continue in their belief, walk away. Let government, education, and corporations, led by educated, nice, sophisticated individuals, reeducate them or at least their children into the “easygoing atheism” of the beautiful world. The hope of our culture is that dissenting believers will eventually be reeducated as all minorities and distinctions dissolve into a sea of Western, materialist sophisticates. The beautiful, public sphere of our culture is the architecture of our disbelief. It soothes us, gives us vain hope, and distracts us, all while our private world becomes more fragile.

What’s the church to do? Sayers suggestions were loosely scattered over the book, and I am not sure how helpful they are. “Become a creative minority”, he says, become a “extremophile” or “retreat and return”(?). He calls us to “revisit the ancient paths”, he warns that “crowds are overrated”,  and encourages us to “view church involvement as a spiritual discipline not a commodity”. He laments that “too much choice hasn’t been helpful for Christianity”. All valid point’s but these conclusions lacked depth and direction. However, one of the greatest nuggets in this book is Sayers observation that freedom comes at the expense of community. The more free a person becomes the more disconnected he also becomes. This trade off has led to the collapse of marriage, the fracturing of the family, the fraying of the social bond, the partisanship of politics at a time when national interest demands something larger, the loss of trust in public institutions, the buildup of debt whose burden will fall on future generations, and the epidemic spread of loneliness. In short the western world is beautiful but it is also a mess!

This presents an opportunity for the Christian. People who are shorn of collective responsibility, traditional moral guidance, and binding relationships, are finding freedom a scary minefield of risk. The more freely and intensely people live the more they lament at how difficult life is. Our culture is a beautiful apocalypse. Everything falls apart while looking beautiful. We as a culture know these things, yet we seem collectively powerless to move beyond them. I think, that it is in these moments of longing and vulnerability that a Christian can speak. Freedom is not so free after all, it’s very expensive, and the return on investment is not so great, maybe there is a better way, a completely counter cultural way that involves total disobedience to the overriding principle of our day. The highest good is actually not individual freedom, personal happiness, & self definition it is something else entirely.

Thin Places a memoir

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How do you manage to have a thriving life after experiencing your dads death, neglect from your mother & grandparents,  multiple raping episodes from the teenage boys next-door at age 5, uncaring grade school teachers, multiple stepdads, addictions, and the pain, confusion, shame, guilt, and self-worth issues that naturally accompany all such trauma? Mary E. DeMuth answers this question in one word: Jesus. Given her struggles, I figure she has more than earned the right to tell us what has made all the difference for her.

She calls all of her difficulties, “thin spaces”.  Spaces where the natural division between humanity and the divine draws close, close enough sometimes that you can feel God. It’s through the trauma that Mary was able to understand and take deep into her heart the liberating power of forgiveness that comes through Jesus. Through Jesus she was able to see herself  as a “dearly loved child of God” Her previous identities as rape victim, unwanted child, guilty person, shameful person, unworthy person and grim survivor all melted away into the warm embrace of God’s love for her. Of course the transformation of identity didn’t happen over night, it’s an on going process to be sure, but over time, Mary’s identity as a beloved child of God is permeating with light all the dark places of her life.

For example, in the early days real relationships with men where not possible, from age 5 Mary knew all to well what men were about. The feelings of self preservation, rage, distrust and shame were too strong to let anyone in, much less a man. Not so any more, one by one, the love of Christ, squeezed out these relational deterrents so she can love freely her husband, her children, and all people with whom she relates.

Her message in a nut shell? There is freedom, love, and hope in Christ. It’s one thing to overcome trauma by attempting to love yourself more as self help guru’s preach, it’s entirely another thing to know that you are loved supremely in spite of yourself and your circumstances. Mary would lead us to believe that the second option is the better option for long term help from trauma. I’m certainly not going to argue with her, her life is a living testimony to the healing power of divine love.

re-story from Mary DeMuth on Vimeo.

The Great Divorce

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Several people from hell climb aboard a bus destined for the valley of the shadow of life. It is the land on the fringes of heaven. All who want to stay and go further up into heaven can. The solid people of heaven (mostly relatives and former friends of the travellers) come down from the mountains to invite them in. The shock of the book, is that in the end, very few choose to stay. These travellers view the fringes of heaven, as a damnable place. Their ever shrinking, translucent, slowly disappearing bodies don’t like the light and the grass is much to hard to walk on, heaven can only be worse they think.

Make no mistake, the inhabitants of hell are absolutely miserable and getting more so every day. There is no peace in hell, only fights and separation, darkness and loneliness, but they cling on to their misery. You see, all the inhabitants of hell are self absorbed. They are the centre of their own ever shrinking, ever disappearing, ever solitary universe — but in the end, they want themselves more than joy itself. When confronted, they lash out, blaming others for the fix they are in. Some are interested in God, but only as a means to an end, God is a useful tool to better ones on reputation, or to gain someone or something. For others heaven is seen as a place to become a shining star, in every case, when the people of hell realize that they can’t get what they want out of God and heaven, they become disgusted with it. Disgust for the heavenly spirits grows even more when the ghosts of hell realize the earthly failings of some of the heavenly people they get re-aquainted with. Self righteous hatred tries to spew itself on the people of heaven, but darkness cannot over take the light of heaven, not even on it’s fringes, so instead there is only laughter, light, joy, and the call for the ghosts to repent and start up the mountain where they will experience painful but purifying cleansing. They won’t have it, back to the bus they go.

Many religious people find themselves in the town called hell in this book. Lewis offers a poignant warning:

“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself…There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ… it is the subtlest of all the snares'”

When self-exaltation is the driving force of ones life, when “me” is at the centre, it doesn’t matter whether the life pursuit is noble or not, heaven and eternal joy itself will actually become inhospitable and undesirable.

Lewis’ ability to capture the true darkness of a human heart, is quite unsettling. The hell in all of us is revealed with convicting accuracy. The foolish choices we make in order to hang on to ourselves, at the expense of true joy hit really close to home for the honest reader.

The Abolition of Man

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Men without Chests:

Lewis has a bone to pick with some modern educators. With British politeness and civility he sets out to destroy their arguments. What’s the trouble? These English teachers are spreading a philosophy that removes moral law. Someone isn’t truly “bad” for example, badness is the feeling that I have happened to attach to them because that is how their actions have made me feel. In the end these teachers create a world that is just facts without actual value and feelings without actual truth. Things are as they are, and feelings are what they are and that’s it, there can be no actual rightness or wrongness attached. He calls the “intellectuals” who attempt to dismiss moral law as “men without chests”. The reason of the mind remains, and the instinct of the gut remains, but the chest, the heart, the rightness and wrongness that makes a man and gives him courage is gone. Lewis calls this state a tragic-comedy as modern man continues to clamour for the very qualities they have rendered impossible.

The Tao:

Lewis argues that a moral law exists, just like natural law, it has existed forever in every culture, he refers to it as the “Tao” of course within the Tao there is lots of debate over which and how these moral absolutes fit in individual cultures and whether or not there is a deity connected, but outside the Tao there is no ground for criticism of it. You can’t “righteously” lob grenades at the idea of Tao, from a position outside of it. To make moral judgements against the system that allows you to make moral judgements while at the same time standing outside of it is utterly self contradictory. Lewis rejects the “innovators” who attempt to debunk the concept of absolute morality. It simply cannot be done, for example, care of offspring, is both instinctual and rational, therefore there is no need, say the innovators, to say that this kind of care is the “right” thing to do. Lewis is extremely dubious of our instincts being our moral guide and equally so our reason. When it comes to inventing new sources for value Lewis says: The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky to move in. For Lewis, This Tao we must treat as an absolute phenomenon like any other, and leave off this nonsense that it doesn’t exist.

The Abolition of Man: 

Lewis says “When “it is good” has been debunked, only what says ‘I want’ remains…I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”

Man seeks to dominate nature by figuring everything out. We can see through things to the real thing which is raw nature, purely natural explanations for everything. The trouble is when man chooses to treat himself purely as raw material, raw material he will be. Lewis’ concern is that in our efforts to conquer nature, we ourselves become conquered by nature. We just become stuff, and the strong and smarter stuff wins, and what harm is there in that? Outside the Tao, nothing.

Lewis, who was eminently qualified leads us on a fascinating bit of history. It was not as some have said that the magic of the middle ages was replaced by the applied science of later centuries. Lewis argues that magic and applied science are twins. The middle ages knew relatively little magic, they were concerned more about gaining knowledge (mind), practicing virtue (strengthening the heart) & discipline. (controlling the instinct) In the 16th and 17th centuries men began to seek for ways to subdue reality in order to do as they wished. Magic failed, and died off, because it doesn’t work at subduing nature, but science lived on and thrived, of course, the good scientists were searching for truth before power, but the motive for science was contaminated from the start. When the Tao is reduced to a natural product, the cost to humanity becomes very heavy. If truth/morality is not actually a thing,  a reality, it will always just be manipulated by games players who want control.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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I’m about 20 years behind the times, but I finally got round to reading Harry Potter. Sadly I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. I know, I know, the stats are mind blowing, Harry is immensely popular, so maybe my expectations were unnaturally high.

I saw the book as a very average story with nothing to inspire me to greatness or challenge me in anyway. It did stoke my imagination some what but I was not captured by the story. I found myself having to endure parts of it.

This book is the adventures of rude, selfish, sarcastic, disrespectful, disobedient kids. Harry does have courage however, i’ll give him that. Nietzsche shows up in Voldemort when he says there is no right, no wrong, only power. This belief was the justification for his evil actions and it felt like everyone in the story was stepping to that tune more or less, that is, until the end. In the end Voldemort was not able to defeat Harry because true love is much stronger then any Nietzschein’ will to power idea. Thank God! So of course I loved that part of the story because it reminded me of the greatest love story of all time.

If there was a story about Harry’s mom and dad I might be interested in reading that. Throughout the book we got little snippets of their life. We learned that Harry’s dad willingly risked his life for his enemy Snape, this selfless, counter intuitive, counter cultural act bound Snape, I think, to stay on the path of love (that’s being very generous) instead of descending into the Nietzschien’ pit. We learned in fragmented fashion that Harry’s father and mother regularly battled evil, ultimately giving up their lives so that the weak (their infant child) might survive. Redemptive themes are the language of my heart, so I definitely appreciated that. Upon conclusion of Harry Potter I read the great classic Treasure Island, now that is a story that I couldn’t put down. Harry is a mere sapling next to the towering Red Wood that is Treasure Island.

Bury My Heart at Wound Knee

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“the nations’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no centre any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” — Black Elk

Between 1860-1890 the Indians of the United States of America were crushed.

What happened? by 1860 there were a few hundred thousand Indians roaming freely, at that same time over 30,000,000 whites had flooded into the United States, in just 30 years that number skyrocketed to 90,000,000. White people were coming to this new world in mind blowing droves, for a chance at freedom and an opportunity to make a better way for themselves. The white mans way was to settle down and harvest resources in order to become rich. Animals, minerals, land, and lumber, there was so much and it was just there for the taking the white people believed. But then there were those pesky Indians, they spoke a different language, they were “uncivilized” they were nomadic hunter/gatherer people, they just didn’t fit in.

So what do you do? The whites were largely of Christian heritage so exterminating them was not an option. But neither was “move back to Europe” an option. So the only logical solution was to make a deal with the Indians. In the end it wasn’t much of a deal. It was more a terms of surrender. — We are coming, we are taking over your land and eliminating your way of life. However, we will give you food to survive, and land to live on.  If you don’t agree to these arrangements we will hunt you down and kill you.

Whites are Superior — Many whites just simply made the assumption that indians were “less human”. After all whites were far more advanced in so many ways. The court report of one particular case in which two indians were hanged reveals this terrible imbalance of value. “We would never condemn a white man on such scant and insufficient evidence, however we trust we got the right ones and that justice was served.”  Colonel Chivington in a public speech in Denver affirmed the right to kill Indians even infants, by his notorious comment “Nits make lice!”

Manifest Destiny — Many whites, felt a bit uneasy about their treatment of Indians, and so they needed a grand justification for their actions of conquest. They found it in “Manifest Destiny” – The superior light of technology, learning, and the American way of government, politics, cities, farms and production was the enlightened path, it was therefore both necessary and justifiable to advance this righteous path westward at whatever cost.

Indians are people too — In 1874 a sympathetic general, teamed up with a straight shooting judge to help Indian Chief Standing Bear. Hi people were one of the few Indians tribes that were farmers, even though they were peaceful, open to Christianity, and had relatively little land they were shoved off of it and warehoused in a reservation hundreds of miles away. The judge concluded that “Indians were people too, and if they wanted to live peaceable somewhere like Americans they should have the right to” Standing Bear and his people, remarkably, were able to move back to their land.

Corruption — The reservation system proved to be incredibly lucrative for the ring of politicians & businessmen responsible for it. They were able to help themselves regularly to all that was designated for the indians, and since there was no accountability and the indians had no voice, they became rich while the indians suffered terribly on the reservations. This ring viewed the above court case as a direct threat to the reservation system, (and their personal wealth) so they worked tirelessly to discredit the ruling and make sure that the legal system remained squarely on the side of the whites.

Indians happy to kill each other — Tribal divisions had existed for centuries, many of the tribes were mortal enemies of one another. For many they preferred to work with willing White people to eradicate their tribal enemies. The Whites were only happy to oblige.

Breaking Promises — Lots of the promises to the Indians were made in good faith, and many of those promises in the early years gave the indians vast tracts of good hunting land. Its just that no one could have predicted the vast horde of white people that moved to America in the 19th century, and then there was the discovery of gold, and then the need to connect the east with the west, and then the need to farm to support the ever burgeoning white population. In the public eye it was no longer reasonable for 3,000 Souix to inhabit 25 million acres. When millions upon millions of whites were heading west intent to settle on the best possible land. So promises were broken. For most whites these broken promises were shrugged off — the situation had changed. Many Indians went to war over these broken promises, but they had no chance of winning against better equipped whites. — they mostly waged gorilla type war fare, and had small successes here and there, but bow’s and arrows can’t match the power of repeating rifles.

Media — America wanted a story, the media gave them one. A sensational story of savage scalp happy Indians disemboweling hard working honest settlers. Who cares about truth when you can sell a story, and this one sold. The great tragedy was these stories of mixed truth whipped up a fury of hatred and violence against all Indians. “The only good Indian is a dead indian” was the quote that rang through the news media, straight from lips of a general from the West, and so it was believed.

If all men white and red could have been treated with dignity and honour, if all manner of corruption could have been removed from the situation and if promises could have been honoured and true team work embraced when things got complicated do to the vast influx of whites, this story would have had a lot less tears attached to it.

Let faith be born in the watchers

Italian Baroque Painting of the Killing of Abel and the Banishment of Cain --- Image by © Geoffrey Clements/CORBIS  ORG XMIT: 12873731

Italian Baroque Painting of the Killing of Abel and the Banishment of Cain — Image by © Geoffrey Clements/CORBIS ORG XMIT: 12873731

Hebrews 11:1-4 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

Faith is the thing that keeps me sure that what I can’t see is actually true. The heart of faith comes in the knowing that God started everything, that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him.

Faith was the M.O. of all our great hero’s starting with Able. By faith Abel’s sacrifice was offered and accepted. Abel’s faith in God makes all the difference. As Abel offers his sacrifice he is thinking, “I know God see’s this and hears this, I love God and I’m offering up the best I have to him.” God smiles.

Rewind all the way to Genesis 4. God speaks neither to Cain nor Abel at first. But for some reason, unknown to us, they both offer sacrifices.

Cain was the 1st to offer sacrifice. But he had no faith, if he had no faith why did he do it? Maybe it occurred to him that he might be able to manipulate God, impress others, improve his status? Attempting to use God as a means to an end has been an all to common fault of religion. In Jude 11 we find Cain listed with people known for their attempts to manipulate God and gain power. (Balaam, & Korah)

What is amazing to me is we have no record that God ever spoke to Abel, he simply trusted in his unseen God, he knew in his heart that he was accepted. On the other hand God had a full on conversation with Cain after his failed sacrifice. Even a “face to face” with God Almighty didn’t re-orient Cain on to the path of saving faith. Cain was for Cain and that was that. He believed in himself first of all. God could be a nice accoutrement, a convenient “side order” if you like, but Cain was his own main dish.

Faith says God is the creator not me. The possessor of faith willingly bows his knee to the unseen God. Cain wasn’t interested in that even if he heard the creators voice directly. And so it goes with many today, no amount of evidence will convince them that God exists. So what then? I think we should just keep doing what Able did. Give ourselves up to God in worship, by living righteously in the everyday (I John 3:12) and by worshipping God together. Let faith be born in the watchers.

What Hitler and 15 others would say to me

  1. Adolf_20Hitler-16_001The Prince — What Machiavelli would say to me:  Dear Dennis, your virtue is not what matters, it’s that people perceive you as virtuous that matters, become a master of duplicity. Much good can be accomplished through what is traditionally known as evil, so dispense with those two unhelpful categories. The path to success and power, will of necessity involve lying, murder and extortion. Don’t sweat that, a true leader has a clear end in mind and the means to that end, will always be whatever it takes. One last thing, make sure you are perceived as religious, people will tend to trust you more, which will help you accomplish your goals.
  2. Discourse in Method — What Descartes would say to me:  Dear Dennis,  doubt everything, throw everything out! History, philosophy, religion, if you can conceive even for a minute how something does not add up, then junk it! How do you know anything? Well Dennis, you think therefore you are. — Whatever you think is the truth, must be the truth! What is real, truly real, is subject to your mind’s ability to grasp it. Conversely, if you can’t conceive it it must be false. You get to determine truth you see? Isn’t it grand!
  3. Leviathan — What Hobbes would say to me: Dear Dennis, everyman has a right to everything. Good is whatever gives me pleasure and evil is whatever or whoever stands in the way of me getting that pleasure. The natural man must demand his “rights” which are nothing more than his desires. Conscience is unnatural and should be discarded. There is no such thing as sin, justice or injustice, right or wrong, only my pleasure which is good and my pain which is bad. War is man’s natural state, because we consume each other to get what we want. That’s the good life, the natural life. The problem is when we live that way we end up destroying each other, so in order to stay alive we must, reluctantly, and with distrust and animosity, enter into society, which means we as humans agree to willingly restrain a minimal amount of our natural desires. The governments job is to maximize peoples freedoms to act on their desires, while at the same time doing what they can to minimize other peoples pain which will inevitably result from the fulfilment of those desires.
  4. Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequality among men — What Rousseau would say to me: Dear Dennis, make love often, work as little as possible, and reject authority. Civilization is man’s down fall, in our natural state, the man animal was happy, free and peaceful. We didn’t own anything, rather we roamed freely, awaiting natures compulsion for sex. When the desire arouse we acted on that desire without guilt or responsibility, and then moved on with life. Children were on their own early and even mothers love did not really exist. Society created unnatural, and artificial restraints on man such as duty, love and morality. These constraints started when some moron settled down and claimed land and women for his own. Dennis the ownership of land and the creation of family is the ruin of us all! By the way, women make a bigger deal of this artificial contrivance known as love, because they mean to control us, when they should be obeying us! Don’t fall for it.
  5.   The Communist Manifesto — What Marx would say to me: Dear Dennis, you have to realize that there is one problem and one problem only that ails the world. That problem is class struggle. We need to create a world where there are no classes. There is currently a corrupted class of rich people who dominate the poor, they need to be eradicated. Any revolution that uses violence to over throw these capitalists is justified, once we are rid of them, our utopian vision of society can be realized.  It will be one for all and all for one, the brutalities of capitalism will give way to the peace and serenity that comes with sharing our lives together, without capitalism, without religion, without sexual norms and without nuclear families.
  6. Utilitarianism — What Mill would say to me: Dear Dennis, I am not unlike Rousseau or even Hobbes in my thinking, I put it this way “The ultimate end…is an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments. Our system of morality must be understood in terms of pleasure and pain nothing else. There is no God, nor is there a moral command written into nature. You need to understand Dennis, that there are no intrinsically wrong actions. You might want to know who gets to make judgement in society then? To that I say, those with the most experience, those who have tried the most things, because they will know experientially what works for happiness and what does not.
  7. The Descent of Man — What Darwin would say to me: Dear Dennis, this book is not quite as popular as my other one. I think it is because it’s a harsher truth, in my first book I brought to light the “survival of the fittest” explanation for life. In my next book I apply those findings to the human, and for some, those natural conclusions are rather distasteful. It makes no sense to care for the unfit, we don’t do that for animals why should we do it for the human animals? The other problem is, lousy people like the Irish seem to breed more than that good people like the Scottish, that’s a problem for the human race. Also there is no reason to think that the modern races shouldn’t exterminate the backward races, why not? that’s what happens in nature, there is no wrong here if Europeans exterminate African tribes for example. Skull sizes of Europeans are bigger than Australians, Africans and even most Americans, so that tells you whose on top doesn’t it? There is the trait of sympathy that exists among humans, it must have been helpful in past development, however, if the number of unfit continues to rise, within a people group, it will weigh that group down, then when they come into conflict with another people group unburdened by sympathy the weighed down peoples will not survive. Dennis sympathy is only good so long as it’s useful to survival of the species.
  8. Beyond Good and Evil — What Nietzsche would say to me: Dennis, you must have no room for gutless cowards like Hobbes and Mill. What the “nice” atheist’s and the liberal christians of your era say is complete garbage. Everyone wants to be nice, well, niceness is what is left of goodness when it is drained of greatness!  Humanity has only always ever developed and grown through suffering and pain. Bring it on! That’s what makes us greater, that’s what makes us super men! There is no up or down, there is no good or evil; just sheer human will swimming in an indifferent, if not hostile, cosmos. What matters Dennis is the will to greatness, that is all. There are 2 kinds of morality, master morality which is simply that struggle leading to dominance and greatness, and then there is slave morality which values such anemic qualities as gentleness, humility, and love. — This calamity known as Christianity is nothing but slave morality and you should cast it aside. 
  9. The State and Revolution — What Lenin would say to me:  Marx was right. All capitalists must die. All perceived capitalists must die, in fact anyone that disagrees with you on even the smallest points must die! Terror is the best way to run a country, people do what you want if they are scared out of their minds. Class struggle must end. we must liberate the oppressed class. Dennis you might be asking, well if we liberate the oppressed class than won’t the state just take the capitalist’s place as the oppressor of the poor class? Of course not you fool, ask that question one more time and I’ll kill you! Once all the bad capitalists are dead, the state will not really be needed anymore, violence will end, and the state will wither away, everyone will be free to work equally for the good of the state. Utopia, always is just around corner, just beyond the next mound of dead bodies.
  10. The Pivot of Civilization — What Sanger would say to me: I love, love, love Darwin. Here is the big problem in our world. We are on the verge of evolutionary regress, because we are allowing the feeble minded to breed indiscriminately. Stupid persons are draining off our resources, we spend incalculable amounts of money on asylums, jails, charities, why do we do this? we are aiding in our own demise.  We need to develop an IQ system that allows us to determine who is feeble minded so that we can commence with a policy of immediate sterilization. We won’t kill them off of course, but we will breed them out.
  11. Mein Kampf — What Hitler would say to me: Dear Dennis, I owe everything to Darwin, Nietzsche, Sanger, and Machiavelli, they were truly great people. Darwin was right, certain classes of people are inferior and it’s actually good that they be exterminated — our vision of national socialism is nothing less than applied Darwinian biology. I agree with Sanger, that the feeble minded persons should be sterilized, but even more so, undesirables should be eliminated along with the inferior races. Its easier to slit a throat than it is to castrate. The Arian race is the super man race that Nietzsche spoke of and I will expect my people to do “superhuman acts of inhumanity” in order to become great. We as a nation are so far beyond good and evil we can’t even see them anymore.
  12. The Future of an Illusion — What Freud would say to me: I am a godless Jew, I presume atheism, and the anti-semitism I have experienced has pushed me to write this revenge work against religion.  What than is religion? Nothing more than a foolish illusion by infantile minds. It would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence, if our world had a moral order and an after life, but all of this is just wishful thinking. How did this illusion come to be? Some sons wanted to have sex with their mother, they killed and ate their father thinking that by eating him they would gain his strength & privileges, they felt guilty, so eventually they developed sacred meals, to commemorate, condemn, and cover up the original event. Thus religion and morality was born, with prohibitions against incest, murder, and cannibalism. Any questions? Where did I get this from? Well Dennis its all there in our deep dark past, all we have to do is look.
  13. Coming of Age in Samoa — What Mead would say to me: Dear Dennis, The western world is full of stress and struggle, full of adolescent turmoil. I think it is because of Christian sexual morality in particular. My thought was that the natural person in his primitive state would be more free of conflict then us in the west. So I packed my bags and shipped off to Polynesian Samoa to hang out with the savages for awhile. What I discovered was that they experienced no problems surrounding romantic love because such problem causing ethics like monogamy, fidelity, and jealousy didn’t exist in their society, only free and easy sex. Also parent child problems didn’t exist because whenever children in that culture didn’t get along with their parents they just moved on to some other relative. Strong familial love is a problem. Less love not more creates less stress and more happiness. So their you have it, with just a few months of observation I quickly figured out the heart of Western problems, and justified a life of personal infidelity (of course I don’t talk about that in my book)
  14. Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male — What Kinsey would say to me: Dear Dennis your natural state is one of amoral sexual extravaganza. There is no moral law connected to sex. There is nothing abnormal verses normal when it comes to sex, there is only sexual pleasure that exists. There are an infinite variety of sexual forms and practices, It is all natural and normal and should not be stigmatized in any way. I’ve proven it with a torrent of graphs and charts, data and scientific language. You can do whatever you want sexually and it is completely ok. Since I wear a lab coat you need to listen to me. The sexual revolution was upon us when I wrote this book, so people were eager to accept my findings whether they were baseless or not. I was eager to accept my own findings as well as my own bizarre sex life will attest.
  15. The Feminine Mystique — What Friedan would say to me: — Women are incomplete when they stay at home, love their husbands and care for their families. This incompleteness is actually misery whether they admit it or not. Homelife and child raising is not meaningful work, it only leads to the unhealthy conclusion of a purposeless, boring, insignificant life. Women will only truly find meaning and fulfillment if they cast off these home responsibilities and join the work force like men do. The idea of a bliss-full house wife is a complete myth. Let the government take care of children, the nuclear family concept with mom’s raising children and wives lovingly supporting their husbands is quite possibly the worst idea of all.
  16. What Jesus would say to me. Trust me, pray, forgive, repent, keep your commitments, follow my commandments,  practice fidelity, bless your neighbourhood, help the weak and brokenhearted, because of me and my sacrifice for you embrace an ethos of gratitude, humility, service and worship. Cling to a hope which transcends even the grave.

What’s the better story? To me it’s not even close.

Special thanks to Ben Wiker and his book 10 Books that screwed up the world and 5 others that didn’t help.

Understanding Four Views on Baptism

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Baptism has been around for as long as the church has been around, Sadly, it has a contentious history as various expressions of the church have attempted to silence contrary views. For example in 1527 Felix Manz who believed that only professing adult believers should be baptized was condemned to death by Zwingli and his group of reformers who believed that baptism was for infants as an induction into the church. Zwingli and the council cruelly decided that since Felix was so focused on adult baptism he should have it as his method of execution and so his life was ended at the bottom of the Limmat river.

Thankfully, tensions have subsided, and all parties in this debate are much more amicable, we’ve come a long way forward since the actions of 1527, but there are still differences as this book points out. It should be noted that there is no discussion on the Roman Catholic understanding of baptism as a way of salvation. All four views represented here, do not support the Catholic view.

Baptist View — “Baptism” derives from the Greek word baptisma and denotes the action of washing or plunging in water (Acts 2:41). From the earliest days of Christianity baptism was the symbolic rite of initiation into the body. By this watery sign, made in the triune name of God, people are openly admitted into the life and community of the church. All agree that baptism is the symbolic door into the church but is it more than that? Baptists say no. Also Should this rite of initiation be offered to children? Baptist again say no. When looking at Biblical evidence, the Baptist case seems strong, every reference to baptism in the New Testament is connected to adult confessing believers. Even the two household baptism’s mentioned in the book of Act’s provide rather unconvincing support that anyone other then confessing believers were baptized.

Reformed View —This camp looks at the passages of Scripture on baptism and sees words like “rebirth, renewal, forgiveness, salvation, and union with Christ” intimately connected to the rite. There has to be more than symbol, say the reformers, however, when pressed for details and explanations, reformed theologians stop short, they admit they don’t know, “the precise relationship is mysterious or unexplained” they say.

To sum up, Reformed theologians prefer the term “sacrament” (i.e. mystery) to the term symbol because there is more going on, but as to what, it cannot be said, only that there is no salvation happening, like the Catholics would say.

Regarding infant baptism: “We baptize children to initiate them into covenant with God and to incorporate them into the visible church. As circumcision brought infant boys into the visible nation of Israel, baptism brings children into the visible church.” For me the connection that replaces circumcision with baptism is tenuous at best. It’s a massive assumption to suggest that since, initiation into the covenant was necessary in the old through circumcision, it must be necessary in the new through baptism. Adding to this assumption is the uneasy conclusion that since the visible church is made up of regenerate and unregenerate people, it doesn’t really matter that unregenerate children are baptized.

Lutheran — Luther believed that God enters into conversation with his fallen human creatures through his Word in oral, written, and sacramental forms. Regarding the sacrament of baptism he says “Water can’t save you, but the Word which is in and through the water does.” Baptism is the necessary sign of an eternal covenant, which helps us see that even when we break our promises, God will not break his. Infant’s participate in this because salvation is God’s work not human work, in addition Jesus himself said “let the little children come unto me.” It seems almost impossible not to conclude that at least in some sense salvation is happening with the infant. Luther’s sovereignty of God perspective allows him to do this almost effortlessly.

Church of Christ — This camp doesn’t like “sacrament” terminology and they certainly reject infant baptism. The author of this section, makes the strongest statements against those traditions in this book

“I think it is fair to say that infant baptism (especially indiscriminate infant baptism) may be the single most important reason why Western Europe is becoming lost to Christianity. Many potential converts to an active Christian faith have been rendered immune to evangelization due to their baptism as an infant in some church. I know this firsthand, as I was born in France and lived and worked as a missionary in my native Belgium.”

For the church of Christ, baptism is the occasion of salvation. It’s the ceremony which marks formal allegiance to Jesus. This terminology, in my estimation, is potentially confusing, and is probably why the church of Christ has been accused of supporting the notion of baptismal regeneration.

Baptist Reformed Lutheran Church of Christ
Symbol

A picture of what God has done and is doing.

Sacrament

A mystery, placing one in the visible church.

Salvation (through Word not Water)

Sacrament as agent of God’s Word

Occasion of Salvation

Ceremony marking formal allegiance

My thoughts are that baptism is something that should happen after conversion. It serves as both a symbol and strengthener of the gospel. It both visualizes our faith in Christ but also in a very sacramental way builds it up. Baptism is also the rite that welcomes believers into Christ’s body the church.

Regarding the baptism of infants, I agree which the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon when he says “I am amazed that an unconscious babe should be made the partaker of an ordinance which, according to the plain teaching of the Scriptures, requires the conscious acquiescence and complete heart-trust of the recipient. Very few, if any, would argue that babies ought to receive the Lord’s Supper; but there is no more Scriptural warrant for bringing them to the one ordinance than there is for bringing them to the other”

The Business of Jesus

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Mistin was chatting with a business minded non-religious friend in the neighbourhood

“Is there such a thing as a five year funk in business?”

“Absolutely, it’s about the time you start asking the question, ‘Am I going to be doing this forever?’”

“Well my husband and I talked about it, and we feel like there isn’t anything else we’d rather do with our lives, it’s just that we feel like we are in a bit of a funk, maybe because we don’t feel very successful with our church.”
“Well, how do you define success for your church? How do you measure it?”

“I suppose one way we would measure it, would be to help people love and follow Jesus to such a point that they are willing to be publicly baptized.”

“Ok, well then, we need to figure out a workable pipeline that leads people from attending your mothers day parties to becoming devoted enough to Jesus that they want to be baptized.”

“Ok?”

“Business works like this, you do free stuff at the beginning, people get interested, then you call people to sign on for small packages, then medium packages, then the large package which in your case is fully devoted followers of Jesus who want to be baptized. It seems to me that you and Dennis are excellent at giving away the free stuff — you are good at the entry level, your mothers day parties and BBQ’s are tremendous, everybody loves them, but then where do you take the people from there?”

“Well, we just kind of wait, and pray, we believe the Spirit of God works in people to where they will start asking questions, and when they do we are ready to talk about Jesus with them.”

“Hmm, yeah, the spirit thing, I suppose that’s important, but what about small and medium packages? Take me for example, I don’t know enough about Jesus and baptism to know if I want the big package, but, knowing you guys, I’d probably be interested in a small or medium package, well anyway, happy to talk more about this if you like, we really want to help you.”

“Thanks.”

Thus concluded business 101 for the Wilkinsons. Does she have a point? What small and medium packages could we as a church offer? Is the church like Costco? Experience free samples of sausages, so that you can buy a package of sausages, so that you will eventually buy a pallet of them? Is the flow of Christian discipleship about smooth up-sell? I don’t think so.

Even still at what point does the walk of faith meet with a business model that works?  Are there strategies that can be employed to help along the process of discipleship? The great evangelist Billy Sunday of the late 19th century bragged that he could personally guarantee a soul for every dollar donated to his business model of evangelism. Does success really come down to business models and marketing?

The only pipeline I know of is love. We must love people well, that means being present and available, that means being generous and hospitable. That means being a good friend and one who sees the needs of a neighbourhood and meet’s them. The Spirit of God acts through these tangible expressions of love, this inevitably creates conversations, which create opportunities for people to grow in their knowledge and love for the Lord and for the Lord’s people. If every Christian practiced the above as their pipeline towards success. I suspect there would be a lot more baptisms.