Review: I Want to Believe (The Book)

June 30, 2008

When I first heard about I Want to Believe, Mel Larwenz’ new book, I was intrigued for two reasons. First, based on the title, I was expecting a book that would explore – in a fairly deep and elaborate way – the human longing to believe that there is something more. But I was also intrigued because the title of the book also happens to mirror the title of the X-Files movie that is coming out in late July. I picked up the book with the idea that I would create a post (or series of posts) that explored the primal urge to believe, riffing off of Lawrenz’ book, at about the same time the movie came out.

Unfortunately, my expectations about the book were not quite on target, and my whole X-Files-meets-emergent-Christianity concept, if its ever implemented, is going to have to be put together without the aid of Lawrenz’ ideas.

Having said all of that, a brief review of what Lawrenz does have to say is still be in order.

This book seems intended to serve as a Christian apologetic for emerging generations. In essence, it is a brief survey of the religious landscape in twenty-first century USAmerica, followed by an exposition of the Apostle’s Creed and a brief exploration of some of the “excuses” that people make for refusing to become Christians.

Lawrenz’ treatment of other faiths is gentle and, for the most part, non-confrontational. He simply explains, in what appear to be fairly objective and fair terms what various religious systems are about, and then compares and contrasts them with Christian beliefs. He does not “bash” other faiths, as more conservative Christians seem prone to do, but instead prefers to keep the discussion and the comparisons on a more cordial level.

The treatment of the basic tenants of Christianity is straightforward enough, and even though the title of one of his later chapters (“No More Excuses”) sounds like he’s finally getting ready to lay the evangelical party line on pretty thick, he never really does that. Instead, he opts for a gentle, easy, accessible discussion of why he thinks it is appropriate to choose Christianity over other faiths.

Lawrenz doesn’t flesh out the gospel in quite the same way that I would. I was pleased to see that he characterizes our future as one comprised of renewed creation (as opposed to an “escape” from the earth into heaven) and that he likewise emphasizes the need to care for creation as a central tenant of Christianity. However, absent from his discussion is any significant effort to integrate scripture’s call to social justice into the Christian faith. Likewise, he often relies on the Christian scriptures to support his points – a no-no in my book of postmodern apologetics, since emerging generations make no assumption that the Bible is authoritative. For these, and similar reasons, its hard for me to get overly excited about the book.

Nevertheless, Lawrenz deserves high marks for setting a very accessible and generous tone in his book, and I would recommend it for a teenager or college student who wants to know a little more about Christianity without being beaten over the head with an “if-you-died-tonight-do-you-think-you’d-go-to-heaven” high-pressure, guilt-inducing sales pitch. Also, if you’re a young evangelical who is looking for a good example of a way to communicate the traditional, born-again gospel within the emerging culture, I think this book is about as good as it gets.


A Re-Telling of Job (Sort-of)

June 19, 2008

Imagine this.

Joe is a member of a nondenominational church where he is frequently involved in ministry activity. He has struggled with pornography addiction in the past, and still suffers from occasional relapses.  He speaks openly about this.

Today, on the eve of a planned mission trip to Mexico, Joe’s 5 year-old son was involved in an accident that will have him hospitalized for 3-4 days. He is expected to recover, and there is no immediate danger. However, this means his son will not be able to go on the trip, and at least one person will have to be left behind to stay with him.

In the meantime, Joe has run into a problem at his job. He is either going to have to turn down some work from an important client or cancel his involvement in the trip. Joe is worried about how this might affect his job and his family, as money is very tight right now. And, to make matters worse, his minivan overheated in the sun today, and it may not be ready to travel when it is time to leave on the next day. Joe will have to borrow money to pay for the repairs.

Joe sits down to meet with his friends to discuss what he should do. Should he cancel the trip? Should he go? Should he leave his wife behind to care for his son?

Imagine that, in the style of Job, Joe, and then each friend attempts to interpret the events of the day. Here are some of the things that are said:

Joe: I think God is punishing me for my pornography addiction. A leader in our church told me this would happen one day, and I always feared that it would eventually catch up with me. I feel horribly that my family has to suffer because of what I did.

Friend #1: I don’t think that is it at all. Our God is merciful. He doesn’t punish sin in this way. I believe that if we look carefully at the events in our life, we can discern God’s will. This is simply God’s way of telling you that you shouldn’t go on this trip. Probably, there are dangers involved if you continue as planned, and God is trying to warn you so that you don’t go.

Friend #2: I disagree. You are suffering because you are under a spiritual attack. The Enemy doesn’t want you to go on this trip because of the things you are planning to do. You should be more resolved now than ever to leave.

Friend #3: I agree that you should go, but I don’t think this is a spiritual attack. That attributes too much power to the Enemy. This is simply God testing you. He wants to see if you will be faithful to him.

Friend #4: I’m not comfortable with efforts to “explain” what his happening. I don’t think there is any way we can account for most of the suffering in the world, except to say that this is a “fallen” world. Nor is there a way to explain why you have met with so much adversity today. You need to think about this and decide how you can best be faithful to God. If you decide to stay for the sake of your family, I believe that God will honor that. If you decide to go for the sake of God’s kingdom, then God will honor that as well. How you are shaped by this is more important than whether you stay or go.

Well….? Who is right?

Sheila and I have been talking about this a lot lately.

I tend to fall in the camp of friend #4. However, my working theory is this: the way people “interpret” events like these says more about them than it does about God.

Podcast “Pilot”

June 15, 2008

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting much lately, its been because I’ve been working on a couple of podcasting projects. Here is the “pilot” episode for the first project, which is called Ancient Rhythm.

The idea behind Ancient Rhythm is to provide a five minute “space” in which people can pray and reflect. The foundation of each podcast is the prayer appointed for the week within (as I understand it) multiple faith traditions, and as reflected in Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. The podcast will ususally follow this order:

– A call to prayer and contemplation (usually a single verse)

– A time of preparing one’s mind and spirit for prayer

– A psalm

– A teaching from the Christian scriptures which in some way relates to the prayer appointed for the week

– A brief thought or question for reflection

– A recitation of the prayer for the week

– A benediction, which serves to send the listener back “out” into the world

The idea is to help people maintain a vertical focus during their day; for example, someone might listen to it while commuting or working out, or while taking a break during work.

My thought right now – if I decide to start producing this regularly – is to do it once a week, until I have a complete set of 52 episodes.

I’d love to get comments and constructive criticism from as many of you who can listen to it.

More Galactica Weirdness

June 14, 2008

From Simon052 at the Battlestar forum…

Cylons for McCain


The best man for the job is a Tigh series Cylon


Is it Just Me…

June 14, 2008

…or did anyone else sense that the narrative of the new Battlestar Galactica was leading up to a Planet of the Apes style revelation of earthly apocalypse? (Heck, the only thing missing in the last minute was Charlton Heston hopping off of his horse and shouting angrily at the remnants of a national monument; there is even speculation that the Galactica crew landed somewhere near liberty island – and my guess is that we will soon learn that this scene was a conscious, though subtle tribute to Apes).

When you think about it, the disturbing discovery at the end of last night’s episode fits perfectly within the most important story arc of the series. The big question is “Do we deserve to survive, given our violent and self-destructive tendencies?” Given the story of the Twelve colonies, which met their demise due to their own arrogant selfishness, what else would you expect to discover had happened to the Thirteenth Colony, except the same violence and self destruction?

So…All of this has happened before. Will all of this happen again? As I was hoping, it now seems inevitable that the final ten episodes will explore whether the redemption of humanity is possible.

Headbanging Optional?

June 12, 2008

Be-el-zebub has a de-vil set aside for me!
For me!
For me!
For meeeeeee!

Question of the day: Upon hearing the riff that follows these infamous lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody, may a listener properly exercise the option of NOT headbanging?

My opinion: Unless one has a debilitating medical condition or other similar impairment, refusing to headbang during this part of the song is a serious breach of etiquette.

Rick Perry Weighs in on Hell

June 4, 2008

I’ve said it again and again on this blog:

Questions about what Christians believe about hell – and mostly, whether all non-Christians are going there – are HUGE outside of the isolated regions where evangelical Christianity is still strong. In fact, this story – in which Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, weighs in on the issue – would suggest that the question is now being posed even within the previously “safe” confines of the bible belt.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this issue. Most Christians, I think, seem normal enough to non-believers. We live beside them, work with them, share extended families with them, and even do business with them. We all seem to get along fine.

So what, they are thinking, gives here? Is this what Christians secretly think about us? Are they thinking that, because we don’t understand their God the same way they do, we are not going to receive mercy from him?

Well…is it the way we think?

My impression is that a lot of believers wish the question would go away. Its understandable. In some cases, believers are embarrassed to admit they don’t really understand the issue. In other cases, they are afraid of (or just plain awkward about) what non-believers will think if they say- yes, that is what I think! On the other hand, I’m sure that some are afraid of what other believers (especially, their leaders) will think if they disagree with the traditional doctrine that condemns all non-believers to hell.

But one thing is for sure. This issue is not going away. And its time for Christians to begin to deal with it in meaningful ways.