All Fall Down

Artist's concept of a catastrophic asteroid impact with the early Earth. Source: NASA

Many moons ago, a former Sunday School teacher of mine was talking about a preacher who had fallen from grace, and the conversation turned to what that meant for the people whose lives he had touched. If his own life was so far removed from God’s will, what did that mean for his teaching?

The question was asked, “Can God use fallen people?” To which I answered, “Of course. Those are all He has to choose from.”

It occurred to me this past week that, while that’s completely true, it’s only partially true.

Bear with me.

The conversation started with someone saying they wished a situation was different. In reality, they wished the situation didn’t exist. And that would require the past being different. Which, the friend said, God doesn’t do.

Of course, the truth is, we have no idea if He does or doesn’t do that. I suspect not, based on my personal beliefs. But the truth is, for all I know, I originally went to college at the University of Southern Mississippi, and 20 years later, prayed that I wished I’d gone to Ole Miss. If God granted that prayer, I wouldn’t know it, because I never would have gone to USM in the first place, and wouldn’t remember the prayer or the difference. Right? So for all we know, the world as we know it now is the result of someone praying for a better world than the one they were in.

Still bearing with me? Thanks.

Because, sure, that’s kind of silly and science fiction and everything, but here’s where it gets a little more practical. Kind of.

I wrote a blog post a while back in which I mentioned a book called Lucifer’s Flood, which is essentially a fictional narrative of the Gap Theory. This theory argues that there were actually essentially two creations, one in Genesis 1:1, and a second thereafter, and that there is a gap of a substantial period of time between the first and second verses of the Bible. Basically, the theory goes that God created the Heavens and the Earth, as per 1:1, and that things went so horribly wrong (the fall of Satan was during this period) that the Earth was brought to ruin and had to be restored, which is where Genesis 1:2 picks up — “And the Earth was without form, and void.”

Now, to be honest, I don’t really believe this theory either. But regardless of whether or not you believe God did do this thing, I think you have to believe that He could do this thing — that it is within the capacity of God to destroy creation and re-create it. After all, as Revelation 21:1 tells us — “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new Earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” God can do this.

And whether or not He did it once between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 aside, He didn’t do it after the Fall of Adam and Eve. He could have. But He didn’t. Rather than destroying what He had made and creating a new Earth, He chose to move forward with fallen one.

To make it a little more interesting, move forward in time a little bit. God becomes grieved with what His creation has become and regretted creating it. So He decided to “put an end to all people … to destroy both them and the Earth.” And so He floods the entire world, and kills everyone and starts over.

Except — He doesn’t really. He stops just short of killing everyone. He leaves one family alive. He could have killed everyone, and rebooted completely. Created a new Adam and Eve, perfect and unfallen, and started over. And yet, He didn’t. He started over from Square Two, from fallen descendants of a fallen man, cursed with original sin.

Why? I could theorize, but I don’t know, and that’s not the point.

The point is this —

“Can God use fallen people?” “Of course. Those are all He has to choose from.”

But that’s all He has to choose from because that’s all there is on this Earth. The fact that’s all there is on this Earth, on the other hand, is His choice. If He wanted to work with perfect people, He has the power to make them. At any point, He could destroy this fallen world, and start over. But He doesn’t.

Could He change the past? Maybe. But, again, the world as we see it is the world as He wills for it to be.

This is the world He chose — a world full of us, fallen and imperfect and clumsy and fleshly and mistake-prone and quick to disobey. We are whom He loves. We are whom He works with.

Not because He has no choice.

But because He chooses to.

RSS Reader Roundup

For some reason in the last few days, there have been several stories in my reader that particularly interested me almost-but-not-quite enough to write blog posts about them. So instead I’ve been saving them, with the intent to write one post about the various almost-post-worthy topics. And now I am.

• I’m not sure if the person I’m stealing this from would want me linking back, so I’m not, but I liked what they had to say about less-frequent blogging as they’ve been focusing on personal matters — “And some of those thoughts I just don’t post online. There are all sorts of reasons for that quietude: the blog is an editorial board for me, not a journal. The journal is not for broad pubication. It’s none of your d@mned business, which is I’m sure a radical concept in the media-and-data-saturated environment in which we now live. Maybe I have unpleasant things to say. Maybe I don’t feel like hurting people a thousand miles away by broadcasting my irritation with them to strangers ten thousand miles away. In any case, I’ve got other things to do with my time.”

To which I say, bravo. It’s always been an interesting question for me. My previous blog was very impersonal, but this one is frequently personal. But then, there are other personal things that I don’t blog. When does it become too much? When does living out loud turn into pandering? On the other hand, when does it become dishonest to blog around stuff? I’ve written about similar subjects before, and it still intrigues me.

Astronomers are currently studying a nearby supernova, only 21 million light years away. The headline — “it’s exploding right now” — and a bit in the first paragraph — “scientists actually managed to catch the supernova within hours of its explosion” — are misleading. Yes, they’re seeing light from near the beginning of the event. But, based on the speed of light, they’re not seeing something happening right now, they’re seeing something that happened 21 million years ago.


And this is one of the big issues I have with young-Earth-creation theories — if the universe is less than, at a minimum, millions of years old, this star is a lie. It never existed. For years, scientists have been looking at a star that never really existed; God just put light en route to Earth to make it look like there had been a star where there never was. And I’m not comfortable with a deceptive God. I’m more comfortable believing the universe is the age God makes it look.

• Speaking of whom, I enjoyed this letter from Sojourn pastor Eric Morgan, excerpted in part:

Because the Lord was with her, Mary was highly favored by God. Because she walked with God and found favor with God, God in-trusted her with a very special gift and task. Mary was the chosen instrument God used to bring (birth) salvation into human history. Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, came from womb of Mary…  How amazing is that to consider?
The beauty and mystery of the incarnation do not stop with Mary. They are very applicable to you and I. Like Mary, we too are bearers of God by virtue of the Spirit of God that lives within us. Just like Mary, who God used to bring salvation to humanity, God wants to use us, in the same capacity. Because the Spirit of Christ is within us, we have been highly favored to be God-bearers (theotokos) to our world. We are to bear witness of the light of the glorious gospel that will bring salvation to our world.

• I have to share this, too — Report clears NASA shuttle selection process, but doesn’t make Dayton or Houston any happier:

This report, while clearing NASA of any political meddling in its decisionmaking process, did little to assuage those denied an orbiter. An AP article about the decision with the headline “Report: NASA made right picks for retired shuttles” was retitled by a Houston TV station as “Bolden Overrode Retired Shuttles Decision”. That was based on a passage in the report where, in 2009, Bolden rejected a recommendation by a NASA team to award orbiters only to NASA facilities (KSC, Houston, and the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville), saying that he preferred that “the Agency choose locations where the Orbiters would be seen by the largest number of visitors and thus serve NASA’s goal of expanding outreach and education efforts to spur interest in science, technology, and space exploration.”


Review — “Rumors Of God” by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson

Chances are very good, you’ve heard about this “God” guy Christians talk about. You probably even have some idea of who you think He is. But how accurate are those impressions? How many of those are misconceptions? Even for a lot of Christians, some of the most important truths of the nature of God are things they’ve only heard something about. In this book, Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson explore the deeper reality of these “Rumors of God.”

The greatest merit of the book comes in making the divine personal. The book is divided into chapters that each explore the truth of a different “rumor” of God, exploring a different aspect of each nature — grace, love, freedom, justice. But in doing so, the authors do far more than reveal who God is — by shedding light on who He is, they explore what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be a church, and how the two are intricately linked.

For me personally, I could not have asked for a better book at a better time. I read it serendipitously, having received a free review copy through BookSneeze, but it was an incredible blessing. I’ve been through a period that had really challenged my view of who God is, and this book helped me break apart and better rest in my understanding of Him.

Rumors of God on BookSneeze

The 100-Word Word

Being a former newspaperman, I love following the Overheard In The Newsroom blog.

I was amused by this recent entry:

Reporter: “My story is already over 700 words and I still have a second soldier to interview.”

Editor: “You act like I can’t edit. I could edit the Bible down to 100 words.”

But then it made me start thinking. What if I did have to present the entire story of the Bible in 100 words? What would I say?

And the thing that fascinated me was, I wonder how intensely personal an exercise it would be. How much would me 100-word Bible be just that — mine? How different would somebody else’s look?

So I thought I would take a stab at it. But what I would really love is for other people to do the same. How much to they differ? What do we each take away from what we read? I suspect it would demonstrate just what an incredibly personal love letter to each of us His Word is.

And the truth is, if I were to do this as an ongoing project — if I were to, say, do this again a year from now, and two, and so on, how much would my own version change. How much is this version different from what I would have written five years ago?

Here’s my very poor attempt at it:

In the beginning was a Father, who created children He loved very much. His children were headstrong, and ignored what He tried to tell them, hurting themselves in the process. He watched patiently as they ignored Him and made mistakes — always trying to help, always weeping to see them turn their backs on Him and to see them hurt. Eventually the children made such a mess of things that a price had to be paid, a price higher than the Father wanted His children to suffer. So He came to Earth, suffered and died, to save His beloved children.

What would yours say?

A Matter Of Trust

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
— Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert’s Dune book series

I had to admit to Heather this morning that I’m afraid.

“Afraid” may be a bit strong, in public I would probably say “nervous” or “worried” or something.

But whatever word you use, it’s driven by fear. I’m afraid.

I’m nervous or worried or fearful or whatever about the things that I wrote about on here two days ago, particularly the looming financial giants of the potential government shutdown and roof repairs.

And Heather, very calmly and honestly, stated to me that it’s going to be OK.

And she’s right.

But here’s the sad thing:

I know it’s going to be OK. I know God’s not going to give me more than I can handle. I know that I’m taken care of.

I know all that.

But …

The part of me that is afraid doesn’t care.

Not because it doesn’t believe those things.

But because it doesn’t care.

Because that part of me knows that God will make sure I’m OK, but He’ll use His standards for what that means.

I want to be OK by my standard.

That part of me  don’t want to be OK by the standard of not having to deal with more than I can handle. It wants to be OK by the standard of not having to deal with anything.

I don’t want to have to use what I have to survive this.

I want to come out of this continuing to be able to go out to eat and buy books irresponsibly. I want to buy an iPad.

I want to be that sort of OK.

That’s selfish, and self-indulgent.

And I’m afraid, because I’m afraid God isn’t going to enable those things.

That’s rather sad.

And that’s been true many times. I had that conversation over a year ago with a good friend. We have trouble trusting God because we judge His trustworthiness not based on whether He does what is best, but whether He does what we want.

Part of me really does trust. Trust that He’ll do in this what is good.

And that part of me really does have peace and rest.

Part of me on the other hand is afraid.

Afraid I don’t get to be sloppy and self-indulgent and undisciplined.

And it’s a good reminder for myself that I’m still very much a work in progress.

Bible 2.0 — Scripture and Technology

Want proof times are changing? A boy recently told me he couldn’t read scripture because his phone was dead.

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

Image via Wikipedia

How is technology changing the way you relate to your Bible?

Two feet from where I’m sitting right now, I have a copy of the Holy Bible. It’s a nice copy, too, NIV, red leather bound with gold printing. Nothing too fancy — my good Bibles are in places I use them more — but functional nonetheless.

I rarely use it.

Instead, I’m far more likely to leave it on the shelf and access the Bible electronically. Google makes it easy to either look up a particular passage I know the address for, or to search for a verse if I can’t remember where it’s found. It’s easier and more convenient than pulling the print version of the shelf.

I’ve sat in my Bible study group with my Bible in my lap, reading scripture on my iPhone. At times, I’ve got both going at the same time; my Bible open to the chapter we’re reading, my iPhone searching for passages elsewhere I think relate, flipping between translations to make sure the connotation is what I’m looking for.

And I want more. I want to be able to read a verse, look up what a word is in Greek, and determine if it’s the same word used elsewhere all from my phone, and then read commentary on the verse to see how it lines up with what I just read. I want to click on a verse in Matthew, and find the corresponding passages in the other Gospels. I want to read an epistle, and go immediately to what Paul says about the same subject in other letters.

I suspect the Bible is undergoing a major evolutionary change today. It’s not the first time. In fact, the “Bible 2.0” title I used for this post is somewhat misleading; in terms of user interface upgrades, the Bible would be on at least version four already. Translations, the printing press, and separation into chapters and verses all change the way people read and use the Bible.

In fact, all those things change the way people think about the Bible. It’s hard today to really comprehend the idea of a Bible without chapter and verse distinctions. It’s very natural to us to pull one verse out of a passage and use it separately, as if, because it has its own address, it’s a self-contained entity. I’ve been working for the last couple of years to break myself out of that mindset — to focus more on the narrative than the excerpt, to never take a verse, regardless of where I see it, as many anything until I’ve read the context that it’s in.

Electronic versions of the Bible have the potential to make that challenge much easier or much harder. On the one hand, it’s now easier than ever to pull verses out of context and deal with them individually. I can e-mail or tweet a verse by itself with just a few keystrokes, and broadcast it without its context. Never has it been easier to share scripture out of context than it is today.

On the other hand, it’s easier than ever to deal with the Bible as a whole. Right or wrong, you can Google the Bible now, finding things in it that you might otherwise have missed. It’s easier now to look at the microcosm of a verse, but it’s also easier to look at the macrocosm of the Bible as a whole. It’s easier than ever to take the whole Bible with you wherever you are.

The Bible is changing. And while that may sound sacrilegious; it’s still within spec. This change, like translations and like the printing press, was anticipated by God when He inspired scripture to begin with.

I said earlier that the title “Bible 2.0” wasn’t entirely accurate. But it’s not entirely inaccurate either. This may not be a second iteration of the Bible, but it is the Bible in a Web 2.0 world. It’s the Bible in a world that’s interactive, that’s accessible, that’s peer-to-peer, that’s dynamic. We live in a world where the published world is no longer dead, but living, growing, interacting information. The Bible has always been a living book. Technology is finally catching up with it.

What does that mean for you? How does technology change the way you read the Bible? What electronic tools do you use to interface with it? What would you like technology to allow you to do? How does technology change the way you share scripture? How does technology change the way you share God?

Welcome to the Golden Age of Heresy

Rob Bell in the "Love Wins" trailer

OK, for those not in the sorts of circles to know this, I’ll summarize.

There’s this guy, Rob Bell. He’s a preacher. And he’s written books with hip-sounding names like Velvet Elvisand Sex Godand Drops Like Stars.

I’ve read Velvet Elvis. I own others, but haven’t read them yet. I’ve also seen some of his video stuff.

So he’s got a new book coming out, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

He made a video trailer for his new book. In the video, he questions whether Gandhi’s in hell.

This has made many people upset.

These upset people have tweeted and blogged a lot about being upset.

People were upset because saying that Gandhi might not be in hell is heresy.

And heresy, they say, is bad.

Saying that Gandhi might not be in hell, they say, means that Bell may not be a real Christian.

“Farewell, Rob Bell,” they say.

For those people, things are just going to get worse.

Welcome to the Golden Age of heresy.

Everything I’ve heard about the book, including watching the video, makes me think it probably is, in fact, heresy.

And, personally, as much as it sucks, I think believing Gandhi is not in hell is a dubious belief, Christianity-wise.

But I’m not upset about Rob Bell saying it.

See, people use the word “heresy” like it’s a bad thing.

Me, I believe heresy is going to save the church.

Some people would say it has before. Ironically, some of those are the same people condemning Rob Bell for heresy.

All heresy is, is saying that you believe something outside the mainstream orthodoxy.

Sometimes heretics are the people who twist religion to fit their own purposes. I’d agree that sort of heresy is a bad thing.

Sometimes, however, heretics are the people who stand up and say that mainstream orthodoxy is wrong, that it’s the result of someone twisting religion to fit their own purposes. I’d say that sort of heresy is a good thing.

If you believe that the elements of communion do not literally transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, thank a heretic. John Wycliffe died for that belief.

If you believe that the Earth orbits the sun, instead of vice versa, thank a heretic. Galileo was threatened with death for this belief.

Heresy is how the church matures, how it evolves, how it grows, how it rights itself when it is wrong.

It can also be how the church goes wrong in the first place.

How do we decide which a given heresy is? By listening to it. By evaluating it. By comparing it to scripture. By praying about it.

The same way we evaluate any new belief we’re exposed to.

So why do we live in fear of heresy?

Because we’re told to.

Because heresy is a threat to those in power in the church. Church leaders are only church leaders to people who believe the things they’re teaching. If people read Rob Bell’s book and think about it and evaluate it and compare it to scripture and pray about it and end up deciding it has merit, some church leaders will lose followers. They will lose power. They will lose influence. They will lose books sales and tithe money.

Those people don’t want you to read and evaluate the book. They want to stop you from hearing what it has to say. They want to dismiss it as heresy. They want to dismiss Bell as un-Christian.

Five hundred years ago, reformer John Calvin said of heretic Michael Servetus, “If he comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.” Servetus was the originator of the now not-uncommon doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” or the “perseverance of the saints.”  Seven years later, Calvin testified against Servetus in a trial that resulted in Servetus being burned alive at the stake for heresy.

We live now in a different world. Today, John Piper, perhaps Calvin’s best-known modern follower, tweets to his hundred thousand followers, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

Today’s established leaders have new tools for silencing those who would share ideas.

Unfortunately for them, we are entering a new Golden Age of heresy.

We are living in an age where heretics can be heard like never before. They can tweet. They can write blogs. They can write books. Their ideas can spread. And those who agree with them can say so. Just like those who don’t.

Like never before, Christians have the freedom to explore new ideas. They have the freedom to evaluate their beliefs for themselves. They have the ability to explore the scripture for themselves, aided by vast resources from generations of experts. They have literally volumes written by competing schools of thought to peruse and compare.

You don’t have to take John Piper’s word on Rob Bell. You can read his book yourself. You can read Piper’s books. You can — you must — read what scripture says about both of their arguments. And you can decide.

Until I can read the book, I won’t know for sure what Bell says in it.

From what I’ve seen so far, it flies in the face of beliefs I consider important.

What I have seen, I would call heresy.

It’s not uncommon for me to read books with heretical viewpoints and consider them without merit.

It’s also not uncommon for me to read books with more orthodox viewpoints and consider them without merit.

I can’t guarantee what I’ll think of Bell’s book. But I’ll be interested to see what it says.

You don’t have to agree with Bell. You don’t have to read his book. But you also don’t have to dismiss him because someone says to. The choice is yours.

The days of silencing heretics are over.