Friday, September 15, 2017

The Final Move

The Final Move
(Written by Chris Rice, Christopher M. Rice • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)
(Listen here)

Saw an old guy today
Staring long at a chess game
Looked like it was half-played
Then his tear splashed between
The bishop and the king...oh
He turned his face to mine
I saw the Question in his eyes
I shrugged him half a smile and walked away
It made me sad, and it made me think
And now it makes me sing what I believe

It was love that set this fragile planet rolling
Tilting at our perfect twenty-three
Molecules and men infused with holy
Finding our way around the galaxy
And Paradise has up and flown away for now
But hope still breathes and truth is always true
And just when we think it's almost over
Love has the final move
Love has the final move

Heard a young girl sing a song
To her daughter in her pale arms
Walkin' through a rainstorm
“Because you're here my little girl
It's gonna be a better world"...oh
She turned her face to mine
I saw the Answer in her eyes
I shrugged her half a smile and walked away
It made me smile, and it made me think
And now it makes me sing what I believe

It was love that set our fragile planet rolling
Tilting at our perfect twenty-three
Molecules and men infused with holy
Finding our way around the galaxy
And Paradise has up and flown away for now
But hope still breathes and truth is always true
And just when we think it's almost over
Love has the final move
Love has the final move

(Something right went very wrong
But love has been here all along)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

For What Was I Created or ...

“For what was I created?” or, “For such a time as this?”

Our majority culture as well as contemporary church culture will often encourage us to explore the gifts and abilities that make us who we are and challenge us to do those things for which we are uniquely created. That is, we are told to find out who we are and the thing for which we were created. We are told that true fulfillment in life is only found in doing those things for which we have been created as if there was only one thing we could do. I have certainly espoused this philosophy, and, indeed such an approach has validity.

However, today I would ask us to consider another way of looking at these things. There are times when we need to consider whether we have been made, “for such a time as this.” In the ancient book of Esther (written in approximately 330 BCE), Mordecai asks Esther to consider if it is not “for such a time as this” that she has been made queen in the courts of King Xerxes (Esther4:14). This was the appropriate question for her and may sometimes be the question for our lives. We are placed in a world that needs truth and grace - justice and love - and there are judicious times when you or I may be the perfect person to be the expression of God’s love in our world. It is a question worth asking ourselves: “Am I here for such a time as this?”

Monday, September 11, 2017

Einstein on Faith and Religion

Albert Einstein had a complicated relationship with faith and religion. Some of the things he said show that he had faith that guided him toward truth and understanding. For Einstain, faith was a source of feeling and rationality. Yet, his concepts of faith were not organized as a particular faith such as faith in Jesus. He seems instead to believe in a much more generic faith that guides the scientist.

“Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.  But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.  To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein[1]

Other things he said certainly pointed away from historic Christianity:

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me.” – Einstein in a letter written in 1954.


The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge. In this sense I believe that the priest must become a teacher if he wishes to do justice to his lofty educational mission.[2]

I am not here to make judgements on Einstein’s faith, work, or philosophical bent; God is the only true judge, full of grace and truth. It seems to me that Einstein was a seeker: a seeker of knowledge wherever he might find it. Certainly, he had his own cultural biases and blinders which kept him from looking in certain directions. Despite the high pedestal on which he sits in our culture, he was human like everyone else. He has taught us much about science and I believe he can also teach us something about the way we seek knowledge. Knowledge may be found in any area of life: science, religion, philosophy, faith in the ways of the Bible, and faith in Jesus Christ. I will choose to seek truth in every area of life.

[1] “Science and Religion,” Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 – 49; published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.
[2] “Science and Religion,” Ideas and Opinions, pp.41 – 49; published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hope for the Evangelical Mind

In 2004, ten years after the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll was unrepentant about his assessment of the Evangelical mind.

I remain largely unrepentant about the book’s historical arguments, its assessment of evangelical strengths and weaknesses, and its indictment of evangelical intellectual efforts, though I have changed my mind on a few matters. Some readers have rightly pointed out that what I described as a singularly evangelical problem is certainly related to the general intellectual difficulties of an advertisement-driven, image-preoccupied, television-saturated, frenetically hustling consumer society, and that the reason evangelicals suffer from intellectual weakness is that American culture as a whole suffers from intellectual weakness.[1] 

He continues to point out the flaws with words like, “… we evangelicals as a rule still prefer to put our money into programs offering immediate results, whether evangelistic or humanitarian, instead of into institutions promoting intellectual development over the long term.” Then, at a certain point in the article, he turns to the matter of hope for the Evangelical mind.

Theological reasons to hope for better things from evangelical intellectual effort spring from the resources of classical trinitarian Christianity. Even if those resources are unused or abused, they continue to exist as a powerful latent force wherever individuals or groups look in faith to God as loving Father, redeeming Savior, and sustaining Spirit. Various forms of evangelical Christianity are, in fact, burgeoning around the world; the evangelical proportion of the practicing Christian population in North America continues to expand; where there is evangelical life there is hope for evangelical learning.[2] 

In Noll’s words, trinitarian theology remains at the heart of his hope for the evangelical mind.

If evangelicals are the ones who insist most aggressively that they believe in sola scriptura , and if evangelicals are the ones who assert most vigorously the transforming work of Jesus Christ, then it is reasonable to hope that what the Scriptures teach about the origin of creation in Christ, the sustaining of all things in Christ, and the dignity of all creation in Christ” - about, in other words, the subjects of learning” - will be a spur for evangelicals to a deeper and richer intellectual life: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).[3] 

Noll then goes on to speak of signs of hope in contemporary Evangelical culture:
1.     “increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics,”
2.     “the ongoing renascence of Christian philosophy,”
3.     “‘more institutions of evangelical higher learning’ … have seasoned their sectarian certitudes with commitment to ‘mere Christianity’,”
4.     “the consistent quality of intra-evangelical debate in forums such as the American Scientific Affiliation’s Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith” regarding evolution and creation,
5.     “the multiplying Christian presence in the nation’s pluralistic universities, where far more students of evangelical persuasion receive their higher education than at the evangelical colleges and universities,” and
6.     “greater intellectual responsibility [in] the world of publishing.”[4]

It seems to me that both Noll’s original book, and his ten-year assessment, offer an outline for those of us who still see ourselves in the evangelical, but not fundamentalist, tradition. If we pay attention to the six items listed and do our part to enhance each, we may yet redeem the Evangelical mind. 

[1] “The Evangelical Mind Today”, in First Things First, October, 2004,
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994. It has become essential reading for all Christians since that time. His main thesis is that "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." How well he knew and knows the culture; how well he knew me at the time. This book, and Harry Blamire’s 1963, The Christian Mind, represented a turning point in my understanding of cultural issues, mystery, and complexity. Noll spends the first chapters outlining the problem and is necessarily negative toward the Christian community of the day. This blog will explore the hope and positive directions the book suggests in later posts. For now, let us hear what Noll said to us in 1994 and compare it to the circumstances of 2017. Have we journeyed very far beyond the concerns he expresses here?

To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment. In addition, habits of mind that in previous generations may have stood evangelicals in good stead have in the twentieth century run amock. As the Canadian scholar N. K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.”[1]

How would you understand the Evangelical or Christian ethos today? Is it still activistic, populist, pragmatic, and/or utilitarian? Do we relish or avoid complexity?

[1] The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1994.