Christian Faith

I am unapologetically, critically Christian, and this channel is where I consider the complexities of my faith and the ways I live it out in my day-to-day existence. I often write about nonviolence, anti-nationalism, and what it means to follow Christ in a country that is steeped in a version of Christianity that is more cultural than transformational.

  • Winds of Change in the Church of the Nazarene

    The Church of the Nazarene is a small denomination, a true community where everyone knows everyone, yet there is a significant gap between the doctrinal interpretations of the predominantly "holiness" branches and those of the predominantly "Wesleyan" branches. These two descriptors are not exclusive, but the two seem to be drifting farther and farther apart these days. We are better than this.
  • Three Reasons I Broke Up with the Baptist Church

    In the first 21 years of my life, I regularly attended somewhere around 10 or 11 different churches. They all bore the name “Baptist,” but they varied in their doctrine on the scale from almost-Westboro-Baptist legalism to praise-band-can-include-an-electric-guitar conservatism. All along that scale there was a healthy dose of KJV-only-ism, complementarianism, and inerrancy-or-die elitism, but none of those things were the cause of my breakup with the Baptist church. There were three main issues that I found irreconcilable with the way I understood my faith and my life.
  • The Problem with “Biblical” Opposition to John Piper’s Pacifism

    I rarely find myself on the same theological page as Piper, but as I read his article called “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?”, I found that he expressed many of the same ideas I have come to believe.
  • Discerning Fear with the Help of Faith

    We live in a scary world. Every time we turn around, we discover something new that causes us to fear for ourselves, our families, or our friends. At the same time, there’s no shortage of cheesy Christian memes on Facebook reminding us to “Fear not, for I am with you always!” and chastising us any time we feel anxious. The idea that we don’t have to fear anything because we have God the Mighty Warrior on our side sounds great on paper, but it doesn’t feel real when we are face-to-face with the dark sides of life. For the single mother who has no job and a growing pile of debt... For the parents whose child is laying on a hospital bed awaiting surgery… For the driver gripping the wheel for the first time since the nearly-fatal accident… For the student whose ability to afford college hinges upon one exam... ...for them, in that moment, the understanding that God cares for them feels superficial. Fear is what feels real. I cannot sit here behind my computer and tell you that I have this fear/faith thing figured out. I don’t have any answers. But I think that as we grapple together with what fear is and how it relates to faith, we learn how to keep fear in its place and nurture faith instead. I’ll lay out some of my thoughts, but I hope that you join in the conversation via the comments section at the bottom of the page so we can work through these questions together. Fear is not the same as caution. This is an excuse we use all the time. “It’s not that I’m scared… I’m just being cautious.” Ninety percent of the time, that’s a load of bull. Caution, we all agree, is important. It’s the preparation that enables us to live full, confident lives. For example... We lock our doors at night. We buckle our seatbelts when we get in a car. We check our blind spots before we merge. We get vaccinated against deadly diseases. Living cautiously simply means that we’re able to actively engage with our community because we are using common sense to avoid unnecessary disaster. Fear is a natural emotion. A friend of mine described fear this way: “Fear is about my perceived lack of control. Life has messed with my circumstances. I feel out of control.“ Being afraid is an emotion that, at its foundation, is no different than happiness, sadness, or excitement. When we find ourselves in certain circumstances, our bodies and our minds respond by making us feel scared. When we are in situations in which we don’t feel we have control, it is entirely natural for us to be scared. I don’t want to gloss over that, because I think it’s vitally important for us to understand that it’s okay to feel fear. We should never be ashamed of it. In this crazy world that we live in, fear is real. A couple of months ago, Shannon…
  • A Life After Christ

    For me, the ultimate goal of my faith is to live the type of life that Jesus Christ modeled. I appreciate the deep theology of Paul, I love the practical wisdom of James, and I admire the firm convictions of Peter, but it is Christ that I pursue. Christ is the one I emulate - that’s why, despite the fact that the term “Christian” has become associated with judgmentalism and discrimination, I still call myself by that name. During his time on earth, Christ had a lot of attributes: He lived a holy, sinless life He was self-sacrificing, even to the point of giving up his life He promoted peace He loved his neighbors...and his enemies He fought for justice in the face of inequality But when I look at the grand narrative of Christ’s life, I am inescapably drawn to his mission. Why did God send him to earth? Certainly there were a lot of reasons, but the one that seems to be the most dominant to me is that he came to show the entire world the beautiful, life-giving grace of God. In my pursuit of becoming more and more like Christ, it’s easy for me to focus on becoming more “holy” - more pure, more sanctified. But sinlessness was simply a characteristic of him as God. I, on the other hand, am a sinful, messed up man. Sin is a characteristic of my humanity. That’s not to say that I should be content with my sinfulness - by no means! - but I acknowledge that it’s a reality. From time-to-time, I will fall short. But despite falling short in my own life, I can continue to live out his mission. I can always show grace. The greatest sin I can imagine would be for me to accept the grace that Christ extended to me, and to keep it bottled up inside myself. I want people to be able to look at my life and see the grace of God radiating through me. Like the jug of oil that did not run dry, Christ refills me with grace before I can ever run out. The more I pour into the people in my life, the more he fills me up. As I live, then, I try (and often fail, to be sure) to follow Christ’s example. His own words in Luke 6 perfectly demonstrate his life. But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For…
  • No more pooping inside.

    Oscar pooped in the house again. When Shannon and I lived in Oklahoma, we were around the house pretty much all the time. I worked from home and Shannon worked at the church across the street, so our fur-baby Oscar got used to having us around. When we moved back to Kansas City, though, Shannon and I took positions with office hours, and both of our offices are over half an hour from where we’re living. As a result, Oscar is home alone for eight or more hours every day, and he is not happy about it. I take him for a walk every morning and Shannon takes him out every afternoon, so he has plenty of opportunities to do his business outside. And he’s not ignorant of the rules - he knows that he’s supposed to poop outside. When Shannon gets home from work, if he’s pooped in the house, he greets her with his tail between his legs and rolls over onto his back in a sign of apology and submission. He knows the rule, but he breaks it anyways. I think the big reason is that he doesn’t really understand the rule. He knows that he gets punished for pooping in the house, but he doesn’t get why it’s unsanitary. It seems arbitrary to him, so it doesn’t feel important - it carries no weight in his mind. This is how I see his day going: He begins the day napping, but eventually the hours of isolation take their toll and he gets bored. His little mind fixates on what he can do to express his frustration until, in a fleeting moment of rebellion, that arbitrary rule becomes optional and he pops a squat in the middle of the basement floor, where he knows we’ll see it. Immediately after committing this sin, he realizes its consequences. His mind races for ways to cover it up, but he is unable to make his droppings of indiscretion disappear. He hears a car door close outside and then a key in the front door. With no time left to hide, he has no choice but to apologize and pray that Shannon can forgive him again. Shannon, seeing the evidence of his rebellion, spanks him, punishes him and, a few minutes later, hugs him and tells him she still loves him even though he messed up. Though we forgive him every time he poops in the house, we do not condone it. It is still completely unacceptable, and we continually trying new things to break him of this bad habit. I think this is an apt metaphor for how I often treat sin in my life. The rules that God has set in place feel arbitrary and inconsequential - I know the rules, but I don’t understand why he established them. I try to obey, but in times of frustration or complacency I make the rules optional and choose to rebel against them. No matter how many times I break the…
  • A Nation After Christ

    There are a lot of different ideas about whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Regardless of those ideas, though, the majority of Americans now say that the United States of today isn’t Christian nation. The question, then, is whether we should strive to establish the United States as a Christian nation for tomorrow. Conservative voices across the country join together to demand laws that defend the biblical definitions of marriage and protect expressions of Christian faith on government property. They cry for Christian men and women to speak up, protest governmental authorities, and stop the rise of secularization in our nation. Certainly, Christians should hope for all Americans to come to know Christ in a real and personal way. We should have that same hope for all the world. But is legislating our Christian ethics the way we are to bring people to Christ? Let’s start with some of the core, universal beliefs of evangelical Christianity. At the heart of evangelicalism is the idea that authentic Christian faith is personal. The decision to live your life for Christ is one that each individual must make for himself. It’s not something that can be inherited or passed along or absorbed by sitting in a pew. We believe in the transformative power of a relationship with God. When a person commits their life to Christ, the Holy Spirit speaks to them and draws them closer to God. We believe that community is a vitally important part of Christian life. We come together to worship, to support one another, and to challenge each other. I understand the desire to create a Christian culture. After all, we want to live in a wholesome society that shares our values. And since we believe in the right-ness of our values, we believe society can be improved by adhering to our values. And we feel that if the world would simply live by our ethics, the United States would be a beautiful, happy place to live. But here’s one of my big hangups with that. When we create laws based on the Bible*, we are effectively discouraging people from having a personal relationship with Christ.  We’re telling them they have to live a Christian life rather than allowing them to discover the joy of living a Christian life. It’s like reading books. I’ve always loved reading - I was one of those kids that went to the library every other week and brought home 10 books to read over the next 14 days. In school, though, we were always assigned a list of books to read, and working through those books was torture. They weren’t bad books. They weren’t boring or difficult to understand. I just hated reading them. Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve re-read a number of those books for fun, and I’ve been astounded at how incredible those books are. I’ve loved reading them. Why do I enjoy them so much now even though I hated them in school?…
  • In Light of Love

    Even greater than truth is the command to love our neighbors, but how do we show love to the people around us?
  • In Defense of Truth

    In an age when reality is becoming gray, seeing the world in black-and-white is increasingly taboo. Stating your belief that something is necessarily wrong is a certain way to be labeled a hater, bigot, or worse. American society has become a place where we are almost unable to believe anything at all with conviction, but the gospel of Christ teaches us that we can — and should — rest in truth.
  • The Joy of Pride

    A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me, “What is the most important piece of advice you’ve ever received?” That’s a difficult question to answer because I’ve received a lot of great advice over the years. The first thing that came to mind, though, was a message about pride shared with me back in elementary school. On my first day of fourth grade I didn’t know anyone. It wasn’t the first time that I’d been the new kid in class. I was used to that by now. It was best to just blend in - experience had taught me that there would likely be a new school next year. Good grades came easy to me because it was really easy to remember facts and information. When the time came for the class to select its representative for the annual regional spelling bee. I would have been a natural pick based on my high marks in Spelling, but a student named Andrew had represented the class every year since kindergarten. Our teacher decided to do a mini-bee between the two of us to see who would go to regionals. I studied my butt off for weeks. The mini-bee took the form of a written test and the highest score would win. Although the list was comprised of hundreds of difficult words, I felt prepared and confident because of the work that I had invested. After grading the tests, the teacher announced that I had won the mini-bee and, what’s more, I had achieved a perfect score. As she told the class how impressed she was at my score, I fought to keep a smile off my face - I didn’t want to gloat in my accomplishments. My teacher saw my internal struggle and, a few moments later, pulled me into the hallway to share some wisdom that I’ll never forget: Randy, you worked really hard on this, and you should be proud of what you did today. God made you with some incredible gifts, and you should be excited about what he’s doing in your life. In high school a few years later, I was hanging out with my best friend, a guy from my youth group. As we were casually chatting, I could tell he had something heavy weighing on his mind and he was trying to decide how to confide in me. Finally he turned to me and said, At church they always talk about the sin of pride and how we should eliminate it from our lives because it’s evil. I’ve been trying to live like that, but it really sucks. I feel like everything I do has some bit of pride in it. I can’t respect myself this way. It makes me want to give up. It’s like I can’t have any hope unless I can have some pride. My friend and I went on to discuss pride and what it looks like in our lives. That conversation, like the one with my fourth grade teacher,…
  • A Call for Conservative Voices

    Conservative Christians, I believe in you. I love you. I admire your faith, your witness, your dedication to Scripture. I value your voice - let no one silence you! You are a crucial, effective part of the Christian faith. We need you to continue kindling our spiritual fervor for being in a personal relationship with Christ. We need your steady reminders about the importance that the Word of God holds for our daily lives. But my heart is breaking for you. When I survey the landscape of Christian writers, the conservative voices that I hear most clearly are not the voices that accurately represent you. The conservative conversation is being dominated by writers who are giving you an identity that is not your own. These writers have become so occupied with shouting the “defense of the Gospel against liberalism” that they’ve forgotten the greatest commandments. You are kind and loving and humble, but the most vocal of the conservative Christian voices that claim to speak for you proclaim judgment and hate and arrogance. I consider myself a political and theological moderate, but I was raised in a strictly conservative home. Even though my own views on some matters have changed with time, I have nothing but respect and appreciation for the way I was raised - the hearts and attitudes of the people in my life were pure and beautiful. My conservative community taught me discernment and trained me to challenge the ideological norms of the world. As I’ve grown, I’ve made it my mission to seek the middle ground, the place of reconciliation between polar extremes, the sanctuary of peace between the labels. I embrace the positives in both liberal ideals and conservative thoughts alike. But recently, based on the loud online conversations of conservative extremists, I am finding less and less of your position that I can defend. I want to stand with you in defense against the far left, but I need ground to defend. I need to hear you - the real you, not the ones that claim your name but don't share your values - so I can stand alongside you. We all know the Bible’s “Love Chapter” and what it says about loving our spouses. Try to read it with me today, though, as if you were reading it for the first time. Apply it to the way we treat those with different ideologies, whether that’s the liberals, the conservatives, the LGBT supporters, the traditional marriage advocates, the egalitarians, the complementarians, or any other “other” perspective. If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body,…
  • Those Who Most Need It Will Never Read It.

    We love to be told that we’re right, especially when that validation is coming from a source that we respect. Reading blogs and articles that affirm our beliefs gives us confidence in our own sense of right-ness and pats us on our proverbial backs. As a society, we have a natural tendency to take this to an extreme and predominantly seek out sources to confirm the perspectives that we already hold. For example, if we believe in the value of attending church services every week, we skip over headlines like “15 Reasons I Left the Church” in favor of articles like “15 Reasons I Returned to the Church.” Or if we are social conservatives, we read rants on why all liberals hate freedom of speech; whereas if we are social liberals, we read diatribes condemning all conservatives as ignorant rednecks. We even see this in the news channels that we watch - you can tell a lot about a person’s politics by asking whether they watch Fox or CNN. We feel strong and encouraged when people agree with us, but it is dangerous for us to live within a bubble of affirmation. Here are three reasons why. 1. It stagnates growth. Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge or skills. We cannot learn things unless they are new to us; we cannot grow without being exposed to things that we don’t know or understand. When we skip over articles that present a different perspective than our own, we are depriving ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow as individuals. Even if we don’t agree with the article, the simple act of reading it with an intent to learn from it will enable us clarify our own beliefs and help us to better understand the beliefs of others. As Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” If we’ll look a little closer as we read these articles, we’ll often find that there are nuggets of truth in them that can be invaluable to our own systems of belief and thought. 2. It reinforces stereotypes. Because it is so natural for us to seek out stories that bolster our own ideas, we end up forming communities of people who all think the same way, and we all reinforce those common ideas in one another. There’s nothing wrong with being in community with like-minded people, but when those are the only places that we get information, we find ourselves becoming blissfully unaware of the world outside that circle. Soon we enter a self-perpetuating spiral of misunderstanding. Because we seldom have meaningful interactions with people outside our own worldview, we dismiss and objectify them. Rather than seeing our neighbor as a loving father and husband, we see him as a conservative bigot (or a part of the liberal agenda). Rather than seeing him as an intelligent contributor to society, we label him a troll or redneck. We end up…
  • A Whisper, Stronger than the Storm

    The world is spinning for me right now. So much has happened in the past couple of months that I don’t even know how to begin processing it all: In South Carolina, an African-American man was shot in the back multiple times by a police officer. After killing him, the officer planted evidence to corroborate a story that he made up as a defense. Religious freedom legislation in Indiana has raised a firestorm of media (and social media) attention, leading many people on both sides of the issue to draw hard lines in the sand. A Vice President of a religious university was demoted, seemingly because of a sermon he delivered on peace. A few weeks later, at a separate religious university, a prominent and tenured theologian was laid off for questionable reasons. These situations, and many others like them, have led to some BIG questions, big discussions. They are conversations that need to happen. But instead of conversing like adults, many of us - on all sides of the issues - are making assumptions and shouting with vitriolic disdain. Then we’re surprised when the other side gets defensive and responds in kind, resulting in a multi-tiered escalation that can only conceivably result in destruction. Everyone, including myself, wants to be heard over everyone else. Thad Norvell pointed out that when we (Christians) approach a potentially divisive issue, we should focus less on our position and more on our posture. He stated it so: No matter how correct your position, if your posture toward a world you believe to be “still sinners” is anything other than a love that stubbornly refuses to condemn, but instead gives itself away to point to Jesus giving himself away, you are on your own. You are not standing on the truth of the scriptures or the shoulders of Jesus. Right position without the posture of God revealed in Jesus is not the Gospel. Carry on with the discussions.... We need those conversations. Just remember that if we claim the name of Jesus, we are not ambassadors of moral positions or good behavior; we are ambassadors of a transcendent reconciliation possible only in Jesus, who made God’s love for sinners known not by a posture of condemnation, but of cross-shaped love. I am convinced, along with Norvell, that we (I include myself in this) have become obsessed with our position on tough topics and have forgotten the posture that Christ took for us - and calls us to take as well (Luke 9:23). But I still keep catching myself defending my position on a topic instead of committing myself to a Christ-like posture. It’s easy for me to get caught up in shouting matches - particularly on outlets like Facebook, where it’s easy to conveniently forget that it’s a real person on the other side of the screen. From now on, I am committing to converse with love and respect instead of shouting my stance on an issue. That’s not to suggest that I don’t have a position or that I…
  • The Slippery Slope of Denying Inerrancy

    When I was a kid, my parents had this amazing blue recliner. It was the most comfortable seat in the house, and I loved it. The chair had some cosmetic flaws - it had a few tears and stains, and it squeaked a bit as you rocked. As my mother would say, the flaws “added character.” But the chair was completely sturdy and it did what it was intended to do perfectly. For most conservative evangelicals, the concept of biblical inerrancy - the entire, factual accuracy of the Bible - is foundational to faith. The idea of an “errant” Bible is a scary thought. I was discussing this with a friend of mine the other day, and he humbly expressed his thoughts like this: I think that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is a sort of gatekeeper to all sorts of potential false teachings and outright heresies. Now, it doesn't at all mean that someone who doesn't hold to biblical inerrancy IS heretical or believes a bunch of completely unsound things, but I do think there's a slippery slope, and that it becomes much more difficult to know where to stop if you aren't holding to the inerrancy of Scripture. In my experience, this is an entirely common approach to the discussion. I was raised in a mix of conservative independent Baptist and Southern Baptist churches - this is the exact same perspective that I held for many years. The logic goes like this: If one piece of the Bible is false, then where does it end? If we accept any errors in the Bible, then the entire Bible is in doubt. If the Bible is wrong, that would make God a liar - since he is most definitely not a liar, the Bible must be inerrant. My goal in this post is not to convince anyone one way or the other about biblical inerrancy. Not only would I fail at that, but it would damage the Christian faith. Instead, I simply want us to better understand what people mean when they deny an inerrant Bible. Strict Inerrancy First, let’s take a look at what “biblical inerrancy” means. There is actually a wide range of ways to define inerrancy, but whenever I hear people talking about it, they are almost always referring to strict inerrancy, a doctrine formalized in 1975 by The Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics. For the sake of brevity, I won’t publish the entire statement, but here is the part that seems to be the key (emphasis mine): Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth…
  • Monday Morning Confession Time

    A couple of weeks ago, Shannon wrote a lighthearted article as a confession, and I thought it was really cool. Since then, I've felt challenged to share a confession of my own. As a reminder, this format is based on Tim Suttle’s “Monday Morning Confessionals.” I confess that I, like Shannon, have a tattoo. I recently told this to an old high school friend of mine, and he refused to believe me until I sent him photographic evidence. I’ll spare you the horror of having to see a picture of my bare chest, but I do have a tattoo. It’s a series of numbers, and if you ever ask me what it means, I’ll probably make something up to avoid telling you what it really is. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it. Quite the contrary, actually - it’s a very personal thing for me, and I prefer to play it close to the chest (pun 100% intended). I confess that when I was a kid, my parents had to cancel game night because I got too competitive. Every Friday night, my family used to get together and play board games. It was a great time for us to talk, share, and bond, but I would get REALLY into the games. When I would lose, I would yell and throw things, so finally my parents had to cancel the activity altogether. That was a huge wake-up call for me, and it taught me a valuable lesson: the people in my life are much more valuable than my pride. I confess that there are a lot of things that I don’t know. I've always been a pretty opinionated guy - I come by that honestly through my father - but I learned several years ago that many of the things I thought I “knew” were completely wrong. It was quite a humbling experience, but it was crucial in my development as a person. Before, I thought that my confidence was a sign of strength. Since then, though, I've discovered something completely different - this “confidence” was really arrogance. Strength comes from being able to be completely honest with yourself - which, for me, meant admitting weakness and insecurity in a lot of areas. Bonus Confession I confess that I'm ashamed of my lack of dancing skills. Seriously. Don't ask me to dance, because it's not pretty. Even slow dances. I just walk in circles while I hold your hand. It's awkward. These are my confessions for today. Now it’s your turn….
  • Redefining Masculinity

    Christians have bought into a simplistic, primitive caricature of what it means to be a man, and we've elevated it to the level of godliness. It’s like we believe that the closer we get to achieving this model of masculinity, the closer we get to God. But our identity needs to be found in something higher.
  • Adults, We Don’t Have to Agree.

    My faith has grown a lot over the years, and I hope that it keeps growing as I continue to mature. We all grow up with ideas about how life works. As we grow, we learn that some of them are right (don’t touch fire, because it burns), some are wrong (Santa brings us presents on Christmas), and some are simply matters of opinion (sauerkraut is nasty). Part of being a mature adult is having the ability to challenge - and find answers for - those assumptions. Being able to have truly open discussions about life questions is crucial to growing and learning. The key word in that sentence is “open.” We Christians (particularly evangelicals) love to talk about the hot topics in our social circles. We love making sure everyone knows exactly where we stand on abortion, creation, and homosexuality. The problem is that we are unwilling to concede that our views could possibly be wrong. When we approach the conversation in this way, we are behaving like a child who, upon being told that Santa isn't real, puts his hands over his ears and shouts “I’m not listening to you! Santa IS real!” If we are mature in our faith, we have to be able to approach these conversations with the mindset that we COULD be wrong in what we believe. That’s not to say that we definitely are wrong - but we must be able to admit that the possibility exists. Aristotle summed my thoughts up well. He said: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
  • We Need to Have a Healthy Conversation

    In the last few weeks, I have become acutely aware of the fact that we evangelicals are horrible participants in discussions, particularly on social media. I am fortunate to have friends from a wide variety of faiths and religious backgrounds, and recently I've seen several of them publicly wrestling with tough, real-life questions. Through the sincerity of their questions, they have made themselves vulnerable, opening their hearts to the world. And I have been appalled at the way many well-meaning evangelicals have completely derailed the conversations with pat, predictable answers that harm more than they help. Most of the time, these answers don’t even address the question and aren't relevant to the discussion. Why do we do this? Math has always come really easily for me. From the time I first learned how to add and subtract, I've had this innate ability to see the answer long before others. I never had to memorize multiplication tables because I could do the calculations immediately in my head. I could shout out the answer to a problem before anyone else could even begin working it out, and I was rarely wrong. The first couple of  times I did this, everyone was impressed. Quickly, though, my immediate answers started to annoy my classmates. I thought I was being helpful (and truth be told, I was having fun), but my casual responses made them feel like I was showing off. To my friends, I was showboating - even arrogant - with my solutions. Even worse, by discouraging them from working out the answers for themselves, I was preventing them from learning. Fractions and long division came as naturally to me as the multiplication tables, but as the problems became more complex, I started getting my answers wrong more frequently. At first, I could convince myself that I’d simply misread the problem, but eventually I had to admit that my easy answers were flat out incorrect. Then I’d have to go back and actually work out the math to see what I’d done wrong. When I started learning more advanced mathematics like algebra and trigonometry, the answers that I got in my head were more often wrong than they were right. I was forced to admit that I needed to work out every problem if I wanted to get the correct answer, but since I’d spent my entire life skipping steps and figuring the problems in my head, I was woefully unprepared to do the work. I struggled with math for the first time in my life as I had to relearn all of the processes that my fellow classmates had been doing for years. I think that, as evangelicals participating in cultural discussions, we tend to make a lot of those exact same mistakes in our conversations about sensitive issues. When we respond to our friends with trite, quick answers, we’re devaluing the very real struggle that they are working through. We’re telling them that the answer is easy - it’s right there in front of them, how could they be confused? And…
  • 7 Things the Church Is Doing Right

    For the past week or so, I've had a serious case of writer’s block. Well, not writer’s block exactly. I've been able to put pen-to-paper, but the things that I've been writing haven’t had the voice that I'm used to writing with. They've had a harsh, judgmental, preachy tone that I despise, and when I've gone back and read what I've written, I’m shocked at the way I’ve expressed myself. That kind of tone is not okay - it’s the exact opposite of everything that I (and this blog) stand for. In contrast to how I've been writing lately, I have a couple of friends that have been on Facebook intentionally sharing only #PositivePosts. They are sharing everything from videos of cuddly little kittens to words of praise for people in their lives who aren't often recognized - but each post is encouraging and uplifting. I've been sitting back and watching them do this all week, and it finally hit me that this was the answer to fixing my bad attitude. I needed to join the #PositivePosts party. So I present to you: 7 Things the Church is Doing Right. Obviously, I can’t speak for every individual local church in the world, but from what I can see of Christ’s followers today, we are doing some incredible things. 1. We’re Worshiping the Same God Whether we worship in a Lutheran church, Baptist church, Catholic church, or Nazarene church, we are drawing closer together as a body of believers. We are growing more and more aware that, even though our worship styles can vary and particular doctrines may be different, we’re all following the same Father. We are increasingly embracing our differences as a mark of beauty rather than seeing them as a blemish of the faith. Let’s continue to praise the one who made us all. 2. We’re Praying for One Another I love that when people are willing to share their struggles on Facebook, Christians are able to surround them in communal prayer in a way that was never possible before social media. Just this week, a relative of mine went through a battery of tests because doctors were worried she might have cancer. Through this emotional roller-coaster, it was amazing to see how many people were on their knees praying for her - often people she didn't even know! Let’s continue to join together in prayer. 3. We’re Using Our Diverse Talents Accountants, handymen, and other volunteers have long been the backbone of the local church, but we are seeing more and more people bringing their gifts to the altar of God. Artists, craftsmen, musicians, designers - people of all industries and walks of life are finding that God has a place for their talents at his table, and they are working to create a magnificent tapestry of praise to our Father. We, as a Church, are learning to embrace the gifts that he has given us and use them for his glory. It’s a beautiful picture. Let’s continue to be…
  • An Agnostic Search for Truth

    Personal Note: This post was written by an old friend of mine. He shared it with me in private, and though he wishes to remain anonymous, he gave me permission to publish the account here. His willingness to open himself up in this way is, for me, a much-needed affirmation: this is exactly the kind of conversation I had hoped this site would inspire. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I have. If his story inspires you to share your own, please let me know. I would be happy to publish anyone’s account as long as it is written with sincerity and respect. I grew up going to church in a family dedicated to God and his work. It was a strict Southern Baptist upbringing. No TV, no secular music in our house, etc. In fact, I knew about 9/11 before my parents did because there was no TV in the house for them to find out about it! I went to church every Sunday morning and evening, every Wednesday, and sometimes Fridays for youth nights, all up until the time when I got a job and was allowed to use that as an excuse to skip church. Hypocrisy. It is what drove me from the church, that and normal teen rebellion. I watched a church split up over foyer carpet and a bus. I am sure there were underlying issues but that is what I saw. People dividing into sects and clicks, old folks over young folks, pastors leaving, and none of the people in the church big enough to reason with one another and make decisions for the betterment of the church as a whole. Leaving the church and joining the army, being deployed to 3rd world countries multiple times has led me through interesting theological debates. There are times that I miss the oneness felt while singing praises to god during the worship service, but then I remember the people. The liars. All sinners who sinned on a regular basis with no sense of remorse except when they were in church, and even that is doubtful. I watched horrendous things in the name of religion, lost friends, and met people who I would befriend for a lifetime, and in all of this I wondered what was out there. Something is out there. Someone is out there. Is it the Christian God, Allah? Do the Buddhists have it right? The new age religions like Wicca? I have explored a lot, read the Quran, visited Buddhist temples, been to a coven meeting, and I found similarities in all of them. The thing that confuses me the most is the feeling of oneness you find in all of them. When chanting in a Buddhist ritual I felt the same oneness, connected with the universe, that I felt when singing during a Christian worship service. How do you know which one is right, and for that matter, which of the variety of Christian denominations is right? Is there one true religion?…
  • In Light of the MNU + Randy Beckum Situation

    Last updated: July 20, 2015, 10:18 pm MidAmerica Nazarene University recently relieved Randy Beckum of his role as Vice President, although he retains his position as the school's chaplain. The reasons for this move by the school are somewhat unclear. The official announcement from the school suggests that they wanted to allow him to focus more on his chaplaincy, although recent events at the school cast doubts on that assertion. Many have suggested that he was relieved of duty in response to a sermon regarding non-violence that he delivered to the student body about 2 weeks prior to his demotion. The discussion of Beckum's seeming-demotion has overwhelmed my Facebook feed and many of my friends seem to be scrambling for more information, so I want to present as many relevant resources as I have been able to find. The blog post by Blake Nelson that seems to have sparked the discussion. Blake Nelson's transcription of the official MNU statement. MNU's student newspaper's story on Beckum's change of position. MNU's student newspaper's transcription of Beckum's controversial sermon. An editorial from MNU student Joshua Brisco evaluating the current student climate of the school A statement from the MNU President in response to the controversy A call for transparency from MNU alumnus Shannon Greene (she's my wife, by the way) An article in the Kansas City Star bringing regional attention to the concerns A petition for Beckum to be reinstated into his VP role at MNU Examination of Beckum's public statement and President Spittal's response An article in the MNU student newspaper written by faculty member Mark Hayse on the politics of chapel The complete text of Beckum's public statement. A Facebook group has been set up to promote an endowment fund in Randy Beckum's honor. The group describes its mission: "to send a powerful message that financial influence and pressure has no place in influencing what "kind" of Gospel message is preached in our churches." (You can give to this fund directly through the Church of the Nazarene Foundation.) You can watch the original sermon in its entirety below. A group of alumni, friends, family, and current students sent in videos from all over the world in a message of encouragement for Randy Beckum. Here is that video: My goal is that this post serves as a central place for relevant information and productive conversation. If you have information that I've missed and you feel should be listed here, please leave a comment. Please note that, since this has become a heated discussion on social media, I will be closely monitoring the comments. I will not tolerate hatefulness or name-calling. Let's lead with love.
  • Coffee, Creation, and Theistic Evolution

    This may shock some of you, but I love coffee. Hot, iced, espresso, dark roast, light roast - it doesn't matter. It’s delicious. In case you don't believe me, here are just a few of the brewers that I have in my kitchen: Black & Decker Drip Pot Moka Pot Melitta Pourover Kalita Wave Pourover Aeropress French Press Filtron Cold Brewer Each of these methods makes a slightly different type of cup - some produce a more full-bodied cup, some bring out the sweetness of the coffee, some are just quick and easy to use. On any given morning (or afternoon…), I’ll use whichever one best fits my needs at that time. If you were to ask me which one is the best way to make coffee, I’d have a hard time answering. Certainly they each have their strengths and weaknesses (and everyone has their personal preferences), but I can make a great cup with any of them. All else being equal, the distinguishing factor between a great cup of coffee and a poor one is usually not the method of brewing - it’s the skill of the person brewing it. Young Earth Creationism vs. Theistic Evolution One of the big sticking points in evangelicalism these days is the debate between young earth creationism and theistic evolution. Young earth creationists say that the Genesis account of creation should be read as historical fact. They maintain that God created the light and separated it from the darkness, and that was Day 1, the first 24-hour period in history. The next day, God spoke and separated the water from the sky. The third day, he created dry ground and plants. And so on until the sixth day, when he created mankind. Theistic evolutionists, on the other hand, describe the Genesis account as being mostly symbolic. They say that the “days" referred to in the opening chapter of Genesis aren't literal 24-hour days - they are ambiguous “long ages” of time (this is based on an alternate meaning of the original Hebrew word). In addition to contesting the length of a “day” in Genesis, theistic evolutionists say that the account of God speaking the universe into existence is metaphorical and that he used the scientific process of evolution as his tool to accomplish it. Among Christians, this debate is a heated one. Simply mentioning the terms “young earth creationism” or “theistic evolution” is usually enough to get the opposing side worked up. For Christians on both ends, the issue has seemingly become a cornerstone of the faith. Indeed, we often behave as if a person's perspective on creation determines whether or not he follows the one true God. And this division breaks my heart. Remember the Maker I opened this post discussing coffee and how the most important factor in preparing a cup wasn't the method used to brew it, but the skill of the person brewing it. Plenty of people make the mistake of marveling over a coffee-brewing device, but the real credit belongs to the person brewing it. In the debate over how the…
  • Freedom in Biblical Inerrancy

    If I asked three different men to describe the perfect woman, I would get three completely different responses. The first man might describe a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed bombshell. The second man might describe a woman of remarkable intellect and drive. And the third man might describe a woman who was 100% devoted to her family. They would each have their own interpretation of what “perfect” means. “Perfect” isn't enough. What, then, is the real perfect woman? Is one description right and the other two wrong? Is she a mixture of the three descriptions? Or should we boil the definition of a perfect woman down to primal evolutionary functions (in which case she would be any one who was able to survive and carry on the human race)? The term “perfect” can have a lot of different meanings and can be interpreted in many different ways. It isn't strong enough to stand on its own - it needs context in order to have any kind of practical purpose. For the word to have any real value in our conversations, we need to clarify which interpretation of perfection we mean. Biblical Inerrancy: The Question of Perfection We run into this very same issue when we discuss “biblical inerrancy” - at first glance, it means that the Bible is perfect and without error. Much of the discussion on the topic centers around 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (NLT) The beginning of that verse - “All Scripture is inspired by God…” - has been dissected and analyzed and interpreted, and it is the basis of the concept of biblical inerrancy. Basically, the idea is that since Scripture is inspired by God (alternately interpreted as “God-breathed”), it is perfect. But how do we really define this doctrine of inerrancy? Are we simply saying that the NLT (or whatever translation you prefer) that we hold in our hands has no typos? What about translation errors or discrepancies with other translations? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate. Are we saying that every sentence of the Bible literally applies to our lives? Most Christians would agree that this definition is not accurate either. A more common definition of biblical inerrancy is that, with the exception of the parts of Scripture that are poetry or metaphor, the Bible is 100% factually accurate and should be read at face value. This is to say, for example, that since it describes the creation of the world as occurring over a period of six days, God created the world in six literal days. Within this view, there is some question about which books and passages are poetry or metaphor. (Who decides which parts are to be taken literally and which should be read figuratively?) Taking these questions even further,…
  • Painting a Vision of the Future

    I love art. Every once-in-a-while, I get this crazy notion that I can be an artist. When this whim hits, I usually go to Hobby Lobby, buy a boatload of paints and a couple of canvases (I already have brushes at home) and prepare to let my creativity wash over me. Before I even begin painting, I can see the finished piece in my head and it's always gorgeous. I can visualize the delicate brush strokes, the interplay of colors, the dance of shadows and light; I can describe the metaphors and imagery and the the literary references. I haven't so much as opened a bottle of paint yet, but to me, the canvas is already a masterpiece. With that result clear and fresh in my mind, I mix my colors and dip my brush. Then I begin to paint. It doesn't take long for me to realize that there's a flaw in my masterpiece. It's not a problem with the vision that I have for the piece; it's not a problem with the paint or the brushes; it's not a problem with the canvas. The problem is that I don't know how to paint. I don't understand the technique of layering colors or creating textures. I haven't devoted myself to learning the ins-and-outs of painting, so my masterpiece pretty quickly turns into a piece of something else. When I realize that I don't have the skill required to bring my artwork to life, I tend to find some excuse to stop working on it. Eventually, the half-painted canvas gets thrown into a corner in the closet and I forget about it altogether. Okay, Randy. You're a bad painter. So what? A lot of times we, as leaders, take this same approach in our lives. Going into a new job (or task, or position), we have this beautiful picture of what we want to achieve. We can see how all of the details come together, and we are confident that we are about to create a masterpiece. But if we don't have the skills, techniques, and plans to achieve that vision, our masterpiece won't turn out the way we imagined it. In our lives, though, the stakes are much higher than in my paintings. If we are in positions of authority over others, it is no hyperbole to say that people hang in the balance. As leaders, if we fail, we are potentially costing our people their jobs, families, or even their spiritual health. Frankly, it's an overwhelming responsibility. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there to help us bring our vision to life. When we don't know what to do, we can consult friends, mentors, and peers who have been there before us. When nothing seems to be working, we have people in our lives who would love to guide and encourage us. The task for us, then, is to press on towards the vision. Summary: The 3 Keys to a Successful Vision Have a vision. This may sound trite, but I mean it…