Sunday, March 9, 2014

Social Justice & Socialism

On Sunday, March 9, we continued our "Just Living" series by clarifying the confusion between socialism and social justice.

Often in the U.S. political conversation, social justice is confused with or made part of socialism. For political conservatives (who tend to emphasize smaller government and free markets), this can naturally lead to a rejection of social justice.

This 4th lesson in our series reviews the biblical material from our first week --
  • in John 15, Jesus claims to be the true vine
  • in doing so he is claiming to be the vine that Israel should have been (Isaiah 5:1-7)
  • we are called to remain in Christ as a branch remains in a vine and thus bear fruit
  • the fruit we are to bear, drawing from Isaiah 5, is righteousness & justice
  • righteousness & justice as seen in Isaiah (e.g. chapter 58) includes what we today call "social justice"
However, we spend most of the time looking at the social justice preaching and practice of Christians from the earliest centuries through the early 1800s, decades prior to the rise of socialism as a political theory.

As an application, which I didn't get to in class because of time limitations, I recommend turning off your favorite political commentary for the week. Instead, listen to social justice sermons from conservative Evangelicals ('gospel people') as a way to learn to think about political discussion from a biblical perspective. I've listed two samples below.

For example,
  • instead of watching your favorite political talk show on FOX or MSNBC, take a walk and listen to N.T. Wright on your iPod or other MP3 player, or
  • instead of listening to talk radio on your commute, listen to Tim Keller
The goal in this is to start thinking about our social arrangements first as a follower of Christ and second as a citizen of America.

WARNING: You may not be comforted in your current views in listening to these guys. I know I'm not.

Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, gave a sermon simply titled "Justice," based on Isaiah 58. Keller is thought provoking but easy to understand. You can reach it here. Or, "The Testimony of Justice" (given at Park Cities Presbyterian Church) is also a good one, though especially challenging (click here). Both are free.

N.T. Wright gave a sermon in chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky, in November 2007. He speaks of how Scripture should be used in political conversations. You can download it from iTunes at from the seminary's N.T. Wright Lecture Series site. It's untitled but it's the 4th audio from November 13, 2007, which runs for 33 minutes. You can reach it here. It's free.

Keller is a much easier to understand of the two. He's an American speaking as if you have no church traditions. Wright is a bishop in the Church of England. References to church history and traditions will sound unfamiliar to most of us, but not incomprehensible. It's worth listening to at least twice.

You can download the PowerPoint slides of the lesson here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heart of God

Main idea of today's ABF lesson is
   To neglect active concern for the vulnerable is to neglect the heart of God for people

Of course, that idea needs biblical support . . . and that was the bulk of the lesson.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Just Living - So Why Should I Care?


Our next series of study is entitled, "Just Living," based upon the theme verse of Micah 6:8.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8
If you are interested in reading further about the subject, check out the following titles and selections. I'll be drawing from Keller's and Corbett's books throughout the series.

Generous Justice, Timothy Keller
     The first chapter, "What is Doing Justice?" is available free online

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . or Yourself, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
     You can watch a couple of quick videos (2-4 min.) by the authors online.
          "How We Define Poverty," Brian Fikkert
          "Relief, Rehabilitation, Development," Steve Corbett



Saturday, February 1, 2014

Did Lewis Meet Freud?

Did Christian author C.S. Lewis ever meet with atheist intellectual Sigmund Freud? 

During the last 3 decades of the 20th Century, Dr. Armand Nicholi (psychiatrist to the New England Patriots for 15 years) taught a course at Harvard University to both undergraduates and medical students on Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. He captures that course in the book The Question of God (Free Press: New York, 2002).

Nicholi speculates on a meeting between Lewis and Freud at Freud's home in London sometime in 1938-1939. Playwrite Mark St. Germain wrote Freud's Last Session which enjoyed a successful Off Broadway run in New York, winning the Best Play Award from the Off Broadway Alliance in 2011.

 Houston's Alley Theater is hosting a Freud's Last Session through February 23, 2014. For the Houston Chronicle's review, "Class on religion is in 'Session,'" show times and admissions, see the Lifestyle section, January 30, 2014, page 1. The Chronicle has a better article published on the 27th entitled "'Session' Imagines a Meeting of the Minds." The Houston Press also has a brief review.

PBS picked up Nicholi's work, producing four hour program, The Question of God, which aired in 2004. The whole program is available on DVD. Significant portions of the program are available online.

So What?!
If you're having discussions with friends about the question of God and Jesus, or you would like to have such a discussion, consider the following.
  1. Read the Houston articles linked above.
  2. Watch and read goodly portions of The Question of God online at PBS.
  3. Invite your friend(s) to join you at the Alley Theater and dinner afterwards (a late dinner for evening shows, or an early dinner for afternoon shows).
  4. Talk about what was most interesting to them and, also, to you. 
You don't have to understand everything that happened on stage or all the ideas discussed.
  • Simply listen, and mostly, try to understand some of the issues from your friend's point of view. 
  • Then tell of your experience, where it is similar to, or different from, Lewis and Freud.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Paul's Colossian Prayer

Early in the Fall of 2013 and in our series on Practical Prayer in the Grace Steps Adult Bible Fellowship, I walked us through Paul's prayer for the Colosssian church. I also recommended making this prayer your own, for yourself and others, by praying through it on a regular basis. Here's a link to a Word document that uses the layout I presented in class that makes it easier to memorize and see how the phrases in his prayer relate to other ideas in the prayer, Paul's Colossian Prayer.

Praying Through the Psalms, chart

In the Grace Steps class on Sunday, November 3, I recommended praying through the Psalms, in order, through the month. A common question is how to break down the prayers, since the psalms are of differing length? Here is a link to a Word document that contains a chart of how to organize what to pray on each day, Schedule for Praying the Psalms.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Whatever happened to amazing grace?

Nope, not the song, but the message. The title of this post is plagiarized (but, hey, with credit) from an editorial by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today magazine, the leading popular magazine on matters of Evangelical faith. He writes of 3 ways we move from grace to works as the basis of God's embrace.
  1. Mental assent
  2. Spiritual experience 
  3. Moral improvement
Which one do you think those around you are closest to falling into? And yourself?

Check it out at Whatever Happened To Amazing Grace?

NOTE: the link above was broken but was corrected at 10:50 am ct on 10/28/13.