In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for his Church in this way:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:14-18)
These words have commonly led to the sentiment that Christians are called to be “in, but not of” the world we live in. To many, this idea might seem simple enough on paper. But as most of us know, the lived reality of this expression is far more complicated.
Every Christian is a product not only of her theological beliefs, but also of her surrounding culture and personal experiences. As a result, Christians often relate to their surrounding culture in very different ways. While one person might be inclined to have a positive outlook both on the culture and the Church itself, others might be far more critical on the culture and the work of the Church in the world. These differences are no small matter. A quick glance on Twitter and the major Christian websites reveals that we are quite divided with one another over how to faithfully live and witness in the world. Continue Reading
One of my favorite parts of the weekly worship service is what is commonly known as the passing of the peace. This is the part of the service where many of us regress inwardly to the spiritual state of a 3-year-old, groaning inside with an attitude of, “Awww, do I have to?” But second to the coming to the Lord’s Table together, this portion of the worship service serves as a deep comfort to my soul. Why? Because it is a physical act which is based on a deeply spiritual reality: Christians have been definitively reconciled to each other through Christ.
Whenever I have the privilege of leading this portion of the worship service, I will often say something along the lines of, “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and he has also reconciled us to one another. So, let’s take a moment to greet one another with the peace of Christ…” Some weeks those words feel hollow, and I’m sure they can feel fake to those who hear them. After all, while we might know intellectually that we are supposed to be reconciled to one another, our lived experience is often entirely different. Marriages and friendships within the church are strained; the challenges of the week cause us to distance ourselves from other church members; despite attending a church with others for years, we’ve hardly put forth the effort to get to know them.
Reconciled? Yeah right. How is this bitter, distant, conflicted group of people reconciled? Continue Reading
My wife recently took me to see the new biographical documentary on Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? While I don’t know how much Mister Rogers impacted me as a child, I do have faint memories of watching his beloved show. I never realized until I was an adult just how important and formative Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood really was.
In the documentary, they highlighted several clips from the show in order to demonstrate how Mister Rogers addressed public events and issues facing children. One of the clips that stood out to me the most – which I suppose is probably familiar to those who know the show well, unlike me – is of a duet between Daniel Tiger and Lady Aberlin. The conversation begins with Daniel Tiger wondering if he is a mistake, because he doesn’t know any other tigers like him. One of his verses goes like this:
Often I wonder if I’m a mistake?
I’m not supposed to be scared am I?
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I shake
Wondering isn’t it true that the strong never break
I’m not like anyone else I know
I’m not like anyone else
I know many people – children and adults – struggle with a sense of shame much like Daniel Tiger. I know, because I counsel them. I know, because I share in this same struggle. We question our worth, our value, our sense of self, whether or not we measure up to our own expectations (let alone anyone else’s). We too start to say to ourselves, “I wonder if I’m a mistake?”
I am far from the first person to get into a boxing match over the subjects of religion and evolution. While there are several reasons for this, I can summarize my objections to this conversation by highlighting how it is really like comparing apples and oranges. Any meaningful religious system is a comprehensive (philosophical, epistemological, emotional, existential, etc.) way of viewing the world. Evolution is simply a theory of origins; on its own, it provides no instruction for how or why we should view the world. The deeper conversation to be had is one of theism and naturalism. This is where we can actually engage in meaningful dialogue and get to the heart of how and why individuals may view the world differently.
This is especially important to remember when we start to get into a conversation about ethics. The naturalist movement has produced several different theories to account for ethical and moral standards for our society without transcendence in the picture, and it’s not my task to go through all of them in this post. In recent years, there have been two views of ethics in particular that I have seen gaining traction. The first is one which says the proper moral and ethical choice in any situation is that which alleviates the most suffering. Of course, one of the obstacles of this view is trying to account for what suffering is and why it is wrong.
The other view is one which tries to reinterpret the process of evolution itself to account for morality and ethics as a key piece of how we became the dominant species on the planet. In his recent talk at Google, Dr. Tim Keller gives a very brief presentation that gets into this subject of ethics from a theistic or secularist point of view. One of the last questions from the audience comes from an employee who I think really captures this new take on evolution well (around the 45min mark):
It seemed to me like a lot of your argument against secularism, or humanism, was predicated on this idea that human evolution…is sort of Hobbesian and ruthless. And I’m wondering how you would respond to an alternative hypothesis which is that humans – like some other species – actually evolved having a lot of benefit of social cooperation and in-group goal setting?
To be honest, this view sounds really nice on paper. Unfortunately it is an intellectually dishonest view which doesn’t square with the dominant views of how evolution – and human society – have really worked. This is one of the reasons why I have loved Yuval Noah Harari’s work in Sapiens. He is honest about human history from a naturalist perspective in such a way that he says the only way to account for ethics and meaning is through the power of your own imagination. In other words, everything that you think is meaningful and special in this life is completely made up. Continue Reading