Dealing With God Relationally

Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.

What sort of response does that elicit in you? Is it a deep well of encouragement? Does the language rub your theological sensibilities the wrong way or make you uncomfortable? Does it seem incomplete, shallow, or trite?

Without further context, it’s obviously hard to render any clear judgment on such a statement. In principle, however, it boils down to the question of relating to God. What does it mean for a Christian to have a relationship with God? What does it look like, or what should it look like? I hear this discussion crop up particularly often in the context of Christian music. The proliferation of “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend”-esque songs in the Contemporary Christian Music scene and the creation of a allegedly “relevant” Christian subculture have drawn attention and criticism to this idea of dealing with God relationally. In fact, a song on a Christian radio station recently raised the question in my mind and prompted this post.

We need to deal with this issue carefully and thoughtfully. One way to understand the nature of sin, after all, is that it destroys relationships. Central to the nature of God is that He is triune, three persons in one, and the members of the trinity exist in perfect, beautiful relationship with each other. In the Bible we are called to  relate to God as a Father.

It’s hard to keep a proper focus on this. I grew up in a church that heavily emphasized sound doctrine. Identifying false teachers and critiquing shallow theology was the norm. The Bible certainly requires this, to a degree, but sometimes Christians reach a point at which our study of theology retards the dynamic, relational experience of following Christ. For example, I distinctly remember a moment in Sunday School class, probably about ten years ago, where the teacher was talking about Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. He quoted a point where Warren basically says that more than anything, “God wants to have a relationship with you.”

“God doesn’t want a ‘relationship,'” the teacher responded with disdain, “He wants you to repent.”

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Step Back Sometimes and Remember that it’s All Fake and Pointless

Meet the latest cultural artifact and YouTube sensation from mix master Daniel Kim. For the past several years, Kim has been creating pop music mashups of the past year’s hits. His 2012 mix is easily his best yet, and the collective internet audience has rewarded it with more than seven million views after being out for only a week. It’s worth the eight minute watch:

I confess I’m enough of a Philistine to enjoy a good pop tune once in a while. Some I enjoy quite frequently (like Owl City’s “Good Time,” which I listened to daily all last summer). I try to at least know of the top music stars right now. A compilation like this thus brings back many memories from the past year. It’s skillfully mixed together and a lot of fun to watch.

These songs have a certain nostalgic value because I associate them with people or times in my life. That’s fine, but it really just obscures their true nature. When you think about the songs themselves, there’s almost nothing there. They are nothing but sticky-sweet ear candy stretched over a gaping void. Some of these songs are uplifting and anthemic, but most are also overwhelmingly narcissistic.

If this is representative of our cultural consciousness for the past year (not an entirely unfair claim), it raises some scary questions. The songs in this anthology are utterly detached from anything real, significant, lasting or valuable. It’s a load of fakeness, fool’s gold, glam and glitter, lights, pretty faces, too-perfect bodies, fleeting feelings. It’s kitsch that has little reason for existing other than to make money. Out of the Pop Danthology’s 55 songs, I could probably count on one hand the ones that aren’t about “love.” Continue reading →

A Simple (but Terrifying and Profound) Observation

I recently made a simple, but terrifying and profound observation: the notion of “catching up on” something is a fallacy.

At least, in a certain sense, it is. If you fall behind in a task, you can get caught up with that particular thing, but you can’t really get caught back up with your life.

Let me explain with an example: I go out and spend my entire Friday evening having a fun, but largely pointless and trivial, conversation with several friends. I could have been doing homework or getting to bed early during that time, but I did not do those things because (I reasoned) I can make up for it over the weekend.

In a sense I did end up making up for it–I slept in on Saturday and did homework Sunday afternoon–but only at the cost of something else. I wasn’t able to spend any time reading and writing outside of class like I planned. As a result, I went two weeks without writing a blog post and postponed my already sluggish reading of Augustine’s Confessions. I can’t go back in time and write those posts earlier. It’s already in the books of my life. And if I spend extra time pumping out another blog post later, it means sacrificing something else I had hoped to do at that time (probably an hour or two of sleep).

If you change your plans to spend extra time in the present, you must sacrifice something in the future. And when you do that, you’ll never really be able to do that thing you sacrificed, because by the act of catching up you’re only pushing back something else.

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Freedom of Religion is Only for Christians

Photo: Gage Skidmore

As a human being, I have a bias towards certain things, and I think a large part of it is towards the media. It seems like everyone these days can find a way to criticize journalists and tear down the work they do. In any controversy (or lack thereof) the media is always one of the first groups to get blamed.

I’ll be the first to confess that journalists are human and make their fair share of mistakes. Worse, their presuppositions, religious beliefs, and political framework play into their coverage. However, I still want to believe the best about journalists and the stories they write. Most of the time, I don’t think they’re out to get one side or the other.

Sometimes, though, they really are “that bad”. Yesterday I nearly spit my drink out when I came across this AP story about the Aug. 6th prayer meeting headlined by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Dubbed “The Response” and attended mainly by conservative Christians, the prayer meeting was promoted as a time for believers to gather and bring their mutual concerns and hopes before their God.

Many of the stories and commentary I’ve seen on it have either emphasized the political aspect–Perry’s marshaling the conservative Christian base–or questioned it’s appropriateness. Is it okay for a governor to lead such a narrow religious event? What about separation of church and state? etc.

If you want to talk about that, fine, but in this case, it seems, the writer has let her fear and disdain of these evangelicals slip through in a really sad way. Where did the AP story trip up? Look near the middle, where April Castro writes:

Perry’s audience Saturday was filled with people who sang with arms outstretched in prayer — and wept — as Christian groups played music on stage. And Perry, himself, huddled on the stage in a prayer circle with several ministers who helped lead the event. It was Perry’s idea and was financed by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and believes that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians. (empahsis mine) Continue reading →

Which Came First, God or Man?

Last week, the LA Times ran this little op-ed by J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer, authors of “Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith.” The title of their piece is “Science and religion: God didn’t make man; man made gods.” I couldn’t resist taking a look.

Articles like these always catch my attention. I think part of it is curiosity to see what new “anti-god” rhetoric atheists have come up with this time, but on a more serious note, the question of God, morality and origins is pretty fundamental to how we look at the world, and it has huge implications for how we live our lives. One of the compelling things about Christianity, I find, is that it is awfully hard to explain away.

Thomson and Aukofer claim to be able to do just that, and it therefore deserves a great deal of both fear and fearlessness as we approach it. I mean a sort of “fear and trembling” in the sense that it speaks to a high-stakes personal decision, and “fearlessness” in that we must be willing to listen to both sides. If they are right, we have nothing to fear about the claims of religious believers, and if a certain religious belief is true, then it should be able to withstand scrutiny.

(that said, thankfully I never thought to start reading the 2000+ comments. . . rarely a good idea, especially on YouTube)

I admit that on one level they have a compelling case. A lot of it does make sense. . . given certain presuppositions. However, the interesting thing about some of the claims of the article is that one can argue in the opposite direction. In fact, some Christian apologetics does exactly that.

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