Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blogging at a new site

To any readers of my blog, I am shifting to a new location:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On good news-ing: John Stott is always good for a quote

John Stott observes:
When we contrast much contemporary evangelism with Paul's, its shallowness is immediately shown up. Our evangelism tends to be too ecclesiastical (inviting people to church) whereas Paul also took the gospel out into the secular world; too emotional (appeals for decision without an adequate base of understanding), whereas Paul taught, reasoned and tried to persuade; and too superficial (making brief encounters and expecting quick results), whereas Paul stayed in Corinth and Ephesus for five years, faithfully sowing gospel seed and in due time reaping a harvest. (Stott, 314)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Salvation means more

Regarding Ephesians 2, New Testament scholar, Ernest Best, remarks:
Salvation is more than believers receiving forgiveness of their sins, deliverance from the grip of the powers, adoption as children of God, and union with Christ in resurrection and exaltation.  Salvation means union with one another. (Best, Ephesians: A Shorter Commentary, 88-89)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Not to be served, but to serve: American Christianity

A good post related to the plight of American Christianity by Mike Stroope is here.

Here is a quote from the post:
History shows that the people of God usually do not voluntarily move
toward service.  Rather, service is forced on us via humiliation, loss,
and exile.  Quite possibly the American church is at the brink of such
loss.  The Christendom arrangement within the American context
(particularly in the South) has run its course, and Christianity
is being disestablished in school, by government, in polite society,
and within the wider popular culture.  Many Christian leaders act as
though it is still 1950 and that society still cares about what they
have to say or is looking for them to determine what is right or
wrong.  However, the year is 2009 and society is not listening, nor
does it care what we think.  At best, the wider culture only wants
to manipulate and corrupt Christianity for its ends.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections on the church/state issue

On facebook recently i was asked to join two groups.  One was to "remind President Obama that we are a Christian nation".  The other one was to put Christ back in our schools.  This mentality is frustrating and disturbing for me.  It is rooted in a mindset of the majority.  We only think this is an appropriate move because we consider Christians to be in the majority and any kind of suppression of Christian activity or knock against Judeo-Christian ethics feels like an attack. 

But my perspective is different, in part, because i have lived as a follower of Jesus in place where Christianity is in a minority.  Everything in society operates in connection to the majority faith.  There is prayer in schools, but i would not want my kids to go to those schools.  In fact, Christian families have little choice but to send their kids to private Christian schools so that their kids aren't subjected to prayer and religious teaching (even kids aren't forced to participate, the peer pressure from other kids is difficult for children).  Is this what we want for children of families that adhere to a different faith?  What is more, what about townships and counties where Christians are not in the majority?  The prayers in those schools would naturally be different. 

Unfortunately, the issue is larger than prayer in schools.  There is a tendency for the majority to presume privilege and power, and this is something evidenced throughout history and throughout the world, regardless of the majority faith or ideology.  It is a subtle transition that the majority faith presumes their practices and ethics as normal.

Just today someone alerted me to an article about a Bible study in a private home in San Diego, California.  Reportedly, they have been told that it is illegal for them to continue to meet in their home for religious purposes.  If you are like me, your first reaction is incensed anger.  A private gathering of a few people practicing their spirituality quietly in their private home should not be illegal.  As you can expect, there were a lot comments, most of which expressed their displeasure over this event.  But the reasoning often cited was disturbing to me.  There were comments about our "Christian" founding fathers and the United States being a Christian nation.  These comments betray a mindset that a Christian majority deserves privileges that others may not deserve.  I would have much preferred the reasoning to be applicable to all citizens of the United States, that people have the right to practice their spirituality as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights.  While some argued their point in this way, I was discouraged to see so many appealing to a Christendom that still controls the nation.

Another reaction to the event as reported in the article is that the minority faiths and ideologies are not so minor anymore and are somewhat bitter about how Christendom behaved as the majority.  This is to be expected.  We must admit that we, as Christians, have not always treated those unlike ourselves with the love and perpetual forgiveness modeled by Christ.  Too many examples come to mind to even begin listing the offenses we have caused to others in our nation.

The bottom line in this is that we need to reevaluate what it means to be both a citizen of God's kingdom and a citizen of the United States.  Which one takes precedence?  Are these two citizenships compatible?  What are our obligations as citizens of each? 

But what we need to be absolutely clear about is they are not the same thing and our language needs to reflect that distinction. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Change in Thinking

I wonder if this isn't true today, particularly in the Christian community:

"Scholasticism, with which the theology of the Church had been closely associated, was decaying. It still dominated the universities and the monastic orders, including the Franciscans and Dominicans, but the main new currents of intellectual life were flowing in other channels. This seemed to augur ill of Christianity and the Church." (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume I, 604)

What are the channels of intellectual life today?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free citation and bibliographic program

I have been looking at different software to help me manage all of my bibliographic references and sort them by topic when needed.  Most of the programs out there are kinda pricey.  Then I found Zotero.  Zotero is connected with Mozilla Firefox web browser does this service for absolutely free!  It is a pretty cool program that will automatically pull down bibliographic information from a website, coded PDF file or most published books.  It does not seem to be able to do all that some of those expensive programs can do.  But it is free!  If you are connected to the academic world, check it out.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Observations from a UN Report on Urbanization

The following observations are from "An Overview of Urbanization, Internal Migration, Population Distribution and Development in the World," from the UN Population Division. WARNING: Lots of boring statistics ahead!

Noteworthy (to me) observations:

  • Urbanization followed industrialization. Thus rates of industrialization in a region also show the rates of urbanization. (3)
  • Most commerce happens in the cities. 80% of the world's GDP is produced by urban areas. (3)
  • Urbanization resulted from both a push and pull effect. Increased job opportunities have pulled people to the cities. Mechanization of the agricultural industry has reduced the labor market in rural settings. (3)
  • Most R&D happens in the cities. 81% of patents are filed by urban dwellers in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. (3)
  • Urbanization linked to development- "Countries that have undergone long periods of poor economic performance tend to be the least urbanized." (4) "All the evidence indicates that people benefit from living in urban areas. Average urban incomes are generally higher than those in rural areas. Urban dwellers also have better access to a variety of services, including education, health, transportation, communication, water supply, sanitation and waste management. Because of economies of scale, it is more efficient and cheaper to provide such services to large and geographically concentrated populations than to populations scattered over large rural areas. Furthermore, access to services tends to be better in larger urban agglomerations than in small cities or towns." (4) "Thus, urbanization plays a positive role in overall poverty reduction mostly by contributing to aggregate economic growth." (23)
  • Urbanization's downside- Urban infrastructures are struggling to keep pace with population growth, thus cities suffer from traffic congestion, inadequate sanitation, and over-concentration of industries. "Cities also tend to make demands on land, water and natural resources that are disproportionately high in relation to their land area or their population, whose high average income results in high consumption." (4) The poor tend to suffer the most in the cities, not benefiting from the services of the economically empowered. The urban poor continue to increase. In 2005, 840 million people lived in slums. (4) 37% of the urban population of developing nations. (26)
  • Yet, "in most developing countries, rural populations have worse living conditions and fare worse in terms of health and mortality than slum dwellers." (5)
  • The urbanization rate exceeds the population growth rate. (5)
  • Migrants to the cities generally do better than those that remain in rural areas (5)
  • Development requires urban and rural focus- "strategies to improve the living standards of all must combine policies to promote rural development with those to improve the lot of poor urban dwellers by improving service provision, raising their educational levels, improving transportation, improving access to health services and family planning, strengthening the regulation of land use and facilitating the acquisition of land titles." (5)
  • The world population is projected to be 70% urban by 2050. "At that time, most of the urban population will be concentrated in Asia (54 per cent) and Africa (19 per cent)." (6)
  • "China, India and the United States of America accounted for 35 per cent of the world's urban population." (9)
  • Small cities (under 100,000 residents) are growing rapidly- "48 per cent of the increase in the world urban population was accounted for by the rise in the population of small cities." (14) They have less access to basic services than larger cities. (26)
  • Cities are growing rapidly as a result of the rural-urban migration. (16)
  • "Among the few countries where migration and reclassification account for most of urban growth, two stand out: China and Indonesia." (17) In other words these countries have very high rates of migration from rural to urban.
  • "Urban-origin migrants are more likely to move to urban areas than rural-origin migrants." (18)
  • Urban areas have lower dependency ratios than rural areas, that is the number of dependents for per one hundred adults. "A lower dependency ratio is potentially beneficial because it makes it easier for a society to save and invest. Because urban areas are characterized by lower dependency ratios, they are in a better position to leverage the benefits of economic development." (21)
  • Slum households defined- UN Habitat defines them as "urban households lacking one or more of the following: durable housing; sufficient living area; access to an improved water source; access to improved sanitation, or secure tenure." (26)
  • Cities beyond a certain size decrease in efficiency and productivity. Thus, many nations have urban-urban relocation programs attempting to more evenly distribute the urban population. This is particularly true in nations that have a primate city. Some countries have even created new capitals for this reason. (30)
  • Main point- "Urbanization is a process intrinsically related to development that must be managed in ways that maximize its potential benefits and prevent its negative consequences." (32)
  • Needed- "The development of local databases that reflect local realities and inform policy, planning and investment decisions at the local level is urgently needed." (32)

Critiques of the report:

  • This report nowhere defines what is considered "urban". In a report which focuses on urban migration and compared with rural migration, this is a crucial weakness and makes the statistics less valuable.
  • The often used development markers of $1/day and $2/day only provide a superficial picture of living standards around the world. The two primary flaws are: 1) the dollar, as with all currency, fluctuates. In longevity analysis, a comparison of the number of people making less than a dollar a day does not usually consider the rate of inflation of the time period. Thus, a statistic illustrating less people making less than a dollar than five years ago does not necessarily illustrate the improvement of that population's welfare. 2) differences in buying power in different contexts are significant. Even within a single province of a developing nation prices of basic necessities vary radically depending on the availability of the necessities and the basic infrastructure in transporting the necessities. In many places, $2 a day is enough to live on. But in other places, especially larger cities, it is not. Thus the following statement is rendered a meaningless measure of economic improvement: "Overall, the percentage of poor at under $1 a day in urban areas declined from 14 per cent in 1993 to 13 per cent in 2002…" (23)
  • Discussion of access to basic services is far too simple. Percentages of those with access to electricity is only helpful if those with access have a consistent source of electricity. But when the electricity only runs have the day and is inconsistent when it is on and off, it is more damaging to the economic infrastructure because small business owner dependent on electricity suffer terribly.

United Nations Population Division. "An Overview of Urbanization, Internal Migration, Population Distribution and Development in the World." United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Population Distribution, Urbanization, Internal Migration and Development. January 18, 2008. Accessed May 4, 2009.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A lesson in church planting from Greek city development

Plato, Aristotle, and ancient Greek society in general had very specific ideals for utopian society. As such, they were not willing for their cities to grow haphazardly. They felt strongly that the size of the city does not dictate its worth or contribution, in fact they limited the size based on the need for intimacy and communication and then multiplied cities. Lewis Mumford describes this:
The good life, as they understood it and practised it, depended upon intimacy and small numbers. When the polis sent out a colony, it made no effort, it would seem, to extend either its territorial or its economic dominion: it sought only to reproduce conditions similar to those of the mother city. As between growth by accretion, which became socially inorganic and ultimately led to disintegration, and growth by colonization, which maintained integrity and purpose, the Greeks chose colonization, as the little towns of New England did in the seventeenth century. They had mastered the art of reproducing cities. (Mumford, The City in History, 216-17)

In order to preserve their understanding of the ideal city, they chose to intentionally multiply themselves. Turning now towards church planting the benefits are manifold:
  • Intimacy and small numbers are invaluable to church life.
  • Intentionally reproducing quality church communities with good DNA is vital the health of the mother church and the daughter church.
  • The new churches are started with the purpose of being fully mature, autonomous churches and not controlled by the mother church.
  • Growth through multiplication helps maintain integrity and purpose.
So many churches have not given much thought either to giving birth to new churches or to how they can be ideally structured to be the ideal, maximally functioning church of Christ. Aristotle noted that Babylon had grown so large that the city had been taken for three days before some neighborhoods of the city even knew about it. (Mumford, The City in History, 216) Many churches operate this way. Major events occur (even crises) within the life of the church and yet parts of the body don't even know about it. Intentionality is key.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflections for Good Friday

Here are some quotes for reflection of Jesus' death (the quotes are in the 1st comment, I can't cut and paste from Word into the blog for some reason):

Monday, March 30, 2009

An interesting article on the good news

Tim Keller is wildly popular these days and in this article on the gospel he shows why. He is balanced, well-read, articulate, and has a strong understanding of two dominant worldviews in America (modernism and postmodernism). He makes some noteworthy points about how we communicate the good news of Jesus in ways that recognize felt-needs while remaining utterly faithful to what Scripture says. The article is not new, about a year old, but I just came across it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Offering Plate: A More Recent Development

Check out this article in Christian History magazine on an element of a standard worship service being a somewhat recent development.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Of statistics and spirituality

My friend Linda recently posted links to two different studies related to Americans and religious belief. One study from the Barna Group reports statistics on the number of Christians with a biblical worldview. Here is an excerpt from the study:
George Barna, who has directed this tracking research since the early Nineties, pointed out, “There are a several troubling patterns to take notice. First, although most Americans consider themselves to be Christian and say they know the content of the Bible, less than one out of ten Americans demonstrate such knowledge through their actions. Second, the generational pattern suggests that parents are not focused on guiding their children to have a biblical worldview. One of the challenges for parents, though, is that you cannot give what you do not have, and most parents do not possess such a perspective on life. That raises a third challenge, which relates to the job that Christian churches, schools and parachurch ministries are doing in Christian education. Finally, even though a central element of being a Christian is to embrace basic biblical principles and incorporate them into one’s worldview, there has been no change in the percentage of adults or even born again adults in the past 13 years regarding the possession of a biblical worldview.”

The other study was reported on by USA Today and looks more generally at trends of religious affiliation. Traditional religious affiliations are dropping dramatically.

These studies are not really that alarming, the signs have been there. The question is, how do we respond to this?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Grace and Karma According to Bono

I recently read an article (I found it here) about some of major themes coursing through U2's lyrics and concerts. Below is a quote from Bono. I appreciate the way he communicates using current idiom to articulate transformational truths.

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one…. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that…. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity…. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled…. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven." (Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), 203-204; as quoted in Harmon, "U2: Unexpected Prophets")

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A ponderous quote

"The prophets saw a people whose appetite for worship was insatiable but whose daily lives were a denial of all the moral standards of the God they claimed to worship. There was plenty of charismatic fervor (Amos 5:21-24), plenty of atonement theology in the blood of multiple sacrifices (Is 1:10-12), plenty of assurance of salvation in the recitation of sound-bite claims for the temple (Jer 7:4-11), plenty of religious observance at great festivals and conventions (Is 1:13-15). But beneath their noses and under their feet, the poor were uncared for at best and trampled on at worst. Spiritual religion flourished amidst social rottenness. And God hated it. God longed for somebody to shut down the whole charade (Mal 1:10), and finally he wiped it out of his sight." (Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 288)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are We Caring for Orphans or Creating Them?

I wrote a post in October on Developing World Orphanages and some of the deceptions involved what has become an industry. I recently read a penetrating expose of has become a fully-orbed industry of adoption in Foreign Policy. "The Lie We Love" by E.J. Graff does a great job of thoroughly explaining how the exorbitant prices of international adoption have essentially created an industry of exploitation and human trafficking. "Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis" he says. I will quickly try to recap the main points, for a more detailed explanation click the link and read the article for yourself. This industry has developed due to a confluence of developments. In the West, there are fewer babies being put up for adoption anymore. Also, the Western trend of waiting for a while to have children decreases the percentage of pregnancy. Combine those trends with the rising popularity of trying to relieve poverty in the world through adopting and you have a huge number of families hoping to adopt internationally. The numbers have spiked in the last fifteen years especially. It should be noted, however, that the demand is only for healthy babies. Graff states:

There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there's too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.

When the adoption costs from $15,000 to $35,000 per child, one can see how this would be tempting in many economically-challenged nations. The lack of regulation in many developing countries provides an opportunity for the system to be exploited. It is that much easier with the levels of corruption in many developing nations.

So, what about those millions and millions of orphans we hear about? The figures are deceptive. First of all, orphan is sometimes defined as one parent dead or missing (as UNICEF does). This is not the Western connotation of orphan, we consider one orphaned when both parents are dead or missing. Two other factors are important to remember. Most orphans (95%) listed in the statistics are over the age of 5. Secondly, many orphans are physically disadvantaged. The truth is that a healthy baby born—in even the most dire of poverty—is wanted by the family. In the rare event that the baby is not going to cared for by his/her family, there is enough demand within the country that the baby can be adopted within the same country. The article makes the claim that if that enormous pile of cash did not exchange hands there would be zero healthy babies without a home in many of the nations. The amount of money involved has encouraged the terrible exploitation of the poor and minorities in many developing nations. Babies quickly become "paper orphans" through the manipulation of the official documentation.

The extremely high demand for healthy babies from wealthy western nations has created a business that will not go away unless we become wiser about these issues. As it is, we are essentially creating orphans by purchasing them from poor, disadvantaged families.

Scripture is clear that we are to care for those disadvantaged like orphans widows. But James 1:27 encourages us "to visit orphans and widows in their affliction", not buy them from impoverished or oppressed families. We need to seek the well-being of families in poverty so as to minimize the number of true orphans in the world.