Distinctions and Generalizations

We live in a world filled with information. Media, Facebook,  email and mobile phone connectivity push information at us continuously. In fact. our lives are so completely full of information that we constantly need to make quick judgments about whether we should pay attention or not, or whether something rings true or not.

We ought to use critical thinking to make better judgments about what is true versus what appears to be true but isn’t, in important areas of our life. Much of what we encounter in the media or Facebook has some “spin” or bias connected with it and it requires some effort to sort out what is true. That’s especially important for Christians.  Jesus claimed to be “The way, the truth and the life.” Therefore, we ought to try to see things with “the mind of Jesus” to better understand the truth in the complex situations we encounter.

On the 7:30 Report last night in Australia a story was featured about the Victoria Police’s investigation of how the Catholic Church mishandled paedophilia cases in the past. Too say the least, the report was damning. This story was about the Catholic Church but it didn’t just affect Catholics. News about any Christian or any Christian church reflects on us all. Therefore we need to be able to help people outside the church understand how we Christians view such ugly incidents. This involves making some important comparisons and distinctions, rather than just generalizing, “Religion / Churches / Christians are all ___(epithet)____!”

Three important comparisons

First, I’d like to make three comparisons so help clarify some basic concepts that many people use quite loosely.

  • Church and organizations (government, corporations, etc)

Every Christian church is an organization. Like every organization, the primary interest of its leaders is the survival of the organization first and achieving its purposes second. There has to be an organization in order to be able to collectively work toward its goals. Where the church organization differs from other secular organizations (perhaps) is in its values. How the church survives, and how it achieves its purposes is paramount. The end doesn’t justify the means. Thus, church organizations are (and should be) held to account not just against the usual organizational criteria, such as ethics and following the law, but also each should be measured against its own espoused value system.

  • Religion and other institutions (legal system, healthcare system, etc)

Religion is also a human cultural system, which organizes itself to communicate certain foundational ideas and ways of thinking. There are no precise boundaries that limit ‘religion’ on our planet, so religion is a global cultural system. To a large extent, religion is out of the control of any church. In modern scientific terms, the Christian religion is a complex system that emerges from the interaction of enormous numbers of phenomena at all levels of all Christian churches as well as outside the church. This is exactly how the global legal system, global healthcare system, global economic system and all global systems work. In general all leaders are powerless to control how their specific brand of complex global system behaves and evolves. In fact, all these systems interact with one another, and influence each other’s emergence. The global system of religion is shaped as well as shapes, as we well know, by global political and economic events. That said, churches need a global understanding of how the system of religion works (or doesn’t) to advance the cause of love and peace on this planet

  • The Kingdom and reality (two views of “what is”)

We Christians also make another comparison, which hardly anyone else understands. We believe that, besides day-to-day reality, we also live in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, in addition to the realities of ‘church’ and ‘religion’ I described above, there is the real Kingdom of God. That is the fundamental meaning of who Jesus is — “I am the way, the truth and the life.” What is the Kingdom? Is it ‘pie in the sky by and by’ as some cynics describe it? Or is it “what is” right now? Some Christian scholars describe the Kingdom’s reality as being “already but not yet” fully present. The cynics would say the “already” bit is so tiny as to be non-existant. They may be willing to concede a hidden reality that only exists in some individual Christian hearts, but not many of those. I am of a different opinion, which I’ll cover in the next part of this blog.

Important distinctions

So, what about the paedophilia news story? What distinctions ought we Christians to make in understanding this ugly situation that involves all of us?

  • As an organization, the Catholic Church ought to be criticized. The way it handled paedophiles was inept and didn’t follow its own ethical or moral value system. I suspect that the Catholic Church organization is already taking steps (like any corporation or goverment organization would) to find the flaws in its governance processes that allowed this evil to persist for so long. And, the wider society has a right to keep criticizing the Catholic Church’s efforts. None of this means, however, that the Catholic Church ought to be condemned and destroyed. That would be like saying close down a major bank because fraud was discovered in some of its transactions.
  • Religion has a lot to answer for, which goes well beyond paedophilia. I won’t catalogue the evils that have been done in the name of religion down through the centuries. The distinction to be made, however, is whether those of us who are ‘religious’ need, advocate and support this institution — or are those who say “I’m spiritual but not religious” on the right path? The value of religion is its global power and capability to bring God into the world’s affairs. (That power is also its human weakness). For Christians to say that we don’t need religion is ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ on a global scale. The question is, how to help the global Christian religious culture to evolve toward something that is closer to a “godly presence.” That is the task I have decided to support in this blog — transformation of the global Christian religion through ‘bottom-up’ transformation of all local Christian communities. Had local Catholic communites taken more responsibility for paedophilia, this current situation would likely have been fixed long ago.
  • Perhaps the most important distinction we Christians need to understand and apply is between living in a secular reality and living in God’s Kingdom. I described the ‘already but not yet’ idea above. My personal view is that the ‘already’ part is far more powerful than we Christians allow ourselves to imagine. The mystery of the Body of Christ is having a profound effect (in God’s time) on our everyday secular reality. The story of the “final days” is being written right now — and we individual Christians in our local communities are the Change Agents. So, in the paedophila case, we are responsible for changing the church and religious system that allowed that evil to persist — beginning right in our own local church, whether we are Catholic or not. It’s not a case of “That’s a Catholic problem.” We are all brothers and sisters, in one Body. Bottom-up change begins with the Spirit’s actions in each individual Christian when such outrages occur.

Paradigm Shift?

I went to a day of reflection yesterday on the topic “Contemporary Christianity.” What’s happening to the church? The session leader gave us some interesting perspectives. I’d like to share some of them with you, as well as my own reflections.

  • Weekly attendance at church services in Australia was 74% in 1954 and is 14% today.
  • The Christian church is shrinking in western countries with “European-based traditions” but growing in developing countries.

He also quoted a historian’s view that every 500 years or so, The Christian church goes major upheaval.

  • 500AD: The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christian kings, with Christianity becoming the dominant religion in the western world
  • 1000AD: Increased conflict between east and west, with the schism in the church and the crusades
  • 1500AD: The reformation and rise of individualism
  • 2000AD: Our current experiences that “church” and “religion” are in decline, at least in Australia and other western countries

One author has called our current situation the “end of Christendom.” It certainly feels like an ending of some kind to me. But, with any change, there must be an ending before a new beginning. That current chaotic situation is a clear sign that Christians and others are experiencing what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm shift — when more and more questions emerge for which the “old” answers don’t work. [1]

The search for a “new” paradigm

Are the “old” answers of “religion” and “church” and “Christendom” not working anymore? If so, what questions were these realities created to answer? Are those questions no longer relevant?

To explore what’s going on, what if we seek the questions which Jesus asked. Were His questions “Which church do you go to?” or “Which Christian religion do you practice?” Seen in those terms, we can see that these “old” questions” seem wrong somehow. They weren’t central in Jesus’ preaching. It’s hard to believe that Jesus would even ask these questions today.

So what questions is Jesus asking? I suggest that you read his questions to his apostles, and decide for yourself. Make a complete list. See how many of them have to do with “church” or “religion” per se. I’ll give you a clue. Here’s one sequence from Mark 8:17-18: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

The unshifting paradigm

You get the feeling that Jesus was pointing beyond our human search for answers and paradigms when he asked His questions. He almost seemed frustrated at times with his closest friends when they didn’t understand what was going on. In the end, when Philip asked, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me Philip? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14: 8-9] If we understand who Jesus is, He is the unchanging ‘paradigm’, and history is understood in the light of who He is. “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” [1 Corinthians 15:24]

If we view “church” and “religion” in terms of dominion, authority and power (as we do), that way of human thinking (paradigm) is passing away, even in our lifetime. But we must not ‘throw the baby out with the bath water.’ God’s kingdom is in the ascendency in the ‘final days’, and not merely in individual hearts. There is ‘one body’ of which Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, even if it appears that the ‘branches’ are being pruned right now.

We ought to take to heart what Jesus said to his disciples, and trust that he will answer our questions in due course. “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

[1] Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962.

 

 

Quantum Theory and religion

Alain de Botton, “possibly the world’s richest philosopher” according to the Sydney Morning Herald, explains religion this way:

“There’s something called religion and it was invented a long time ago by people who felt very out of control with their lives, who didn’t know . . . why the sun always rose over the mountains. Nowadays people don’t find religion so convincing anymore.” Quoted from an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, January 14-15, 2012

It’s clear to me how de Bottom has become rich. He makes millions of people feel comfortable by simplistic observations like the statement above. It’s as if a scientist were saying, “All you really need to understand is Newton’s Three Laws. They deal with real things that you can see. All the rest of Physics, like Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity is just theory.” De Botton misrepresents religion as badly as my hypothetical scientist misrepresents Physics.

I would like to break down de Botton’s statement above to start you on the path towards sharpening your critical thinking about religion.

  • “Religion was invented by people who felt out of control of their lives.” (I wonder how de Botton knows the motivation of people in prehistoric times, but I’ll let that pass.) Not all religions were invented by people who felt out of control. For example, Abraham was comfortably in control of his life when God called him to leave his native land and go to a strange land to the west. In fact, the Hebrews celebrated Abraham giving up control of his life to God as evidence of his faith.
  • The people who invented religion “didn’t know why the sun always rose over the mountains.” Doesn’t this ignor the most common reasons that people give for religion? Religion provides answers to the ultimate questions, eg, What does life mean? What is my purpose? Religion is not a scientific explanation for any phenomena but it is man’s inspired wisdom for why everything exists and what this means.
  • “Nowadays people don’t find religion so convincing anymore.” Which people is he referring to? Philosophers? There are many who do find religion meaningful. Scientists? Again, there are many who see no conflict between science and religion.

Intellectual honesty

First of all, hardly anyone ever becomes religious by reading a book. Religion is a response to an invitation, to join with people who share common beliefs. Many of us received this invitation when we were infants and our parents introduced us into the religious tradition our family practiced. At some point, perhaps, we have encountered philosophy and science — and perhaps this has raised questions about religion for us. I’d like to suggest that how we answer such questions is important. If we only read books like Alain de Botton writes or simply adopt the opinions of our friends,  I don’t think we can claim to being intellectually honest. None of these sources may be particularly even-handed about religion.

Let me use the example of how physicists might be intellectually honest when it comes to Quantum Theory. First of all, no first year student of Physics would claim they understood Quantum Theory by simply having conversations with their friends or reading the “Idiot’s Guide to Quantum Theory.” They realise how complex and deep this particular field of knowledge is, and the years of study required to attain a general grounding in the topic. Second, even the most advanced Physicists are tentative about the ‘truth’ of Quantum Mechanics, and its connection with “what is really going on.” There are debates about various ‘hard questions’ and ambiguities in Quantum Theory that no reputable scientist denies. Lastly, scientists of all types are always tentative about their beliefs in their theories, realising that future measurements or knowledge may invalidate their current understanding.

My sense is that each of us ought to be equally intellectually honest with ourselves about religion in general — whether we are believers or atheists. Understanding religion involves an enormously complex field of knowledge. Like the first year student in Physics, most of us should be aware of our limitations in drawing sweeping conclusions about religion based on a casual acquaintance with the topic. Second, there are also ‘hard questions’ and ambiguities in religious discussions. Things are not simple, when it comes to making responsible intellectual judgements about religion. Lastly, religion is not science so it is not a theory which can be invalidated — but religion also involves human knowledge, which evolves over time. How people regarded the Christian religion in the First Century is very different in most respects than how people think about it today. We must be ready to distinguish between the unchangeable focus of religion, which is God and His revelation to us, and what is changeable.

To return briefly to Alain de Botton, I’m sure that he wouldn’t strongly disagree with many of the statements in this post, even though he and I have almost completely divergent views on science and religion. Perhaps I was a bit harsh, picking on one phrase out of his vast body of work. I hope, somehow, that he sees this post and confirms how close our perspectives are when it comes to being intellectually honest. My concern is that Alain de Botton and others like him not mislead anyone, especially young adults, when it comes to the certainty of his position on religion.

 

 

 

“Making sense of it all” Part 2

One of the challenges of ‘making sense of it all’ in the 21st century is resolving the apparent conflicts between science and religion. I say apparent because I have degrees in both engineering and physics, and a certificate in theology, and after reading widely on the subject, I can’t find any real conflicts except those that result from misunderstandings of either science or theology.

Today people seem ready to accept the notion that human beings are comprised of  ‘mind, body and spirit.’ It seems to me, therefore, that they should be well-disposed to accept different types of human knowledge, each of which sees a different aspect of reality — scientific (mind), experiential (body)  and religious (spirit) knowledge. Interestingly, where this holistic view of knowledge seems to be struggling to be accepted is in the church. In this post, I will deal with a particular question to illustrate the challenge that Christians face in making sense of ‘church’ using these three types of knowledge.

Did Jesus and the Holy Spirit “design” the church?

Is the church solely a spiritual creation of God? Do we only need religious knowledge to understand the church? Or like other human social institutions, does the church “self-organise” over time, like any other complex adaptive system, emerging and evolving in response to a diverse set of changing cultural factors and human needs? Do we also need scientific knowledge to understand the church? And where does experiential knowledge need to inform our understanding of church? Where do our senses, desires, emotions and other experiences enter in?

In a way, these are the same questions we ask when we want to understand Jesus. Did he grow, like any other human, shaped by his genes as well as nurtured by his family and community and culture, or did God intervene in his human development? How did his experience as a human affect his growth? How does our experience of human beings help us understand him? Would Jesus have been profoundly different if he had been born in New York City in 2011? The church teaches that Jesus was fully man and fully God, which implies that he grew to maturity like any other man. Should the term ‘fully human’ apply to the church as well? It seems obvious to me the church is like Jesus, as we are are, fully human and yet somehow transcending itself, as divine, at least potentially. Therefore,  Jesus and the Holy Spirit shape the church in the same mysterious ways that God shaped Jesus’ growth, respecting the natural processes of our world, and Jesus’ experiences as he matured.

The church evolves over time yet remains the same forever

It seems that God intends human beings to be free to understand and shape the church, “guided” in some subtle, mysterious way by the Holy Spirit. Interpreting the metaphor “guiding” involves resolving political issues of power and love.  [See my post, Power is what make love generative] This, in turn,  raises the question of the role of professional religious women and men in the church as leaders in guiding the church’s growth.  One of Jesus’ most powerful inputs about this human political issue was washing the feet of his disciples right before he died. He clearly meant to demonstrate how to balance power and love. We don’t know what was in Jesus’ mind but he was a wise person and understood the dangers inherent in power so he established a principle which today we call “servant  leadership.”  This points toward the way that Jesus wants professional religious people to “guide” the evolution of the complex adaptive system we call church.

Like every other part of  the church system, the roles of professional religious evolve over time.  One might disagree and say that the religious metaphor of the body of Christ overrides the scientific systems metaphor  — that the fundamental spiritual dimension of the body stays the same. Hands remain hands, the head remains the head. Leaders are the head and ordinary people are the hands. The Christian challenge in making sense of the church is to discern how the religious “body” and scientific “complex adaptive systems” metaphors are to be interpreted. What is stable and unchanging about the church and the leadership of religious professionals and what evolves and changes? To me, the solution lies in understanding how the Holy Spirit works in the church.

How does the Holy Spirit work in the church?

In the scientific view, every human organization is a complex adaptive system comprised of individual human beings who give the organization its life. To better understand how this works, and how the Holy Spirit works, I want to use a simple metaphor to help you understand what scientists mean when they use the term ‘complex adaptive system.’ I will describe church as a living ‘ecosystem’– a forest, with its trees and leaves. The entire worldwide church is like the forest. Individual local churches and Christian communities are like trees. When trees are healthy and growing the forest expands. Similarly, when local churches do their work well the entire church succeeds.

Each Christian in a local church is like a leaf on a tree. There is something special about leaves. They have a unique capability, although they are only a very small part of a tree and a forest. Leaves create food for trees. Each leaf has the power to transform light from the sun and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into food for the tree through a unique process called photosynthesis. The leaf also exchanges oxygen back into the atmosphere. Without leaves there would be no trees and no forest, a lot less oxygen and probably no other life on planet earth for that matter. Leaves have the ultimate power to grow forests—just as individuals have the ultimate power to grow and guide all organizations including the church.

We can see in this metaphor how the Holy Spirit (grace) works through individuals to transform local churches and so the entire church. Imagine that, in this metaphor, God is like the sun. Just as photosynthesis works with the energy of the sun through leaves to enable trees and forests to grow, there is collaboration between God and individuals to create special ‘food’ that organizations and the church needs to grow as well as heal their wounds.  Even though a single person is just one leaf, if she is linked with the Holy Spirit she can bring something powerful — a new idea, new actions  — to nourish her local church, and ultimately the entire church and world. This simple metaphor for the reality of complex adaptive system helps people begin to see they aren’t alone or powerless to change things in the church. Together with the Holy Spirit, they become the way the Holy Spirit works to transform the church.

What about Experiential Knowledge in understanding church?

The rational (scientific) and religious (spiritual) understanding of  church are not sufficient because they ignor the human experiential dimension of church. The experiencial is perhaps the least understood view of church because it is also the least understood (though very  common) dimension of human life. Historically, we have valued the thinking dimension of human beings more highly than the feeling, intuitive dimension. [This is one reason many more men are church leaders, compared to women.] I explained some ideas about this dimension in another post, Sometimes not thinking is better than thinking.  Our desires, emotions, intuitions and experiences are what energize us as humans (or not).  In that sense, the life of the church arises in a special way, from the desires, emotions, intuitions and experiences of all Christians. How these are shared, to create and energise the larger communities and church of which we are part depends on how we share this with other Christians. That happens in many diverse ways:  through music, art, poetry, sacraments, celebrations, Bible Study insights, and many others. These are the mysterious ‘fountain of life’ of the church. Cultivating and ordering the gifts of individual Christians to serve the growth of the church is a primary work of professional religious women and men.

Making sense of church in the 21st Century.

As I have tried to point out in this post, church cannot be easily understood. Making sense of church requires Christians to expand their knowledge in three dimensions — scientific, religious and experiential. Why should they do this work? Why not just stay at their current level of understanding? Simply put, the church is a pilgrim church, and must always strive to move ever closer to the holy place that God has prepared for it. If we Christians see the church as having already arrived at that place, perfect, complete and unchanging, we are simply not paying attention to the signs of the times or the Bible! “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” [Ephesians 2:10] Our work isn’t finished. That must be obvious. So making sense of the church in our times is about discerning, over and over, what is the work that God has prepared for us to do as local and a global church? I will discuss this in Part 3 of “Making sense of it all.” Making sense of this work has to do with discerning what science, our experience and our religious knowledge tells us about the 21st century.

A. Why Change? — “I’m spiritual but I don’t go to church.”

I don’t know how many people I have talked to that told me they don’t go to church but they are spiritual. In fact many Christians I know take essentially the same stance when they see church as a place to go to (occasionally) and not something that is central in their lives.

I recently read an excellent book called UnChristian that is quite revealing. It describes Christianity and church as people outside our communities perceive us. In a way, this book presents a ‘Voice of the Customer’ for Christians since one of our fundamental purposes is to announce the Good news to people outside the church — and so many people are turned off when we do this. We could say, ‘not our fault’ or point to other Christians who we feel  give the church a bad name. Isn’t that playing the victim and denying our own responsibility for this situation? For me the book UnChristian was a strong wake-up call to look at my own local church and see how we might be responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

10,000 gods versus one?

Peter Fitzsimons (a skeptic) recently wrote in the Sydney Sun Herald: “There have been 10,000 gods worshiped since the dawn of time. You (Brian Rosner, a theologian he is debating) have rejected 9999 of them as arrant and obvious nonsense. I counted up, and I have rejected just one more.”

He is pointing out a very important point! Human beings go through the same process in their individual lives as mankind has gone through over eons of history, regarding their beliefs in God. We Christians call this process salvation history and see God’s hand in the human and individual journey of belief. The skeptic believes that only man’s unaided reason has and must accomplish this awesome feat. That is definitely a point worth debating.

Christians start with today’s reality — the real presence of God in their lives — and look backward at history to see God’s loving hand in human history. I suppose skeptics also start with their current reality, seeing ‘facts’ and what science makes of them. Christians “believe and see;” skeptics “see and believe” only what their “facts only” paradigm permits.

So, at the root of the argument about 10,000 gods versus one lies an epistemological question, too deep for most people to examine let alone decide what is true. What can a man know? Is there truth beyond human reason? Science simply says that, for something to be scientifically true it must have certain attributes: be based on observations and measurements that can be verified by other independent observers, and so on. Christians don’t dispute science’s competence within its defined and limited field of study. Philosophy is still debating these questions. Theology — about which, in circular reasoning,  Peter Fitzsimons quotes another skeptic Sam Harris: “Theology is little more than a branch of human ignorance” — starts with the reality of God, as God has communicated this to us, and seeks answers about what we know.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Christians and skeptics see the world — and the world’s 9,999 false gods and the one true God — in utterly different ways. There is no common meeting point, other than Christians must love the skeptics according to Jesus. The questions of educating children about God, and prayer in schools, are also points about which where there is no common ground. In a pluralistic society, with both skeptics and Christians, it seems to me that the question to be debated is, are we going to teach epistomology in public schools? Should children be taught that science is all that there is or that some people “believe and then see” God’s hand in the world? Can skeptics allow that flexibility in the public education system — or must families and churches be the only permissible sources of this deeper education? That is a public policy question worth debating.

Unity — Who is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who loves Jesus Christ and follows him as their leader.  [1] There are many types of Christians: Roman Catholics, Anglo Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and eucharistic, orthodox and modern, eastern and western, believers in the Bible as the sole guide and believers in the Bible and tradition, and other variations as well.

But what characterizes all Christians? All of us are individuals and have our own experiences of the realities of living as a Christian and we also have many debates about what it means to love and follow Jesus. But I believe that if we are to transform the world as Jesus wishes us to, we also need to see each other as brothers and sisters who have been given some common gifts by Jesus, and because of that, share some things in common. “Yes, that’s what a Christian is! I hope to become more like that.” Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” There is only one vine, one body of Christ. We all belong to the same body and share Jesus’ life in the Holy Spirit flowing through one vine.

I offer the following statements that describe what a Christian is, not to spark debate but to spark recognition and alignment among all of us, no matter which local church we attend. These statements describe our aspirations as Christians, and describe who we hope to become. These ideals are unchanged since the earliest days of the church. My hope is that we can all agree on them, share them in common and pledge to each other to follow them as we gather and do our work together, as a global Christian community.

1. Christians are “Jesus-centric”

While the world may shy away from talking about Jesus, Christians don’t. This doesn’t mean that there is any specific or right way of talking about Jesus; there isn’t. Each Christian has her or his own unique encounters with him, no matter how subtle or hidden these may be. We know him and recognize his voice when we hear it.  Some may proclaim him quite easily and openly; others may view their relationship with Jesus as quite private and be more diffident. The point is, Jesus is part of our conversations and the wise counselor / facilitator of all that we do. Non-Christians may try to be more politically correct and refer to God as ‘the Universe’ or some other name, but Christians are certain about the name of God’s Son.

2. Christians have a different way of thinking than non-Christians. We are “in the world but not of the world”

Basically, this is a cultural statement. If culture means sharing common ideas, common language and communication, and alignment about how things ought to work, Christians share a culture that is different than the world’s culture. We see and speak about the world differently than non-Christians. To be “of the world” means you buy-in to the conventional culture. Christians are “not of the world.” We don’t see things in the world quite the same, use quite the same language about them or believe things ought to work quite the way that they do in the ‘system.’ In a few words, Christians have different hopes for the world, love it differently and have faith that they will, with the Holy Spirit’s help, ultimately transform it.

3. Christians experience time differently. We are “already but not yet completely” living in a time when the promises of Jesus are fulfilled.

We live in a world where we say in the Lord’s Prayer that the kingdom has already come on Earth but not yet fully as it is in heaven. We live in the 21st century of the Christian era but we also live in the last days, working and waiting for the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ promises. We live in a time of horrible events in the world but we see them differently and believe that their present outcome is already being transformed, in some mysterious way, but not yet fully. Christians distinguish between the appearances of the space-time continuum, and the reality of God’s time. One is measured by astrophysicists and the other is unmeasureable, safe in God’s care, flowing toward His desired eternal state.

4. Christians use the word ‘power’ differently. “We are Easter people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit”

As Paul said, when we do good, it is not us but Jesus’ power in us that does it. This power was given to Paul and to us because of what happened on the Cross, at Easter and Pentecost. We live mindfully and prayerfully, able to distinguish between when God’s power is empowering us, versus when we are doing “our own thing.” We also distinguish between having gifts of the Spirit and our own self-development. Our gifts are meant for others; our efforts at self-development, while understandable, are focused on ourselves.


[1] Every Christian ‘loves’ and ‘follows’ Jesus in their own unique way. There are no widely accepted criteria for how much a person must love and follow Jesus in order to be a Christian. Jesus loves us first and tells us that his ‘yoke is light,’ which is a gentle invitation to follow him. Therefore, if you feel that you love not hate Jesus (although you may hate the church at times) and would like to follow him if you could only figure out how in this complicated world, then you are a Christian as I mean the term.