• Roger That

    • Aisha Khan: I read th e review of the book,it is very interesting as a science teacher we teach...
    • Julie Waters: Interestingly enough, someone at my homegroup (in our last meeting) brought up how...
    • Jason: I agree Steve! But you might still consider yourself a Christian, and lay claim to that...
    • Steve: Jason – In all seriousness, what I’m trying to say is this: If I ever get to the...
    • Steve: Why yes, it IS wonderfully idyllic… but then again, “that depends on what the...
    • Jason: What a wonderfully idyllic world you live in Steve! : )
    • Steve: Jason, no problem, and thanks for asking good questions! The benefit of sharing common...
    • Jason: Steve, my apologies for neglecting your comment. I’ve been very busy at work and...
    • Jason: Hi Nathaniel, thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry it took so long to respond. I...
    • Loft: I think this is a classic example of someone complaining about marketing but not actually...

My interview with Dallas Willard

AS_Dallas_Willard_largeDallas Willard passed away today after recently being diagnosed with cancer. It would be impossible to describe just how formative Dallas’ work has been for me personally, and for many others. I’m not sure his impact on the thinking of what would later become the emerging Christian movements has been adequately attributed.

I had a few opportunities to speak with Dallas over the years. More than once I travelled long distances by myself just to hear him speak. The last time was almost three years ago when I interviewed him for a christianaudio podcast called Author Sketches. At the time, I was doing these interviews as a part-time gig and jumped at the chance to interview Dallas about his then current book, Knowing Christ Today. I blogged through that book, chapter-by-chapter, here at Pastoralia.

If you’re interested, you can download the interview for free by clicking here (but you’ll have to register). You can tell in the interview I’m more than a little giddy and starstruck, but you can also tell just how incredibly humble and generous Dallas was.

You’ll be missed Dallas. Peace to you in your rest and to your family in their mourning.

Book Review: Revealing Heaven by John W. Price

The number of Americans who have had a near death experience is greater than the number of those who attend a major league baseball game in one year.

For John W. Price, author of Revealing Heaven: The Christian Case For Near-Death Experiences, this is nothing short of astonishing; not just because of what it positively affirms (life after death), but because of what it negatively reveals – that people are embarrassed to admit their encounters.

This is Price’s mission: to “shout from the rooftops” just how common an experience this is for everyone, the world over. As an Episcopal Priest these experiences confirm the gospel Price preaches, so to draw attention to them is to draw attention to the gospel itself, the hope it represents, and the comfort it brings, especially in a world full of pain, sorrow, and skepticism.

Along the way, Price hopes to convert a few pastors as well. Too many ministers, it seems, are not only embarrassed about these kinds of testimonies in their congregations, many don’t even believe they’re real.

Price goes about his in a straightforward way: telling the stories of near-death experience in an easy and readable fashion, largely following the timeline of his own road of discovery. We get to experience his sense of wonder and excitement as he comes to conclusions about the implications of his convictions for his practice of faith, and ministry. In the midst of these stories, Price does a better than average job of building a broad case for the biblical literature’s evolution of life after death, and winds up making a convincing case that the early church stood firmly on the hope of resurrection.

The book is disarmingly charming in its simple and unadorned approach. Price never seems to overreach in style or content. And yet, I found myself again and again asking the question: “Do we really need this book?”

First, I’m not sure that belief in heaven in at a point of crisis. I’m utterly convinced that Christianity is waning, and will continue to, but few people I know – including many who possess no formal faith – wouldn’t be troubled by the idea of a literal afterlife.

I was also struck by Price’s insistence that near-death experiences particularly affirm the Christian gospel. Obviously, there are some religious beliefs that wouldn’t hold to a literal heaven, but, as Price himself points out, these experiences are nearly universal across cultures and religions. After reading the book, I still fail to see how these experiences – if true – particularly commend Christianity over and above other faiths.

Lastly, I was put-off a bit by Price’s tone towards Christians who don’t believe in a literal afterlife. It’s one thing to hold to such a belief (or lack thereof), but it’s quite another to posit your belief as an unassailable certainty and an essential element of the Christian faith.

And make no mistake: however gentle his writing style, Price is certain – not only of the existence of a literal heaven, but even of fairly esoteric details concerning the nature of death and heaven (see the chapters “How death works” and “How heaven works”). Price bases his assertions on the anecdotes of people’s stories. Now, I’m a strong proponent of religion as a source of knowledge, but the knowledge religion transacts in isn’t quantitative, it’s qualitative. Religion has no mechanism for determining the details of phenomena such as, whether we can “walk” in spiritual bodies after death. Yet, this is the kind of claim Price makes.

In my opinion, these chapters – and this tone of certainty in general – damages the credibility of Price’s claims. Still, for those interested in the subject, it’s an interesting enough – and breezy enough – read to recommend it.

(I was provided with a copy of this book in return for the review I’ve written. I was in no way required to write either a positive or negative review of the book.)


Something less than human

From NBCNews.com: Lutheran pastor apologizes for taking part in Sandy Hook service.

“There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don’t matter in the end.”

As a Christian, and former pastor, who now works for an interfaith organization I can tell you that this tension is very real for many of the more than 300 congregations we work with (and they’re the one’s who HAVE chosen to engage). As people, we have a deep impulse to exclude others in order to include ourselves. This is a very old religious story; perhaps the oldest of all.

Just recently I spent time talking through this issue with an evangelical pastor in our network, who was struggling to justify getting involved with us because he didn’t want his presence to be construed as affirmation. Yet, at the same time, he desired the opportunity to be involved with something that might have a wider impact on the community. So there it is again: the desire to be included alongside the desire to exclude.

For me, the irony is that the heart of the gospel is a proclamation about the eradication of barriers. And at the heart of this eradication is the willingness to be identified with those who are not just a little different, but perhaps radically so, perhaps ruinously so.

To pray alongside a jew, or hindu, or muslim – especially in a time of grief or crisis – does not make me a jew, or a hindu, or a muslim. It makes me a human. To refuse to do so, makes me something less.

A centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome

A very provocative post, Protest of the Nones: Religious Disavowal as Social Critique, from Duane over at The Alchemists Imagination who draws correlations between the Nones, the Occupy Movement, and the anti-slavery movement of America’s recent past:

In a centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome the church continues to hold the hand of its captors, embracing tyranny, inequality, injustice, and playing the part of a harlot, going to bed with capitalism.
Is it then any wonder that a group that is on its way to becoming the fastest growing, and the second largest, religious affiliations is a group that adamantly claims no religious affiliation. This demographic known as the religious “Nones” now account for one in five American adults. One article also points out that “Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.” These under-thirty individuals have no interest in identifying themselves religiously and no desire to “label themselves in any way when it comes to their faith or lack thereof.” They do not see themselves as being a part of any religion. While “Nones” are not necessarily antagonistic towards religion(many do in fact think that churches as well as religious and faith based communities can and do make positive contributions to society), the common consensus voiced by 70% of the “Nones”, however, is one that remains suspicious and distrustful of religious institutions, stating that they “believe…religious institutions are too focused on money, power, rules, and politics.”

Then, in a refreshing maneuver, Duane suggests that the hope of the church lies not in a return to preaching that old-timey religion, or in a reliance on new-fangled technologies, but, rather, in turning its own prophetic critique upon itself:

Perhaps then, revisiting the critique of Fredrick Douglas, Occupiers, Activists, Millennials, Protestors, and “Nones” will all cease to be anti-church movements when the church becomes part of anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corporate movements, joining the fight against the social and economic inequality and injustice rather than supporting the systems and structures that perpetuate and uphold oppression and exploitation. I would venture so far as to say that those who oppose the church and other religious institutions will cease to do so when the church begins to oppose itself, dialectically negating its own structures and traditions and in essence becoming anti-church itself.

This last bit reminds me of some of Paul Tillich’s writing on what he called the Protestant Principle – both about the role of the prophetic critique of the church and the role of those outside the church:

If the Church does not subject itself to the judgment which is pronounced by the Church, it becomes idolatrous toward itself. [...] In its prophetic role it is the Church which reveals demonic structures in society and undercuts their power by revealing them — even within the Church itself.. And in doing so the Church listens to prophetic voices outside itself, in judgment both on culture and on the Church in so far as it is a part of culture. Most such voices come from persons who not active members of the manifest Church. But perhaps one could call them participants of a latent church.”

Sometimes this latent Church comes into the open. Then the manifest Church should recognize in these voices the spirit of what its own spirit should be and accept them even if they are most hostile to the Church.

What Duane here calls “anti-church”, Tillich might refer to as being part of a “latent church.” Virtually everyone has referred to the “Nones” as a sociologically distinctive religious group, but I haven’t heard many refer to them as latent church or a kind of external-yet-internal prophetic critique. The difference, I think, is subtle yet significant, and to me at least, rings true.

The death of the Religious Right and America’s first post-Christian President

Damian Thompson from the Telegraph says America’s Religious Right is dead:

The United States is still pious by European standards, but the gap is narrowing every year. You cannot visit American bookshops without being struck by the popularity of atheist cheerleaders or agnostic self-help gurus; when I meet a young New Yorker or Californian I assume – as I would in Britain – that they don’t go to church, have liberal positions on abortion and homosexuality and generally despise the conservative religious activism that, until so recently, had the power to elect presidents.

Probably a safe assumption. And, kind of funny.

Two points worth noting about this election. First, the Religious Right – and how dated that phrase already sounds – united around a candidate who, by most standards, is not even a Christian. The lack of an anti-Mormon backlash among orthodox Catholics and Protestants who were brought up to regard Latter-day Saints as sinister cultists tells its own story. Also, and here I’m going out on a limb, America has just re-elected its first post-Christian president (unless you count Jefferson). I’ve never thought that Barack Obama’s churchgoing was anything more than Chicago politics: why else would a sophisticated Harvard-educated lawyer sit through years of incoherent ranting by the Rev Jeremiah Wright?

This I don’t get. I think a good case can be made that Obama is America’s first post-Christian president, in the sense that he clearly doesn’t ascribe to the notion that Christianity (or any religion for that matter) should govern the nation. But to base the argument on a tenuous (at best) dismissal of the man’s faith is just plain bizarre.

The fact that religious conservatives – or irreligious liberals accustomed to observing religious conservatives – can’t concieve of a person being of faith while simultaneously rejecting Christendom says a great deal about how much conservative politics have coopted evangelicalism.

Again. Being post-Christian or post-Church does not necessarily mean being post-faith.