Why I Went To Seminary

Finals week has come and gone. This next semester, however, marks a milestone. The past semesters in seminary have been mostly about just enjoying the ride, so to speak. This next semester will be about finishing well and finding a ministry position.

That got me thinking about what caused me to pursue vocational ministry. The correct theological answer would be that it was the decree of God in eternity past. On the level we usually live, that’s not very helpful for most people. But it is a reality: God knew what the nature of his people and the church would be like in the opening decades of what we call the 21st century, allowed me to be born, experience certain things, and develop into the man I am today – with all the quirks and failings, as well as all the strengths and capacities, that I have. I am a man, created by God, for this time.

But from my perspective, it sure looks a lot messier. I came to faith in a stuttering sort of way. The opportunity came when, as a sophomore in high school, I was finally presented with a clear Gospel message: the reality of my sin, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, and my ability to appropriate that grace by faith. I didn’t know all those terms then, but I have a clear memory that all those concepts were there. I prayed to God to forgive my sins because of what Jesus had done. That was in 1971.

For the next 30 years, my life as a believer was characterized by several streams. The first was intellectual. I have always been a bit clever with words and ideas and took very quickly to understanding Bible and theology. The second stream was related: communication. I have enjoyed, and been fairly successful at, communicating difficult ideas to people for their benefit. This is the core of teaching. The third stream was service. I learned that service and ministry was my primary mode of spirituality. The fourth stream was leadership. I found myself (frequently in spite of myself!) consistently rising to levels of leadership and influence.

But even back in my early days as a believer, I knew that vocational ministry was a significant “calling.” Sweet old church ladies would say, “Eric, you’re such a nice young Christian man. Do you want to be a pastor when you get older?” Even then, I understood that there was something special about being a pastor and whatever that ‘calling’ was; I didn’t have it – yet.

And that was the state of affairs for decades until about 2000. Things were happening in my own life and the life of the church I was attending. They came together in a kind of spiritual crisis for me. It was pretty undefined at the time but I began to sense that I had to step up even more. This led to a very intense sense of spiritual unease in the beginning of 2003. At that time, several mentors suggested I engage in a ‘Focusing’ process to help me gain clarity as to what God seemed to be trying to tell me. I did that and came away with a rather surprising ‘call’ to “help hurting churches back to health…”

Well, then the question became; how do I do *that?* After several more twists and turns – especially in the job situation – I found myself positioned to enter seminary with the goal of entering full-time vocational ministry. I had the encouragement and support of my family and friends, I had the financial means, and I had a clear call to pursue what seminary would do to prepare me for ministry. I applied for, was accepted, and entered Western Seminary in January of 2006.

As I anticipate graduation in 2008, I am now looking for a full-time vocational ministry position.


Rick Warren Schilling for Hillary??

So I got another internet news item sent to me. Here it is … go ahead and read the article as it’s pretty brief:

So here was my response to my friend...

Thanks for sending me the link. I think I laughed out loud twice while reading it.

I loved the story – “at least one member of the popular author's Saddleback Valley Community Church called Clinton her "hero." That is hilarious – how many people are members of SVCC? What’s the percentage of people actually interviewed who called her a hero? That would be .0067%, friends – nearly a whole 7 one thousandth of a percent!

The end of the story is also hilarious: "What Saddleback is doing is helping raise her profile as a legitimate presidential candidate in the eyes of evangelical Christians," Of course Hillary Clinton is a legitimate presidential candidate – not liking her, not agreeing with her, and wishing she would simply disappear is not going to change the fact that Hillary is making a very serious run for her party’s nomination. And, at the moment, it is very likely she will get it. Is Tim Wildmont *that* dense? Yes, it seems so!

Are Warren’s actions calculated to boost Hillary’s acceptance among evangelicals; and is he campaigning for her? That is quite a stretch. It seems to me that Warren is shaming Republicans and other evangelicals for not stepping up on a very serious crisis to humanity. Doesn’t it seem more likely that Warren is saying: “Look, here’s a known abortion rights activist whose manifest attitude towards the sanctity of life is weak. And even she ‘gets it’ about the AIDS situation. When are our ‘sanctity of life’ proponents going to get off of the ideological glue and do the right thing?” Suggesting that Warren is promoting the rest of Hillary’s campaign platform is pretty silly.

Warren cares about people dying; image bearers of God are dying and it’s a lot of people’s fault. I think Warren very much wants that to change. But it seems to me that his agenda is AIDS relief, not promoting a liberal political agenda. I have no doubt that Warren has done his calculus and determined that his encouragement of Hillary as to AIDS policy outweighs any outlandish speculation that Rick Warren has gone to the far ideological left. Suggesting that Warren is politically dense is pretty presumptuous.

I seem to remember that Winston Churchill once said that “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Even today we love that quote. Everybody understood that Churchill was saying that he was so determined on defeating Hitler, which was a good thing, that not much else compared to that goal. Nobody seriously thought that Churchill was promoting Devil worship.

The question isn’t whether Warren is supporting a particular candidate who I personally despise; it is when are the political candidates that I’m supposed to like going to start speaking out about “compassionate conservatism?” The silence is deafening – and condemning.

That’s my opinion – and it ought to be yours. :-)

- Eric


The Real Enemies

A good friend passed on to me a link to an article on the Internet. I read it and was pretty annoyed. It is a commentary on Willow Creek’s recent “recanting” of their ministry model. I’ll give you the URL: A Shocking “Confession” from Willow Creek Community Church.

Here’s my brief analysis. First, let me say I was there in October of ’06 and heard Hybels and Hawkings in person explain what was going on. OK – everybody knows that WCCC changed their tune – this is really old news. But besides being behind the curve, it seems to me that Burney has missed the point. It isn’t about Bill Hybels being wrong about the seeker-sensitive movement– in actual fact he has been very right for a couple of decades. In addition, it looks like Burney completely misses the boat when he labels Hybels as a “church growth guru” and conveniently forgets that WCCC has always been about outreach, evangelism, and reaching people who just were not being reached. Thousands of people are now headed for an eternal life with Jesus because of the ministry of Hybels, Rick Warren, etc. Burney seems to consider this unimportant as he doesn’t mention that fact at all. Come on, we all knew that the seeker-sensitive thing (in and of itself) was not, nor was it ever about, developing fully-devoted followers of Christ.

In fact, if you actually look at what the WCCC statements are saying: it is not that they have repented of trying to reach “unchurched Harry and Mary” – not at all. In fact, WCCC is repenting of a programmatic, get-them-involved-in-anything approach. They are repenting from not emphasizing the development of “self-feeding” believers.

Do you see what Burney has done? WCCC has repented of their *discipleship* model, NOT their evangelism model. But Burney attacks their *evangelism* model because of their statement about their discipleship model. And also no words of encouragement from Burney to WCCC for getting a better grip on how to grow disciples. Why doesn’t he say, “WCCC, the rest of us are really glad that such an influential church is getting serious - not just about bringing people into the Kingdom of light - but now that you want to grow them into fully devoted followers of Jesus.” No; it’s pretty much just: ‘You guys were wrong. About everything – wrong.’

It seems to me that Burney has gotten this wrong. In addition, from where I sit, he’s being a little mean: the tone of this article is way too much on the side of gloating. I’m pretty disappointed – throwing stones at brothers and sisters in Christ is wrong. Comparing Hybels to Dr. Spock is a cheap shot. WCCC has repented; and done so very publicly. I’ve got to wonder if Burney will.

So here’s my Big Point: I think Bob Burney – and far too many “Evangelicals” on the Fundamentalist side of the tent – may have fallen into an age-old trap. We have forgotten something very basic. The question they (and we) need to remember to ask is: Who is the real enemy?

Let me make it clear: sin, the Devil, and death are our enemies. Bill Hybels (as flawed as he is) is not the enemy – he’s a devoted brother in Christ. We get so incestuous in the fights we pick. It is clear that I disagree and am disappointed in Bob Burney. But he’s not my enemy – he’s my brother. I can pick on several goofy Christian leaders and point to their mistakes, their confusion, their error, and even their sin. It’s not my job to condemn or even convict them – I’ll leave that job to the one person who actually has that in their job description: the Holy Spirit. I believe instead that Jesus’ asks us to graciously and humbly confront our brothers and sisters. Even in this blog, I don’t condemn Burney; I want to humbly suggest that he reconsider his analysis and his tone.

As Christians, we have real enemies, but they should NOT be other believers, or the people who don’t vote like we do, or even our unbelieving and very annoying neighbor who is partly a victim of the blindness that accompanies sin. Let’s remember who our real enemies are: the Devil, sin, and death.

The Form and Function of Switches

There is something about industrial design that's always floated my boat. Herein, a link to an insightful (and British) look at something only a mechanical nerd (and those with similarly refined tastes) could appreciate. Be warned, the following is not for everyone.

Behold, a gallery of switches!!!!


Sinful Church and Leaders Who Don't

I was chatting with an old friend who, like me, has been a believer from our high school days back when we were wearing long hair and called Jesus Freaks. Now as the Freaks have become “Evangelicals” (that is sooooo weird), we wonder what’s happened to the faith once for all delivered. Specifically, we were commiserating about the stupid, goofy, and occasionally sinful things we’ve seen in church contexts.

Yes! I frequently make the joke that I love Jesus, I love the church, but actual Christians are really disgusting – imagine what God thinks of us! (There’s a reason that I’m glad God has blessed me with parenthood: back when they were really little, my gorgeous children could be rather disgusting, but I still loved them dearly) Anyway, that's one reason that my calling is to dysfunctional churches. There is much that I've seen in the church that is good and right, and a lot that is stupid, ignorant, and rebellious. My desire is to facilitate God’s working in those churches; partly for no more noble reason than for them to stop giving Jesus such a bad name.

My friend and I were also talking about the many people we’ve seen wounded and scarred by church ministry. I also wonder at why so many guys end up leaving pastoral roles. I think something is systemically wrong. I highly suspect that our 'recruitment' process is messed up - there are a lot more that are "called" to ministry than really should go. We esteem leadership too low and allow people to lead who probably have no business doing so. Out of our egalitarian philosophy rather than Bible, we really believe that Christian leadership is something everyone should do. We should probably have fewer Elders and more Deacons. We should re-think what being "Elder Qualified" really means. And I could go on and on - but I can't because I really need to get my Greek homework done this morning. :-) Pray for me, we are beginning participles.

Yes, the church can and has been a place of rampant anti-Jesus stuff. Let’s change that! It is NOT easy to do, but God calls us to it anyway. It will not be comfortable and grate against most of our preferences, but God says he’ll be with us as we move to being better Jesus people.


Cross Cultural Christians

If there’s anything that my one intro-to-missions course reinforced for me was the importance of contextualizing the gospel. This obviously goes beyond language acumen – which is hard enough! It’s has to also be about deeply understanding the culture that the gospel has to go into.

I’ve also been doing some thinking about “gospel.” The Gospel is clearly the news that Jesus died, was buried, and rose according the scriptures as an atoning substitution for the penalty of sin. But I’m increasingly aware that “gospel” is – for postmodern U.S. – part of what we would technically call ‘pre-evangelism.’ Thankfully, Evangelicals are coming to grips with this.

How do we become “good news” to our community? How do we take the Jer 29:29 thing and be a blessing to our immediate context such that they see that we Jesus-people are around and would miss us if we left? So an example of ‘pre-evangelistic gospel’ would be the good news that those Jesus-people did a ‘pick-up the trash around the neighborhood’ event, that they opened their facility to the neighborhood association, that they unilaterally gave out some Christmas gifts (because, after all, they think Christmas is a Big Deal) to kids around the place-neighborhood where they meet. All of that while maintaining a fierce devotion to Jesus.

That is a combination of missional and attractional, of course. But then it’s only attractional if, should these neighbors come to see what it’s all about that they see authentic worship done in a culturally coherent way. For example, in the case of an urban church that I’ve talked to, hymns are dorky and even praise choruses are contrived – and that’s just the music part. But they frequently have people walk into their service from the street and so make sure that what they are doing makes sense to those folks – that it is coherent with their culture.

In our increasingly ‘Balkinized’ society, every Christian needs to think cross-culturally. There’s a double entendre’ there: the more a believer becomes like Christ the more they are changed from an aspectational-perspectivalism of ‘the world’ to a God-perspective. A Christian, seem to me, should be moving to a "Cross Culture." OK, that’s dorky, but stay with me. Christians need to keep feet in both cultures: the culture that is profoundly shaped by the ‘Christ Event,’ as well as the culture that urgently needs that good news.


Jesus is the thing

In school I’m taking a course, “Interpreting Scripture.” To those who like the big words: Hermeneutics. We are learning that interpretation is not just a personal thing (perspectivalism) but a rational and fairly objective process. It’s not that perspective doesn’t enter in, it is that we strive to not let that happen. We attempt to manage our perspectives so that they don’t interfere with understanding the author’s intent. We do that through a process that helps that happen. The process is called, “hermeneutics.”

OK, all that aside, we are using a section of scripture to practice on. It is the book of Colossians. Doing either a casual read of the book or analyzing it deeply you come up with a pretty clear picture that the main theme of this letter that Paul wrote to the Colossian church is something like: “The Supremacy of Christ.” A direct statement of this theme is Colossians 3:11 – “… but Christ is all, ....” For Paul, The Main Thing he wanted to make sure the Christians in Colossae got was that Christ is All.

We Christians today don’t get that. We are a bit fuzzy on whether Christ is The Deal or not. Over a year ago I was challenged by David Byrant to listen to sermons and “worship songs” and count how many times we actually talk about Jesus, Christ, Lord Jesus, or any combination of those words. We as Evangelical Protestants are, these days, all about a kind of generic monotheistic religion. We like to talk about “God,” “The Lord,” and the like. But we don’t talk that much about “Jesus.” Why is that?

I think it’s because we’ve forgotten that Christianity is about Christ. We talk much about God – but that doesn’t distinguish us from Jews or Muslims. Christians believe in Jesus. Christians love and worship Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is worthy of worship in exactly the same way that we would worship creator God because we believe that Jesus IS creator God. I won’t get into the theology of that – save that for another post. But my point is that the Christian church has to be about Christ or it really is not Christian.

As a Christian, I invite you to an experiment. At church, walk up to a friend and ask them, “So what has Jesus been teaching you this week?” For most Evangelical, Bible-believing, born-again “Christians,” this will seem to be a kind of weird question to ask in a church lobby. But what is really weird is that it would be a weird question. Of all people, we ought to be able to talk "Jesus" to each other. As supposed fully-devoted-followers of Christ we should be able to talk about Christ with each other.Why are we reluctant to talk "Jesus?" Maybe because it hasn’t been modeled well by our spiritual leaders. Maybe because our theology is more impoverished than we thought and we don’t understand the supremacy of Christ (read Colossians!). Maybe because we are more comfortable with our vague generic monotheism than real Christ-ianity.

This much I do know: if we can’t talk about Jesus with each other then we certainly can’t talk about Jesus to those who don’t yet know him. If we aren’t comfortable talking about Jesus to Christians, how can we expect to talk about Jesus to seekers?


Tech Support

Having been in the biz, I have to say this little video is right on the mark.

thanks to my BFF Doug (http://doughumphreys.blogspot.com/) for cluing me into this one.


Small Church - Big Church

This last summer I’ve been busy with a full load at school, getting my daughter ready for her first year of college, trying to enjoy something about our summer, and doing some great ministry at my church.

But for this blog-isode, I wanted to concentrate on some things that I’ve observed and thought about from one of my courses this summer. The course is entitled, “Shepherding the Small Church.” Even the title is a bit controversial because for the majority of the people reading this blog, they likely go to a church that is classified as medium to large, even “mega-.” One might even be tempted to ask: why should anyone learn to pastor a small church?

First, it is still true that the majority of churches in the U.S. are “small” comprising a membership of 75 or less. Second, in spite of some rather noteworthy movements towards large churches, there is a powerful ‘small church’ movement that uses terms like, “house church,” “cell church,” “missional community,” and so forth. Third, for people like me who have spent most of their spiritual lives in larger suburban churches, it is important for me to recognize and appreciate the very different sub-culture that small and rural churches represent.

Let’s start with that idea – small church and large church are very different cultures. One of the biggest mistakes that an inexperienced minister can make is attempting to exercise large-church suburban values in a small-church rural context. This is understandable as most seminary graduates are from larger churches in suburbia. When they take their culture with them, they experience culture shock and profoundly ineffective ministry. So this course is helpful to see the differences and to do effective ministry within (for me) a new culture.

What I hear from some, however, is not just “small church is different from big church,” but “small church is better than big church.” I think this is a profound error. This error states, like most errors claim, that small church values are “biblical” and so the trump card is thrown down right away. Second, and confusing, the accusation will be made that large churches use “man-centered,” “innovative” (meaning not biblical), and use otherwise non-biblical techniques and processes. This makes small churches of God and large churches heretical. Personally, this really bugs me. My experience has been with larger churches so these comments are a back-handed attempt to invalidate my spiritual environment. I think we can admire Hybels, Warren, Stanley, Piper, or Driscoll – all leaders of large churches – and show appropriate distain for T.D. Jakes, or even Joel Osteen who pastors the largest church in this country. Why? Because the first group honors God, Jesus, and the Bible. The last group – in my view – does not. Folks, honest to God – let’s not bash bigger churches merely because they are big!

On the contrary, the biblical evidence – what’s in the actual text - is that the church in the first century was in an urban environment. Second of all, the biblical church was large – these were not ‘house churches,’ these were city-wide, large membership churches that would meet in houses for logistical purposes. Third, there was innovative and situationally responsive ministry happening – the very ‘office’ of Deacon was invented out of thin air pretty much on-the-fly in response to a very specific ministry challenge. The biblical evidence is that New Testament, first-century, ‘biblical’ churches were large, urban, and innovative!

Now, in reality, I am NOT advocating that large churches are godly and biblical while small churches are not. I’m merely rebutting the "only small is godly" argument. My position is that small, medium, or large – the church has many ways of existing. Much of that, by the way, is a function of the culture that the church finds itself in. In large urban or suburban contexts, its rather natural to see churches be large or medium sized. In small town or rural environments, it is also predictable to see medium to smaller churches.

By the way, the society’s culture has a big role to play in the size of church. Let’s continue our conversation by noting that the Bible isn’t very specific at all about how church is done. There are a few parameters and the rest is, well, left to our discretion. In Russia, they do church leadership very differently than we do – but that’s a reflection of Russian culture and when well-done can fit within the parameters that the Bible gives us. In Zaire, they do church way differently than we do, but it’s a reflection of their culture and can fit within biblical parameters.

Here’s the thing! Why are we so quick to condemn our churches? Let us be good observers of our own society! We are Americans; Americans are big-corporation people; much of what we all should recognize as ‘best’ in doing church are done in churches that are well-aligned with the parent culture: in the American case, a bit corporate and large.

Additionally, look at the age and background of the people who have formed these large churches. They are mostly in the 50’s and 60’s, children of Modernity and corporate structures. They grew up hearing that ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for America.’ Now look at the new crop of seminarians – they are absolutely entranced with church planting and missional communities. Why? Are these more biblical? Not particularly. I suggest that the current emphasis on church planting has more to do with the decline of American corporations and the rise of American entrepreneurship in the 1980’s and ‘90’s than any newly-discovered biblical ecclesiology. That happened to coincide with Schmacher's "Small Is Beautiful" movement (1973). Several of you have just turned me off, but from where I sit with a perspective granted by several decades, that’s what I see.

A small biblical church is a good thing. So is a large biblical church, as well as a medium-sized biblical church. Let’s stop evaluating based on externals (walking by sight) and look to the core matters.


Review of Leadership Summit ‘07

The first session with Hybels just wrecked me. “Vision to Die For.” He reminded us of John 10: the difference between the hired hand and the shepherd. When trouble comes, the hired guy scoots but the shepherd stays even at grave personal risk and cost. Why? The hired hand doesn’t own the sheep and the shepherd does. So when we are called to a leadership vision (or ministry itself) and trouble comes, how much do we own the vision (or calling)? Do we just give up and boogie because we merely “hired” the vision, or do we stay and give it our all – maybe even to die for it – because we own the vision. That’s what Hybels meant by “Vision to Die For.”

So here I’ve been whining about not having enough money to finish a degree. The reality is that I don’t have enough, based on the large pot that I started with. But we do have other assets: retirement, home equity, etc. How much do I own this calling to ministry? Enough to dip into those other sources?

Hmmm. Well, it’s relatively easy to put oneself on the altar. But it’s quite another thing to put my family’s financial security, my daughter’s college education, and so forth on the altar. It’s one thing to make a decision to put myself at risk, it is quite another to make a decision and put others at risk. Geez, I hate that Bill Hybels! :-) So I have a couple of conversations to make with my family.


Capstone Theology Course

I realized I’m fully into the seminary experience. So much so that I’ve noticed that I had briefly lost touch with where people are really at. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who’d asked about how my classes were going. I then launched into a description of the course on Old Testament theology and some of the controversial issues we were discussing. At one point, I commented that “I really am not all that into Biblical Theology.” My friend responded: “What??!?”

Now in my mind I was maintaining the technical distinctions between the four classic parts of theology: Biblical, Systematic, Historical, and Practical. What I was saying was that I had only gotten a taste of Biblical Theology at this point in my education so was having a challenge getting up to speed in this advanced course. What my friend heard me say is: “I really don’t care about the Bible!” Yikes! I cleared up the confusion – yes, I really DO care about the Bible!! I also laughed at myself because I’d fallen so far into Theologian jargon that even my rather bright friend got confused. So I slapped myself out of my ivory tower and I think I’m better now. :-)

I finished my “Integrating Theology and Ministry” class (this is the 'capstone' course) on the 23rd and that culminated with a brief oral examination that was similar to what I might face during an ordination process. The process goes like this: the room is filled with a few other students who have all had a chance to pick over my work in detail, the prof picks about three subject that he thinks will get the most traction, then they start in with “clarifying” questions about my beliefs and hypothetical questions about ministry, after some time the prof calls a halt, the examinee leaves the room (“cast out into utter darkness”), and then the student is graded by everyone on how well they did in several areas as well as a final “excellent/pass/retake” grade.

So my time came up and the professor announced the three subjects the other guys were to grill me on: one that he knew I was shaky on, one that he knew I’d done some extra work on, and one that he knew I held the minority position with the other guys in the room. So I managed to not completely embarrass myself on my shaky subject (election and atonement), probably did an over-kill on my good subject (humanity), the guys ignored my third subject but started in on me about a completely different area (church discipline and ordinances). I think they were trying to rattle me by bringing up an area that the prof hadn’t put on the table. Still, I did alright, actually. At the end of the allotted time, the prof announced that I was ‘ex-communicated from the room.’ I left and they deliberated my fate. So, after the blood had subsided, they passed me. Whew!

Altogether, it was a great exercise and showed me several weaknesses and a couple of strengths.


Vinyl To Jesus Freaks

Having gone through this vinyl-rippin’ exercise, I found myself thinking about the impact of this music on my own life, as well as the life of the American church. I find both impacts to be positive.

Personally, what is noteworthy about these pieces is that they fueled my own (very) mediocre musical talents. Not only were these great talents affirming the gospel but they were also affirming the expression of the gospel through my generation’s ‘heart music.’

Decades later, I appreciate the missionary work they did in reaching into a different culture than the American Church had not, up to this time, been able to penetrate. Today, Christian thinkers such as Ed Stetzer confirm the observation that American culture is finally being recognized as fragmented and those barriers are cultural: language, dress, behavioral norms, music, worldview, etc. Today, among those Christians sensitive to reaching people with the Jesus News, this is obvious. Back in the Day, no – not so much. The expectation was an Old Testament ethos: “The people need to come here to learn of the Lord.” That is, bring people to church and not only convert them to Jesus, but also ‘church culture.’ But the New Testament ethos is: “As you are going about your business, make disciples: convert and teach them how to live.” That is, go out, meet lost people, learn how to talk to them, and tell them the Jesus Story so they can respond.

I am reminded again of the Third Great Awakening in the United States. What we now know of as the “Jesus Freaks” was the engine to modern evangelicalism. Back then, it was clear – it’s supposed to all be about Jesus. “He’s the Real Thing” was, though bumper-sticker theology, still an indicator of the ethos of the time. Now, it is more confusing.

Ask your average un-churched, post-Christian, culturally engaged person what “Evangelical” means and you’ll get an answer about politics, ideology, or culture. Rarely will you hear, “an emphasis on the good news about Jesus.” Ask them to describe Jesus and you’ll probably hear: “loving, kind, gentle, wise, forgiving” – and they would be right, wouldn’t they? Ask them to describe an Evangelical and you will probably not hear any of those words. Something is wrong with that picture.

We’ve lost something from the days of the Jesus Revolution – not only the one during the 1970’s, but the even bigger one during the first century. Christ is now proxy for ideology and the gospel is something to run away from.

What have we done?


Rippin' Vinyl

Here’s an update on my vinyl rippin’ efforts. First, it is amazing how well I remember these tunes, the lyrics, and what appealed to me about the music back in the day. Second, I listen to some of these albums and can’t help but react: “What was I thinking??!” My only defense was that my musical tastes were ‘evolving.’

So here’s what is now in my digital library:

Maranatha Music – Growing up in SoCal as a Christian coming of age in the days of the Jesus Freaks, there was pretty much one show in town and that was Saturday night concerts at Calvary Chapel. This was just after they moved out of the circus tent into their (at the time) brand-spankin’ new auditorium. It was my first exposure to a mega-church and was the emerging church of its day. As part of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa’s (CC/CM) outreach, they had several ‘worship teams’ (bands) of top-notch talent. These bands would not only play at home, but toured and recorded. CC/CM created its own record label, “Maranatha Music,” and here are the titles I bought and have ripped to digimedia:
Love Song – while some would say that “Children Of The Day” was the first, “Love Song” was the flagship group of the Maranatha label
Daniel Amos – country style with some Big Band fun
Mustard Seed Faith – “Sail On Sailor;” like several albums side B much stronger than A
The Way - title album
The Way – “can it be?” [note the lack of capitals, e.e. cummings was Very Big then]
Maranatha x – a series of compilations ranging from “The Everlastin’ Living Jesus music Concert” to Maranatha VIII; I have ‘volumes’ 1 through 5
Issac Air Freight – “Fun In The Son;” IAF was a trio of guys who did Christian comedy; it’s a bit dated now, but was very cool back then

Solid Rock – created by the Bad Boy of Jesus Rock, Larry Norman. Solid Rock operated under the principle, “Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music?” Larry was my role-model for the Angry Young Man thing (the problem was that *I* stayed angry long after my youth). Larry was personally problematic but pushed the envelope in several directions that the church is only now coming to grips with (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Norman). Larry discovered several talents. It seems to me that the most significant was Randy Stonehill. The sweet guitar work in this album was done by Stonehill.
Larry Norman – In Another Land; very serious, full of the thundering prophet
Randy Stonehill – Welcome To Paradise; as Larry was serious, Randy was playful

Spirit – a division of Sparrow; Jesus Rock now getting some commercial attention.
Benny Hester – fun, loud, impossibly high tenor

Myrrh – a division of Word and distribution channel for Solid Rock
The 2nd Chapter of Acts – wow, a trio of siblings who sang real pruty-like
Power Music – a collection of some of their artists and albums for 1977: Chuck Girard, B.J. Thomas, Michael Omartian, Tom Howard, Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, et al.
Bob Ayala – “Joy By Surprise;” an interesting album themed by great thinkers within the faith; Bob was blind and would comment that his first sight would be of the risen Jesus – which sure beats what the rest of us have to look at day to day.
John Fischer – “Johnny’s CafĂ©;” apparently somewhat panned by critics, I actually loved it


Fun Father's Day

Happy Father’s Day!

I have to report a major endorphin rush. My children, God Bless ‘em, bought their Ol’ Man a wonderfully thoughtful piece of technology. Perhaps you’ve seen these at Costco or elsewhere. These are turntables – yes, “record players” (for those under 30) that have a USB connection and software to capture the playing of vinyl into an MP3 (or other format). Sweet!

So, in yet another way for me to waste time rather than read theology, I’ve started ‘ripping’ my vinyl into MP3 files. Now this is Major Fun. First, I haven’t heard these cuts in maybe three decades and so that in itself is a treat. Second, to hear what my taste in music was like when I was 15 years old or such is also a (pardon, I’m an old guy now) “hoot.” Additionally, with the software (Audacity), it is possible to clean up some of the hiss and scratch of some records that were never well taken care of back in the day.

So, for a guy who has a thing for music, this was a wonderful Father’s Day.

Thanks, kids!

Love, Dad.


25th Anniversary

Just a quick update on our trip...

Barb and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this last weekend. A quarter of a century! I remember as a child thinking that a quarter of a century was a very long time indeed. Now: no, not so much! We did some reminiscing and I felt like the years really have flown by. We did a mini-vacation while the kids were at home.

First, we went to a Bed’n’Breakfast near Port Angeles. Let me recommend this place to you – let me HIGHLY recommend this place! It is called “A Hidden Haven” and run by Chris and Jodi Jones. The facility was wonderful, the grounds beautiful, and the service excellent. If you’re thinking of a weekend getaway, please check these folks out (www.ahiddenhaven.com). We enjoyed the local San Juan de Fuca Arts Festival going on that weekend – also much fun.

Then we took the ferry and crossed to Victoria, B.C. and stayed two nights at the Empress. We’ve been to Victoria several times over the decades and enjoy Canada very much. The weather was picture-postcard-perfect! We rented scooters and rode around the peninsula, had very nice dinners (I recommend “Milestone’s” right on the Inner Harbor), did tourist-shopping, went to the Butchart Gardens (we were there once before 15 years ago), and generally goofed around.

We took the ferry back through the San Juan Islands, then drove down Whidbey Island (the second longest island within the contiguous 48 states), merged with I-5 and came home last night.


Yet Another Loss

I have some more unhappy news – a dear friend of the family has passed away from pancreatic cancer (http://etzen.blogspot.com/). Mark Etzen was a much loved and a wonderful guy. He was another bright, talented, and a deep lover of Jesus guy. A few months back he’d been diagnosis with pancreatic cancer that had metatesized to the liver: a death sentence. There were many around him who strongly felt that God would cure Mark. Certainly there was no doubt that God could. Yet, God chose to allow Mark’s body to respond to the disease like the vast majority of other folks.

Mark, since the time we met about ten years ago, had been a great friend to me and my family. We served on various ministries at our church, Community Baptist of Alta Loma (http://www.cbconline.org/), watched our kids grow up, and sweated through our mutual issues with career and family. The pattern usually went like this: I would fret, Mark would give a little laugh, cock his head, and say something like, “Is it really that bad?” I would get the reality-check he just offered, and we would go about our day. I could go on and on about Mark, but you get the idea.

I would count it a favor if you could pray for this situation. Please remember Mark’s children (three daughters: two married and one going through college) and wife (who now has to manage a very disruptive ‘transition’) – the loss in their lives is palpable.

I am so happy to know that Mark no longer has pancreatic cancer and is now living the way God always intended us to be. Still... I will miss him very much; the world is now a little emptier for me knowing that Mark is not around. I look forward to the day when we'll see each other again and catch each other up on what's happened since today.

As you may remember, this is the second death close to our family so far in 2007. Please take a look at my blog, “A Loss Experienced” on March 1st (http://ericmesselt.blogspot.com/2007/03/loss-experienced.html). In that blog, I mentioned several things about grieving and some things that occurred to me. My observations just a few months ago haven’t changed that much, but I want to conclude with the summary:

  • Death is pretty crappy. It is good to remember that death is still the enemy
    It is not unspiritual, immature, faithless, or less godly to feel pain at the loss of a loved one or friend
  • Death, in itself, is a reminder that it is not supposed to be this way
  • As much as we can try to ‘handle’ or ‘manage’ our grief ‘process,’ we should not be surprised when that breaks down: we can NOT expect this kind of thing to be ‘managable’


Are You "Good Enough?"

Your spiritual life is important. Not many people in America get that, but what happens in your spiritual life – how you grow, are feed, are protected, and reach appropriate states of maturity – is a big part of who you ought to be. It is a testimony to our own culture’s spiritual bankruptcy that we think of “spirituality” as an add-on to our lives. We *have* to earn a living, take care of our bodies, and watch “24” or “Lost” – but attending to the needs of our soul as it relates to the Creator is a peripheral matter. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that ninety percent or more of the membership (where even that occurs) of a typical church care more for their automobiles than they do for their eternal souls. Just look at their credit card statements and checkbooks.

We make two mistakes. The first is that we think that we are “good enough.” We like to think we have a ‘good bead’ on our lives and our spiritual condition. I recently did an analysis of an evangelical church’s survey on its health. The results indicated that members of the church believed themselves to understand the Bible very well. Yet, that same survey indicated that, even if they knew how, the majority of the membership would not share their faith with an unbeliever. I’m sorry, friends, but if you think that you know the Bible but don’t know the importance of sharing the gospel – you are deluding yourself. This church, in its mass delusion, thinks they know the Bible “good enough.” Yet, the survey result clearly shows they don’t know the Bible at all. Maybe they are “into the Bible,” but they have not allowed the Bible to get into them. The disease of “good enough” means that a person doesn’t believe they need help.

The second mistake is that even if we recognize that we are not where we should be, we don’t think anyone else can be of real help in our growth. We have bought into the self-help movement so much that we apply it to our spiritual lives even when the Bible is absolutely crystal clear that spiritual life and growth must be done in relationship with other believers. We think we can go it alone and solve our own problems. This leads to a general disrespect for the pastorate. Pastors are specifically trained, gifted, and called to be “physicians of the soul.” But we would rather self-medicate.

My closing: let’s take our life with Jesus seriously enough to understand that we are not “good enough” and to battle our pride to let those around us help us get better.


How I Stay Informed

Blogger.com has done a great service for us by making blogging pretty easy. Almost "Blogging For Dummies" (yes, the book has been written: http://www.amazon.com/Blogging-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/0471770841/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-8271523-2379241?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1175356720&sr=8-1). One feature I thought interesting was "favorite movies" and "favorite music." It's good to get a read on the blogger by seeing their interests and pop-culture preferences, and then have that context to evaluate the posting.

I thought I'd share my favorite magazines and periodicals.

Newsmagazine: "The Economist" - when I can afford it. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a egg-headed periodical dedicated to the arcane world of economics. While the magazine (they call themselves a "newspaper" - must be a Brit thing) does cover economics, it is a general news mag. The things I like about The Economist are several:
  1. The perspective is broader than the typical "Time," "Newsweek," or "U.S. News & World Report." The Economist writes for people that aren't in the United States. As shallow as that is about me, I appreciate difference in perspective.
  2. The articles are uniformly very well written. There is a craftsmanship to journalism and my take is that they do that well.
  3. The editorial perspective: while socially liberal (not my cup of tea), they are economically conservative. At the same time they raz on Libertarians, they actually espouse what Libertarians want to be when they grow up. I get a refreshing dose of economic policy common sense that is both intelectually rigourous and humanely thoughtful. The Economist is a reliable source of world news.

Christian Development: I enjoy "Leadership" magazine. It speaks to my heart and mind about the stakes and blessings of Christian ministry. It is a rare priveledge to be able to serve Followers of Jesus in what we call "ministry." This magazine helps me appreciate that priveledge more. I resonate with the editorial heart of "Leadership," as well as its grounded pragmatism and innovation. I'm always challenged by every issue in my own heart, skills, and vision for ministry.

Cultural Engagement: I subscribe to an audio magazine, "Mars Hill Audio Journal." Once every two months, I get a CD of six to eight interviews with intellectual leaders speaking on Christianity's engagement with culture. Ken Meyers, formerly with National Public Radio, interviews authors on a variety of topics such as marketing to adolescents, C.S. Lewis, architecture, the Tolkien film trilogy, Muslim engagement with the non-Muslim world, poetry and literature, the nature of beauty in art, politics, et al. Meyers is a remarkable interviewer: well researched, engaged with his interviewees, and quite a mind himself.

As to pop-culture, I really enjoy the Relevant podcast: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/podcast.php . Christian perspective, very funny, and - well - I like it.

For general news, I usually get the headlines off of my Yahoo portal page. If the treatment isn't complete, then I can go deeper. Personally, I have taken a "short-term news fast:" I stay away from daily newspapers, T.V. news, and most local news. I find that several of my friends (who are news junkies) are the best source of keeping me informed with what's important: they act as my filters. In this "daily news fast," I find that my understanding of news events is more "trend" focused and helps me integrate the atomized events that are brought to my attention.


Evolution, Information, and Politics

Here's a sample of what seems to be a typical Evolutionist blog... http://healthvsmedicine.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html (starting with the August 3rd posting)
The person here fills their site with a variety of interesting scientific information. Yet, and here's the key thing, not much of that information actually speaks to the issue at hand. What is the issue at hand? Are all of those stupid, willfully ignorant, Bible-thumping, homophobic, %#@&! CHRISTIANS correct when they assert that "God created?"

First, please observe that these blogs don't direct their venom at anyone else but Christians: Jews whose scriptures teach a Divine Creator do not get any attention. Muslims, who teach a Divine Creator, never get a word. No; note well that in the U.S. and Europe it is the Christians who get the hate mail. Talk about ethnocentricity!

Please also notice the unspoken assertion in these comments. The real premise is this: evolution explains life so therefore God isn’t needed. This begs the question: why is it important to not need God? Why is it important to make an assertion that God needs not to exist? What is it in the minds of these folks that drives them to conclude that even the idea of God is bad? It certainly isn’t because the concept of God is intellectually repugnant – the history of great thinkers throughout all of our civilization (as well as others) show that the concept of God is vital to a rigorous intellectual life. So what's the deal?

Second, note that a lengthy, detailed, and coherent discussion of the science of cellular biology does not advance a whit the proposition that Darwinian evolution is true. Such information is useful, helpful, and good to know. But such information, as a tool, is as inappropriate to apply to the issue of "creation vs. evolution" as is the use of a pneumatic jack-hammer to the task of interpreting Shakespeare. It's not "Apples and Oranges," it's "Apples and Laws covering the settlement of bank drafts" - almost completely unrelated!

Let me restate: the 'evolutionary' evidence often purports to prove much more than it actually does. The question is, if I understand it properly, "What happened?" That - right there - is an historic query, not a scientific one. Here's where the typical "Evolutionist" gets off the tracks. The issue of what happened is one of history and must use historical processes to determine what actually was the truth of the matter at a certain place and time. The process of history actually makes use of legal reasoning rather than scientific reasoning. Why is scientific reasoning the inappropriate process? Because science, rightly understood, is the process of observation, hypothesis, and repeatable phenomena to prove the hypothesis. Even then, a right understanding of science always makes such conclusions tentative and speaks in terms of probability (Noam Chomsky states that, in fact, there's no such thing as scientific "proofs"). In any case, history is not amenable to the scientific method, if for no other reason, because there is no place for a repeatable experiment.
Do you want to prove that Julius Caesar wrote “The Gallic Wars?” You can’t perform an experiment on that because Caesar’s putative creation of a specific work is a one-time occurrence – it can’t be repeated.
When you are rightly doing science (as opposed to the quasi-religion of “scientism”), you are limited to repeatable phenomena. When you are doing history, you are generally restricted to one time occurrences.
Certainly, you can use science to bolster a historical hypothesis. And you can use history to add weight to a scientific hypothesis. But, and here’s the crux, you can’t use science alone to “prove” a historical event.
So what historical event are we talking about? The evolution or creation of homo sapiens.

Here’s what we are unable to do: we can not create humans as the theists claim that God did.

There’s the old joke: One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost." God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well. How about this? Let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!" But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam." The scientist said, "Sure; no problem." and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt. God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!" (http://members.tripod.com/~TechBabe/dirt.html)

Here’s the even more damaging thing: scientists can not even create life. We aren’t even talking about critters, or even cells. Even the "building blocks" of life itself is beyond the grasp of human technology, engineering, and science. Not only that, but there is no real good theory of how life arose in the first place. Darwin’s “spontaneous generation” of life turned out to be an embarrassing dead-end.
The “prebiotic soup” (simple amino acids created in a laboratory flask) theory of life emergence are even more embarassing. Those were the experiments based on the work of Oparin and Haldane and then Urey and Miller and turned out to be one of the most notorious frauds of science. They had no proof that earth’s early atmosphere contained ammonia, methane, and hydrogen (the basis of the “successful experiment”), but there is considerable research to show that the earth’s early atmosphere contained great amounts of water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen – remarkably inert chemicals. When the infamous “flask of life” was created in the laboratory from ammonia, methane, hydrogen, and a sparkplug (for which there is no evidence those conditions ever existed) – those conditions were stacked in advance to get the results desired: a single type of a VERY simple amino acid.
Further, amino acids (note: there are many!) are just the first step in constructing a functioning cell. Getting all the parts of a simple cell together and working is, well, chemically and physically no easy thing and something scientists still can not do, nor do they have a good theory to explain how this happened.

Then, of course, you have the evolutionary problem of DNA.

Evolutionists invoke DNA as evidence for the validity of Darwinian evolution. That is a terrible mistake. Evolutionists should run far away from DNA - far and fast. Why? Historically, in the 'unlocking' of the understanding of DNA, it was not evolutionary biology that helped us get a grip on the function of DNA, it was the application of Information Theory. When it became clear that DNA wasn't just a chemical catalyst, but actual information that directed the progress of cellular function, then its function became clear. We understand DNA in that way to this day.

Here's the rub: DNA is information (I don't know anyone who seriously denies that). However, if that is true, then information has to imply an "Informer." While 'design' does not necessarily imply a "Designer," information clearly requires an intelligence.
Where did the intelligence come from?
I'm a theist so, for me, the answer is obvious. Your mileage may vary.

This discussion is good stuff: how do we make sense of the world we find ourselves in? It is these observations, questions like these, and the hypothesis they create, which is the core of the scientific method. By the way, these specific intellectual issues are part of the "Intelligent Design" discussion.

But Intelligent Design has, irrationally, become politicized. A legitimate inquiry of science and philosophic thought has suddenly been spun as "code words for religion." Because one of the implications of Intelligent Design might be the concept of personal creator, suddenly we are told that we must stop such inquiry (become scientific Amish) because we tread "dangerously" close to the ground of religion. First, why is thoughtful inquiry "dangerous?" Second, why must we all be forced to commit intellectual suicide by not allowing these matters to be discussed, explored, maybe even rejected (on their merits!)? Third, why have we allowed politics to spin these matters into ones of "dangerous religion?"

What do you think?


A Loss Experienced

I have some unhappy news – a dear friend of the family and former boyfriend of Irene’s was found dead last Sunday at his home. Geoff Prozora was much loved and a wonderful guy. He was bright, talented, and a deep lover of Jesus. A few months back he’d began to show symptoms of depressive mental illness. At that time he and Irene broke up – with the hope that when Geoff got better they could be a couple again. That was not to be. I really liked Geoff a lot. He and I would play together in the worship band. I could go on and on about Geoff, but you get the idea.

I would count it a favor if you could pray for this situation. Please remember Geoff’s parents and sister – the pain in their lives is unimaginable now. Please pray for Irene as she is going through a hellacious time. Please also pray for Geoff’s best friend, Chase, who has loyally stayed with Geoff through the sudden agony that became Geoff’s live over the last few months. Remember Kevin, our youth pastor, for whom Geoff was ‘his guy.’

As I have been experiencing my own grief and observing the grief of others, a few things have occurred to me.

First, grief varies by individual. One of the hard things to deal with in a loss of this sort is expectations. Not everyone is built to engage in rich emotional expression. Some people are mullers – they will take time to process their loss. When they roll things around enough in their hearts, they will come to a helpful conclusion. Some people are contagious – even though the loss wasn’t very personal or close, they empathetically feel the loss of others and find they respond as if the loss was their own. Some people are analytical – they attempt to find meaning even when there is none. When no meaning is found, then they can give themselves permission to feel. Some people are expressive – they weep, groan, shake their fists, and use up a lot of Kleenex. They have a rich emotional life and feel free to express it. Other people are doers – they need activity. As they are distracted by tasks surrounding the loss, they can take small, bite-sized portions of their own grief and process it in ‘manageable’ ways.

The point is that when good-intentioned people put out expectations that having the “meltdown” is the only legitimate greif response then they deny the uniqueness of people. Grief counselors encourage “healthy” mourning by only encouraging the ‘meltdown model.’ So, again, a mourner not only feels loss, but now may feel guilt that they aren’t mourning in a “healthy” way.

Second, Christians are frequently drawn to make theological statements during a time of loss – statements that are meant to be helpful but frequently are out of synch with the needs of mourners. I noted that even within minutes of hearing of Geoff’s death, people were reactively struggling with the theology of the situation. And that is appropriate. However, some were taking the opportunity to press their particular theological theory. When I heard that, it was irritating to me. My consolation was that in such a time, nobody retained those comments.

Third, we can occasionally forget about the peripheral mourners. There were other kids who are and have been struggling with even greater issues than the death of Geoff. When Geoff died, it was a reminder of their own pain. But because Geoff was a rather charismatic guy, the response to his passing was very public. Nobody seemed to think of the secondary effects on already wounded people.

I’m still sorting out what I am seeing and hearing. I am an ‘analytic’ and this helps me with my own sense of loss. But I’ve come to these initial conclusions:

  • Death is pretty crappy. It is good to remember that death is still the enemy
  • It is not unspiritual, immature, faithless, or less godly to feel pain at the loss of a loved one or friend
  • Death, in itself, is a reminder that "It is not supposed to be this way!"
  • As much as we can try to ‘handle’ or ‘manage’ our grief ‘process,’ we should not be surprised when that breaks down: we can’t expect this kind of thing to be ‘managable’

P.S.: (20070331) I've received lots of comments on this post off-line and have been very encouraged by them. Recently, I ran across this article on what NOT to say to someone in grief: http://www.pastors.com/rwmt/default.asp?id=302&artid=10355&expand=1


Licensed for Ministry

First, let me tell the world that today is my son Theo’s “Decade Day:” Theo is ten years old today. As Theo was getting ready for school this morning, it started snowing here. “Dear Theo, Happy Birthday! –God.”

One of the cool things is that as I’m progressing in my studies, I’m also progressing in my ministry responsibilities. I am the Director of Outreach at my church and just last week my Senior Pastor finished the paperwork to have me licensed as a clergyman in the state of Washington. Now, being licensed doesn’t have any big effect except that I can officiate a wedding and have some increased access when visiting a hospital. I’m not down-playing the role of the clergy, I’m merely stating that the state of Washington doesn’t seem to think “licensed” clergy are that big a deal. Really, the intent is to regulate marriage and to identify those who may be eligible for certain tax treatments.

However, just as that paperwork was finishing up, I was doing reading for school and read a chapter in “Authentic Faith” by Gary Thomas (a book I recommend, by the way). The chapter was titled, “Titanic Testimony: The Discipline of Persecution.” In it, Thomas contrasts the typical Olsteen-esq presumption in Western Christianity that faith in Jesus will bring blessing, comfort, and protection. But Thomas tells us that during the most vigorous times in the history of the Faith that physical persecution could be a normal part of following Jesus. Thomas does a bit of speculation that even the American church might see a foretaste of persecution when, politically, Christianity is labeled as a ‘religion of hate.’ As absurd as that is, there could well be a time when Christianity – a faith that repeats the claims of Jesus: “no one comes to the Father except by me” and stands for good citizenship (1 Tim. 2:1-6) – becomes hated even in the United States.

So then, during my devotional time, I read through Matthew 10 where Jesus talks about persecution and remembered John 15:20 – “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” Reading that passage sealed a thought for me.

Let’s just say that Thomas is on to something. When even a Baptist like President Bill Clinton can respond to his fellow Baptists’ desire to tell the Good News about Jesus by stating “his opposition to whatever organizations, including the Southern Baptists, that perpetuate ancient religious hatred.” You heard it: evangelism is a hate crime. Christian – you’ve been put on notice.

So who are the people who are stirring up Christians to such hatred? Yes – it’s their ministers, pastors, and clergy! How will the state know who to round up for perpetuating hate crimes? All the men and women who are licensed as clergy! So my being licensed as clergy puts me on a governmental roster for “Peddlers of Hate.” Yikes!

OK, OK – that sounds pretty extreme and maybe over the top. But it gave me pause – for about a second – when I realized that is exactly the point. Following Jesus has a cost and I had, decades ago, made a decision to follow Jesus whatever the cost might be. So whether it is the change of career, change of neighborhood, change in economic circumstances, or even physical persecution – following Jesus is worth the cost.


The Surreal Life of Seminary

So it hit me again this last week. It was the first day of classes for a new semester. I’ve now been in seminary for a year and am beginning my second year.

As I was sitting in a Spiritual Formation course, it hit me that I’m in a classroom, there’s a teacher up front, all the students are at our chair-desks listening and discussing the topic at hand. Now in all my decades of going to school which include elementary and high school, as well as community college provided by the good tax-payers of California, then on to both undergraduate and graduate degrees – all those years and diplomas, certificates, and a few letters behind my name – for all those years the purpose of education was completely secular and practical.

In elementary school, it was my ‘job’ to learn to read, write, and do ‘rithmatic. I learned those skills, a bit of science, history, and some arts, as well as playing well with others. Those skills allowed me to make my way through much of modern society – not well, but at an ‘elementary’ level. In High School (“Go Spartans!”), I did more of the same with a hope that I would be prepared for even greater educational challenges (remember the term, “college prep courses?”) – but basically it was the same: language skills, mathematics, social studies, physical education, some life-skills, and some vocational skills. At the end of the diploma track, I was ready to take my place in adult society, especially the economic part – I could now hold down a job.

I went to college. The first two years were at a community college (we called them “junior colleges” then), then I went off to a private school and learned that education was costly! But my major was Business Administration and, clearly, that was a secular purpose. I happened to go to a Christian college so was able to ‘sneak in’ stuff that I was interested in like Bible, theology, and some ministry things. But the strictly Christian stuff was – as I sold it to my parents (who were not wild about me going to a Christian college) – collateral material. You don’t go to school to learn how to love God and Man!

About 15 years ago, I went to law school, graduated, and passed the California Bar exam (first time!). Again, the purpose of law school is to teach knowledge and skills to accomplish a straight-forward secular purpose. The classrooms were larger, the academic demands were greater, the tuition more expensive (!), but the purpose was recognizable by anyone walking by the campus.

So it hit me as I was in this seminary classroom that seminary is a massive paradigm shift. I am, in fact, here in this place and paying this money, to better learn how to love God and others. It is not the goal to competitively get the best grades, but to cooperatively become people of godly character.

My mind rebelled: that’s nuts! That’s crazy! People go to school to learn ‘practical’ things like reading, writing, ‘rithmatic, and how to sue people in a court of law – school is secular! Sitting in a classroom learning why and how we can love God better is, is, well, it is just … absurd!!

Now my mind returned to a less-fevered pitch and I realized my misconceptions. First, if I really believe all that “God, Jesus, and the Bible” stuff, then I’ve got to admit that the most pragmatic and practical skill I can posses is how to love God and others. And, oh by the way, because I’m privileged to learn these things, it is required of me that I teach these things well to others. Second, that learning how to love God and others in a class room sure seems absurd, but my teacher does it rather well without being reductionistic or losing the heart of love that such a class requires. Third, it really is not my concern how people walking by the campus react to the purpose of the campus, it is my concern how they may react to an invitation to live their lives with Jesus.

So, at the end of this, seminary is a very different educational experience than I have had before and because of that, it seems a bit surreal. But that may well be because I am, in fact, learning about the transcendent which is imminent.