I recently heard a philosophy professor present a talk entitled, “Why I am not a Christian.” The title, of course, is taken from Bertrand Russel’s 1927 talk on the same subject, though the professor I heard was not nearly as hostile to Christians as Russell. Nevertheless, in common philosophical fashion he went beyond the apparently autobiographical scope of the title to claim that no one else anywhere is warranted to believe either in the existence of God or in the extraordinary claims made in the Gospels about Jesus. As he reviewed philosophical arguments for the existence of God and scriptural appeals to faith in Christ, he repeatedly said, “I have not found compelling justification,” and he took that to imply that neither had anyone else. There were various other elements of the talk that struck me (and upon which I may at some point comment here), but the assertion of categorical lack of rationality for certain conclusions is something I am wrestling with. (more…)
(I haven’t written for a few weeks, partly because of starting my new job, and partly because the situation in northern Iraq was driving me to write in other venues…)
I did not grow up in a church, and so I am always a little curious what going to church is like for children. I particularly appreciate this gem, from a puppet re-telling of the Christmas story in Luke 2:
- Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
- Angel: Fear not!
- Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
- Angel: What part of “fear not” didn’t you understand?
- Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
- Angel: Never mind. I bring you good news…
It always strikes me how fearful many Christians remain, even though Christ has already given us all that we need for godly lives. To hear some Christians talk (or blog), they are afraid of Islam, atheism, homosexuality, church shrinkage, cultural de-Christianization, loss of constitutional rights, President Obama, censorship, contraception, courts, and the news media. This is clearly a very heterogeneous bucket o’ fear. (more…)
I should start this post with the caveat that I am not anti-intellectual, and don’t think I ever could be. I’m an academic, after all; I live by thinking about things (okay, and to teach things). On the other hand, I reject the intellectual idolatry of much of academia. So don’t read this post, or the previous post about how God chooses the foolish things to put the wise to shame, as taking a stand against intellectual pursuits. They are merely reminders that thinking about things, while important, is not most important.
My wife, after reading that earlier post, reminded me of an amusing and oddly appropriate memory lapse I made as a brand new convert to Christianity: (more…)
I became a Christian over a decade ago. It was a surprise to me and to all who knew me. After all, I am a nerd, of an intellectual bent, and the prevailing wisdom of my friends and acquaintances was that only stupid people were Christian. The notion, despite abundant counter-examples both historically and locally, was that any sufficiently intelligent or sufficiently educated person would leave behind such medieval superstitions as Christianity. When I became a Christian, I learned to praise God that I was dumb enough for Jesus, and I found biblical support for that view. (more…)
When I was a child, the town I grew up in was a small distance away from the city where my grandparents lived, and where, a bit later, my parents worked. So we frequently made the drive into the city, and I have many memories of the drive and of different parts of the large city. But since my family moved away before I learned to drive, I never navigated around the big city or the route between my hometown and the city. I paid very little attention to street names or cardinal directions from my vantage in the back seat of the car. (more…)
In honor of yesterday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in some Latin liturgical calendars, here is a narration of my experience leading up to my first communion. I remember how I described those events at the time, without Christian jargon which was then unfamiliar to me, because of the impression they made on me, both because of their force and because of how unexpected they were.
When I decided to become a Christian, I started visiting churches on Sunday mornings, and in the course of four weeks I visited three churches, one a Calvary Chapel and the other two both Presbyterian churches. I think none of these churches offered communion more than once per month, but in four consecutive weeks I was offered communion three times. (more…)
I am a convert to Christianity, out of an aggressive form of postmodernism which denied any subject-independent reality. In other words, my world’s only mine and your world’s yours, and how dare you tell me anything about the way my world is! I thought we are really locked into our own separate worlds, and never the twain shall meet.
Such an extreme version of postmodernism ran into a problem: communication. Somehow, people who have never had unmediated access to each other’s experiences of world, figure out a way to share ideas and describe experiences in ways the other can understand. And this happens all the time. It’s not even considered particularly remarkable. (more…)
(First, a note to the reader: after today this blog will be Out to Lunch, probably for the next couple weeks, as I take care of some physical world tasks that need doing, and I will be without internet access for part of that duration and with very little free time for even more of it. Some readers may feel that the posts have been out to lunch for a while now, but this is not an admission of doctrinal error…)
I particularly appreciated Dr. DeVille’s points #5 and #7 (with honorable mention to #6). Top-level ecumenical contact may often elicit a “who cares?” from the people in the pew. After all, what could such contact possibly accomplish? At this stage, perhaps the best it can accomplish is to provide a model for friendship and cooperation to all Christians. The biggest obstacle to ecumenism is not what so-and-so did to such-and-such back in the X century (whether that’s 431 or 538 or 1054 or 1204), nor even disagreements about ideas and practices (though such disagreements are real). The single biggest obstacle to real church unity is a nebulous congregational sense that those people over there are not like us. I have been asked, in all sincerity, whether Catholics and Evangelicals worship the same God (and the person was very reassured when I gave a positive answer). And the best way to allay misconceptions is to get to know people. (This works equally well for allaying misconceptions about anything, for example racial differences, Islam or other religions, and political partisan differences.) Such conversations can (and perhaps should) start off away from the topic at issue and just involve getting to know another human being. And after you discover that the other person does beautiful handicrafts, or likes the same sports team you do, or has a funny sense of humor, or has excellent taste in wine (or books or music), in other words, after you discover that the other person is a human being, then you can approach the topic at issue with the curiosity to discover how is it that your new friend thinks differently than you. Dr. DeVille gives other very easy suggestions in his piece, so you should go read it.
But Dr. DeVille’s most important point point is #7. Ecumenism is not optional. In addition to our Lord’s prayer in John 17 which he cited, my mainstay is the only command which Jesus added to the Law: “34 A new command I give you: that you love one another, so that just as I have loved you you may love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Dr. DeVille makes the point that church division hinders Christian witness, because God is one, so why aren’t we? This was exactly my experience. Before I became a Christian (over a decade ago now), I had a ready answer to any Christian friend who asked why I was not Christian: “Those Christians are so divided they don’t even know what they think about anything, so why should I join them and add to the muddle?” But God had grace and mercy on me in my blindness, and he dragged me to himself; only after I was there did I see that there is a deeper unity among all true Christians which transcends denominational structures and differences of dogma (which is not to say that either structure or dogma are inherently unimportant!). I am grateful for God’s grace, and I continue to pray for my family members and friends from that period to find, or rather be found by, the grace that I have. But I also wish to take practical steps to make it harder for people like me to use visible Christian divisions as an easy excuse not to believe. Christians are already one, in the one Holy Spirit of God, but we need to live visibly in light of this fact. Ecumenism is obligatory, not only for pope and patriarch, but for all people.
(This is edited from a comment I posted on another blog, but I thought it might interest readers here.)
Some people explain their coming to Christ in terms of a prior experience of internal emptiness or “hunger.” I felt those sensations, but I think I would never have come to Christ due to internal hunger; I was struggling, in some ways like Buddhists are told to, to accept the nothing and dissociate from the hunger. So I wrote bad poetry, was depressed, and experienced near continual suicidal ideation over a course of several years. But God in his surprising mercy met me after my post-modern belief structure self-destructed (it was a surreal time), and when, about to kill myself, I prayed on a lark more than anything else, “God, I don’t want my life any more. Jesus, do you want it?” I was very surprised to get a response, a distinct internal, “Yep.” (Not “Yes,” mind you; God chose to speak my colloquial.) It wasn’t audible, but it was as incontrovertible as it was unexpected. I remember sitting back on my bed and thinking, “I… guess… I belong… to Jesus now? WEIRD.” And yet that experience was only one step in the Lord’s redemption of my life; as a born and raised non-Christian (very hostile to Christianity), there was a lot of learning to do, which God provided in the form of a godly couple who brought me into their family. I call them my godparents, because when I came to them I really only knew that Jesus claimed to be God (I was only starting to wonder if I believed him) and that in some sense I belonged to him. Not a substantial grounding in the faith! He continued to be very gracious to me as I talked myself into most classical non-trinitarian heresies within the first year of belonging to him, and he provided loving and wise pastors to talk me out of them. There are many more ways he’s been gracious, but I think that fits the bill as to why I believe in Jesus as God. My first communion ought to be part of the story, as well as many other aspects, even starting two years earlier with running into a stranger coming down from a crack high in the middle of the night outside my residence, who told me that the Bible was true. But the kernel of the story was a very depressed college senior reaching out into the unknown one last time, not expecting a handshake to seal the deal.
It is customary in many churches, in many languages, for Christians to greet each other on Easter with the affirmation that Christ has risen from the dead. Here are some of the languages used for the greeting; you can think of this as an Easter appendix to Omniglot with a phrase more useful than “my hovercraft is full of eels.”
Greek: Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! (Christos anesti!)
Syriac: ܡܫܝܚܐ ܩܡ (mshiho qom/mshiha qam)
Latin: Christus surrexit!
Armenian: Քրիստոս յարեաւ! (K’ristos yareav/K’risdos hariav)
Arabic: المسيح قام (al-masih qom)
Hebrew: המשיח קם (hammashiah qam)
English: Christ is risen!
French: Le Christ est ressucité!
German : Christus ist auferstanden!
Italian: Cristo é risorto!
Russian: Христос Воскресе! (Hristos voskres)
Maltese: Il-Mulej qam!
Valley: Christ, like, is totally risen.
A navigable list of many more languages is here.
Of course, one’s ability to use this as a greeting (with its conventional response, “He is risen indeed!”) depends in part on being introduced to it. This was alien to my upbringing, and the first time after my conversion that someone greeted me with “Christ is risen!” I responded, “Yeah, I know! Pretty cool, ain’t it?”