Category Archives: Worldview and Culture

Identifying a Cause for Society’s Perforations

President Donald Trump is frequently blamed for the divisions in our society and it is hard to deny that he has been a contributing factor. But the president is like a person tearing a sheet of perforated paper. The perforations were already there.

Those perforations were created by sociological and psychological forces that are constantly at play in our culture. Many of these are well-attested and frequently cited: race and sexual discrimination, wealth disparity, and educational inequality, to mention a few. One dynamic that is often overlooked is the human need for belonging.

Among the life qualities that social scientists and psychologists say contribute to personal satisfaction, none is more important than a sense of belonging. Wealth, goal setting, sexual fulfillment, and even the practice of religion cannot substitute for it. A sense of belonging is a primary human need.

Our church sends students and adults to Tijuana, Mexico to help and encourage disadvantaged children and elderly adults living in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Each year when they return home, they always tell the same story: the people there have nothing compared to us, but they are happy. They belong.

This reality exposes the hollowness of the lone ranger, I-don’t-need-anyone narrative that is so often told in America. People experience the need to belong, whether they admit it or not. That need is not only present in us, it has an impact on our attitudes and actions, even when we are not aware of it.

This has been apparent throughout the pandemic and the run-up to the election. Continue reading

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People of Truth in the Age of Disinformation

A passage in the prophet Isaiah seems to me to capture the current state of our nation: “Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.”

The journal “Science” published the peer reviewed paper, “The spread of true and false news online,” by Soroush Vosughi and others in 2018. The authors drew on an exhaustive study of Twitter feeds from 2006 to 2017, which examined around 126,000 news stories tweeted by 3 million people more that 4.5 million times.
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Artificial Intelligence, Humanity, and the Future

In September, the British news website “The Guardian” published a story written entirely by an AI – an artificial intelligence that “learned” how to write from scanning the Internet. The piece received a lot of press because in it the AI stated it had no plans to destroy humanity. It did, however, admit that it could be programmed in a way that might prove destructive.

The AI is not beyond making mistakes. I noted its erroneous claim that the word “robot” derives from Greek. An AI that is mistaken about where a word comes from might also be mistaken about where humanity is headed. Or it might be lying. Not a pleasant thought.

Artificial Intelligence is based on the idea that computer programs can “learn” and “grow.” No less an authority than Stephen Hawking has warned that AI, unbounded by the slow pace of biological development, might quickly supersede its human developers.

Other scientists are more optimistic, believing that AI may provide solutions to many of humanity’s age-old problems, including disease and famine. Of course, the destruction of biological life would be one solution to disease and famine.

Hawking worried that a “growing” and “learning” computer program might eventually destroy the world. I doubt it ever occurred to Hawking that his fears regarding AI could once have been expressed toward BI – biological intelligence; that is, humans – at their creation.

Did non-human life forms, like those the Bible refers to as “angels,” foresee the dangerous possibilities presented by the human capacity to “grow” and “learn”? Might not the angel Gabriel, like the scientist Hawking, have warned of impending doom? Continue reading

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Will God Answer Your Prayers This November?

Tens of millions of people are praying that the Biden/Harris ticket wins the presidential election. Tens of millions of people are praying that the Trump/Pence ticket wins. That means that whoever wins in November, tens of millions of people will be disappointed.

The fact that millions of people can pray for mutually exclusive outcomes is a problem, if not for God, at least for theologians. But it is also a problem for the people doing the praying. They passionately desire a particular result. They genuinely believe their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others – the nation, even the world – hangs on a positive answer to their request.

Yet tens of millions of people will not receive a positive answer to their request. What are they to think? That God has abandoned them? That God does not care; that he is, as the ancient Greeks believed, apathetic about human needs?

Many of us have prayed desperately for something – in my case, healing for a family member – only to be disappointed. What is a person to think then, when the job that was absolutely perfect (or at least urgently needed) falls through or when a son or daughter sinks deeper into self-destructive behaviors?

This is sometimes referred to as the “problem of unanswered prayer,” but I’ve noticed that unanswered prayer is a much bigger problem on some occasions than on others. If my prayer for nice weather for the church picnic goes unanswered, I can say, “Oh, well, the farmers needed the rain more than we needed the sun.” But if my prayer for my child’s survival goes unanswered, I will not say, “Oh, well…”
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Forgiveness Acts as an Identity Marker

Some of the key markers that a person is truly following Jesus are generosity, truthfulness, and faithfulness. Add to that humility, regard for enemies, and a readiness to admit wrongdoing. These are not things that immediately catch the eye, but, over time, they cannot help but become apparent.

The characteristic that stands out most strikingly against the backdrop of today’s anger culture is the Christian’s willingness to forgive. Self-righteousness is spreading more rapidly than the coronavirus and causing inestimable harm. The self-righteous can boast about many things, but the one thing they cannot do is forgive.

The telltale sign of this occurred when the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston forgave the white supremacist who killed nine of their members, including their pastor. They did so in obedience to their Lord. Yet their forgiveness sparked almost as much outrage as Dylann Roof’s mass murder.

This kind of thing is everywhere evident in our culture. Americans cannot forgive the failings (almost universal at the time) of their founding fathers nor their current leaders’ adolescent faults. Recently, the Sierra Club disowned its own founder for views he held as a young man and almost certainly came to abandon. People cannot even forgive themselves since they refuse to acknowledge their own sins.

Yet Jesus taught his followers to forgive everyone, brothers and sisters, and even enemies. Continue reading

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The Church in Biblical Images: Kingdom Colony (Phil. 1:27-30)

I am sitting in the TV lounge in the dorm during my freshman or sophomore year. There is a cluster of couches in there, all facing the television, with a dozen or more guys scattered around the room. The couch I’m on is full and my friend George Ashok Kumar Das is sitting next to me.

At some point during the movie we are watching, Taupu (that was his nickname) takes my left hand in his right. I recoil. I have no idea that in his culture, as in much of Africa and the Middle East, men hold hands as a sign of friendship and trust.

Every culture has its own customs. In Thailand, if you drop a coin and, to stop it from rolling under your car, you step on it, you might cause great offense. The image of the king’s head is on that coin, and to step on his face is a dreadful insult.

In Vietnam, if you signal to a restaurant server to come to your table, she may pour the soup in your lap because you’ve just treated her as if she were a dog. If you are caught selling chewing gum in Singapore, you could do up to two years in prison and be fined $100,000. Kingdoms and countries have their own codes regarding what it means to be a good citizen.

Those codes are sometimes exported. For example, if you were in the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington D.C. and saw two men holding hands, it might mean something quite different from what it would mean if you stepped outside onto International Drive and saw the same thing. The culture inside the embassy has been imported.

The letter we are looking at today was written to people who lived, worked, and played in an exported culture. Continue reading

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Falwell and Evangelicalism’s Theological Confusion

Evangelicalism has a problem: Evangelicals. It is not a new problem. Evangelicals have been giving evangelicalism a bad name for years. The disconnect between the gospel proclaimed by prominent evangelicals and the lifestyle exhibited by them sometimes is impossible to … Continue reading

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A (Biblical) Look into the Future

When the biblical writers looked into the future, they saw “a new heaven and a new earth.” Many of us, schooled in a Platonized version of Christianity, find this confusing. We are comfortable with the heaven part but don’t know what to do with a new earth. It is hard to see any need for it.

We’ve been taught that we are destined for a heaven that is, in Spenser’s line, “unmoving, uncorrupt, and spotless bright.” What living in such a place might entail is quite beyond anything our imaginations can conjure up. Frankly, it sounds rather boring. Still, if heaven is open to us, why will we need earth?

Besides, doesn’t the Bible teach that earth will be destroyed by fire? St. Peter wrote, “…the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,” and “everything will be destroyed.” If everything will be destroyed and we will head off to heaven, what is the point of having a new earth?

But we need to go carefully here. When St. Peter writes that everything will be “destroyed,” he is using the same word he used a few sentences earlier when he wrote that the ancient world was “deluged and destroyed.” Though he says it was “destroyed,” he clearly did not mean the Great Flood had ended the planet, only that it ended human wickedness (for a time).

Likewise, the promised final “destruction” will not annihilate creation – the planet will not be obliterated. Rather, it will remove from it all evil and everything that opposes the Creator. The future will include an earth that is purified of every evil and made right.
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The New Humanity (excerpt)

…see the sheer enormity of God’s plan. It begins with two people groups who do not get along with each other and yet are the media in which the Divine Artist is working. To accomplish his purpose, to make his … Continue reading

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The New Humanity

We are thinking about the church, what it is, what it does, and whether or not it is important. I’ve noticed that when people try to answer that last question, even church leaders, they usually do so in terms of what the church can do for a person or a family. It educates our children. It provides us with friends. It encourages us to be faithful to Christ through sermons and teaching. Its music gives us an emotional lift.

Whether or not those things are so, the true importance of the church will never fit through the narrow window of personal benefit. To evaluate the church’s importance by the benefits I accrue is like saying, “Air is important because I couldn’t dribble my basketball without it.” The importance of air extends beyond my basketball and the importance of the church extends beyond the personal benefits it provides.

Today, we will be looking at the church as imaged in Ephesians 2, but before getting into the text, let’s do a quick survey of what Ephesians has to say about the church. I think we will see is that the church has a central and extraordinary place in the purpose of God for the world.

The church, as presented in Ephesians, is headed by Jesus himself. (That is Ephesians 1:22 and 4:15). There is no other organization on earth about which that can be said. The people of the church are God’s personally chosen, glorious inheritance. (That is Ephesians 1:18.) The church is a still-under-construction yet already functioning temple in which God lives by his Spirit. (That is 2:21-22.) Continue reading

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