“Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls”? Proverbs 24:17-18

Posted in Bible, Exegesis, Global, Hermeneutics, Mission, Morality, Religion, Society, Theology with tags , , , on May 3, 2011 by robahas

Should we be out in the streets celebrating the killing of Osama Bin Laden? Should we be cheering, dancing and slapping each other on the back? The discussion surrounding this question is getting pretty heated. At first I was like “I don’t know, do whatever you feel like doing.” To me it was just an interesting news item. Certainly not something that might tempt me to dance a jig. I doubt very much that Bin Laden the individual human being has been a big of a threat to the free world in recent years…

Go to my NEW BLOG for the rest of the story.

You can sign up for notification at the new blog HERE.

Bell’s Hell

Posted in Barth, Bible, Books, Interpretation, Revelation, Theologians, Theology with tags , , , , on April 30, 2011 by robahas

This post has been published in my new blog!

I’ve been waiting to write on this until A) someone lent me a copy of the book or B) I found a good explanation online of what he is actually affirming beneath all the murky water surrounding the “love wins” debacle….

(GO THERE)

Fellow Traveler is Moving

Posted in Theologians, Theology, Things I did, Writing on April 29, 2011 by robahas

My blog is moving to a new location!  It will now have it’s very own address:

www.fellowtravelerblog.com

Here’s a screen shot. I hope you will stop by and try it out, especially the new Facebook integration stuff.  If you are a registered user, fear not. You will be automatically registered in the new site. Tell me what you think!

In the coming days this blog address will be redirected to the new site.

other addresses that will also get you to my blog

www.fellow-traveler.com
www.theologicalnews.com 

Preaching to Raise Lazarus

Posted in Church, Exegesis, Ministry, Preaching, Things I did, Wit with tags , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by robahas

During this year’s Easter sermon our pastor mentioned John 11 and my mind wandered (ever so briefly!) back to my homiletics class in Bible school.

FYI, “homiletics” is theospeech for how to preach. I was really disappointed with that whole series of courses (I-III plus the optional advanced). Going into it I thought they were going to teach us how to preach. Actually, they mostly just taught us how to create sermon outlines: Introduction, three points, illustrations, closing.  A more dreary contrast to the excitement that is good preaching is hard to imagine.

The professor had an obligatory excursus into exegesis. A very painful experience that helps explain the many exegetical oddities one hears from pulpits these days.  After we all learned  to exegete, outline, illustrate and conclude we got to preach. That was about half of the class: giving, listening to and evaluating the sermons of our fellow students.  Many chose to “pray” during these times.

So when I got to advanced homiletics I decided I was going to mix things up a bit. Break the mold and all that. I was assigned a funeral sermon and I chose the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 (thus my mental segue).  As I began I gazed out on the glazed eyes of my fellow sufferers in the classroom and for a brief moment wondered why we bothered with it all if it was really so uninteresting. Then I told the story of how Lazarus had died and Jesus had delayed coming to him, and little by little I got quieter and quieter. I did everything possible to be as boring as audience expectations prognosticated.  Then I quietly painted the picture of Jesus standing before the grave of Lazarus and when it came to the actual call to Lazarus I yelled out suddenly and dramatically,

“(Jesus said) LAZARUS, COME FORTH!”

The reaction was truly hilarious. One of the student had fallen asleep and jerked awake suddenly with a surprised look on his face, wondering what was going on. Then I continued the rest of the message with the passion and excitement that the story deserved.

Predictably, my professor was unimpressed.  He pointed out that this was, after all, funeral sermon and sudden yelling at a funeral service is not really recommended (I suddenly envisioned renewed waves of weeping from the pews in response to my dramatics at my hypothetical funeral ).

But come on, I thought, Let’s live a little! I know it’s not appropriate to get excited about preaching at a cemetery – I mean… seminary – but I’m going to do it anyway. Flunk me if you must!

BTW, the sermon from which I was only very briefly distracted (mere nanoseconds, I swear!) was very good and you can hear it here:

RCC 2011 Easter Sermon, by Kurt Ingram.

My friend JB Krohn up in Vancouver also preached on John 11 and did some yelling: check it out.

Seven Reasons why Easter is so Awesome

Posted in Bible, Christian living, History, Jesus, Revelation, Science and Religion, Theology with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2011 by robahas

No, its not because of Easter egg hunts at Dairy  Queen. One of my kids was excited about going there because last year we had stopped by for a treat and found an ongoing egg hunt. It was really easy (where would you hide Easter eggs in DQ?) and so felt like a major score.  I tried to minimize the “it’s Easter, so that means we go to Dairy Queen connection.” That’s just wrong on so many levels.

But the reason Easter is indeed awesome is that for Christians it is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  This is important for the following reasons:

  1. The fact that Jesus rose from the grave is the closest thing Christians have to a guarantee that there is life after death. Here’s a guy who said he was “the way, the truth and the life,” and then he showed that it was really true by returning from the grave. Resurrection is a voice from beyond saying, “come this way!”.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus is also basis for putting our faith in him. He is the one who can save us from death.  As Jesus said to his friend Martha, ““I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  According to the New Testament, when you put your trust in Jesus, it’s like you died with him on the cross and then you will also rise like he rose from the dead.
  3. Because of the last point the resurrected Jesus is kind of demonstration of what we who believe in him will be like when we are resurrected. When Jesus arose he was “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:30)
  4. But don’t get the idea that the resurrection is just about what happens after we die. Actually, according to the Bible resurrection is something that we experience in the here and now. In that sense, eternal resurrected life starts now when a person believes in Jesus. That’s why if anyone is “in Christ” he or she is a new creation (See 1 Cor 5:17).  There is a really rich interaction between resurrected life “now and then” in the Bible. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is already present in the world, and we can all experience it now. But we can only experience it because of the total power of our coming future resurrection.
  5. Paying attention to resurrection helps ground us in earthly things, for resurrection is a physical event. It reminds us that the platitudinous notion that we all “die and go to heaven” is not really the best way of describing the Christian hope. Christians look to a more concrete afterlife! According to the apostle Paul, the whole physical world is “waiting eagerly” for the final day of resurrection when it will also be caught up in the upward movement and become a “new heavens and new earth.” (See Romans 8, Revelation 20)
  6. Resurrection thinking also helps to clear up the Bible’s message about end of the world events (aka “eschatology”). This whole area is obscured by odd theories and interpretation until we allow the resurrection to take center stage. That is the great event that is coming: resurrection, ours and the world’s. Everything else supports that grand vision. Don’t get lost in the details.
  7. If you want to talk about historical evidence that Christianity is true, there are many topics of interest, but the one you want to park yourself on is the resurrection of Jesus. This is an event that defies our experience of the world and the laws of physics.  In that sense you can never prove it. But you can’t so easily dismiss it either. The fact is that something happened there at that tomb on the “first easter”.  There is too much congruence in the New Testament, there is too much spiritual energy flowing from it, there are too many witnesses mentioned too close to the event. You can dismiss it as the product of ancient man’s overactive imagination, but I for one can’t deny that something crucial or (if I may be allowed to return to my ’80s lingo) something awesome happened!

So, the resurrection is really at the center of what it means to be a Christian: Jesus died and was raised so that we who believe in him could also be raised. But our resurrection is double: it’s power compels  us to new life in the here and new, and it is also our ultimate future hope!

I don’t know about you, but to me the DQ Easter egg hunt lacks a little something in comparison.

Coups and Corruption in Honduras

Posted in Character, Christian living, Church, Contextualization, Criticisms, Global, Mission, Morality, Praxis, Society, Things I did with tags , , , , , , , on April 14, 2011 by robahas

Tonight I had dinner in Honduras in the company of three Argentines, one Swiss, a Dane (I almost said Danish) and a Honduran, who all work in various Christian ministries. We got into a very interesting discussion about corruption in this country.

Recently there was a political coup in which the acting president was kicked out of office by the military and power given to a different party. The reason for the changeover was that the previous president was getting too cozy with Latin America’s would be socialist figurehead Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The ruling class of business people here in Honduras felt that this would be bad for business because Honduras is completely dependent on the US economically and a good relationship with Chavez would seem endanger that cash cow. In an ironic side note, the US ambassador told the coup instigators that this was a very bad idea, and that they need not worry about being friends with Chavez as far as the US was concerned (the US seems to be laying low with Chavez these days). It is worse to be unstable than to have questionable friends.

With some friends in Honduras

When people do things they aren’t supposed to do, they often fall back on pious excuses for their actions (I like to call it the WMD syndrome), and in this case the excuse given was that the reigning president was corrupt anyway. As my hosts noted that is a ridiculous reason to oust a Honduran president. All recent presidents have been corrupt, as is the president who took power in the coup. Further, the problem is much deeper than any one president could do anything about (whether he was himself corrupt, which he probably would be). The entire society is corrupt, from top to bottom.

Here are some examples.

  • A Christian camp was asked for a written bid for 60 people to come for a weekend retreat. But, said the bid requester, only 20 would actually come. He pockets the difference, perhaps with a kickback to the camp manager. The manager very wisely said that they would happily give a big for 60, but that would also be what they charged.
  • A teacher wants to take a day off with pay, so he goes to his doctor and asks him to a sick note. For a fee of course.
  • At gas stations it is routine to ask people how much they want the receipt to be made out for.
  • A new highway is being built in central Honduras and this explains why there are suddenly people going around selling bags of concrete for half the going rate – they are bags stolen by the workers.
  • A Christian television has trouble finding major corporate sponsors because all the corporate representatives want to be paid bribes. They wonder what is happening at other Christians stations that do advertise with those companies.
  • One pastor here decided he wanted to do something about the problem of corruption and crime and tried to form an association for that purpose. He was told by his lawyer to forget about it because he would get into big trouble very quickly. He had no idea how invested the politicians and power brokers were in keeping the corruption as the status quo.

Oh, did I mention that Honduras is supposedly 40% evangelical Christians? What is wrong with this picture? I admit that I said some pretty strong statements at the dinner table about the need to preach justice and righteousness in the churches. And they were fairly well received. But there is something very wrong when a society that is supposedly almost half evangelical Christians has reached such levels of corruption. Something is not adding up.

Here’s my thing: the church needs to be the church first. That means that disciples of Jesus should not be corrupt, should not ask for or give out falsified receipts, should not steal or purchase stolen goods, should not give or take bribes or kickbacks. I’m not saying it’s the job of Christians to change all of society. But it most definitely is the job of Christians to create their own righteous culture, irrespective of what the world is doing. Now, if Christians in a country that is 40% evangelical really did act like the church, what would things look like? Probably a bit different.

On the other hand, one of my discussion partners made the point that we did not really have a way to measure what Christian influence had already accomplished. Maybe, he said, Honduras is already a much better place because of all the evangelical Christians. He might have a point. But this is an urgent issue all over Latin America and it´s an illustration of the fact that a faith that is just about ¨going to heaven when you die¨ can actually be unfaithful to Scripture when it ignores clear social and and ethical issues.

To soften all this, I did admit at the end of the conversation that it is easy to pretend you can solve the problems of another country. And up in the north we have similar problems too.

Understanding World Religions

Posted in Books, Christian History, Global, Mission, Racism, Religion, Society, Theologians, Theology with tags , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2011 by robahas

Understanding World Religions is hot off the press from U of Calgary Prof Irving Hexham, and it looks like just the kind of book I’ve been waiting for. It appears to engage world religions critically, fairly, and in an informed manner.  In my experience it is almost impossible to find a book that does all three of these. It’s always fun to hear an author’s own description of their book because, well, he’s the world’s expert on what it’s about. Here it is from an email promo:

One of the things I do is follow Rodney Stark’s advice about engaging students through introducing controversy into academic writing. Therefore, the book moves away from theological Liberalism’s “Star Trek” approach to Religious Studies which simply describes various religious traditions in glowing terms without asking critical questions except in the chapters on Christianity.

Instead I argue that each religion deserves respect without falsifying their basic beliefs or mystifying their practices. As a result I raise questions about things like the Aryan invasion theory of Indian religions, the relationship of Buddhism to the Hindu tradition, and of how Western scholars present Islam. I also include short provocative intellectual biographies of modern religious leaders like Edward Conze and Martin Buber.

The book is unique in that alone among works of this type it takes Black African religions seriously. In fact, I argue that African religions have been essentially excluded from discussions about world religions as a result of prejudices stemming from the Enlightenment. Therefore, while most other books on religion devote around 5 condescending pages to Africa I have more than 100 pages on Black African traditions.

There is also a very informative first review out at UK Apologetics which is full of praise for the Understanding World Religions, and confirms the author’s description: “all too often such works give a fair consideration to other religious traditions but are perfectly happy to undermine the faith of the believer when it comes to Christianity, Hexham refuses any such path. For him, it would appear, Christianity amounts to a most marvellous whole, something to be celebrated, divisions et al.”

Here is a quote from the book that would appear to illustrate the author’s controversial but evenhanded approach:

‘…the popular, milk-and-water version of Islam found in most religious studies texts is, to say the least, misleading. Jihad is indeed primarily a form of warfare waged in defense of Islam. This means that, however one may disagree with the methods of people like Osama bin Laden, it is highly misleading to dismiss them as “extremists” or argue that they “don’t understand Islam,” as some writers suggest’ (p 434).

I wish this book would have been available when I taught a class on world religions in Bolivia, back in 2009!