Piers Plowman: An Argument Between Mercy and Truth on Holy Saturday

30 03 2013

Hearing strange noises and bright lights flashing from Hell, two Sisters (Mercy and Truth) have an argument on Holy Saturday questioning what the event might mean.  The argument is eventually resolved by a third sister (Peace), who announces with great joy that because of the victory of Jesus on the cross, Hell has been ruined.  Through Jesus’ victory on the cross, no sinner need fear Hell who puts his trust in Christ.  

The below is taken from Piers Plowman (Passus 18).  Piers Plowman is a theological allegory written by William Langland in the 14th century.  The sisters represent the seven virtues and the below deals with the catholic doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell.  Do be sure to read to the end for a real treat.

There was great noise and great darkness as the day went on.

And a strange light and a gleam lay before hell.


“I really have wondered at this strange event,” said Truth.

“And I’m wondering what it means.”


“Don’t wonder any longer,” said Mercy.  “It beckons glad tidings.

A maid named Mary, a mother unlike any other,

conceived through a Word from God and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

She became great with child; and without sin

brought him into the world.  That tale is true as God is my witness.

“Since this babe was born thirty winters past, he died and fooled death today, around noon.

And that is the cause of this bright light,

which means that man shall from his darkness be drawn.

This light and this gleam will blind Lucifer.

The Patriarchs and the Prophets have preached of this event often

– That man shall man save through a maiden’s help.

And what was ruined through one tree, another tree shall win back.

And as death is brought down, the pain of death is relieved.”


“What you’re saying,” said Truth, “Is nothing but hot air!

For Adam and Even and Abraham with other

Patriarchs and prophets who lie in pain,

Never believe that yonder light will lift them up

Or have them out of hell – hold your tongue, Mercy!

What you’re saying is just trifle; I, Truth, know the truth,

That a thing that’s once in hell never comes out.

Job the perfect patriarch discredits you sayings:

Because there is no redemption in hell.


Then Mercy most mildly mouthed these words:

“From experience,” she said, “I hope they’ll be saved;

For venom undoes venom, from which I fetch proof

That Adam and Eve shall have remedy.

Of all devouring venoms the vilest is the scorpion’s;

No medicins may amend the place where it stings

Until it’s dead and applied thereto, and then it destroys

The first poisoning through its own virtue.

And so this death shall undo, I’ll bet my life,

All that Death and the Devil first did to Eve.

And just as the deceiver through deceit deceived men first,

So shall grace, which began all, make a good end

And deceive the deceiver, and that’s a good deception:

It takes a trick to undo a trick


“Now let’s just hold it,” said Truth; “it seems to me I see

Out of the nip of the north, not ver far from here,

Righteousness come running.  Let’s take it easy,

For she knows more than we – she was before we both were.”


“That’s true,” said Mercy,”and I see her to the south

Where Peace, clothed in patience, comes ready to play;

Love has desired her long – I believe none other

But Love has sent her some letter about what this light means

That hovers over hell thus; she’ll tell us.”


When Peace, clothed in patience, approached them both,

Righteousness reverenced Peace in her rich clothing

And prayed Peace tell her to what place she was going

And whom she meant to gladden in her happy garments.

“My wish is to go,” said Peace, “and welcome them all

Who for many a day I could not see for murkiness of sin,

Adam and Eve and many others in hell.

Moses and many more will sing merrily

And I’ll dance to their tune – do the same, sister!

George Herbert: “The Agony”

28 03 2013

Much to dwell on, particularly this time of year.  The final paragraph is a fine thing to keep in head and heart come Thursday evening.

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

Getting Radical: Christianity Today Gives Tough Review of the Radical Movement

21 03 2013

There has been a little bit of buzz on staff regarding the cover story of the latest Christianity Today.  If you have not seen it, the cover story is a theological critique of the so-called “Radical” movement which encompasses books like Radical, Not a Fan, and Crazy Love among others.  Because the authors of the aforementioned books have not been dead for 200 years, I have not read them.  That is, I had not read them until last night.  Seeing as how the article was getting traction, and also seeing as how I got quite a few e-mails yesterday regarding the article, I thought I should finally read these.  I read Radical and Not a Fan last night.  I will offer some additional thoughts in a few days.  In the meantime, I’ve excerpted what I thought was one of the more interesting critiques in the article, namely that the authors of said books feel the need to use superlatives to describe the Christian faith.  It’s worth noting that previous generations used superlatives to describe Christ, not Christians.  Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the below or the article as a whole.  Be sure to follow the links at the bottom.

Really. If there’s a word that sums up the radical movement, that’s it. Platt’s Radical opens with it, by describing what “radical abandonment to Jesus really means.” Idleman says he’s going to tell us “what it really means to follow Jesus.” Furtick says that “if we really believe God is an abundant God … we ought to be digging all kinds of ditches [for when he sends the rain, as Elisha did in 2 Kings 3:16-20].” Do those who lead mediocre, nonradical lives for Jesus really believe at all?

The question has ample biblical warrant, of course. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Chan draws on this verse explicitly, calling for “a serious self-inventory.” Idleman draws on it implicitly as he calls readers to have a “define the relationship” talk with Jesus to “determine the level of commitment.” (Idleman draws on Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”) In his latest work, Follow Me, Platt makes his warning explicit: “There are a whole lot of people who think that they’ve been born again, but they’ve been dangerously deceived.” It’s really hard to read these books, one after another, and confidently declare yourself a Christian at the end…..

(a few paragraphs later the author picks up the thread again)

These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us. Platt wants to safeguard the distinctness of God’s saving work over and against our effort. But his primary concern is for the “outflow of the gospel.” This means “putting everything in our lives on the table before God” and being “willing to sacrifice good things in the church in order to experience the great things of God.”

The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to reallytrust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

You can join the conversation at Steve’s blog here.  You can read the original article at Christianity Today here.

Emotion and Emotionalism

20 03 2013

I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film Commando when I was about five years old.  The news that I had seen that film at such a young age (or seen it at all!) horrified my Christian neighbors, which looking back upon it gives me a little bit of a chuckle.  One of my take home points from that is that Arnold somehow made it through the whole film without crying.  His daughter got kidnapped.  Arnold didn’t cry.  He got thrown out of a plane.  He didn’t cry.  He got flung from a car.  He didn’t even wince.  He was stabbed in the ribs, blown from a building, and shot (multiple times!) and Arnold never shed a tear.  I have high value for all of these things.

I have low value for group hugs, sitting in drum circles, tight jeans, and men crying (there seems to be a link between these things).  This of course is not a biblical conviction.  I just find these things distasteful, kind of like ketchup based BBQ.  I just don’t like it and have suspicions that such things somehow undo the moral fabric of the universe.  Nevertheless, I do have a high value for the emotional life of the Christian.  When I say this, I want to differentiate between emotionalism and the emotional life.  One is bad.  One is vital.  Let’s talk about them briefly.


By “emotionalism,” I mean a characteristic which places highest value upon emotions, or how we feel, and interprets the world through our own emotions.  I want to say that this is bad in general and downright destructive to the Christian.  Let’s talk first about why it’s bad in general.  Consider the following from David Brooks, commenting on the moral compass of young adults:

When asked about wrong or evil, they (young adults) could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.  Rejecting blind deference to authority, many of the young people have gone off to the other extreme: “I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.”

­–David Brooks, “If it Feels Right” NYT

I suppose the above works in some circumstances but in others it is woefully inadequate.  For example, I have never felt like getting up at 3 a.m. to be with a crying baby, but I’ve had to because it was my duty as a parent.  Emotionalism disconnects our emotions from our obligations.  I take this to be the reason why so many young adults felt it was o.k. to document their poverty outside of wall street with their $500 Iphones.  It is hard to take seriously the oppression of someone while they’re in designer clothes and carrying smart phones.  But the objective reality makes little difference.  They felt it.

That’s why emotionalism is bad in general.  Why’s it specifically bad for the Christian?  Let me give you one real world example.  I met a young man who came back from school and informed me that he had lost his faith.  I asked him why.  He told that that in Biology 101 he learned that there is no such thing as God.  Now indulge with me a brief segue.  Biology 101 has no standard by which to evaluate whether or not there is a God or not.  Methinks the professor was feeling his oats that day.  My first question to this young man was “Why did you believe in Jesus Christ?”  He replied, “I felt it.”  If you base your faith on how you feel, when the feeling goes away so does your faith.  Whoops!


Faith was never meant to be based upon our feelings, rather it is meant to be based upon fact.  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The core of the Christian message is the proclamation of an event.  Christianity does not first call us to feel, or to hope, or to even place our faith in something.  The first thing that Christianity does is it calls us to the consideration of an event.  The event is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Because it is said that this event happened in time and space, it can be investigated, discovered, found out, or even disproved.  The critical thing to apply at this point is that Christianity is not dependent upon how you feel.  The resurrection either happened or it didn’t.  How you feel about the resurrection has no real direct bearing on whether or not Christ died, was buried, and then on the third day was raised.

Our emotions have no bearing on the event, but the event should be brought to bear on our emotions.   Perhaps an analogy will serve the purpose.  If my wife announces that she is pregnant she has proclaimed an event.  The news of this event might make me happy, anxious, scared, or even angry.  If I heard such news and did not have an emotional response, people might rightly conclude that not all the gears were properly spinning upstairs.  The same is true of the Christian Gospel.  It is the proclamation of an event and this proclamation should elicit an emotional response.  If it doesn’t, then you have not heard it correctly.  Confessing Christians who do not have an emotional response to the proclamation that Christ died for sinners probably have something wrong with their Christianity.  It should do something to the heart.

Maintaining the Christian Emotional Life

Here is the great difference between emotionalism and rightly ordered Christian emotions.  Under the former, our emotions interpret reality.  Under the latter, reality is the basis for our emotional response.  Christians do not base their faith on how they feel.  Christians base their faith on the event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  More than that, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus should be the basis not only for the Christian’s faith, but also for the Christian’s emotional life.  Principally, the Gospel of Jesus should make Christians (to quote William Tyndale) “happy to the low bottom of their soul.”

The importance in this is that the Christian’s emotional life is not based upon their behavior (righteous or sinful?), their faith (faithful or faithless?), or their feelings (happy or sad?), rather the Christian’s emotional life is based upon the unchanging and objective Gospel event of Jesus giving himself over for sinners and being raised from the dead for the same.  Christian’s don’t always “feel it.”  Sometimes we open the Bible and it is an empty word.  Sometimes we go to Sunday worship and just don’t feel like singing.  Other times prayer feels like a labor rather than a love.  So what happens when we don’t feel it?  What should we do?  The hymnist Edward Mote  “On Christ the Solid Rock” gave invaluable advice when he wrote:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Mote expresses the feeling of darkness.  Rather than rest on his feelings, he fell back on the event.  “I rest on his unchanging grace,” that is the objective reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection for sinners.  Mote knew that the way to recalibrate the heart was not to try to drum up extra emotion, but rather to fall back on the event upon which every Christian emotion should be based.

Here’s a little confession.  I’m a reasonably emotional Christian.  If I talk about Jesus and the Gospel for too long, I will probably end up getting a little teary eyed because it has that effect on me.  On occasion, I will have people say “I wish I could feel it like you!”  What I would say to them is counterintuitive.  If you want to feel happy about your faith, quit focusing on your feelings and start focusing on the Gospel.  Think long and often about the event, who accomplished it and what it means for you, and I think you’ll find that a rich emotional life will follow from there.

The value of a Christianity that bases emotions upon Christ, rather than validating Christ by emotions, is that it brings the emotions into service of Christ because it finds him as the root of all joy, comfort, peace, and happiness.  This is the value of an emotional Christianity.

Richard Baxter on Suffering and Death

19 03 2013

Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.

If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.

Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessèd face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will Thy glory be!

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.

My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.


Martin Luther: Good works flow from love and joy

18 03 2013

For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and doe good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ver once thinks of law.  He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.2 76

Martin Luther: The Great Work of the Christian

14 03 2013

Challenging words from the good doctor:

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own.  We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely love him.  If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned.

-Martin Luther, Church Postil 2.261


Is the New Apologetic Pelagian in Approach?

13 03 2013

Dr. James K.A. Smith thinks the new apologetics is at least broadly Arminian, if not downright Pelagian.  Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite:

The new apologetic, in other words, is fundamentally Arminian, perhaps even Pelagian (and yes, I know the difference*).  The drive to eliminate intellectual and “moral” hurdles to belief is a fundamentally Arminian project insofar as it seems to assume that “believability” is a condition for the skeptic or nonbeliever to then be able to “make that step” toward belief.

While this might confirm a lot of prejudices, it should be said that this is an odd strategy if one is an Augustinian or a Calvinist–since in an Augustinian account, any belief is a gift, a grace that is given by God himself.  So if God is going to grant the gift of belief, it seems that God would able to grant and empower a faith that can also believe the scandalous.  In other words, God doesn’t need our help.

You really ought to click here to read the rest.

The Limits of Religion and Other Things

11 03 2013

This past weekend Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, visited Charleston, S.C. as a guest of the Secular Humanist Society.  This was an exciting opportunity for several reasons.  First, the event was free.  The organizers are to be applauded for this.  Second, it is not everyday that a world famous scientist visits your hometown.  Third, and finally, Dawkins is also a world famous atheist.  As a personal rule, if I can sit at the feet of someone who purports to submit Christianity to critique then I want to avail myself of this.  In terms of the new atheists’ objections to Christianity, I’ve found they have a legitimate moral critique of Christianity on several fronts that is good for the church to hear.  However, I’ve found their rational critiques of Christianity to come up short and actually end up strengthening my faith rather than weakening it.  So all in all, I regularly read the new atheists and was quite happy to have one come to town.  Unfortunately, the auditorium was too small and the fire marshal turned me away at the door.

I was fortunate enough to have dinner with some attendees who shared with me the content of the discussion as they heard it.  One predictable component of the discussion was the incompatibility of science and religion.  I can’t respond to what was said at the event, but I can respond to this supposed incompatibility.  The aim is nothing exhaustive, just a few thoughts to get your mental gears spinning.

The Limits of Religion:

While I do not wish to limit myself to Christianity, but rather to religion in general, I am after all a Christian and must begin somewhere.  Article VI, of the 39 ARticles of Religion states that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.”  This is an exceptionally simple statement regarding the purpose of Holy Scripture.  The purpose of the Holy Scriptures, according to the Anglican 39 Articles, is to set forth those things necessary for salvation.  That is its purview.  We can maintain that Scripture does speak into life beyond salvation, such as matters of history or practical wisdom from ancient times, but there are many things that are simply beyond the scope of scripture.

To pick an obvious example, Holy Scripture has very little to say regarding germline mutations in PTEN and their relationship to PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome.  This is not to say that Scripture has nothing to say, but that it says very little.  Scripture (whether you believe it or not) does say that God created a world, that the world was good, but something has gone horribly wrong.  These principles can be applied generally to the above perhaps to lend meaning to disease.  But these principals cannot be applied specifically to determine treatment for a disease.  Here religion is limited and must depend upon scientific disciplines if it wants to make progress.  Religion, on its own, does not have the ability to comment specifically about germline mutations, the Planck constant, Bernoulli’s principle, or anything else of that nature.

The Limits of Science

Science on the other hand does have the ability to comment on the above with great specificity and for this we should be grateful.  But an oft overlooked fact is that science does not have the ability to comment on the above absolutely, but rather only in terms of probability.  What I mean by this is that phenomena can be observed, repeatability noted, and a hypothesis generated.  To offer a very simple illustration, I can see that the sun comes up today.  I observe the same tomorrow.  Therefore I can hypothesize that it will do so the next day.  But what am I really saying?  What I cannot say is that the sun will come up tomorrow.  I can only say that the sun will probably come up tomorrow.

The above is what the late Peter Lipton (former department head of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge) described as a “matter of weighing evidence and judging probability, not proof” (Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation pg 5).  Science, when based upon induction (which the natural sciences are)  is limited in that it can only tell us what is probablebut it cannot tell us definitively what is.  Here we see the limitations of definitive pronouncements upon not just a range of natural phenomena, but a limitation to make any definitive pronouncements upon any natural phenomena.

The last sentence is a bit of a doozy and may require a little unpacking.  Surely we can make some definitive pronouncements upon some natural phenomena can’t we?  Well let’s give it a shot.  If I take my coffee mug and slide it off my desk it will fall.  I can do the same to the mason jar (full of water! not moonshine!) and slide it off.  The same happens.  Surely the same will happen again?  Most likely if not surely, the same will happen again.  There are a range of questions to ask from here, but let’s just cut to the chase.  I’m less interested in how you know that the coffee mug will fall, than how you  know that there was a coffee mug at all.  In other words, if I were to conduct such an experiment, how could I prove to you or to myself that I was not dreaming or worse in a coma?  How can I prove that the natural phenomena I’m observing is not an illusion or wicked delusion worked by a powerful Cartesian evil demon?  The unfortunate answer to the above questions is that there is no way you can prove that the natural phenomena you observe everyday are real.

Crossing Boundaries

When you and I engage the world as if it were real, we are doing so based upon the presupposition that it is real.  But this presupposition is groundless, that is, it is an act of faith.  Faith then is the first move required to observe, measure, and predict the behavior of natural phenomena because in order to do so, one must believe that such phenomena exist and will behave in an ordered way that can determine probability.  But there is no rational reason to believe that such phenomena exist outside of our own imagination.  To believe that they do is an act of faith.  Thus both the religionist, and the atheist, make their first moves based upon faith.

The difference between the religionist and the atheist is that the religionist is honest about this move whereas the atheist simply assumes it.  At the point of assumption, the atheist has crossed the boundary from science into religion, or science into philosophy.  Most of the time, he doesn’t even realize it’s happened.

This is not the only point where the atheist is likely to crossover into other territory unwittingly.  Take the moral zeal for truth of the new atheists.  If you are familiar with them, you will know that these people are admirably passionate for the truth.  Now my question is this: why are some passionate for the truth, others ambivalent, and yet still others enemies of the truth?  Consider the following from Richard Dawkins:

Genes swarm in hugh colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.  They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene pg 21)

According to the above, I am a “gigantic lumbering robot” that is manipulated by “remote control” by my genes.  This may be true, but if it is, upon what basis can we attribute moral worth to being passionate for the truth?  After all, if I am passionate for the truth am I not merely having a chemical reaction caused by my genes?  If I’m ambivalent, or an enemy of the truth, am I not simply having a chemical reaction?  I suppose one might say, “ah, but some reactions are better for the species that others.”  Granted, but as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, our ability or passion to discern what is true is not absolutely necessary for our progress as a species.  He writes:

from a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable.  God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.  But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope.  The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology.  In fact  he’d have to hold that it is is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable.  It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.  If this is so, the naturalist has a defeater for the natural assumption that his cognitive faculties are reliable (Plantinga, Books and Culture March 2007).

That’s a fairly heavy paragraph, that may be best served by an illustration (served up by Plantinga).  If I were to bump into a tiger and discern that this was an animal dangerous to my existence, I would run and therefore (hopefully!) survive.  But perhaps I bump into a tiger, and his stripes communicate to me that a race is about to begin between me and the tiger so I begin to run.  The outcome is the same, though one is based upon the truth (as far as we know) and one is based upon a lie (as far as we know).  Either way, the need to survive is served by the outcome of running.  So, “truth” is not necessary for the survival of the species.

If one follows the logic of the above, then being passionate for the truth is an illogical emotional response.  But the new atheists do get quite passionate, particularly in regards to religion.  When they do, they’re crossing boundaries from reason into faith.  In other words, they have no rational basis according to their worldview to get upset.

The Need for Something More

If you want to be passionate about the truth, you need to be able to say that (a) there is such a thing as objective truth to be passionate about and (b) that our response to truth is something more than a chemical reaction.  On both counts, we need to go beyond the realm of what can be proven scientifically and have therefore crossed into the religious/philosophical.  There will be many who are unwilling to make this leap, but in order to be consistent these same people need to very carefully re-evaluate their language, emotions, and behaviors to make sure that they are consistent with the strict materialistic worldview they’ve adopted.  But this is very hard to do, as Dawkins demonstrated this past weekend when he made reference to his “soul.”  You can take the boy out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy…but according to his worldview you should.

Our  inability to jettison language and behaviors that can only be justified through a religious world view I take to be an indicator that religion is natural to humans, because humans were made to be religious creatures.  As Augustine pointed out long ago, God made us for himself and we are restless until we find our rest in him.  This is by no means a winning argument (or even a good one!)  just an observation.  Christianity makes sense of human longing in such a way that the longing has significance and is not reduced to mere chemical reactions.  The problem with atheism is that it cannot intellectually give significance to human longing but neither can it emotionally discard the need to have that longing validated.  In this dilemma is a testimony in microcosm that something more is needed to make sense of the human condition than meets the eye.

All religions suppose that there is more to life than meets the eye.  Christianity’s unique advantage is that this “more” wants to be known.  The “more than meets the eye” took on human flesh, lived amongst us, died amongst us, and rose again amongst us.  The last point about the resurrection is particularly important.  Christianity teaches that this event did not happen in secret, but in public and can therefore be investigated.  Whether this investigation turns up a resurrected Son of God can be debated.  But it turns out that at the end of the day, while Christianity is certainly about faith, it is about more than faith.  After all, a man come back from the dead is a rare, but nevertheless an observable phenomena.

Secrets to Becoming a Christian Guru

5 03 2013

It is no longer sufficient for church leaders to aspire to be good pastors.  Delivering a faithful sermon, devoting yourself to prayer, loving the people God has given you, and reaching out to the lost are no longer enough to determine success in modern Christendom.  If you really want to be considered successful, you need to aim to achieve “guru” status.  Because the “Christian Guru” is a relatively new gift of Christ to his church, I thought it might be helpful to write a short article describing what a “guru” is and offer a few brief points on how to achieve guru status.  As a caveat, I must put forward that I myself have not achieved guru status, so I’m not the most qualified to offer any advice on these points.  Nevertheless, I have had some success in research through a modest academic career, so I do offer the following as the humble observations of a researcher of this new trend.

The Christian Guru (Definition):  A professional conference speaker, with no home church, who is put forward as an expert on a perceived problem that may or may not exist outside of the mind of the conference attendees.

What are the Essential Features of a Christian Guru?

Posit a Crisis:  The Christian Guru must first posit a crisis.  Not just any crisis will do, but it has to be a crisis that would somehow compromise the eternal destiny of the church and place in jeopardy Christ’s promises.

Introduce a “Secret Solution”: The crisis can only be resolved by recovering some lost, secret knowledge.  It is essential, to solidify the guru’s status, that only he has been able to recover this lost knowledge.

Reinforce the “secretness” of the solution with obscure language:  The crisis is resolved not in plain language, but in secret language.  The simple instructions of Jesus, being insufficient, are translated into complex language that must be explained by the guru.  A current trend among Christian gurus is to raid the language of corporate America, baptize it, and then introduce it to the church as a truth that they personally derived from their study of scripture.  Things like “alternative metrics” are all of a sudden discovered in Paul’s Letter to the Church in Ephesus.  Corporate language is not necessary however.  Obscure language currently popular amongst gurus are:  missional, inter-generational, relevant, enculturated, incarnational, post-evangelical, post-Christian, postmodern, post (anything).  It is critical that these words are used quickly, before anyone asks you what they mean.

Encourage People to Adopt Your Paradigm:  The aim of the Christian Guru is to accumulate followers who adopt not the strategy, but the language of the strategy, so that they demonstrate their distinctiveness through their unique vocabulary.

Accidental Points:  You cannot be a guru and neglect the above points.  The points below, not being essential, are accidental.  Though they are not essential, they are most certainly helpful to solidify the guru’s reputation.

 Wear Tight Clothes:  If you were to go into your wife’s closet and remove a pair of her jeans, preferably in some kind of pastel color, you would be well on your way to becoming a Christian Guru.  Though just a few years ago it would be unseemly for a man to do such a thing, it has become guru mainstream.  I believe this trend was first introduced through the modern church planting movement.

Adopt an Accent:  Most gurus have accents.  This helps with their mystique, which is essential to becoming a guru.

Soul Patch:  It’s hard to determine where the effectiveness of the soul patch lies, but again, I think that it reinforces the mystique of the guru by making them appear as if they were a wizard or magician, pulling solutions to the church’s problems straight out of their magic hat…er…Bible.

Apple Product Competent:  Gurus only use Apple Products.