Letter to an atheist

Dear hitherto unknown friend,

I have been invited into conversation with you by Kile Jones of the “Interview an Atheist at Church” project. My hope is that you would write a response that I could publish on my blog and we could carry on a dialogue of sorts for my readers to witness. I want to confess first of all that I’m completely unsure of how to proceed in this conversation. What I typically say to atheists is that I probably don’t believe in the god that you don’t believe in either, which I realize is probably pretty patronizing. I don’t want to be patronizing and I don’t want to presume that my words can convince you to convert to my faith, though admittedly I’m wired to have the agenda of evangelism somewhere in my head in most conversations I have with non-Christians.

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Cut government spending, except when I have to wait in line

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A number of people in my church have been impacted by the game of chicken known as sequestration that Obama and the Republicans are playing with one another. Almost everyone either works for the civilian sector of the government, a government contractor, or the military. Several people have lost their jobs; many have been furloughed. And that’s why I’m more than a little bit hot about the way that Congress has suddenly bolted in action to exempt the FAA from sequestration rules so that people won’t have to wait in line at airports. It’s an illustration of the uniquely American religious belief in ideology without consequences. Continue Reading

The moral crisis of mental illness

When we admit that mental illness has been a factor in many of the mass shootings that have happened, we are confronted with a moral crisis. As someone who takes pills every morning to make my mind work, I have often concluded that the world is divided between people who take mental health pills and those who don’t. People who don’t take these pills live in a world where a morality of individual responsibility works. Good choices get rewarded; bad choices get punished; and there’s no reason to blame anyone else for your bad choices. But when you go through the experience of actually losing your mind, that moral system crumbles and you face a true existential crisis. Continue Reading

From fear and trembling to refuge (Psalm 2)

I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue Reading

God built it; we didn’t

I used to build enormous towers out of blocks when I was four years old. My mom’s fridge still has a picture of me standing next to one of my towers beaming with pride. I built it. It’s a phrase that embodies the essence of human pride. Building something permanent was the ancient pagan form of immortality — to leave a legacy, hopefully with an engraving or a statue, so that no one would ever forget you. This is why the people of Babel decided to build their tower: “so that we may make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). For the ancient pagans, pride was a virtue, because pride was the anchor upon which good social behavior was built. To some degree, this is still the case today; people who want to be known as respectable try not to behave unseemly because of their pride. However, there is also a very pernicious side to pride. It can very easily mutate from dignified self-confidence into a neurotic neediness that makes us unsympathetic to others and dishonest about our flaws. Pride becomes a very lonely prison in which our ambitious agenda of self-promotion keeps us from having authentic, vulnerable relationships with other people. That is why one of the greatest gifts God gives us is to teach us to say, “God built it; we didn’t.” Continue Reading

Why God-reliance and self-reliance are utterly incompatible

I know that I got under some people’s skin for beefing with Dave Ramsey on Red Letter Christians. I’ve never been in debt. If I had and some guy’s videos helped me out of it, I would be hurt if some random cocky young blogger was hating on my hero. So I wanted to try to explain where I’m coming from and why I felt compelled to speak out. Continue Reading

Dave Ramsey: great debt advice, not so great theology

Today I watched Dave Ramsey’s Great Recovery video. I think I feel something akin to what the Calvinist bloggers felt when they saw the trailer for Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I’m physically sick at my stomach. Whenever I’ve ranted about the self-worship of American middle-class evangelicalism in the past, I always thought in the back of my head that I was attacking a straw man. Well I met the straw man today; and he’s a real person and very much in the mainstream of evangelical thought. Continue Reading