Is Belief in God Essential to Morality?

An interesting new survey from the Pew Research Center shows what people around the world think about whether belief in God is essential to morality. The variations between counties and continents is fascinating.

belief in god morality

Flotsam and jetsam (3/14)


Good Reads

  • The 7 Commandments for Choosing a Church: After several moves, and several not-so-good choices over the past few years, I found our most recent church choice to be different – and much better.  My hope is that anyone who is facing the decision of which church to join will find help and encouragement.  So here are 7 commandments for choosing a church. (Transformed)
  • Letter Grades Deserve an ‘F’: Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. However, if the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully blunt and inadequate instrument. (The Atlantic)

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Just for Fun

  • Can gibberish be a verb? If so, this woman gibberishes exceptionally well.

What Is a Theological “Mystery”?

Human head silhouette with question mark concept

Most people appeal to mystery at some point in their theology. And that’s what we would expect given that we’re trying to understand the infinite, transcendent, and ultimately incomprehensible God of the universe. So we end up talking about things like the Trinity (three persons in one being) and the incarnation (divine and human in one person), fully aware that we are affirming truths that transcend our understanding, but unwilling to say that they are mere contradictions. So we call them mysteries.

But what exactly does it mean to say that something is a “mystery” in theology?

In their book, The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Baker, 2012), Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall explain that “mystery” is actually a rather slippery term in theology. So they offer a helpful taxonomy of different kinds of mystery, arguing that only the last is really adequate to a God who both transcends knowledge and makes himself truly known.

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/12)


Good Reads

  • 3 Ways Expository Preaching Combats Biblical Illiteracy: Biblical illiteracy is a widespread problem that manifests itself in several ways. The basic nuts and bolts Bible knowledge of key stories, people, and concepts is much less common. People have little patience for the parts that are difficult to understand, let alone the parts that are clear and offensive. What are you going to do about this, Pastor? (Pastors Today)
  • Heal Me—Body, Mind, and Soul: Why are we so attracted to yoga, acupuncture, and the like? As people of faith, we recognize that we are multidimensional beings. We know that we are more than just a body, but exist as bodies, minds, and spirits, and all parts of us need attention. (Hermeneutics)
  • Paranoid Narcissism: What Dostoyevsky Knew about the Internet: Paranoid narcissism—the mixed desires and fears of being watched by unknown others—thus defines virtual society, giving rise to numerous related anxieties such as the sense of exposed insignificance and the fear of missing out. (The American Reader)

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/10)

trick question

Good Reads

  • An Open Apology to the Local Church: Here’s where I need to confess my true feelings about you, Church: The romance of our earlier days has faded. The longer I have known you, the more I weary of your quirks and trying character traits. Here’s one: You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with. Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us. You insist on filling my coffee hour with idle talk of golf, the weather, and grandchildren. (Christianity Today)
  • Encounters with Orthodoxy: I would never be the same Protestant I had been. I understood in a more tangible way than I could have imagined the significance of the “smells and bells” of worship, the careful attention to the worshipping body as well as the worshipping spirit, the sense that God didn’t exist “in my heart,” but also out there in a big, strange world that demanded to be perceived through my senses. (Books and Culture)
  • How Can I Best Absorb Information While Reading: Impress yourself with powerful mental images, make associations with what you already know (and make sure you learn the basics to start), and repeat this exercise several times. Work to become better at remembering and you will become better at remembering everything you want. (Lifehacker)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Thomas Aquinas)

St Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas is one of those theologians who needs little introduction. One of the most influential theologians in the history of the church, Aquinas has shaped the way theologians in the west think about almost every theological issue. Best known for his massive Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas also wrote extensive commentaries on Scripture and Aristotle, as well as various liturgical works.

Thomas Aquinas died on March 7, 1274. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, today’s prayer comes from him. And it’s an excellent prayer for students and learners everywhere.

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
has established three hierarchies of angels,
has arrayed them in marvelous order above the fiery heavens,
and has marshaled the regions of the universe with such artful skill,
You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin raised high beyond all things.

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/7)

sports fan

Good Reads

  • In Praise of Long Pastorates: It takes time to nurture a healthy congregation. You can attract a crowd in no time. But a crowd is not a church. (H.B. Charles, Jr.)
  • A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes – Revisited: The court simply ruled that the baker could not refuse to make and sell a cake to a same sex couple that he would make and sell to an opposite sex couple. Or, put more simply, the baker may discriminate when it comes to what kind of cakes he will make, but may not discriminate when it comes to who he will sell his cakes to. (Skye Jethani)
  • Selfies Bring Ashtags to Lent: The Ash Wednesday selfie—a modern mixing of Christian piety with social media self-involvement—is becoming a tradition for a growing number of Catholics. (Wall Street Journal)

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Some Advice on Studying Theology

all mixed up in the mind of a personStudying theology can be rather daunting given the depth and complexity of topics, the wealth of literature, and the many disparate opinions. Where do you start?

In this short video clip, Fred Sanders offers two pieces of great advice to his theology students. But it’s advice that I think would benefit anyone wanting to study theology more effectively.

  1. Pick a major doctrine to focus on.
  2. Master a classic text.

As he says, the “major doctrines of perennial importance” are daunting in their significance and the wealth of material devoted to them, but they’ll certainly stretch and challenge you. And every major doctrine connects in important ways with all the other ones as well. So having a specific doctrinal locus provides a nice focus for your studies while also giving an entry point into systematic theology as a whole. I stumbled onto theological anthropology early in my studies and have concentrated on that ever since. I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, but having that focus has been amazingly helpful for me. (FYI – Eventually you will want to branch out form that primary focus, but you don’t need to worry about that at the beginning.)

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Flotsam and jetsam (3/4)

fair fight

Good Reads

  • The Six People You Should Ask to Leave Your Church:  The problem is that our love for our church and our enthusiasm for growth blinds us to the fact that sometimes we have a responsibility to encourage people to go a different church. I know it might sound crazy, but there are times when the most loving thing we can do is to help people move on down the road. (Transformed)
  • Diogo Morgado Puts the Carnal in Incarnate, But Was Jesus Really A Babe? There’s more at stake in artistic representations of Jesus.  When a bombshell plays a professor on screen the negative fallout is limited to the crushed expectations of the freshmen class; when Jesus is portrayed as a lily-white rock star it reinforces a system that privileges certain kinds of beauty. (Candida Moss)
  • Eight of the Most Significant Struggles Pastors Face: In many ways, there are no surprises. Indeed, I doubt most of you will be surprised at my findings. If nothing else, it is a good reminder of how we can help our pastors, and how we can pray for them. (Thom Rainer)
  • Why One Baptist Chooses to Observe Lent: For my part, I choose to observe Lent because it affords me an opportunity to disengage a bit from the culture of what Tim Suttle calls satiation—“the absolute satisfaction of every human need to the point of excess.” (Nathan Finn)

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We Won’t Solve Biblical Literacy with Bible Trivia

For some time now, people have been rightly concerned about the trajectory of biblical literacy. Talking to those who have been teaching Bible/theology for many years, they all say that one of the greatest challenges they face is that people just don’t know the Bible like they used to. So they spend far more time teaching basic biblical literacy and consequently less time building on that foundation.

And it’s a real problem, one that affects people’s ability to understand the whole scope of what the Bible has to say, how that relates to individual stories and verses, and how all of it connects to the challenging issues that people face every day.

But it’s a problem that we will not solve by mastering Bible trivia.

from Wikipedia

from Wikipedia

I had a conversation a while back with someone who was a little frustrated after hearing a Bible teacher lament the decline of biblical literacy. The teacher had asked the study group a few questions, and after no one seemed the know the answers, made several comments about the state of the church and lack of attention to solid Bible teaching. But the person I was talking to was frustrated and confused because she had grown up in a church with solid Bible teaching and did not consider herself to be biblically illiterate. So what was going on?

The problem was that the teacher was focused more on mastery of Bible trivia than real biblical literacy. For example, one of the questions he asked was which gospel is the only one to record the parable of the workers in the vineyard (the one where they all get paid the same). I can’t remember all of the other questions, but they were along the same lines. For this teacher, failing to know details like this means that you don’t really know your Bible.

I have at least three problems with this.

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