A Christian parent wants nothing more than this:

For his or her children to love God.

We know that the greatest gift we can give our children is the opportunity to have faith in God through Jesus Christ. So it can be gut-wrenching to watch a child rebel against this, and a test of our patience and endurance as we allow the process to happen (trusting in God’s grace), instead of forcing it to happen.

Trey, our six-year-old, has struggled so far with the whole “God-thing.” He knows that Mommy and Daddy “love Jesus” and that it’s a very real and important thing to us. But he has not liked Sunday School classes or a lot of the Christian stuff we do. When we have times when we sit down and talk about Jesus or read a Bible story, Trey would usually harrumph and pout and sometimes get down-right angry. This has been very stressful on Linda, because the twins (Joel and Kaira) seem so much more open to God than Trey. Linda has been wonderful in her endurance through this trying time, she continues to show grace and love even when Trey's words and actions can deeply irritate and even hurt her.

But we continued to pray (especially Linda, who made it a daily priority). The only thing that softens a heart that's hard to God is God's divine love--we can't do this, only God can do this. God's grace replaces a heart of stone with a spiritually awakened heart (Ezekiel 36:26).

Anyway, lately we have seen a turn-around in Trey’s attitude. He told Linda that he wants to get Daddy “The Passion of the Christ DVD.” When Linda asked him why, he replied, “Because Daddy loves Jesus.”

Then one day, he said to Linda (kind of out of the blue), “You know what Mommy? I think everybody in this house loves God.” Linda couldn’t believe her ears. “Everybody, Trey?” “Yea, everybody.” “You too?” “Yea, me too.” Linda cheered and danced around and gave him a big hug, and he had the biggest grin on his face—that kind of grin that proudly says, “I did the right thing, and I’m glad!”

Then this last Sunday, Trey decided he wanted to sit with us in the main worship service at church. In his sermon, the pastor at the church we’ve been attending on Sunday mornings, Greg Nettle, told a story about his 6-year-old daughter. At Thanksgiving, the members of his family were all saying what they were thankful for, and Tabitha said she was thankful for Jesus. Greg said, “Oh! How it warms a parent’s heart when they hear their child say something like that. I guess when they’re around parents who love Jesus, it kind of rubs off on their children.”

Right at that moment, Trey turned to Linda and me and gave this look—a half smile, half “See? What did I tell you?” look—that will be the most treasured image in my mind for years to come. He then turned and looked intently at the preacher, while Linda and I tried not to be too disruptive with our laughter.

We were laughing for two reasons—(1) simply because Trey’s look was just so hilarious, and (2) because Trey’s actually getting it! We are laughing with a deep, deep joy.

Thank you, God, for your grace. We look forward to the continued journey of faith (both the ups and the downs) with these children!


What if Democrats Were Pro-Life?

For many evangelicals, abortion remains the central issue in our society. And we vote accordingly. Many of us voted for Bush mainly because of his pro-life stance. The Republican Party did a masterful job of claiming the pro-life issue, and Christians responded in kind.

What would happen if Democrats changed their tune on abortion? A group called Democrats for Life claims that if the Democratic Party altered its pro-abortion rights stance, it would help Democrats win future elections. Kristin Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life said, "I think we really need to look at our strong pro-abortion stance and really come out and say that we want to truly make abortion rare."

But Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman at the Democratic National Committee has said Day is out of touch with the party's position: "We're proudly pro-choice. It doesn't mean you're for or against abortion. It means that you believe people should have the choice."

But the anti-abortion Democrats say that it comes down to two choices — Democrats either have to be more tolerant of anti-abortion Democrats or they have to accept more Republican victories in future elections.

I find it very interesting that the new Senate Minority Leader for the Democratic Party, Harry Reid, has voted mostly pro-life!

For more from the "donkey's mouth" on this, read this editorial by Kristen Day published in National Review:
A Pro-Choice Party No More:
If every vote counts, why does the Democratic party ignore pro-life Democrats?


Stem Cells can help the paralyzed stand up and walk!

According to Dennis Byrne, writing in the Chicago Tribune, stem cells can help the paralyzed stand up and walk. "On Thanksgiving Day, a South Korean woman, Hwang Mi-Soon, paralyzed for 20 years after a spinal-cord injury, rose from her wheelchair and, tearfully and with the help of a walker, took a few steps."

"Why didn't Hwang make the front page of every American newspaper?" Byrne asks. "It's because the stem cells used in Hwang's therapy were from umbilical-cord blood instead of embryos." Because the media has pushed so hard for embryonic stem-cell research, they weren't too interested in a medical cure that didn't cross ethical boundaries.

"Adult and cord stem cells hold as much, if not more, promise as the embryonic types. For years, [they have] been used to treat leukemia. The good news about adult and cord stem-cell advances flows so steadily, it's hard to imagine how a journalist with any news judgment could ignore it."

source: ctmag weblog

See the google search for where this story was reported


The Myth We've Been Told About the Faith of Our Founding Fathers

Some ill-informed people have perpetuated the myth that America's Founding Fathers were all evangelical Christians.

I offer the following insights from the excellent book, The Search for Christian America by Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden. These three men are regarded as three of the finest historians on American religious history. And all three of them are evangelical Christians. Noll is Professor of History at Wheaton College, Hatch is President-Elect and Professor of History at Wake Forest University and former Provost and Director of Graduate Studies in History at Notre Dame, and Marsden is Professor of History at Calvin College.

The Faith of the Founding Fathers
It is difficult for modern Americans to recapture the religious spirit of the country’s great early leaders—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and their colleagues. The difficulty arises because these brilliant leaders, surely the most capable generation of statesmen ever to appear in America, were at once genuinely religious but not specifically Christian. Virtually all these great men had a profound belief in ‘the Supreme Judge of the world’ and in ‘the protection of Divine Providence,’ to use the words of the Declaration of Independence. Yet only a few believed in the orthodox teachings of traditional Christianity—that, for example, Christ’s death atoned for sin, that the Bible was a unique revelation from God, or that the miracles recorded in Scripture actually happened.

There were, to be sure, a few founding fathers who affirmed the cardinal tenets of orthodox Christianity…John Witherspoon…Patrick Henry, an evangelical Anglican… (and) John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and like Henry, an Anglican of decidedly evangelical sentiments.

Most of the early leaders, however, did not share the Christian convictions of Henry and Jay.
Thomas Jefferson’s views are perhaps best known…the deity of Christ and his resurrection, the Trinity, the divine authority of Scripture—these were the ‘deliria of crazy imaginations.’
Benjamin Franklin…saw Christ primarily as a moral teacher and true religion as an expression of perfectible human nature.

George Washington was a reserved man who did not express his inward feelings easily on any personal matter, least of all religion…A recent biographer, Marcus Cunliffe, sums the matter up well: "It is true that he was a sound Episcopalian, but his religion, though no doubt perfectly sincere, was a social performance…He was a Christian as a Virginia planter understood the term. He seems never to have taken communion; he stood to pray, instead of kneeling; and he did not invariably go to church on Sundays."

The God of the founding fathers was a benevolent deity, not far removed from the God of the eighteenth-century Deists or nineteenth-century Unitarians…They were not, in any traditional sense, Christian. What historian Daniel Boorstin, now Librarian of Congress, once wrote about Jefferson and his friends applies to most of the founders: they had found in God what they most admired in men. (pp. 72-74)

One of the frequent themes (in the history of the United States) is the declaration of Americans that their nation is like a New Israel. From Puritan New England to the popular Christianity of today rings the refrain that America is to be understood not only in the light of Scripture, but especially through the parts of the Old Testament which describes the Hebrews as God’s special people.

For just as long, however, another heritage, going all the way back to Roger Williams, has questioned the America-as-Israel theme…Many Baptists, especially when concerned about the separation of church and state, have followed Williams in this New Testament emphasis. Anabaptists and most Lutherans in America, preserving older Reformation traditions, also have usually refused to seek political manifestations of the Kingdom. Revivalists from a variety of heritages have urged a simple New Testament message of personal salvation while carefully steering clear of any divisive social-political issues.

Even within the more Calvinistic tradition one important nineteenth-century teaching said that America was more like Babylon that like Israel. This was dispensationalism, which eventually spread widely in twentieth-century fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, which specifically repudiated the idea of ‘Christian’ nations or new Israels.

It is remarkable then that, despite so much in America’s theological heritage which repudiates political programs to establish a biblical nation or New Israel, these ideals persist with such power. Especially notable is the fact that these ideals flourish in some traditions where one might not expect them. So we find Jerry Falwell, a Baptist and a dispensationalist, directly repudiated his earlier view that clergy should stay out of politics. Falwell’s change of heart reflects his adoption of Puritan Old Testament models for understanding Christianity and the nation… America is to be brought back to her Christian heritage through political action. ‘It is time,’ proclaims Jerry Falwell, ‘for Americans to come back to the faith of our fathers, to the Bible of our fathers, and to the biblical principles that our fathers used as a premise for this nation’s establishment.’ Tim LaHaye concurs. Christians, he urges, must ‘vote in pro-moral leaders who will return our country to the biblical base upon which it was founded.’
(pp. 124-126)

Here then is the "historical error": It is historically inaccurate and anachronistic to confuse, and virtually to equate, the thinking of the Declaration of Independence with a biblical world view, or with Reformation thinking, or with the idea of a Christian nation. In other words it is wrong to call for a return to "Christian America" on two counts: First, for theological reasons--because since the time of Christ there is no such thing as God's chosen nation; second, for historical reasons, as we have seen--because it is historically incorrect to regard the founding of America and the formulation of the founding documents as being Christian in their origins. Yet this error is one of the most powerful ideas of our day. (p. 130)

Does it really matter if people hold to this mistaken view that America is, or was, or could become a truly Christian nation? Yes, it does matter. It matters because, if we are going to respond effectively to relativistic secularism, then we need to base our response upon reality rather than error. This is not to deny the positive influence that Christianity has indeed had upon the American way of life. Rather, it is to take it all the more seriously so that we may respond to it all the more effectively. (p. 131)


On the globalization of economy

Tom Sine's Mustard Seed Versus McWorld is an essential book for Christians to understand the future effects of the developing global economy, and offers very practical ideas for Christians to offer Christ's "Mustard Seed" faith within it.

Here's a couple quotes from Sine:
"One of the essential conditions of economic globalization is that all businesses have unlimited access to the global labor pool to produce goods as efficiently as possible. This viewpoint insists that the employer has no responsibility either to the worker who loses his job in a car plant in Flint or to the worker who replaces him in Juarez. The employer’s singular responsibility is to show shareholders a profit. It is up to the free market to sort out the future for those in Flint whose jobs went south. And it is up the free market to set wages of workers in Juarez, even if the going wage is not enough to provide a decent way of life for their families.” (p. 59)

"Is the ultimate vision of 'something better' to be defined primarily in terms of economic growth, centralization, and efficiency, or is there something more?...Many of the advocates of this new global order define the ultimate primarily in economic terms. It appears that we are traveling into a future in which virtually everything in God’s creation, including human beings, will be reduced to a commodity and assigned a price…Deep down I think that most of us are not keen to see our lives and God’s creation reduced to an economic value, and McWorld is not our home. As followers of Jesus Christ, aren’t we sojourners in search of a better homeland?” (p. 67)


N. T. Wright on Redemption

Here's some of what N. T. Wright says in his excellent lecture, Creation and New Creation in the New Testament

Redemption is not:

  • just making life in creation a little bit better (as the optimistic humanist or evolutionist would suggest)…
  • a matter of rescuing spirits and souls from the evil of a material world (as the Gnostic would suggest)…

Redemption is:

  • the remaking of creation once evil has been dealt with.
  • the remaking of creation began with Christ's resurrection (inaugerated eschatology), in which God redeems his image-bearing people (Christians) to begin the work of redemption in creation here and now (that's why we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven")
  • the remaking of creation will come to fruition (future eschatology) when Christ returns to eradicate evil once and for all.
  • Therefore it is not one extreme or the other (as the two sides above indicate), but something else altogether (which those two extremes hint at). God is indeed (a) calling us to work toward doing good in the creation today seeking to improve the condition of life (though we do not expect to ultimately succeed in creating a utopian existence without God's future intervention), and (b) we await a time when we will ultimately be made anew by God (though not in some diembodied spiritual future, disconnected with our created physical existence in creation).
Western Christianity has been influenced by Greek philosophy: we've bought into Plato’s vision of disembodied souls entering bliss rather than the biblical picture of a physical "New Heavens and New Earth."

Romans 8:19-22 is not treated with the weight it needs to have—it teaches the renewal of all creation. Yet this section of Scripture is treated as mere embroidery around the edges of what we feel is "really important": the emphasis on individual, personal hope of heaven (at the expense of the larger picture of God’s redemption of all creation.)

"19For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. 21All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (Romans 8:19-22)

By the way, this has implications on my "environmental wackoness":
“If the second coming is about people being snatched away from this present world to live somewhere quite other, you probably don’t need to bother too much about transforming this world; if the second coming goes with the expectation that God is going to redeem creation, we have a mandate already.” --N. T. Wright

see www.vanguardchurch.com for more


Knowing the "Right Answers" does not mean you "Believe" them

“Knowing the ‘right answers’-knowing which ones they are, being able to identify them-does not mean we believe them. To believe them, like believing anything else, means that we are set to act as if they (the right answers) are true and that we will do so in appropriate circumstances. And acting as if the right answers are true means, in turn, that we intend to obey the example and teachings of Jesus…

The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving ‘Christian culture.’ In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor and your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don’t intend to follow their advice, you simply don’t trust them. Period.”

–Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p.88


Am I an Environmental Wacko?

I've heard it from more Christians than I'd care to count: anybody who stands up for the ecological issues is an "environmental wacko."

I think it is unfair rhetoric to call all who are concerned with the environment a "wacko."

I agree that secular environmentalists are often guilty of turning the environment into a god to worship--which is idolatry, and is certainly "wacko."

But I am an environmentalist not in that same vain as that. I am an environmentalist because my Christian Theology demands it. Humanity's original mandate is to be the Image of God, which means (among many nuances) that we are God's vice-regents, having dominion over the planet--we are to "take care of" God's creation (Genesis 2:5).

In redemption, God's purpose is to restore our original nature--the image of God in us is redeemed. We are to again be his vice-regents in the Kingdom of God, doing God's will on earth as it is done in heaven. We are to live as an eschatological people--we are to live in the here and now as the incarnation of our future hope, living out our mandate to reflect God as His Image (back to God in worship, and out into creation in "taking care of it” by reflecting God's love and care and compassion and grace).

Our Western Christianity does not take Romans 8:19-21 ("the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay") seriously, thinking that this created world is not part of the redemption of Christ, that our souls will be whisked away and this physical world will be destroyed and replaced. We have a tendency toward almost a Gnosticism (thinking that the physical world is evil because it is material, and the spiritual world is good because it is immaterial) instead of remembering the biblical teaching that God created a physical world that was “very good.” We forget that redemption (as found in the end of Revelation) includes a renewal of the entire cosmos. Redemption is the remaking of creation once evil, which has distorted and defaced creation, has been dealt with. As N. T. Wright says in his lecture Creation and New Creation in the New Testament, “If the second coming is about people being snatched away from this present world to live somewhere quite other, you probably don’t need to bother too much about transforming this world; if the second coming goes with the expectation that God is going to redeem creation, we have a mandate already.”

As we live out this mandate in the here and now, we are going about the work of pronouncing the GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. In our participating in doing God's will on earth, we are involved in God's Kingdom invading and taking over the evil Kingdoms of this world. Kingdom work is not only “saving souls from Hell and getting them into Heaven” but also participation in every way God’s will needs to be done on earth RIGHT NOW as it is done in heaven.

One of the "kingdoms" of this world (among many) that destroy lives which God wants to liberate people from is the Kingdom of Greed/Unfettered Capitalism/Economic Globalization (see Tom Sine's book Mustard Seed vs. McWorld).

Here is why I am offended with being called an environmental wacko:
When corporate greed (and our greed in wanting fat portfolios because of the stockholder economy we live in) overrides our mandate to care for God's creation, it is THEN that we are being idolatrous!

In our proper fear of being idolatrous of the environment, we are not taking seriously enough our idolatry of what causes ecological destruction. “Since the leaders of McWorld view economic growth and efficiency as the greatest good, creation is viewed as simply a resource to be used in the cause of accelerating economic growth. This has fostered a reductionistic view of God’s creation and has placed major areas of the environment in peril.” (Sine, p. 63)

Or, as the National Association of Evangelicals say in the new statement For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, “Human beings have responsibility for creation in a variety of ways. We urge Christians to shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats.”

This statement by the NAE is not “environmental wackoness.” It is sound theology applied to a desperate situation in our nation and world today.


Bush is the Winner! Kerry is the Loser!

I find it amazing how all the news channels and talk shows are talking about the Bush campaign tactic of wooing the evangelical vote. It's the major news story of this election: Republican strategist Karl Rove's tactic of appealing to this group of people and getting them out to vote in reation to their feelings about abortion and gays.

According to this election, the only issues that evangelicals really care about are abortion and gay marriage. This is how the media sees it, this is how Karl Rove saw it, and the results of the election seems to prove it to be true.

The message that we championed (initiated and led by Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine) failed. tWe tried to get across the point that Christians need to be more than one-issue voters.

We were unable to get evangelicals to think more holistically about issues. The message we tried to tell people is that Christians need to define more broadly the important "religious issues" in our society.

The Bush campaign succeeded to team with the Religious Right to keep the focus solely on gay marriage and abortion. The Falwells and Robertsons and Dobsons even said that good Christians could only vote for the president, and let it be known that they were sure that Bush was God's candidate.

But Wallis rightly insisted God is not a Republican (or a Democrat).

He was also right in pointing out that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor.

The environment - protection of God's creation - is also a Christian religious concern.

And I am one of millions of Christians in America who believe the war in Iraq was not a "just war."

And I also contended, along with many (including PBS's Bill Moyers) that the Bush Administration lacked integrity in how they over-sold the war by stretching their intelligence reports to include Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear capabilities. (Now, Moyers and I may be wrong in that contention, but it certainly is worthy of Christian dialogue, instead of unquestioning loyalty to an "evangelical Christian" president.)

In any case, our message that Christians should be discussing many "religious issues" in this election (poverty, hunger, creation care, greed, health care, peace, along with abortion, stem-cell research, and homosexual marriage) failed.

But, to be honest, there is only so much that Wallis, et. al. can do if the candidate (in this case John Kerry) fails to embrace that message.

It was not until the very end of Kerry's campaign that he began to talk about his religious beliefs and how they might influence his decision-making. This was the most religiously-focused election in recent memory, and yet Kerry refused to engage in that conversation!

He deserved to lose because of that.

Until the Democrats come to terms with the fact that a vast majority of people in America are deeply religious, they will continue to fail to win their votes.

As Wallis famously said earlier this year, when it comes to the most important "religious issues" in our country, "The Republicans get it wrong, and the Democrats just don't get it." Bush defined religious issues as one or two things, and so he is the winner. Kerry refused to be aggresive in pointing at other issues as important religious issues, and so Kerry is the loser.

But until either party can more clearly communicate how their views will impact a complete range of Christian "religious" concerns, we are all losers.

go to my main website, www.vanguardchurch.com


Does a Christian Have to Vote Republican?

A pastor friend of mine, Byron, commented below that he thinks that if we conflate our conservative Christian beliefs with conservative public policy, we have a problem.

Well, my friend, we DO have a problem!

If you listen to James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or D. James Kennedy, they make it clear that there MUST be a 1-to-1 correspondence--that if you confess to be a Christian, you must vote for Republicans (and conversely, if you fail to vote for Republicans then you might not be a real Christian).

Further evidence: At a pastor's gatherings I attended, I asked if the pastors thought Jesus would be a Democrat or a Republican. You would have thought I had spoken blatant heresy! The general sentiment was, "Of course Jesus favors the Republicans!" And when I visit churches, the subtle undertone in conversations and from the pulpit is that Bush is God's chosen candidate, and how dare you think otherwise. Christian Coalition Voter Guides distributed in many of our churches are seen to be the gospel truth (the issues listed on it are unquestionably the only important issues for real Christians, afterall!).

We are manipulated by what Brian McLaren calls "Radio Orthodoxy" into an all-or-nothing mentality--that if we are "conservative" in our biblical beliefs, we must be "conservative" in our political and social and economic beliefs as well.

I've come to the point that I've said "ENOUGH!"

I can believe in Jesus Christ and I can trust the Bible's authority without believing that God is "Pro-War" and "Pro-Greed" and "Pro-Global Capitalism" and "Pro-Manipulation of the truth because the end justifies the means". I can be a Christian and still question this president's actions in taking our country into a pre-emptive war, his lack of plans to bring about a peaceful solution there, his favoring capitalism over the environment, his taxation plan that arguably makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, and his administration's budget dificit which purposefully squeezes out government care for the needy in our country and keeps our country from freeing up the debt of countries in deep trouble. And I can get very upset when a professing Christian consistently stretches the truth and/or outright lies in order to get elected.In other words, as a Christian, I can be (I MUST BE!) truely independent of political party affiliation.

I've read Steven Waldman of Beliefnet say "the President's supporters have repeatedly implied that God was partly responsible for Bush's election," and a recent article from Peter Wallsten of the LA Times on how some Christians are "conflicted — torn between their religious convictions on so-called values issues," and other important issues "such as jobs, healthcare, the Iraq war and the environment."

Thoug I am not a "bumper-sticker-kind-of-guy" I have this one solitary message on the back of my car now:



Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism

I've been reading Nancey Murphy's "Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda." It's been challenging and thought-provoking, to say the least!

It has gotten me thinking about "Liberalism" and "Conservatism."

I think we had better define our terms.

Liberalism and Convervatism can mean different things in different contexts. What are we talking about? Political? Social? Theological? The difficulty is that every one of us conflate these together, and therefore have difficulty analyzing the issues in each context.

For instance, Christian Conservatives are forced to believe:
  • that the Bible is the foundation from which we believe, that Jesus is God, and that justification is a legal transaction between man and God (theology),
  • that Republicans are the only Christian choice, that western capitalism is the only Christian way to live, that the government must step in to stop abortion and gay marriages but not to alleviate poverty and care for the sick (politics),
  • and that abortion, homosexuals, school prayer, and the Ten Commandments in courtrooms are the major issues of our day (social).

Many modern Christian philosophers and theologians very often bring all these together under one umbrella. When you are a "conservative," they tell us that we've gotta go all the way!

Christian Liberals, on the other hand, are forced to believe:

  • that experience (rather than the Bible) is the foundation from which we build what we believe (and therefore we can question the Bible based on our present circumstances and the latest advances in philosophical, sociological, and psychological thought), that Jesus may have been God but that other religions offer insights into God as well, and that our salvation is more tied into what we do on earth—after all, will not Jesus separate the goats from the sheep on this basis? (theology),
  • that Democrats are the only intellectual choice, that government must step in and care for people in need, but that government must not allow a breach of the ‘separation of church and state’ for the good of both (politics),
  • and that poverty, hunger, healthcare for the needy, the environment, globalization, abortion choice, and world peace are the major issues of our day (social).

What some do is bring all these together under another umbrella.

But what we Christians need to do is this: Move into a post-conservative, post-liberal Christianity. We seek to deconstruct both sides and rebuild based on better presumptions. We need to get beyond labels and camps and get into the reality of Christ for our day. So, let's openly discuss the merits and faults of both sides in all its contexts—which will make people who have lived for a long time staunchly in one of the camps (like you and me, I would presume, coming from more conservative Christian experience) uncomfortable at times. But I'd rather be uncomfortable and authentic (by evaluating our current expression of Christianity) than to be comfortable and naïve.

We must move beyond looking at these issues in a shallow way. We should dig deep into theology and philosophy and anything else that may help to get us nearer to the truth.

Books like Murphy's Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism (like Stanley Grenz's works) are challenging in that they get us to the reasons why we are in these two camps in the first place. In her first chapter, Murphy explains the philosophical presumptions of modernity that have shaped both the liberal and the conservative theologies. Both conservative and liberal theologians have let Descartes' foundational philosophy invade the way we understand out theology. Foundationalism is a very MODERN way to see the world, and may have been foreign to the biblical writers.

Before we draw lines in the sand, I think we need to read these things and talk about these things and seek common ground so that we can be closer to what God has actually revealed to us about himself (as opposed to our presupposed ideas of what he has revealed, based on some fundamental modern philosophical ideas we possess).


Why is Homosexuality Such a Heated Debate?

I find it interesting that the only person with the guts to respond officially to my Top 10 Issues of the Election Year (see below) did so regarding the homosexual marriage issue. (I did get a number of private e-mails about it).

It goes to prove how difficult and devisive this issue is. There are NINE other issues, just as important (some arguably more important) on the list, yet this is the one that gets a lot attention in the media and in our conversations.

Why is that?

Do you think its because we are buying into the philosophy that our sexuality is something that defines our very being?

Read the comment and my response here.


Top Ten Election Issues

In a recent meeting of my Sunday night Christian community, "oasis," we discussed "Social Justice and Compassion" (one of the "six traditions of Christian faith and witness" as spelled out in our study from Renovare).

My personal exercise was to come up with what I felt were the top 10 issues in this election year.

I have been slowly but surely building a list over the past year, and the issues have naturally surfaced as I have read and prayed through this.

Here is my Top 10 - in alphabetical order:

Bioethics, Abortion, and the Sanctity of Life

Creation and the Environment



Hunger and Health


Marriage and Homosexuality

Poverty, Wealth and Economics

Religious Freedom

War, Peace, and Terrorism

For in-depth information and analysis of these issues, go to

Please let me know what your Top 10 are, so that I may re-evaluate my list in light of your comments!


My recent conversation with a guy I met in a laundromat about The Da Vinci Code

While I was in Denver a couple weeks ago, I went to a lundromat in the city to wash our hiking clothes (peeeyeew!).

Seeing that the seating was sparse as I awaited for our clothes to wash, I asked a young man if I could sit across a table from him.

As I read my newspaper and he his book, I noticed that the title was The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. The young man was taking notes in a little notepad as he read it. I had just recently read a lot about this book, and decided to see if this might be one of those divine-appointed moments--when I can talk with a fellow human about spiritual issues.

I asked him why he was taking notes as he read this particular book. He told me that, even though he was not usually into 'conspiracy theories,' he found this book fascinating and wanted to record and research further what Brown alleges.

I said that this sounds like a great endeavor. I said that I had been reading a lot about the book and how many are really criticizing the presumptions in it. He asked me what those were. I said, “Like the presumption that the Gnostic Gospels are authentic, when most every biblical scholar knows that they date hundreds of years after Jesus, and were written by people who did not believe that Jesus could possibly be God-in-the-flesh. That’s the central tenet of Gnosticism—that ‘spirit’ is good, ‘flesh’ is bad, and therefore God could not become ‘flesh’ as the four gospels in our Bible puts it.”

“Also, how the conspiracies in the book make for great fictional reading, but there is not a shred of real evidence that has ever pointed toward a great cover-up concerning the church and Jesus Christ.”

Then I asked, “What do you think of Jesus? Was he God-in-the-flesh, or just another human?”

This was when the conversation got really good. He told me of his background in the church, how he was raised in a very conservative Christian home, and was involved in leadership in his church youth group and in a Christian organization in college. But that he just could not hide his homosexuality any longer, and ‘came out.’ He was shunned by his friends and much of his family, and the church acted as if he had the plague.

He told me that he left the church as a result, and has been seeking to figure out how to be both gay and Christian, with little hope that it can happen. All he sees is hatred for him and his sexuality in the church. He says he’s fed up with the church.

I told him that I felt the same in very many ways about the church. But not about Jesus. He is all about love and compassion—whether or not the people who claim his name are not. As we ended our conversation, as he was running late, I encouraged him to seek Jesus, not a Jesus that the church has distorted to meet their prejudices and comfort and desires…and also not a Jesus that may be distorted by his own prejudices and comfort and desires, but the Jesus that is truly revealed to us. The Jesus who loves so much that he would die for people like the both of us, in our misery and frustration and seeking meaning and wanting a deeper love than we’ve experienced.

I also encouraged him to keep seeking the truth—not just the latest fad in conspiracy theories, but the truth about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

For some FAQs about The Da Vinci Code, go to http://www.vanguardchurch.com/faqs_about_faith.htm

I'm to speak August 31st

Just wanted to let people know that I have been invited to speak at
First Christian Church's ministry to young adults, "Tuesdays" on Tuesday, August 31st, 7:00 PM.

I will be speaking on "Worshiping Even When You Don't Know What God's Up To."


God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat.

Here is an EXCELLENT petition that lays out some of the great Christian concerns that the Religious Right (represented by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson) do not understand or care about.

A PDF format of the petition can be found here and you can sign the petition by going to Sojourner's "Take Back Our Faith" page.

I am currently working on a "countdown" of the top issues of this election from my personal Christian viewpoint--along with a scorecard of where George W. Bush and John Kerry stand on these issues.
Please watch the BLOG for these!

Of course, this petition from Sojourners speaks a LOT toward those issues!
So, it is a good starting point.



Colorado Trip Diary

A complete, concise diary of my Colorado trip (July 31-August 8, 2004) can be found at vanguardchurch.com, including pictures!


Off to Colorado

Linda and I are off to the beautiful state of Colorado this Saturday!

We plan on hiking up to the top of at least 3 (maybe 5) 14,000 foot mountains (Quandary Peak, Gray’s Peak and Torrey’s Peak, and maybe Mt. Bierstadt and Mt. Evans).

We are going to stay at a Breckenridge resort for three days (I got a great deal on the internet!) and will climb Quandary from there. Then we will drive to the trailhead and hike half way up to Grays and Torreys, camp the night (just below treeline), and then climb to the top of those two "14ers" the next day, camp again that next night and then head back down. On our way back to Denver, we might stop at Mt. Bierstadt (which I was able to hike up in one day a few years back). Mt. Evans is an option early in our trip on our way west (we’ll see).

We’re excited about finally getting out to the mountains (it’s been a long time—Linda hasn’t been out there in about 8 years, I was last out there 4 years ago). Thanks to a gift from my Dad and his wife Sharon we were able to afford it (and they are watching our kids for the week!!!)

I’ll keep you posted about the adventure. I’ll post photos on the webpage (www.vanguardchurch.com).


40 Years Young (?!)

Well, I celebrated my 40th birthday on Saturday, and I found that I was not as depressed as I thought I’d be. Thanks to all of you who sent e-mails and cards—what an encouragement!

Here’s some of the highlights:

From my old (literally! hee hee) friend Clarence Blasier:
When I get to be 40, I hope I look as good as you could look if you started taking care of yourself. Oh well! All is not lost. You've got plenty of time to get started. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

From Laura Talamo, who helped plant our church with us:

HAppy BIRTHday toooooooooo youuuuuuuuuuuuu....
HAppy BIRTHday toooooooooo youuuuuuuuuuuuu....
Welcome to the "40-something" club!!!
It's about time!!!!

From Sam Tabiendo, a missionary friend in Spain:

Hey Bob,
Grace upon grace to you as you celebrate your birthday. May this next year, your 40th?, be a year of great breakthrough for you in:
growing deeper in your relationship with Christ
in your ministry in the Lord.

From my Dad, Jack Robinson:

Birthdays that end in zero can be hard. My 30th saw me as a freshman in college and a night-shift union worker. Not where I thought I would be. But it got better. They are just birthdays ending in zero.

From Sharon Robinson, one of my favorite people:

Life may seem undecided for you but in reality you have made the big choices--to be a man of faith, to love a wonderful woman, to guide and savor your children. Whatever else that is to be will enfold.

From my Wednesday morning breakfast buddy Tim Miller:

Happy 40th you old man. How's it feel to be over the hill...hahahah. I'm right behind you baby.
See you Wed.

From Dr. David Entwistle, professor at Malone College:

Happy belated birthday, Bob!
I rather liked turning 40, but some people treat it like the plague!
Every anniversary, birthday, or yearly event can serve as a reminder of where we are, where we have come from, and where God has been in our journey. I'm sure that planting a church and trying to keep the finances in the black can be discouraging at times. Even though we didn't end up at Vanguard, in the few times we met, I came to value you so much.
You are a gifted preacher, and a man whose personal warmth and caring clearly demonstrate the love of Christ.

From my former head of women’s ministries at The Chapel in North Canton, Janet Shaw:
Dear Bob,
Do not fear 40 is wonderful!!!!!! Take it from a 62 year old. You will be old enough to have been blessed by God with a good measure of wisdom and a body that still works and is useful to bless others as God leads. I hope this e-mail finds you healthy, happy, obedient and fruitful to the great commission. I spent some time at your web sight looking at pictures (I can't believe how big the kids are), looking at your writings, what books you are reading and the music you are listening to. Linda, your precious little ones and you will always be loved by us and all of you will forever be in our prayers. Keep sending me Vanguard emails. I do not want to loose contact with you all.
Have a great birthday!!!!!!!!!
Love in Christ,
Janet and Mike Shaw

Thanks again to all who sent cards and notes.
I survived. I didn’t fall off into a mid-life crisis—I didn’t buy a sports car or anything like that…
Life is looking good on this side of 40. I feel that God is calling me toward something big, and the opportunities are awesome.


Does Marriage Matter?

As I was getting my daily fix of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (on cable’s Comedy Central) the other day, I was struck by how he made fun of Senators speaking on the floor about a “terrible threat to our country.” The next scene showed Stewart ducking under his desk—“What is it? Another terrorist attack?” The video continued to reveal that the senator was speaking about how the destruction of traditional heterosexual marriage is the biggest threat to America. Jon Stewart was thoroughly unconvinced. And I could not blame him. Simple inflammatory rhetoric and baseless mythology has often been the Right’s way of making their case on issues, so when conservatives say things like this, the Left will (correctly) scoff.

So it got me thinking: Granted, Christians understand the sanctity of marriage. We understand biblically how God instituted it and how it is the foundational component of society. We rightfully worry about our government redefining marriage away from God’s way, for when we go against God’s design it often causes us great hurt (just like if we used anything contrary to how it was designed). But I also sympathized with Jon Stewart. He is not a Christian, and so he will not be convinced by our biblical rhetoric. If we are going to expect non-Christians to live under the same morality as we do (which in itself is questionable at times), we must give them evidence other than “Thus Sayeth The Lord” that doing so will cause them greater good than not doing so.

I wondered, What secular evidence is there that the allowance of homosexual marriages can bring apocalyptic doom? (Other than what pundits like James Dobson writes on his website, “The culture war will be over, and the world may soon become ‘as it was in the days of Noah’ (Matthew 24:37). This is the climactic moment in the battle to preserve the family, and future generations hang in the balance. This apocalyptic and pessimistic view of the institution of the family and its future will sound alarmist to many, but I think it will prove accurate unless — unless — God’s people awaken and begin an even greater vigil of prayer for our nation.”)

I began a search, and found a few articles citing sociological reasons to protect the traditional institution of marriage. On my website I have a link to one of the most extensive articles I found, which states “Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike”—then listing 21 conclusions in topical fashion and heavily footnoted dealing with family, economics, physical health and longevity, mental health and emotional well-being, and crime and domestic violence. Check in out at http://www.vanguardchurch.com/social_action.htm#Marriage .


Incarnation: The Body of Christ Humbly Serving Others

Paul writes to the Philippian Church these words:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:1-4)

How are we supposed to live? What are some of the key phrases that stand out?
  • Be like-minded
  • have the same love
  • be one in spirit and purpose

All of these are centered on Jesus Christ. We all will have different opinions on things, but we must be united on seeking to glorify God in Christ, we must be united on doing that which he has commanded us to do as his body.
Jesus Christ’s mandate to us, we have stated in our purpose statements, vision statements, and Core Values, are summed up in his “Great Commandment” and “Great Commission.”

  • The Great Commandment: Love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:37-40)
  • The Great Commission: Go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them what Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20, John 20:21)

Stay focused on these things, be like-minded, be one in spirit and purpose. Be in love with this God of ours and his purposes.

  • no selfish ambition
  • no vain conceit
  • consider others better than yourself-look to the interests of others

These phrases, when we are honest about ourselves, cut to the quick. The reason is that they are the very heart of human fallenness. We don’t want to be like this, but we far-too-easily slip into self-interest and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. And this will inevitably lead to the disintegration of the Body of Christ.

But there is a better way! We must lay hold of the truth that we are to incarnate in our lives what Jesus incarnated in his life! He is our model, our example.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  (Philippians 2:5-11)

Here is the example of what our attitude should be like. This is my favorite "Christmas passage"—it explains in beautiful poetic words what Christ Jesus did on by becoming a human being. 

Jesus, “being in very nature God,” that is, having always been God, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” In other words, Jesus did not consider his glory as God, seated on his throne in heaven as something to selfishly seize for his own advantage. Rather, he “made himself nothing” by comparison, he took on the “nature of a servant,” he became one of us humans. 

This is the ultimate example of humility. Here is God—GOD!—humbling himself to become one of us so that he could die for us on the cross! 

Imagine that, like Jim Carrey in the movie Bruce Almighty, that you were God. You are omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. All the universe was made by you and your pleasure. There is nobody higher, for everything and everyone else are merely creatures, created by you.
It’s hard to imagine that we would not begin to grasp at this, to seize it to our advantage. It’s hard to imagine that we would actually want empty ourselves of our divine rights for the sake of these creatures. 

But that is exactly what God did.
And because God did this, we are now empowered to be more than our limited human selfishness tells us we must be. We are called now to live out what we are:

We are the body of Christ!
And as such, we humbly serve one another, looking after the interests of others.
As the church, we must break through and start living as the body of Christ! Share with each other your troubles and problems. What is pressing in your life? What is causing you stress? How can the people in your group help you carry your burden? 

Listen carefully to what these verses are commanding us to do as the church, and, please, decide in your heart to follow the Lord in being humble in serving others.

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NIV)  “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NLT)
for more from this article, go to vanguardchurch.com


Consumer Christianity

I recently had an opportunity to experience Northeast Ohio’s latest shopping phenomenon, Legacy Village in Lyndhurst. It was truly amazing—the latest venture in our continuing fascination with consumerism in America. It was basically a very upscale mall, but designed like a little village, with quaint streets and nice sidewalks (which will be heated during the winter). Stores like Crate and Barrel (the first in Ohio) were there, as were unique stores like the huge sports store complete with a four-story high climbing wall. The Cheesecake Factory was there along with several other rather nice restaurants. As soon as it opened, it became the Jerusalem or Mecca for shoppers, making their pilgrimage to the latest shrine of consumerism.

As we were arriving, we walked alongside the very nicely designed buildings, looking up at the attention to detail. Somebody joked that their new church building was designed based on the elaborate model before us. We all laughed, knowing that we could never afford the designers that put this incredible thing up. But hidden in that comment was something very real and disturbing: have we in the church been sucked into a consumerism approach to ministry?

Have we redefined “church” as a consumer-friendly building, consumer-friendly programs, consumer-friendly preaching, consumer-friendly activities?In our day, the first thing that comes into most of our heads when we think of “church” is the Sunday meeting during which the pastor speaks, the worship team plays songs, the kids attend Sunday School, and the offering is taken. After that is over, we go home from church. But I think you’ll agree that according to the Bible, we can’t go to church, because we are the church! Why am I making a big deal out of this? Because the way we use the term “church,” I believe, is a symptom of a larger problem. We have slowly and almost imperceptibly changed the way we define the church—it is now seen from a more consumerist viewpoint. It is the place where we go to get fed. It is the place where we receive religious goods and services. It is the place I go to have my needs met through quality programs. It is the place where the specialists teach our children about God.

And so, with that mentality, we naturally start “shopping” for a church. And if we can’t find the spiritual equivalent of Legacy Village in this church or that church, we will go elsewhere. Darrell Gruder wrote (in his book Missional Church), “Popular grammar captures it well: you ‘go to church,’ much as the way you go to the store. You ‘attend’ a church, the way you attend a school or theater. You ‘belong to a church,’ much as you would a service club with its programs and activities…In North America, this ‘place where’ orientation manifests itself in a particular form. Both members and those outside the church expect the church to be a vendor of religious services and goods.”

Could we have succumbed to this warped view of church? Erwin McManus writes (in his book An Unstoppable Force), “‘We’re looking for a church that meets our needs.’ It seems like I’ve heard this one a thousand times. The phenomenon of church shoppers has profoundly shaped the contemporary church. The entire conversation is not about relevance but convenience. The focus is not in serving the world; the church itself is the focal point. Our motto degenerated from ‘We are the church, here to serve the lost and broken world’ to ‘What does this church have to offer me?’”

Now, before I come across a blaming everybody else for this awful situation, I want you to know that I believe that the fault for this is squarely on the shoulders of us church leaders. We have focused more on programs and marketing and not on the mission of the church. We are the ones who have allowed the church to be defined by our programs rather than on what the church is supposed to be defined by.

In a helpful diagram that Dan Kimball supplies in his excellent book The Emerging Church,

we see that the Consumer Church (the “I go to church” mindset) is different from the biblical model of church—the “Missional Church,” where “church is seen as a body of people sent on a mission who gather in community for worship, encouragement, and teaching from the Word that supplements what they are feeding themselves throughout the week.”

To read this entire article from Bob about Consumer Christianity which goes into a biblical antidote based on the Thessalonian church, go to vanguardchurch.com

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emergent convention planning blog

I just posted a comment on the emergent convention planning blog. How great is it that the planners have "open-sourced" the planning to get input from us as they work on pulling next year's events together?

This year's convention was great. I particularly enjoyed the fact that very little of it was glitz and simple pragmatism. More of what I attended was dealing with deeper theological and philosphical matters. Also, it featured some people that really challenges thinking in some very practical ways--especially social justice (with the likes of Jim Wallis presenting).

I had the great privilege of being among the "McLarenites" (as we eventually called ourselves). About 24 of us met each night with Brian McLaren so that he could help us process what we were experiencing and thinking. Nobody is as warm and gentle as Brian, yet he is fully capable of dealing sqaurely with difficult issues.

One thing I found out was that one of my seminary professors has been criticizing Emergent.

Since the convention, I received the CDs of D. A. Carson (presented at Cederville College in Feb). I am taking a lot of notes, and will be presenting a full response at my website soon. Suffice it to say, while there are few scholars I have had more respect for than Don Carson, I was shocked at how flawed his presentation was. Very un-Carson like!

Watch for the response at


Demand some accountability from Bush and Rumsfeld!

I’ve had it with this administration’s total disregard for the human rights of non-Americans. This week’s Time Magazine article “Redefining Torture” spells out how “A series of leaked legal memos has revealed that since late 2001 the Administration has been quietly but fundamentally reshaping America's stance on torture. Contradicting 50 years of policy governing the treatment of detainees captured during conflict, the memos meticulously list all the laws against torture—then offer methods of evading them.”
How much more evidence must we have (other than those missing WMD) before we rise up and demand some accountability?
Sojourners reports “Though the country remains divided on Rumsfeld's responsibility for these crimes, a wide spectrum of military, political, and human rights leaders have called for either his resignation or an independent investigation into the abuses in U.S. military prisons,” including quotes from Army Times, The New Yorker, Republican Senator Chuck Hegel Chuck Hagel, (Neb.): International Committee for the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.
I have written my congressmen and have urged for Rumsfeld's resignation and an independent investigation.
Is it “Christian” to oppose this Christian President’s administration when there are glaring sin going on! You bet!
As Brian McLaren recently wrote (you can read the entire article at http://www.vanguardchurch.com/social_action.htm ) “Great leaders through Biblical history, like King David for example, have made great mistakes and needed to be counseled or confronted (as the prophet Nathan did for David). Being chosen by God didn’t give Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, or Solomon (or even the Apostle Peter for that matter) a carte blanche to be above needing counsel and confrontation at times. Those who think they stand above the need for counsel are warned in Scripture that they too can fall, and if they are proudly overconfident about their standing, it is certain they will fall. So, yes, we must pray for our president, and we must speak the truth to and about him and his policies.”


Satellite Project Beginnings

I am working with another pastor in our area to try to create a new kind of ministry here in Canton. It is called “Satellite Project.”
We feel that it would be good to unite the young adult generation of our county, in order to create mini-communities where faith becomes purpose for the good of our community and the world.
I’d like to see Satellite Project help young adults meet God, immerse themselves in God, and be moved by God in deeper personal faith that will manifest beyond their own personal redemption and into God’s purposes to extend the Kingdom of Christ in all aspects of life in the 21st Century.
My partner in developing this is Scott Rosen, Pastor for Young Adults at First Christian Church in Canton (his particular “church-within-a-church” is called “Tuesdays”). We have other team members as well.
We want to partner with agencies, organizations, ministries, churches in Canton—empowering and implementing a workforce of servants seeking to glorify God by manifesting the love of Jesus Christ through their efforts.
If you have any ideas, please respond!


Just War and Iraq

What are the Christian guidelines for a “just war”?

Over the centuries, Christian thinkers have worked out what has been called the “Just War Theory” in order to guide governments when they feel compelled to go to war. It was articulated in the 400s by Augustine when he was giving Christian guidance to the Roman General Boniface, who was later to defend Carthage against the Vandals. He told Boniface that war is not a matter of choice but of necessity, forced on us by the need to control violence in a fallen world. It is waged only to restore peace, so that we are always to be the “Peacemaker.” It must seek to limit its violence to only what is needed in resisting and deterring aggression. It must extend mercy to the defeated and the captive. Augustine even said that the Christian must repent in advance to going to war, because the ambiguities of the situation and wartime passions will always confuse moral issues and intentions since the heart is deceitful.

Here is an outline of what Just War Theory is. It has been held by Christians that if a war does not seek to meet all these criteria, a Christian has the right to say “no” to entering that particular conflict. A Christian is first and foremost a member of God’s kingdom before he or she is a member of any country. Our citizenship is in heaven.

It is therefore never permissible for a Christian to say, “My country, right or wrong!” The Nuremburg war crimes trials after World War II correctly set the tone for every individual—obedience to orders does not relieve a subordinate of personal moral responsibility. If you feel that your country is not being just in its war, you must object. Our loyalty is ultimately not to our nation, our president, or our government, but to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

We should echo what David Torbett, Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Mount Union College, recently said in a lecture on this topic: “I am hoping for another kind of just peace: not a Pax Americana, but a peace in which the US and the world accept the limitations of the just war principles—a relative peace, in which we win the war on terror without lapsing into terrorism ourselves.”

Again, I am not saying that our country is right or wrong now in our war with Iraq—I am not peddling some hidden agenda. What I am saying is that each of us must choose where we stand. It is wrong to caricature those protesting this war as one thing or another when some protestors are actually following their heart-felt Christian convictions. You may disagree with them, but you should uphold their rights to say what they feel compelled to say. Each of us will decide differently—God has given each of us the responsibility to think through these issues on our own, and to follow our conscience. This is why we should have laws that allow people to opt out of war due to “conscientious objection.”

So, here are the criteria of “Just War Theory”:

Criteria for going to war:
1. Just Cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
2. Just Intention. The only legitimate intention is to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge nor conquest nor economic gain nor ideological supremacy are justified.
3. Last Resort. War may only be entered upon when all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
4. Legitimate Authority. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
5. Limited Objectives. If the purpose is peace, then unconditional surrender is an unwarranted objective.
6. Lesser of Two Evils. The evil of not going to war must be greater than the evil of the war itself. In other words, if allowing the evil to persist is worse than fighting, then war is permissible.
7. Probable Success. Since many lives will be lost and much suffering will occur, there must be a reasonable belief that the war will be successful. This requires a clear definition of what success will be and how it will be measured.

Criteria for waging war:
1. Proportionate Means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks—to secure a lasting peace. Total or unlimited war is ruled out.
2. Noncombatant Immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POWs and casualties as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack.

That, in a nutshell, is how Christians have contributed to the ethics of war. Notice, the key to “Just War Theory” is PEACE! The only proper end in going to war is to secure a just peace for all involved.

But, as you have noticed, we call this the “Just War Theory.” It was developed in the 400s (Augustine) and was honed in the middle ages (Aquinas). Such people as the Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria developed the theory further when he condemned his king’s conquest of the Native Americans. The theory has been the guide for such advances in warfare as the Geneva Convention and other international agreements, and has shaped the regulations for war in the United States and elsewhere.

But, as we seek to properly utilize “Just War Theory” in the 21st Century, a new question about it needs to be asked.

Can “Just War Theory” work in the 21st Century?

Ever since Napoleon, warfare has taken a terrible turn. War tactics have changed so as to be able to totally wipe out an enemy. And we now live in an age where nuclear capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction make “Just War Theory” even more difficult to follow. Add to that the fact that rogue states are developing these weapons, and we find ourselves in a situation in which, if we wait to be attacked first before we can engage in war, massive lives will be lost. In light of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a new question has been raised: “If a government is legitimately threatened by another state by its Weapons of Mass Destruction, is it permissible to engage in a “Preventive War”?

In other words, is that stretching the Just War Theory too far? Does a “Preventive War” meet all the criteria—especially “just cause.” This has been the debate over the last several months concerning the American push for war with Iraq in the United Nations.

Again, I am not trying to tell you what to think, but how to think on this issue. I am merely presenting you the criteria for Just War, and now I ask you to decide for yourself whether a preventive war fits into it. If I know that imminent danger is coming that will kill many people, is it defensive to strike first?

Also, because this is a sinful world, some have contended that just war ideals are too idealistic. They say that it is not always possible to limit violence or to protect noncombatants or to fight only for defense, as the just war theory prescribes. And this is true. We all know that no matter how “smart” a “smart bomb” is, it will still inevitably kill noncombatants. War is different today than when people used to pack picnic baskets and go out to watch the battle on the war grounds from a safe distance. As much as we try to minimize it, innocents always die.

The vast destructive power of today’s weapons (including our missiles and our enemies’ biological or chemical or nuclear weapons) poses special difficulties for Just War Theory.

But, I believe that if we abandon the ideal simply because it is an ideal, we will not have any limits to our destructive power whatsoever. So, I maintain that we must hold true to Just War Theory, and continue to judge our decisions concerning warfare based upon it.

What is the Christian’s responsibility in this or any other war?

In light of all I have said, I obviously contend that we must make our own personal decisions on war and our participation in war based on biblical mandates and the Just War Theory.

Beyond that, and above all else, we must pray! Anything else we would do will have less effect on the outcome than our heartfelt and consistent prayers. Here are some suggestions:

Pray for our leaders (the President, the cabinet, General Tommy Franks, and all who are in charge on the field of battle), that they will make wise and just decisions at every juncture.

Pray for the men and women who are serving in the Armed Forces that they would be protected from harm.

Pray for the families of those whose loved ones are off fighting in this war—that they will be comforted and strengthened at this time.

Pray for our enemies. The purpose of our going to war is never to obliterate our enemies, but to secure a just and lasting peace for all involved.

Pray for the non-combatants that they would not be killed or injured.

Pray for the Christians in Iraq. Not only are their lives in danger, but their work of proclaiming the Gospel is in danger since in the minds of many that they are trying to reach this is an aggression of a Christian nation against a Muslim nation. It will be that much more difficult to convince people that Christ is about love and peace when they attempt to show Christian love after the war through care ministries in the midst of the rubble of their cities.

Pray for the non-combatants in America and around the world, that we would be protected from terrorist attacks.

Pray for a just solution to rebuilding Iraq. We as a nation are spending a ton of money to wage this war (some estimate that this war will cost well over 100 billion dollars!); we had better be willing to spend more than that to build Iraq up again and give the people a new nation. Jesus spoke of going the extra mile. In war, maybe he would say that we should spend the extra dollar. We need to be willing to pay whatever it will cost to rebuild Iraq. As Brian McLaren wrote, “We must remember that after the fighting ends: there is a high cost for being cheap. If we wound but do not heal, the memories of our enemies will keep track of the debt, which will accrue a high rate of interest, perhaps for decades if not centuries.”

Pray for the promised dream to finally come true. God told us through Isaiah that there will come a time of perfect peace, when nations will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isa. 2:4). While we watch the nightmare unfold on the nightly news programs, pray that the dream will quickly begin to unfold with the return of Christ.

Pray that, in the meantime, we can move beyond this current war so that we can spend our time and energy on other causes. The Christian is a citizen of the world as well as a member of the kingdom of heaven. That means we have responsibilities to live in both for the glory of God and we have at our disposal many resources to bring about some peace in the present age. Christ died for all people, and it is dangerous to allow particular political problems to poison attitudes toward other racial and national groupings. Christians need to take the lead in the effort to combat hunger and poverty and disease in the world. Christians need to proclaim that the Prince of Peace is real and that he has been here and he is going to return and that he offers peace right here and now in the hearts of those who will follow him.

Pray that we would never become so cold-hearted as to think war is ever anything but evil. Inside many of us is a desire to fight. That is not a bad thing, if you are fighting for an absolutely just cause. If you are believer, you will be on the side of perfect justice in the final battle against evil at the end of the age. But we must accept that all wars until then are not perfectly just, there are complexities that make certain aspects of what is happening today impure.

And in our times, our bloodlust is evident. We see in our entertainment industry; and we see it in the way people talk and cheer about war. But this is inconsistent with God’s ideals. So, pray that we would love peace more than the excitement of war.

And lastly, and most simply,

Pray for PEACE! Some are praying for death and destruction—but that is not Christian. Pray for peace—that this war will end quickly.



Having soaked in the Emergent Convention in Nashville last week, I decided to begin blogging, to enter into the conversation of how to be Christian in a postmodern world. This is an initiation of several things...
Initiation into my blogging experience...
Initiation into my engagement (hopefully) with those who are also seeking to think and apply postmodern sensibilities to the "evangelical church"...
Initiation into a new experience of the Holy Spirit...

Thanks for letting me in!