Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to help new, doubting, or troubled Christians.

Here's an amazing quote from Tullian Tchvidjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church:
Jesus doesn't stand at the top and shout down, "You can make it." He stands at the bottom and whispers, "It is finished."
It's a radical and crazy idea, but it is in my opinion simply a summary of an old idea found in Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross. Some say it is merely Paul's theology in the Epistles. In this view, Christian growth isn't about you climbing up a ladder or out of some sort of spiritual pit. Not about your efforts (even if with Christ's encouragement) to get yourself higher. It's becoming more and more aware of how you are at the bottom and have nothing to rely on but Christ's assurance that, "It is finished." It's a radically different view of Christian growth.

Now consider your friend who's going through a period of doubting, moral stumbling, or is brand new to the faith. How you would respond to such a person depends on whether or not you view Christian maturity by analogy as going up a ladder out of a pit. If you think Christ's "It is finished" is our final answer, and there's nothing we can do to get ourselves out of the pit, then your advice and counseling to your backsliding friend may revolve around helping him or her get a grip with this reality. If instead you have adopted a model where you look on your backsliding pal as a few rungs behind you on the ladder, you may strive to think of ways for that person to pull themselves up. You could point to spiritual practices, like prayer--maybe even special topics or wording of prayer to use, bible reading, books, devotional practices, signs, songs, or good works.

There are several problems with this second, "ladder" view. Among them are that you may end up believing that your own efforts got you higher up the ladder.  You may end up implying to your friend that their lack of practice at these spiritual acts is what caused their "funk". You may imply that all they need to do to earn as much merit with God as you have is to perform the mighty spiritual works that you have. Perhaps even worse is you could end up thinking that other friends are behind you on the ladder depending on how many spiritual good deed "merit badges" they are wearing on their sleeves.

Am I over-reaching?  Here's a quote from Luther's greatest work, the Heidelberg Disputation, composed in 1518 as a series of 28 tweets.
The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
Luther says it's dangerous-- gives you double guilt-- to believe one obtains merits by "doing what is in him."

On the other hand, what if your backsliding friend became even more fully aware that in truth, "It is finished"? Might they start singing, praying, studying, doing good deeds?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

NY Times Obituaries

A pal posted a "wordle"word cloud of tweets from the NY Times Obituaries twitter feed. Only problem is he only used one month's feed. Here's my much cooler version, using a full year of the feed: Wordle: NYTObits

Friday, December 07, 2012

Android engagement, continued.

Many others, lukew included, have written on the mystery of why Android devices are unused. Here's my own survey. On Amtrak trains immediately before and after Thanksgiving, 2012, on a trip from NYC to Washington, DC, I walked along multiple cars to the dining hall. Both times, I checked out the electronic devices in folks' laps. I ignored anything the size of a laptop (with a keyboard). Here's my survey
  • 28 iOS products (iPhone/ iPad/ iPod)
  • 2 Blackberries
  • 2 Samsung products
I just had to tell someone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The War on Christmas

Do we spend more time:
  • Telling the world about all the sins of the world against us?
  • The One who is the Answer to our sins against the world?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Luther, Anti-Semitism, and Legalism

A Lutheran friend posted for discussion on her Facebook page an article about whether Martin Luther were anti-Semitic. I had some thoughts on the matter and went back to her page the next day and it was gone: probably too controversial. So here is my take, offered here.

The discussion has to start with a Christian definition of legalism from the perspective of a Theology of the Cross. In my youth, I was taught that "legalism" was a very bad thing. I still agree that it is, it was just wrongly defined at the time. I was warned that not only telling people what good things to do but also talking about what bad things people were doing was legalism. I believed this for a while, but later realized the last half of that equation-- silence about what bad people were doing, stemmed more from the right-libertarian works of Ayn Rand than Luther.

I didn't gain a proper understanding of legalism until I started listening to the sermons of Tullian Tchividjian. He correctly points out is that legalism is REDUCING the demands of the law to the DOABLE. It's not that the legalist gives you too many things to do, it's that the legalist reduces the full weight of demand of God's law down to a minimum standard that the legalist is comfortable with. Tullian on the other hand says Christ's demand is to be perfect. (Matt 5:48) Not, give yourself grey hairs and ulcers worrying about whether you've gone enough to deserve God's grace, but "Shut up, sit down and thank God for Jesus!"

Now on to a social question, like, for example, the treatment of Jews in Medieval Germany. It was really bad. The problem of many conservatives is to dismiss the gravity of anything that Luther or any Christian German did wrong. They shrug and say, "Luther was definitely a man of his times." In other words, "Hey, he wasn't nearly as bad as his neighbors, and his badness was merely what responsible people in his day and age did." In this view, God's only "social demand" of you is to be as responsible as your responsible neighbors.

This view in my opinion is an affront to everyone who suffered, and and affront to the idea of a just or a loving God. "Be perfect" in this view gets reduced to, "Do as the Joneses do."

What would Luther say if accused (today) of participating in an evil, God-displeasing culture, of being an intellectual architect of the 20th century Holocaust? Some conservatives may say that defending the honor of a man who came up with some very Godly theology is defending God. Some theologians of the cross may say that pointing out how bad we are only points the need for a cross. Again, I quote Luther's letterto Spalatin:

“Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.”

The question for us today is whether the Holocaust or any other social sin that folks are debating today are "real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities."

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Racism's unintended consequences

Two stories from my youth:
  1. I'm about 17 and sitting at a Boy Scout camp with two other boys from my high school from Lynchburg, Virginia. We start chatting about other guys in the high school. One of them mentions a boy who goes to my church. I actually say I hate that boy because he comes to church dressed in Alligator shirts all the time. One of the guys says, "But that's what you're supposed to wear, unlike the N____'s in their white suits." It dawned on me that there were people who hated blacks enough to use derogatory language, and I shared uncool characteristics with the blacks. You see, the only suit I owned was a white one. Granted, me saying I hated a kid from my own church probably wasn't the best witness for the faith, but that's another story.

  2. Our high school graduating class was having a reunion, to be hosted at the local country club. It was stated that one popular black woman would not be attending because of the venue. Her parents, in her youth, had not been allowed as a matter of policy to join the club, so she was offended at the choice of venue. It dawned on me that my church-going, college-educated father, who kept a nice home with furniture chosen by his wife consulting with an interior decorator, this man too wasn't ever allowed in that country club. Probably of stock too recent to the US, himself too recent to the town, and having made the choice of choosing a neighborhood too close to the clusters of African Americans in the town. He had remnants of a Swedish accent and grew up as an itinerant farmer, one step above sharecropping. But there was some excluding going on in the town, and my family wasn't allowed in places blacks weren't allowed in.
There are probably two ways to respond to such a situation:
  • A) Claw and scratch your way into whatever exclusive circles exist in your era, so that your kids don't suffer the same shame.
  • B) Adopt politics and theologies that express exasperation with those who hate the unlovely minority du jour.
I guess I ended up in the latter camp.

Three ways of looking at Christians

There's at least three ways of looking at Christians, and how they interact with the world:
  1. Christians stink.
  2. The only way someone would think Christians stink is that the liberal media distort the truth about them.
  3. Christians stink.
I guess I repeated myself a bit there. Let me explain each option, and give a concrete example:
  1. Christians stink. This was said, in a derogatory sense, by Ted Turner when he said, "The Church is for losers."

  2. The only way someone would think that Christians stink is that the liberal media distort the truth about them. I caught this sentiment in an article that Trevin Wax linked to on his blog, "9 Lies the Media Likes to Tell About Evangelical Christians". Evangelicals (Christians) are incredibly cool, it's just the media that distort the truth because they hate them.

  3. Christians stink. This idea was found in several places:
    • Again, it was said, in a derogatory sense, by Ted Turner: "The Church is for losers." The only way I know Turner said this was that it was quoted in a sermon by Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian agreed with Turner, and is a great evangelical pastor, IMO.
    • Romans 3. Romans 3:19ff says that ALL people are swift to shed blood, that the mouths of ALL people are open graves. Christians should be counted for in this list of all people, written by a Christian to a church of Christians.
    • Martin Luther (quoted in Walther's Twelfth Lecture claimed as much. (To find the section in that link containing the full context of these quotes, search for the name "Spalatin".) Luther writes to a fellow pastor who has become completely despondent over his having given out some really bad moral advice. Luther writes:
      "“Therefore my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our Helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.”
      In other words, Christians stink!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ken Ham vs Hugh Ross

Here is a very important debate, carried out most politely and thoroughly, between the main proponents of Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism.

I have a number of comments about the views expressed by Ken Hamm, the YEC proponent.

First, Ken says that we cannot make use of astronomy whatsoever, because we are fallen. I would have to say that's a mark against your theological view, especially if you are running a museum which speaks of physical proofs of your creation model.
Secondly, I wonder if it's not possible for a scientist to say something is dis-proven. For example, suppose I have a hypothesis that this cup of coffee always falls UP when I let go. I test the hypothesis by letting go, and it goes DOWN. Is this a TRUTH, even in the eternal, Godly sense, that I have DISproven the hypothesis that things go UP? In science, we can never be sure of what IS, but we very often can disprove that which IS NOT. Science is living with doubt based on what you know is not. I'm just doubtful of Ken's presumption that the fallibility of humans prevents us from learning anything about the past from astronomy.
Thirdly, Ken repeatedly discards any biblical reference that tells about the details of creation that is not in Genesis 1-11. This too I find to be very problematic.  Again, I reason why I think his biblical model is wrong.

Not much else I can type that would add to this piece. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

iPhone Recursion

What happens when you point the export of a iPhone camera at an external display?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Monday, May 07, 2012

Shameless plug: tuna

Google blogger now allows one to post outright ads on your blog. In searching for something to advertise, I was disappointed in how few options there were for actually selling food. Perhaps it was too close to dinnertime when I was posting this. This tuna snack has served for a meal for me at work at least once in my career.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Cool NASA Video

Shows really cool video of everything NASA is doing. News to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

35 minutes searching visual references, 15 minutes drawing w/o reference

Call it: the unveiling of the underwater diamond.
Lame, yes, but had Kirby on the mind. Trying out various layers on a Wacom Bamboo tablet.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Comic episode

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

My stackoverflow badge

Not that I have or ever will be able to make any contribution...

profile for pterandon at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Letter to an Atheist

You may agree with me that the value system of, say, to pick three people, Al Franken, Michael Moore, and Rosie O'Donnell is completely different from that of what could be called "biblical literalism." You might also agree with me that the value system of Franken, Moore, and O'Donnell is incredibly more preferrable than, say, that of Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich. Where you and I would disagree, however, is whether the value system of Santorum, Perry, & Gingrich is a necessary requirement of biblical literalism. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you are either as uneducated as the boo-ers in the Republican debate audiences, or you are a disingenuous propagandist, if you insist that it's so. I would also say that even Penn Jillette agrees with me on this point, as evidenced by exactly how he condemned Michelle Bachmann in a recent interview. I'd also claim that you can do nothing nicer to the "debate boo-ers" than to tell them that they are following the literal dictates of the instruction book left by the Creator of the Universe.