Politics and the Kingdom of God

There’s a great conversation going on over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed about the Scot’s post stems from a very intriguing article in the New York Times about Greg Boyd’s church in St. Paul and Randall Balmer’s new book Thy Kingdom Come, An Evangelical's Lament: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.

  • What should be the local church’s relationship with politics?
  • How should we navigate the tricky waters of trying to be a prophetic voice for Jesus’ Kingdom in our society and not tying ourselves into the power-plays of politics?
  • Should we try to separate the kingdom of God from the kingdoms of this world, or should the kingdom of God somehow influence the kingdoms of this world?

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The Stages of the Politics of Individualism

Emerging Christian Interaction with Political Ideologies Part 3

The first ideology that David T. Koyzis explains in his book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (InterVarsity Press, 2003) is called “Liberalism.” Again, by using this term, political scientists do not mean popular definition of “liberal” in American political debates (as opposed to Republican Conservativism) but an over-arching political ideology that has a commitment to individuality. The American political system has the individual at it's heart, and the political debates deal with the differing views on how to ensure individuals their rights and offord them with equal opportunity.

I’m into the next chapter in Koyzis’ book now (on the ideology of Conservativism), but before we go there, we should understand the development of liberalism is America (since this is the political ideology that we all work in as American, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat). Koyzis maps out five stages of development.

The Stages of Liberalism’s Development
Koyzis states that Western liberalism has gradually expanded both the range of freedom for individuals as well as the role of government to protect these freedoms.

  • Stage 1—“Hobbesian Commonwealth”: Koyzis calls this “pre-liberal” in that it laid the foundations of individual rights (especially the right to self-preservation) while at the same time affirmed a sovereign state.
  • Stage 2—“Night Watchman State”: Expanded on Hobbes in that we have the right to both preserve our life as well as earning a livelihood. This is where free market capitalism enters into the formula. In the same year as Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, which laid out the economic implications of liberalism: individual competition (which was new in that it moved economic competition from nations [“mercantilism”] to individuals). Capitalism is economic individualism: each person is to act in his own self-interest. It is said that altruism is not helpful to a capitalistic system, for when each individual seeks his or her own self-interest, an “invisible hand” leads the process for the best of all in society. The government, then, is put in the place of referee over the “game” of capitalism, setting the rules and making sure all play by those rules; but in no way is the government to attempt to determine the outcome. Some even likened this economic game to “social Darwinism,” in which the fittest survive in an economic society. The government, then just watches over the activity, making sure all play by the rules.
  • Stage 3—“Regulatory State”: After a while, the inevitable dark side of unchecked capitalism (especially when the industrial revolution created the abuse of labor and the formation of monopolies) reared its ugly head. Therefore, the government was no longer seen as the only potential abridgment of individual freedom; private concentrations of power also endangered it. Therefore, the role of government was advanced to include the protection from infringements from nonstate centers of power. The Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts of 1890 and 1914 epitomized this new regulatory state. Theodore Roosevelt believed that the federal government must control “industrial baronage.”
  • Stage 4—“Equal Opportunity State”: Liberal ideology continued to morph as it was realized that not only are people limited in their opportunities by public and private centers of power but also by impersonal factors such as insufficient economic resources, whatever the source of this lack may be. “If life is indeed a game, then the contestants have by no means got an equal start. Some have taken off from the starting gate with an extra advantage that will tend to favor their ultimate victory, while others are not only laboring under various handicaps, but may not have reached the gate at all.” Liberalism has a heightened sense of fair-play, so it often reexamines the rules of the game so that everyone gets a “fair-shake.” And since the “game” of life begins with every generation, if one’s parents have fared poorly in the last round, it will affect one’s chances to get ahead in their own round.
    Koyzis makes this analysis: “It is at this point that the analogy to a game begins to break down, which demonstrates once more a central weakness of liberal individualism: it is not only unable to account for the ontological status of community; it also ignores the connectedness of individuals to previous and succeeding generations. It pretends that the individual is an isolated runner in the race, whose success or failure depends wholly on herself.”
  • Stage 5—“Choice Enhancement State”: Since liberalism is dedicated to the desires of the individual, their will naturally be conflicts among individuals when they seek those desires. “The task of liberalism, therefore, is to try to accommodate these desires as much as possible in a reasonably peaceful and stable manner. But in no case should the liberal state attempt to prejudge the choices lying before individuals, since that would be an undue limitation on freedom of choice.” There is therefore a refusal to “legislate morality” in a purely liberal ideology. But this causes problems in that there are consequences for some individualistic behaviors that actually cause harm to society. In the quest to validate all lifestyle choices, liberals call upon government to ameliorate, if not altogether eliminate, such consequences so they can continue to engage in the quest for a utopia where everyone can do what she wants to do. Koyzis writes, “This final stage of liberalism demands that government effectively subsidize irresponsible behavior for fear that doing otherwise risks making the government into a potentially oppressive legislator of the good life.”
The tensions we feel in contemporary debates between "progressives" and "conservatives" and the like is this: The conservatives are harsh critics of this fifth stage of liberalism and want to go back to the 2nd stage of liberalism (the "Night Watchman"). Reagan conservatives believe that we can and should turn the clock backward to a better style of liberalism. However, Koyzis states that this is "inadequate because it seeks merely to reverse a lengthy--and possibly inevitable, given liberalism's presuppositions--historical process rather than to question in the first place liberalism's reduction of the state to a mere voluntary organization charged only with fulfilling the shifting terms of a social contract."

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Making the Most of College

COMMENT featured an entire volume to a series entitled "Making the Most of College." COMMENT is the journal of The Work Research Foundation. The WRF's mission is "to influence people to a Christian view of work and public life. We seek to explore and unfold the dignity of work, the meaning of economics, and the structures of civil society, in the context of underlying patterns created by God."

The articles in this volume:

Making the most of college: an introduction
by Gideon Strauss

Making the most of college: asking big questions
by Gideon Strauss

Making the most of college: learning to love good books
by Byron Borger

Making the most of college: learning from history
by Russ Reeves

Making the most of college: philosophy as schooled memory
by Calvin Seerveld

Making the most of college: studying ourselves to life or to death?
by Calvin Seerveld

Making the most of college: looking at paintings
by Chris Cuthill

Making the most of college: making friends for life ('I want to be tangled up . . . in the thorns of love')
by Greg Veltman

Making the most of college: heavy weights, big questions, and the public square
by Michael Metzger

Making the most of college: writing with purpose
by Jeffry C. Davis

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Collins on the Relationship Between Science and Faith

In my previous post, I was fascinated by an interview with a leading evangelical scientist (Sir John Houghton) who offered a way to reconcile science and faith, not favoring the way of “Intelligent Design.”

Also in the same week, I watched yet another leading evangelical scientist, Dr. Francis Collins, who led the effort to map the human genome, do the same on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

Now, Collins and Houghton are very big fish in the scientific community. And we evangelicals can claim them as our own!

However, from watching these two world-renowned scientists speak, it seems that while the ID pundits of conservative evangelical Christianity are trying to make inroads in our school boards, that there are some very strong voices that are saying that these battles may cause more damage than good.

Collins has just released a new book called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006), which he hopes will help bridge some of the gaps between faith and science.

Here’s an excerpt from PBS’ Bob Abernathy’s report on Dr. Collins:

ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, as grateful as Collins is for the healing his work will make possible, he's troubled by its contribution to the battle between some believers and most scientists over evolution -- what Collins calls the "flash point" between science and faith.

Dr. COLLINS: What I want to say about this I also want to say with great love and understanding for my fellow believers, who have a different view. But for me as a scientist, when I look at DNA -- our own, that of the human species -- the evidence that we are all descended from a common ancestor is overwhelming. Some might wish that not to be so. It is so. Does this conflict with Genesis 1 and 2? I don't believe it does.

ABERNETHY: The genetic code, says Collins, supports other evidence that human beings evolved from about 10,000 "founders" between 100-150,000 years ago, probably in East Africa.

Dr. COLLINS: One of my greatest heartaches is that at the present time serious believers, [who] believe that they have to defend a literal interpretation of Genesis in order to defend their faith, find themselves contradicting facts that God Almighty has given us the ability to discover.

ABERNETHY: For Collins, a supernatural God created human beings through the natural processes of evolution, and for religious believers to deny that is to invite ridicule of their faith.

ABERNETHY: But what about the theory of intelligent design, the argument dividing school boards around the country over whether life is so complex the theory of evolution can not explain it, thus there had to have been a designer?

Dr. COLLINS: Intelligent design, while a thoughtful, well-argued perspective, I do not think is taking us to the Promised Land. I think this will be an argument which ultimately will not do damage to science; it will do damage to faith. The problem is the examples that intelligent design puts forward we are learning a lot about. And the notion that those are examples of irreducible complexity is showing serious cracks.

Read the transcript or watch the show HERE


So, the questions that the insights of Houghton and Collins raise for us are these:

  1. Is the Intelligent Design battle really all that it is billed to be?
  2. Have we been guilty of listening to the side that we want to believe to the point of compromising our intellectual integrity?
  3. Are we evangelicals so enamored with William Paley’s 200-year old “Argument from Design” for the existence of God that we cannot accept the scientific community’s acceptance of some form of evolution?
  4. Have we been naïve in thinking that science (in the form of evolution) and faith (in the form of biblical Christianity) can never co-exist?

    Just asking…

Houghton on the Relationship Between Science and Faith

Bill Moyers’ new PBS series, "Faith and Reason" has had some very interesting interviews with diverse people from a wide range of faiths. This last week featured an interview with Sir John Houghton , widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent climatologists (he is Director General of the Britain's Meteorological Office, Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and is Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Scientific Assessment Committee). He has become as well-known for his theories on the compatibility of science and religious faith as his scientific achievements.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview that really intrigued me, about how he sees the compatibility between science and religious faith.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the questions I wrestle with, If God is the creator who created a universe which is, in so many ways, incomprehensible, even as you and I are sitting here, the-- the galaxies that we can measure by telescopes have-- have-- have expanded another couple of million miles, right?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Sure. Sure. Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: That's so incomprehensible to me. Why did God keep so much of it secret? Why did he make it so hard to find out? Why did he not reveal what is to us incomprehensible?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: I would just turn that around and say: Why is it that we actually can comprehend so much? Because it was Einstein who said, you know, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe it that it appears to be comprehensible! And when you think of the fact that we can, as human beings, we have the ability to understand, to some degree, the basic equations and mathematical structure and all those things which are the basis of the-- of the universe and its cosmology and the Big Bang and all those things, the very little particles and the enormous galaxies and-- and all those, we can get to grips with some of it. And that's very remarkable.

Because why should-- we have that propensity and that capability? We're just very small creatures on a minute ball in the middle of this very vast universe. And yet we have that propensity. Why do we have that? It's very hard to see that evolving in any way, although we may find scientific reasons for why-- why we've, you know, the way God makes things make themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Made things make themselves?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Well, God has made things that make themselves. And that's very clever. You know, if you make something-- you know, a gadget, I was involved in the early days of space instrumentation, you know, making space devices. And, of course, you had to throw them into space, and then you couldn't touch them at all afterwards. So you had to make sure that they lived on, whatever happened.

BILL MOYERS: Was this the notion that you came about of God, the watchmaker? God makes the watch and then lets it run on its own?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Well, that's part of that story. But it's cleverer than that. Because, you see, watches don't make watches. They don't make actual watches. But God is actually-- God's creation, you find things that or-- the ways in which the whole, you know, basic structure of science operates-- and astronomy.

I was more interested in astronomy than biology because-- because I was a physicist. And when you look at stars and you realize that stars are made by-- the very small parts of the atoms and-- and the nuclei within stars-- you know, stars collapse in the first instance to create high densities. And then the high densities get very hot. And then those very hot interiors, elements are made. You make helium. And then you make carbon. And then you make uranium. You make-- make all these elements within the stars. Then the stars blow up into supernovi. And they condense together again to make new stars. And those new-- well, our sun is one of those new stars. And out of that great mess of elements came the Earth.

And you think, well, there is God going through a very long process, taking billions of years-- in order to create something like the Earth. He doesn't do it overnight. But he-- he built into the very structure of the universe absolute basic, you know, el-- particles and the elements or things that make the particles work. God is a-- is a story -- is a story of things that are making themselves.

BILL MOYERS: So is God the name of what we don't know?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: You say we don't know-- I-- but I would say God is the name of a person we can know. It's this knowledge of God which-- I mean, if we don't-- if-- if we just call God or put the name of God on-- everything we don't know, that's a very big mistake.

That's a mistake the people who talk about intelligent design make, in a way. They say, "We don't know about things which are going on in the natural world. We don't understand various things and the process in which life has come into being or of the creatures who have come into being. So we'll put God as the name called intelligent design as the name on some of those little bits." And that's making God far too small. Because God is the great intelligent designer. The whole thing is intelligent design!

Read the Transcript HERE

Watch the interview HERE

Read David Neff’s interview with John Houghton, "Looking After Creation: Acclaimed physicist Sir John Houghton discusses his motives and passion for a cooler world climate" (Christianity Today, April 2006)

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Putting Propositions in Their Place

Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn, Part 4

As I see it, there are basically two ways to introduce somebody to Jesus Christ. One starts with propositions: trying to prove to somebody that Christianity is true and that they should believe certain “truth statements” in order to be saved and come into a relationship with God.

The other way starts with introducing a person to a relationship with God through the community of believers who live a certain way (they radically love God and love others) and who seek to transform their world for the good of all creation.

The first defines “apologetics” as primarily reasoned arguments to convince somebody that Christianity is true. The second defines “apologetics” as primarily incarnational, living in a conspicuous hope that brings about inquiries. “Always be prepared to give an account to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Let me illustrate:

Let’s say that there's two ways to get married...
(1) The first way is to go to a dating service and receive a data sheet about the person you will meet. 5'2" tall, 110 lbs., brown hair, has a short temper when she's hungry, enjoys long walks and candlelight dinners.

You meet her, and marry her based on the data, which seems to match the person. After 3 months, you begin to learn who the real person is. You either like her or not.

(2) the other way is this: You meet a person who you find attractive. You think she's witty and pretty and you want to get to know her more. Over several dates, you ask her questions about where she grew up, what she enjoys doing, what she feels her calling in life is. After a while, you think, "I want to marry her." You marry and continue to get to know each other.

Way (1) starts with propositions and gets to know the person through those first. But sooner or later you've got to meet the real person and really come to know her.

Way (2) starts with actually getting to know the person, and along the way learning propositional data about her.

Scenario (1) seems to be the way many people present Jesus: Here's the stuff you need to know about him.

Scenario (2) seems to be the way Jesus wants to be known.

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"A Tribute to Stanley Grenz" - PTR

The current issue of The Princeton Theological Review features a "A Tribute to Stanley Grenz."

Several articles and reflections are offered in light of the great theological contributions of the late Stan Grenz.

(HT: Dwight Friesen)

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Church shrinkage Institute

Byron Harvey offers a great idea - instead of all these conferences from mega-church pastors telling us how they grew their suburban churches into these huge corporations, maybe we should have a "Church Shrinkage Institute."

I think that instead of listening to pastors who have marketed their churches well, targeted their building in the part of town that was growing the fastest, and grew the numbers in their churches to the size that impresses enough to offer a conference on church growth, we should listen to pastors who have sought to go against this tide, who purposely go to the marginalized in society, and who have small but genuine Christian churches that are impacting their local communities.

I think that instead of lists like "50 Most Influential Churches in America" or the "Top 20 Youth Ministers" (yikes! they actually have a list like that!!), we can list the pastors who love their people and seek to create authentic community in both small-town America and inner-city neighborhoods.



The Politics of Individualism

Emerging Christian Interaction with Political Ideologies Part 2

The first part of David T. Koyzis’ book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (InterVarsity Press, 2003) deals with six political ideologies one at a time, then in the final three chapters he offers a biblical Christian response through a Creation/Fall/Redemption worldview, looks at the societal and political teaching of two historic Christian approaches: Roman Catholicism and Neocalvinism, and offers a theology on Justice.

The first ideology Koyzis tackles is one very familiar to the readers of this blog, for most of us live under this political ideology in the West (especially here in North America). It’s called “Liberalism” by political scientists, and what they mean by that is not the pop definition of “liberal” in American political debates (as opposed to Republican Conservativism) but an over-arching political ideology that has a commitment to the individual. The American political system has the individual at it's heart, and the political debates deal with the differing views on how to give individuals rights and equal opportunity.

“If a George W. Bush and an Al Gore seem to be implacable foes in the political arena, it is because both claim to represent the more authentic legacy of the same ideology.”

In a larger historic sense, both Bush and Gore are liberals of different stripes, sharing the same fundamental assumptions concerning the nature of humanity and of the political system. The debate in American politics is rarely between liberal ideology and other political ideologies but of different kinds of liberals: the classical or traditional liberals (what we might call the “conservatives”) and the reform or revisionist liberals (what we usually actually call “liberal” or, more recently “progressive”).

As Koyzis points out, “Even the abortion debate, in which Christians are so deeply involved, is usually framed in terms of the conflicting rights of individuals, which is a typical liberal way of approaching the issue. By contrast one could argue either side of the abortion issue on the basis of its impact on the larger society or on such basic human communities as marriage and the family. Such a communitarian approach is not entirely foreign to the North American scene, but individualistic arguments are more accessible and persuasive within our political culture.”

Let’s look at how the American experiment with Liberalism as the basic presumption of our political system looks and acts like a religion.

The Liberal Creed
Liberalism starts and ends with a fundamental belief in human autonomy—that the individual is the primary concern. In Liberalism, “everyone possesses property in their own person and must therefore be free to govern themselves in accordance with their own choices, provided these choices do not infringe in the equal right of others to do the same.” The purpose of political authority is to enforce accountability between individuals when this liberal concept of individuality is transgressed.

This creed flows from Enlightenment philosophy (from Epicurus’ idea that individuals should seek their own pleasure over pain, to Rene Descartes’ reduction of things to their component parts in order to understand them rationally (thus the emphasis on the individual as opposed to a communal understanding of society), to John Locke’s desire to structure society based on Reason (the presumed "ultimate and shared" arbiter of truth) which mandates that “no one ought to harm another in his Life, Liberty, or Possessions.”

The Liberal Creed says that a civil commonwealth must be established in order to create a “social contract” between individuals who are seeking their own freedom of choice. This is the purpose of government—to be a limited institution meant to free individuals to pursue whatever they please unrestrained by the dictates of others while ensuring personal security and enjoyment of property. The government is meant to simply enforce the “rules of the game” so that individuals can seek their own self-chosen ends.

The Liberal Idea of Sin
All ideologies, according to Koyzis, are based on a gnostic view of reality that ascribes evil to something in God’s creation as well as searching for something else in creation to effect salvation from that evil.

For those of us who live in the United States, we should easily identify the “evil” or “sin” that our country consistently identifies in the world. Just think about the current war in Iraq or the cold war of the 20th century.

Evil, for a liberal political ideology, is located in any authority that threatens any individual’s own will, and also in any collectivity or community that claims authority independent of the wills of its component members.

The Liberal Way of Salvation
Salvation, then, is found in freedom. The implicit assumption of liberalism (that is, American political theory) is that we are progressively saved when claims of community and external authority are diminished and the authority of individual will (that is what we call “liberty”) is maximized. Libertarianism is the pinnacle of this line of thinking: we are best off when government has as little power as possible and when individuals can pursue their self-interest to the maximum extent (this, afterall, is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, one of the most influential people in modern American economic and political thought).

The Politics of Individualism
Not only are Americans convinced that the politics of individualism is best for us, but we are convinced that it is best for the entire world. This is the reason that is often given for going to war: We want to bring “democracy” to other nations (read: we think that individual freedom trumps everything else).

Koyzis makes this shocking observation:
“That human beings are created for life in community is a truth liberalism has difficulty comprehending.”

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A Very Sweet Birthday

As I look upon my children, who have made me this happy birthday banner, it occurs to me that today is extra sweet. I thank my Lord for saving me from death five months ago.

I am so grateful to be re-engaged in ministry with the CCO. I’m happy to be writing and blogging again here at VanguardChurch. I am blessed to be getting ready to teach my college class at Malone again this coming semester on Worldview and Ethics.

And, most of all, I have savored every moment with my wife, my kids, my friends, and extended family. I love Linda more than words can say. I adore Kaira (pronounced KIE-ruh), Trey, and Joel.

Thanks, again, for all who have been praying for us. We are not quite out of the woods yet; a cardiac MRI is scheduled in a couple of weeks that will determine when they will need to do the next surgery (repair of the aortic root that may be weak and replacement of a defective (bicuspid) aortic valve).

Bush's Tactic of Refusing Laws Is Probed

Bar Association Panel Criticizes President's Many Challenges to Legislation

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 24, 2006; Page A05

Some Excerpts:
A panel of legal scholars and lawyers assembled by the American Bar Association is sharply criticizing the use of "signing statements" by President Bush that assert his right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress.

In a report to be issued today, the ABA task force said that Bush has lodged more challenges to provisions of laws than all previous presidents combined.

The panel members described the development as a serious threat to the Constitution's system of checks and balances, and they urged Congress to pass legislation permitting court review of such statements.

"The president is indicating that he will not either enforce part or the entirety of congressional bills," said ABA president Michael S. Greco, a Massachusetts attorney. "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue, the president's use of signing statements, is left unchecked."

Bush has vetoed only one bill since taking office, a bill approved by Congress last week relaxing his limits on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. But he has on many occasions signed bills, then issued statements reserving the right not to enforce or execute parts of the new laws, on the grounds that they infringe on presidential authority or violate other constitutional provisions.

Perhaps the most prominent example was legislation last year banning cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners at U.S. detention centers. Bush signed the bill into law after a struggle with Congress, then followed it with an official statement indicating that he might waive the ban under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, if necessary to prevent a terrorist attack.

If the president has constitutional problems with a bill, the task force said, he should convey those concerns to Congress before it reaches his desk. The panel said signing statements should not be a substitute for vetoing bills the president considers unconstitutional.

"The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal," panel members wrote. "The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The impact of the report on the administration is uncertain, given the belief by many conservatives and some members of the Bush administration that the ABA has a liberal bias. Early in its tenure, the administration ended the association's special role in evaluating judicial nominations.

The 10-member ABA panel includes at least three well-known conservatives or Republicans: former congressman Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), former FBI director William S. Sessions and former Reagan Justice Department member Bruce Fein. It also includes former appellate judge Patricia M. Wald, former Stanford Law School dean Kathleen M. Sullivan and Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. The report will be considered by the full ABA at its meeting next month.

Task force members said they hope their report will not be viewed as an attack on Bush, although it was his signing statements -- and a report about them in the Boston Globe -- that triggered their inquiry. "We're more interested in the issue rather than the particular president," Sonnett said.

For the full story, go to the washington post

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Incarnational Apologetics

Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn, Part 3

In the modern era (and for those today that still think in a modernistic paradigm), we thought in more individualistic terms. Rene’ Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” This was the ultimate individualistic statement—my very existence is proved not by my interaction with others around me, but in my own thought-life.

The Enlightenment made individuality a virtue. What you or I believe cannot depend on what others believe; each of us is responsible for our individual beliefs and actions. This, by the way, is the foundation of Western (especially American) politics—that each of us has the right to our own individuality, including the very property of our person.

So, the Christian apologetics that sprung up in the modern age sought to affirm individual’s right to belief, but not in the postmodern way. In modernity, beliefs were to be disputed and argued. Right beliefs were based on right presumptions based on rational rules of logic. In the free marketplace of ideas, those with the best arguments based on irrefutable logic should win the day. So, when non-theistic arguments began creeping up more and more in an Enlightenment world, theistic arguments were devised to counter.

In a postmodern era, however, the trust in logical argumentation has given way to skepticism. The postmodern person correctly assesses the arguments of modernity as nothing more than word-games, ways to twist words to mean what the speaker wants them to mean, whether or not they match reality. In fact, they’ve seen so many people tell them that they know the “truth” that they now doubt that anybody can put into words anything that correlates to reality.

Postmodern people tend to be suspicious of claims to knowing absolute truth. They are skeptical of certainty. They believe that what we call “knowledge” is really only “theories.” They’ve seen the scientists change what they teach too many times—the latest things they say we can “know” scientifically will be later replaced by newer things we “know.” They also have seen too many religions with various teachings that each claims to “know” for certain. They have watched the Christian preachers on their Cable TVs and have seen a dozen different spins of the truth, with each proclaiming with apparent certainty that their version is right. Postmoderns assume that Christianity is not authentic because it evidently has changed so often throughout the years at the whims of its leaders.

For many postmoderns, it is not a matter of not believing in “absolute truth;” it’s a matter of skepticism that anybody can put into words what truth is. Why? Because they’ve seen too many instances of people using words as a means to power. Too many people twist other people’s perception of reality simply by the use of words.

So, what is the postmodern Christian apologetic that connects with this skepticism that we cannot know the truth absolutely?

The Bible is clear: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We must admit that Christians have shown an overconfidence in our ability to know absolute truth. While we must never deny the existence of absolute truth, we must deny that any one of us has a perfect knowledge of absolute truth. This does not mean that we do not know any truth, for we can know some truth without knowing all truth.

THEREFORE, a postmodern apologetic must become less fixated with proving “the truth” and more fixated on “living the truth.”

Postmoderns will want to see your truth before they will want to hear your truth. They will watch the way Christian communities live out their faith. They will be skeptical that a Christian belief in God really manifests itself in a changed life that they might want to embrace.

As Philip Kenneson writes,

“What our world is waiting for, and what the church seems reluctant to offer, is not more incessant talk about objective truth, but an embodied witness that clearly demonstrates why anyone should care about any of this in the first place…Our non-Christian neighbors are right in refusing to accept what we say we believe but which our lives make a lie. If the claim ‘Jesus is Lord of the Universe’ is true, one must have a concrete historical community who by their words and deeds narrate the story in a way that gives some substance to it.” (Philip Kenneson, “There’s No Such Thing as Objective Truth, and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” in Phillips and Okholm, Christian Apologetics in a Postmodern World)

We must first prove that Christianity is real in our actions, then we can maybe share with them why we do what we do.

Jesus did not say that they would know us by our truth but by our love. At the heart of our gospel is not a stated fact or proposition, but a person. He is displayed to people not just by preaching at them, but by living as He would live as his called-out Kingdom community.

Jesus called himself “the truth.” Truth, therefore, is incarnate. “Truth” in a postmodern world must have flesh on it.

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CCO's Jubilee 2006 featured in Catapult Magazine

Catapult is an excellent on-line magazine about faith and culture.

In the June issue, they featured the CCO's Jubilee Conference, our annual conference that is geared to help college students understand how their faith can impact all areas of their lives, including the very vocations that they are studying.

Catapult has the transcripts and podcasts of these speakers from the conference:

Lauren Winner
"Into Esther"
Winner takes a look at what one of the Old Testament's more obscure texts is speaking to us here and now.

Tony Campolo
"Let Christ invade your life"
How do we surrender to love as disciples of Christ in a broken world?

Carl Ellis
"Imagine the Kingdom"
On what it means to be covenant people, discovered through the themes of Scripture.

Also featured:
Photo Essay: Jubilee in pictures by Andrew Rush

"Shaping the culture that shapes you"
by Katherine Leary
An interactive session on what it means to serve Christ through business.

"Art, faith and Warhol"
by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin
A session on the art of Andy Warhol, with an introduction by Dayton Castleman.

"Blend and blur"
by Steve Stockman
A session exploring the social implications of the Gospel.

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Interactions with a Self-Confessed Atheist

Nathan Acks (at his blog, The Practical Communist) has gracefully interacted with my first post in the Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn series. He connected here at VanguardChurch because of Becky Vartabedian's post at flip the pig that astutely connected his thoughts on why he is an atheist with my thoughts on how a postmodern apologetic will harken back to a Augustine's "I believe in order to understand."

(He cracked me up by writing: "Now that I've linked to both Becky and Bob, all we need is for Bob to link to Becky and myself, and we'll have completed an amusingly self-referential loop." Well, Nathan, here ya go!!)

Nathan first talks about science and its appropriate definition of “certainty:”
“When a scientist speaks of a ‘certainty’ these days, what they really mean is that ‘the consensus of the experts who study this topic is that the present conclusion has a high probability of describing the observational evidence.’”

He says that even science has “articles of faith”:
“The most basic articles of faith within science is (sic) the existence of an external, objective world and some form of causality.”

With these as his premises, he begins to refute those of us who believe in God (though not maliciously but quite graciously):
“It seems to me that most folks who believe in God would also accept these first two assumptions, but then add the existence of a god or gods to the mix as well…The real problem I have with religion occurs when a further assumption is added to the mix --- that human work _______________ (fill in your favorite set of books or oral traditions) is the inerrant work of God. This not only seems improbable, but often leads to contradictory conclusions unless one assumes that God periodically adjust the situation to his own liking. The problem with such an assumption is that it essentially throws causality out the window (since we're now subject to events that occur at the arbitrary whim of some unknowable super-being), and I think that what you're left with is a pretty jumbled mess of events whose interpretation is simply given, without any justification as to why that interpretation is correct.”

My Comment:
Yes, I think that a Christian view of reality affirms that it makes sense that God created an objective place that is separate from God, and that God made a cosmos that has order and causality.

However, your presumption is that any book or oral tradition must simply be the work of humans. What if the God who created the objective world wants to be known? What if, just as we humans seek to know and love each other, God wants to be known and loved as well? What if our capacities to know and love each other is actually a reflection of his capacities to know and to love? I know that none of this can be proven by scientific proofs, but it is the witness of the Christian community (and not just the fundamentalists that you rightly are stand-offish about!). Our testimony is simply this: We have actually met this God; this God is not just stuff of legend written down in dusty old Bibles. We believe that this God actually created a world that makes sense and can be studied scientifically; and at the same time this God holds all things together so that the creation does not fall prey to the entropy of the second law of thermodynamics. And our witness is that the Christian God is not capricious; therefore to caricature a healthy faith in this God as setting us up to “the arbitrary whim of some unknowable super-being” and leaving us with a “pretty jumbled mess of events” does not resonate with our experience and seems unfair to those of the Christian faith. I hope that helps you to understand a little more about where we are coming from!

Nathan goes on:
“Now, I suppose you're free to believe that, but you've pretty much cut off any hope that human knowledge can be meaningfully expanded, and you've also given yourself the daunting task of fitting the entire world into a fairly complex existing narrative. I might think that adding the "God assumption" is unnecessarily complex, but the task that any fundamentalist interpretation of reality sets itself verges on the absurd.
In the end, my disagreement with those who simply believe in a God is more a matter of preference as to our set of basic assumptions (essentially, I've come to believe that the ‘God assumption’ is much weaker than they believe). My disagreement with fundamentalists of any stripe (and that includes fundamentalist atheists, who I think do as much to give atheism a bad name as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do for theism) is that such hard assumptions about the world posit a degree of certainty that is logically and observationally untenable.”

Again, I appreciate the fact that you have not interacted with enough thoughtful Christians who would embrace the idea that human knowledge can be meaningfully expanded. This is, sadly, the way many American fundamentalist Christians come across today. But this is not always the case. As you know, science was originally advanced mainly because of a Christian mandate to do so. Today, thoughtful Christians seek to continually expand human knowledge, for it is part of what we call the “Cultural Mandate.”

Now, about the “God Assumption:”

In Nathan's original post, called "Why I am an Atheist", he wrote,
"I always remember my folks stressing the importance of empathy and responsibility to me, and from a very early age I was encouraged to learn as much about science as my little mind could possibly hold. When it came to questions of why we should act a certain way, rather than invoking God they spoke of the Golden Rule. And when it came to questions about creation, I was simply told that we don’t know — that different people had different beliefs and stories of how it all came about, but that nobody really agreed yet. And so it was that I wasn’t so much raised to disbelieve in gods as just never given a reason to believe in them."

My upbringing was very much the same. I could echo every one of those words. And yet, deep down inside, I often times thought about the idea of a "god." Your experience is obviously close to, and yet very different from mine, for you contend that you never thought about the existence of God. Is that really true? If it is, I really would like to hear how that could be!

My contention is that the “God Assumption” is not "unnecessarily complex" (as you say). I am saying that I have seen a human predilection to believe that there is divinity, and that this very raw and basic belief (I'm not saying a "Christian" belief, I'm not even saying a belief in a "personal" God) is pretty much a basic belief in most human beings. It is usually those with complex arguments (like the excellent ones you offer) that have convinced themselves to think otherwise. It seems that at least recently you have been wrestling with the idea of the existence of God, or else you would not have blogged about it. Hear me, though: I do affirm the fact that you were raised in a situation in which you had no interation with parents that fostered in you a belief in God. I had the same experience.

And, contrary to appearances, I am not seeking to prove that all people believe in God with any amount of certitude. People’s belief in the divine is something I assume unless its proven otherwise to me. I have yet to meet a person who can admit to me that they have never at least toyed with the idea of the existence of God. I do not pretend that the “God Assumption” can be logically and observationally proven. This is why I am a postmodern apologist. Sure, I can rattle off the “proofs” of God’s existence that were prevalent in the Modern Era (mentioned in the post above), but I think that this is a waste of time for postmodern people.

Instead, I sit down with people and get to know them. I invite them to see how the community of faith I live in is making a difference in other’s lives. I ask them to open themselves up to the possibility (not the certainty, just the possibility) that God is real and that he actually invaded our time-space in the person of Jesus Christ.

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Randall Balmer: "The Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America"

Well, this book ( THY KINGDOM COME: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America [Basic Books, 2006]) will sure rustle some feathers in the evangelical world. Can't wait to hear James Dobson take it to Randall Balmer on Focus on the Family.

Check out Zach Kincaid's interview of Randall Balmer (HT: Scot McKnight)

An excerpt from the interview:

Zach Kincaid: In simple terms, what’s wrong with the Religious Right?

Randall Balmer: It’s twofold. First, the leaders of the Religious Right have distorted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have taken something lovely and redemptive and made it ugly and punitive. Second, they’ve defaulted on the noble legacy of 19th Century activism, which invariably took the part of those on the margins of society. I find no parallel to that activism in the agenda of the Religious Right at the turn of the 21st Century.

Also, check out an excerpt from the book at npr.org (HT: Rick Bennett)

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The Place for Evidence in a Postmodern World

Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn, Part 2

One of the commenters on the previous post in this series made an excellent point that I want to explore here. Sacred Vapor said, “I've been thinking about how apologetics would best operate in a postmodern world, I'm not so sure the evidentialist approach should be abandoned as 'making a case' is always a valuable option -- hence our justice system is built on this, not just science.”

Is an “evidentialist approach” appropriate in a postmodern context?

I affirm the remarks of Stan Grenz on this, saying that apologetics in a postmodern context must move beyond Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict towards an incarnational apologetic.

“We must move from being well-equipped apologists to becoming a believing community. Increasingly, people are looking for communities who, together, embody the message that they proclaim and thereby provide credence to its truth. They are looking for a community of people among whom they can discover the goal of their search — the life-giving presence of Christ. Today, many people are converted to community before they are converted to Christ.” (From "Does Evidence Still Demand A Verdict?: The Church’s Apologetic Task And The Postmodern Turn" available online from ag.org)

I will develop this idea of incarnational apologetic in my next post. In the meantime, however, we must ask if “evidence” has any place in a postmodern apologetic.

I think it does. Why? Because “evidence” does not always need to rely on the strict definitions of classical proofs that are the presumptions of a modern rationalistic philosophy. The problem with modernity is that we began to rely too heavily on a Cartesian foundationalist approach to knowing. According to Foundationalism, the only things allowed as a foundational belief is (1) something evident to the senses, (2) something self-evident, or (3) something incorrigible. Anything that is based on foundations that meet these criteria will withstand what I’ll call “Enlightenment Rational Validation.”

But the postmodern asks, “How many beliefs actually fit into those three categories?” The answer is very few! Therefore, a postmodernist rejects Enlightenment Rational Validation as the only way to know.

But this does not factor out looking at the accounts of others as without merit in their quest for knowledge. Theistic arguments that are person- or community-relative may be accepted as “evidence.” Kelly Clark, in a book that seeks to show the irrelevance of Enlightenment Rational Validation, writes,

“There are surely many reasonable beliefs that we maintain without classical proof—precious few of our beliefs are proved in this extremely strong sense. A jury making a decision on the basis of the evidence, an historian making a considered judgment about historical trends on the basis of ancient texts, a literary critic defending an interpretation of several poems by the same author all lack classical proof; but surely their beliefs may nonetheless be rational.” (Return to Reason [Eerdmans, 1990] p. 53)

So, much of what we believe is based on evidence and our ability to process that evidence rationally. However, this is a far cry from Enlightenment Rational Validation, because we are not saying that in order to be “rational” we must submit to the premise that truth is only found in validation through the rules of reason.

As long as evangelicals attempt to adhere to the rules of Enlightenment Rational Validation, their apologetic will fail in a postmodern culture. The evidence that demands a verdict may not always be built on the premises that adhere to a modern concept of truth.

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Emerging Christian Interaction with Political Ideologies

Part 1 – Intro to the Series

I’ve begun reading David T. Koyzis’ book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (InterVarsity Press, 2003).

David Koyzis (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) is associate professor of political science at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. He approaches his subject matter from a neo-Calvinist (Kuyperian) framework, which I highly value.

As I go through the book, I will write here on the blog things that pique my interest in the book and comment.

First thought:
In a footnote, Koyzis quotes Charles Taylor (from his book The Ethics of Authority [Harvard University Press, 1991]). I thought this was insightful into how political ideologies are inconsistent:

“Right-wing American-style conservatives speak as advocates of traditional communities when they attack abortion on demand and pornography; but in their economic policies they advocate an untamed form of capitalist enterprise, which more and anything else has helped to dissolve historical communities, has fostered atomism, which knows no frontiers or loyalties, and is ready to close down a mining town or savage a forest habitat at the drop of a balance sheet. On the other side, we find supporters of an attentive, reverential stance to nature who would go to the wall to defend the forest habitat, demonstrating in favor of abortion on demand, on the grounds that a woman’s body belongs exclusively to her.”

We do well to look into the mirror as to what we say we are for and against based on our political ideology. As readers of this blog will know, I am constantly blaring the horn that seeks to point out how Christians who line up with the Religious Right and accept the Conservative side of the political discourse need to see the inconsistencies in that movement’s stands (for instance, while they seek to overturn Darwinism in the public schools, they participate in an economic form of Darwinism when it comes to economic issues in this country).

I also have gone round and round with Liberals in saying that even though they say they are for communitarian values they succumb to individualism when it comes to the issue of abortion (that each woman’s “right to choose” should trump the overall public good of protecting those in our society that are increasingly marginalized because they have no voice in the debate—the unborn).

Koyzis’ point in this portion of his book is telling: Whereas in the not-so-distant past political principles were limited to the educated and not usually intended for the general public, “modern (political) ideologies are packaged somewhat eclectically for mass consumption. It is not surprising, then, that such ideologies are often internally inconsistent.”

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Detainees in the War on Terror: Three Principles of a Biblical Worldview

Gary A. Haugen, CEO/President of International Justice Mission (IJM), offers these three guiding principles so that Christians can discern a stand on how we as a nation should handle the detainees in our War on Terror.

"I do not know how others would advise the President theologically on these matters, but as a convinced Christian who has tried for 20 years to apply principles of evangelical faith to issues of human rights, here are three principles of a biblical worldview that seem applicable:
  • The state has the authority to protect its citizens by detaining criminals and using force to restrain those who seek to destroy innocent life.
  • All those whom the state detains retain the image of God and are due a standard of care required by God.
  • Because the power of the state over detainees is exercised by fallen human beings, that power must be limited by clear boundaries, and individuals exercising such power must be transparently accountable. "

For the entire editorial, that appeared in Christianity Today October 17, 2005, follow this link.

It seems to me that too many American Christians have forfeited a Christian worldview for the sake of an American worldview. I do not understand how Christians can possibly support the Bush administration's tactics to treat the prisonors of this war as less-than-human (see Bush's continued insistance that he can use torture) and also not worthy of protections under the Geneva Conventions (see the recent rebuke from the Supreme Court).

Maybe these words from Haugen can get us thinking clearly again.

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Apologetics and the Postmodern Turn

Part 1: Belief in the Existence of God

In the Modern Era, in which all things needed to be proven by way of Reason, the very existence of God was questioned by atheistic moderns and defended by theistic moderns. The major modern theistic arguments were these:
  • Ontological Argument: If you can conceive the concept of God, then God must exist (most popularly articulated by Anselm).
  • Cosmological Argument: If the universe exists, then it had a cause (see William Lane Craig).
  • Teleological Argument: If things that are designed are so for a specific purpose (end, telos), then the universe infers intelligent design as well and thus an intelligent designer (see William Paley).
  • Moral Argument: If we know good from evil, valuing the good over evil, then there must be a Being that is the embodiment of ultimate good (most famously voiced by C.S. Lewis)
  • Cumulative Argument: Looks at all the above and says, “It is likely that God exists” (see Richard Swinburne).

Now, in a Postmodern Era, I think that the notion of the existence of God may be something that we can simply assume already exists in the hearts and minds of people (there may be staunch atheists in postmodernity, but I think they may be fewer and fewer as the postmodern turn shows the deficiency of an atheistic, scientific worldview). The notion that we can build TO a belief in the existence of God from some foundational belief relies too heavily on modernism's Foundationalism, and as Nicolas Wolterstorff wrote, "on all fronts foundationalism is in bad shape. It seems to me that there is nothing to do but give it up for mortally ill and learn to live in its absence" (Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Reason [Eerdmans, 1976]). After all, according to Wolterstorff, there are precious few beliefs that can properly take their place among the foundations. "If there are few such foundational beliefs, then there is a precious thin evidential base to support the rest of one's beliefs" (Kelly James Clark, summarizing Wolterstorff's view of foundationalism in Return to Reason [Eerdmans, 1990]).

Therefore, a postmodern apologetic will harken back to a Augustine's "I believe in order to understand." In other words, a postmodern apologetic affirms that there is no certainty apart from faith, and the only kind of understanding possible for us humans grows in the environment of faith.

It will also harken back to a Reformational Epistemology, one that reflects Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men."

John Calvin wrote:

“There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. If ignorance of God is to be looked for anywhere, surely one is most likely to find an example of it among the more backward folk and those more remote from civilization. Yet there is, as the eminent pagan says, no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God. So deeply does the common conception occupy the minds of all, so tenacious does it inhere in the hearts of all! …There lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity in the hearts of all…From this we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother’s womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget.” (as quoted by Alvin Plantinga, "Reason and Belief in God" in Plantinga & Wolterstorff, Faith and Rationality [Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1983])

Alvin Plantinga, the great Reformed thinker of the 20th Century, maintained that the notion, “God Exists,” does not need to be proved, for it is foundational in and of itself. He affirmed the idea that there are "Basic Beliefs" and "Nonbasic Beliefs," but whereas according to classical modern apologetics, belief in God is a "Nonbasic Belief" (that which must be argued to), Plantinga showed that belief in God is indeed a “Basic Belief”—that man has a basic, innate belief in God (see the essay cited above).

This, I think, should be the way to do postmodern apologetics concerning the existence of God.

NEXT: Incarnational Apologetics

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Tolerance in the Age of Ann Coulter

By Jon Meacham
Washington Post, July 2, 2006

(Some excerpts:)
Whatever they (the USA's Founding Fathers) were, they were united against an established national church. They wanted religion to be one factor in our public life, but not the dominant one. "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the religion which we believe to be of divine origin," Madison wrote, "we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us."

The key Founders were committed to the idea of religious liberty in part because they knew history. The conflicts of the Old World had often been ignited or exacerbated by theological considerations, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries in England. The colonial experience in their own land also had little to recommend it....There was a religious case for religious freedom, too. If God himself did not compel obedience from his creatures, then who were men to try?

As we face more such battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, we ought to bear our legacy of religious freedom in mind. In many parts of the Islamic world, of course, there is little distinction between secular and religious authority. Theocracy and tyranny have a tragic tendency to go hand in hand, and it is difficult to imagine that many mullahs will be moved by American homilies on the virtues of religious liberty.

But we should still try. As we know from our own past, history is full of surprising turns. What seemed unthinkable in one generation can become commonplace in the next. While it is naive to think that simply talking about freedom of conscience will change the world, it can do no harm, and may just do some good, for us to tell our own story -- how we, too, once lived in a world in which our civil rights were dictated by religious affiliation, and how we came to see that the causes of God and of country would be best served if they were connected but not chained to one another.

For entire article go here.

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Potentiality and the Image of God

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule.” (Genesis 1:26)
“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

  • How would my interactions with people be different if I saw the potential in each and every person?
  • Instead of seeing the ugly parts of people and always trying to feel superior to certain people, what if I looked at them the way God looks at them?—as people with God’s image within them, struggling to make this glorious potential shine forth but hindered by the damage that sin does to each of our beings.
  • What if instead of judging people as a part of this fallen world, I looked at them with the compassion of Jesus, who saw people as sheep without a shepherd?
  • What if instead of lumping people into categories of “us vs. them,” I instead lumped us all into a category of potentiality?—that each of us has the potential to shine as glorious image bearers, that each of us has vast potential to be all that God wants us to be.
  • What if, in my desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people, I helped them realize that their innate desire to be great was put there by God, but it is being warped into a selfish and prideful thing instead of the potentiality that God has given us for his glory?—that to shine as the glorious image of God is greater than anything we could accomplish on our own.
  • What if I did not sneer at human endeavors to improve ourselves and instead affirmed these and tried to redirect them towards God’s end and not our end?
  • What if I implored people to give up their selfish attempts at greatness and follow the one who will provide greatness to us?—not for our glory, but for the glory of the one we can more greatly reflect.
  • What if I share with people that Jesus, the ultimate image of God, has provided the pathway for the potentiality in each of us to burst forth?—that the gospel is about the restoration of that God-glorifying image in each of us, making us the glorious beings that we are meant to be.

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