CLUELESS OR WILLFULLY IGNORANT?

11 06 2015

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BY STEVE DUNN

I am often astounded when talking to church people who don’t seem to have a clue about the people living in the community around their facility. If they “see” people at all, it is to recognize the persons who are most like them and be reassured – or to see the ones unlike them and to move on down the road as quickly as possible. John Stott’s challenge for all churches to exegete their culture proves difficult because in their blindness, these people rarely see enough to gather the facts about the true nature of their community.

Bill Hybels is famous for his statement, “You have never locked eyes on someone for whom Christ has not died.”  But what motivation is that if our eyes are constantly averted from our neighbor and their condition.

I am reminded of the great premise of the American judicial system that “ignorance is no excuse.”  But in a higher court, one that we all face one day, the same premise holds true.  We read in Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Isn’t it time we opened our eyes?

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SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE NOT ENEMIES

16 11 2014

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths” and “Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. He writes a blog called Uncommon God, Uncommon Good” from which this post is taken.  It is lengthy and requires careful reading but speaks to the premise in Bridgebuilders that we must stop making the debate “science versus religion” if we are to build redemptive relationships with the un-churched, especially younger generations. – STEVE

Brain PhotoMany religious people are suspicious of significant issues in science. Many people—religious and non-religious alike—reflect suspicions and indifference toward the church (especially among younger people); one of the reasons for many young people leaving the church is the perception that churches appear hostile to science, as a Barna study claims. Could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are in the head?

Regarding the suspicion of key considerations in science, specifically as it relates to Evangelical Christianity, it is worth noting the cultural, emotional and psychological damage caused by the aftermath of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925. It is still present in conscious or unconscious ways. The impact of that trial has led George Marsden to write, “It would be difficult to overestimate the impact” of the trial “in transforming fundamentalism.” George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism — 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 184. Given the damage done to the movement as a result of that trial, I wonder how many of Evangelical Christians’ suspicions of science are in the head.

It is important for churches and Christian educational institutions to work hard on the integration of faith and science. Further to what was stated above concerning many young people leaving church today, some Christians’ fears and/or disregard for science in the church can lead scientifically minded and vocationally oriented individuals to feel isolated and leave church. David Kinnaman addresses this concern and many others in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith (Baker Books, 2011). Kinnaman quotes a young man named Mike, who says: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 138). Christian leaders such as myself need to pursue the integration of faith and science in ways that foster and strengthen these respective domains (regarding this subject, see my recent post titled “Missing Links: On Faith and Science”).

With these points on the need for integration in mind, let’s turn to consider the relation of the brain, body, and beliefs. The hope is to show through such reflections as these that there is no necessary hostility between science and faith; perhaps the hostility and suspicion between science and religion is all in the mind. By overcoming the disconnect, we might be in a better position to connect people with church.

The brain, the body and beliefs are intimately connected. Take for example this PBS documentary titled “Faith and the Brain” that discusses how religious practices and beliefs influence the brain. So, too, there is a close connection between the rational and emotional dimensions of the brain, as discussed in the PBS documentary titled “The Adult Brain: to Think by Feeling”; their interaction is essential to one’s well-being.

One of the things that stand out to me from these studies is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14; ESV). Religion should not fear science, but learn from scientific truth. I believe the more we learn from science, the more we will come to realize that we are truly fearfully and wonderfully made.

Greater consideration of scientific studies should demonstrate to Christians the profundity of biblical faith and its emphasis on the profound connection between the spiritual and physical dimensions. For example, orthodox Christianity prizes embodiment. We do not exist as disembodied spirits, but rather, as embodied souls. The eternal Word did not hover above the physical world, but became flesh and blood (John 1:14). Such theological considerations should help us to take seriously the scientific studies noted above that there is a close connection between the body, brain, and beliefs. Such theological considerations and scientific studies can also help churches foster greater inclusivity and connections with people who might otherwise leave church.

Let’s take two examples. First, let’s take technology. In view of the theological considerations and scientific studies noted above, churches should encourage parishioners to be mindful of how technology can impact them, often for the good, but also, often for the bad. Here is what one of my seminary students John Lussier writes,

My question(s) on embodied presence: When it comes to personhood and relationality, is there something important to our being bodied people? When we remove the body but leave communication, does this change how we relate? Christ came as an embodied human male, and not as a spirit or human soul without a body. Why is this important? Does the body matter or is it simply a tool for relationality? What happens when we use technology in place of our body to communicate? Is technology that removes the bodily presence an extension of the human, a dissection or something else entirely?

John is by no means antagonistic to technology; actually, he is quite adept at it. Still, he and I wonder why many people today often prefer texting to other forms of communication. What is the impact of texting on our relationships if it and other non-physically present means of communication do not complement but rather replace face-to-face communication? While technology can create venues for greater accessibility, virtual church gatherings through social media can never take the place of embodied church. Orthodox Christian faith requires that we come together as embodied souls, not disembodied spirits. Face-to-face interaction strengthens our faith; I believe this is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; ESV). I wonder if the decline in church attendance has something to do with the decline in face-to-face interaction in society in favor of virtual connections.

iStock_000019820735SmallHaving spoken briefly of technology, let’s take a second example—race. Greater understanding of the brain may impact our view of racial dynamics and the need for greater inclusivity in the church.

Various studies suggest that exposure to the faces of people of different ethnicities activate the amygdala, which is associated with fear conditioning, far more than faces of the same racial background or ethnicity (personal note: it leads me to wonder if and how discussions about science might activate the amygdala in some religious people’s heads). It appears that greater exposure can reduce such increased activation. See Grit Herzmann, et al, “The neural correlates of memory encoding and recognition for own-race and other-race faces,” in Neuropsychologia 49 (11): 3103–3115. Intentionality in creating exposure through the diversification of churches may very well help churches decrease such fears and help people sense loving affirmation and experience inclusion.

Other studies suggest that people’s prejudices and beliefs impact facial processing and memory dimensions of the brain. See J. A. Richeson, et al, An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function,” in Nature Neuroscience, 6 (12): 1323–1328. Based on such analyses, it has been claimed that beliefs can help control amygdala activation. In keeping with this point, it has been argued that racism decreases when we foster the convictions that there are racial differences as well as racial equality. Take for example the volume titled Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology (Beacon Press, 2010). The Judeo-Christian belief that we are all created in the image of God (See Genesis 1:16-27) and that God values diversity as revealed in all peoples of various cultures worshiping before the throne (Revelation 7:9-10) should lead church leaders to cultivate greater unity and inclusivity involving diversity in church bodies.

For these and other reasons, I ask: could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are somehow in the head?





HOW NOT TO BE A MISSIONARY

20 05 2014

The Bridgebuilders Principleis based on the premise of the mission field outside your front door. That means we must think like missionaries and learn to exegete the culture–understand how think, what they value, what is their perceived need. This video from Todd Engstrom gives some powerful teaching on this issue.





MILLENIALS AND STRESS

13 02 2013

One of the basic principles of Bridgebuilders is the need to  be continually and realistically exegeting the culture.  Scott McKnight provides this important insight.

Millennials and Stress
By scotmcknight

Parents and pastors, friends and co-workers… this deserves our attention.

Stress levels for Americans have taken a decidedly downward turn across the USA — except for young adults, whose stress is higher than the national norm, says a survey to be released Thursday.

Those ages 18-33 — the Millennial generation — are plenty stressed, and it’s not letting up: 39% say their stress has increased in the past year; 52% say stress has kept them awake at night in the past month. And more than any other age group, they report being told by a health care provider that they have either depression or an anxiety disorder.

The online survey of 2,020 U.S. adults 18 and older, conducted in August by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, has been taking the stress pulse of Americans since 2007.

On a 10-point scale, where 1 means “little or no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress,” the 2012 average is 4.9.

But for Millennials, it’s 5.4.

“Younger people do tend to be more stressed than older people do. It may be they are more willing to admit to it. It may be a phase of life. They just don’t know where they’re going in life,” says Mike Hais of Arcadia, Calif., a market researcher and co-author of two books on that generation, including 2011′s Millennial Momentum.

But for this group, there is more cause for worry, Hais says.

“Millennials are growing up at a tough time. They were sheltered in many ways, with a lot of high expectations for what they should achieve. Individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense you’re an important person and expected to achieve. Even though, in most instances, it’s not their fault — the economy collapsed just as many of them were getting out of college and coming of age — that does lead to a greater sense of stress,” he says.