You've reached the shared blog of Michael Mckay and Todd Frederick. Two friends who have worked together in ministry and labored in similar educational endeavors. Please join us as we consider the interaction of Christianity with modern culture...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Food flow control diagram.

If you double click, it should open in a new window and you can read it. In an effort to control hungry teens, I have created a convenient diagram. They don't appreciate it, but it seems to have slowed the consumption of... everything.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Theological Emergency

“9-1-1, what is the nature of your emergency?” is the standard question when the emergency services operator answers your call for help. This phone call has the potential to unleash the power of the state in response to a diverse array of natural and man-caused disasters. The person on the other end has to digest the panic-driven information you give and send the appropriate authority.

“Yes…. I need help…”

“Go ahead, sir, what kind of help do you need?”

“I need the police… there’s been a… disturbance…”

“What kind of a disturbance, sir?”

The sensitive recording devices pick up the minute nuances of your tense breathing, ragged as you seek the words to describe in concise and exact detail the breach of public peace.

“It’s …. it’s….a dispute about theology…”

You can feel the deflation and confusion on the part of the operator. Poised to unleash the helping hands of the ambulance and the pacifying presence of the police department, no button exists to summon the doctors of theology to settle this manner of conflict.

While our modern world disconnects the exercise of church and civil authority, John Calvin’s world did not. Disputes over theology regularly boiled over into the realm of governmental authority as no real line separates church and state. Everyone was involved in the theological and political climate of the day and disagreeing with John Calvin publicly was, well, a bad idea.

Jerome Bolsec publicly disagreed with Calvin over the issue of predestination, identifying a dark side to the doctrine that makes God the author of evil. Whatever one’s opinion of the matter, what punishment should this man have received? This doctrine begs for controversy, even among the most zombie-fied bodies of churchgoers. Perhaps a sharp rebuke in public or a special business meeting of the church body addressing the wayward soul in fervent hopes of restoration? No such thing! In this case, Bolsec received a warning, but remained unrepentant. His arrest followed and he spent over a month in prison before being banished from Geneva. Seemingly harsh, at least he avoided execution; comparatively rare in Geneva, but a possible option in the sixteenth century. The tight connection between religious and civic life in Calvin’s world morphs into our post-modern abandonment of religious influence in public life.

Disconnecting religion and civic life creates a void in our discussion of public policy issues. Religion informs our total worldview, and our public discourse desperately needs a secure ethical (and perhaps even epistemological) foundation. But perhaps the relationship should only move one way: from religion to public life, with limited interference the other way. This allows the best of religion to inform public life and keep some of us out of jail.

“Sir, hang on… I’ve got the police coming out now… “

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can Cultural Relativism help you in your dating relationship?

Cultural Relativism is the ethical belief that we should determine what behaviors are moral based on what our culture determines is moral. In other words what we "ought" to do and "ought not" to do are determined by the specific cultural group we live amongst. It seems that more and more Christians are being taught the problems and weaknesses of relativism. Most likely we identify the belief by the popular phrase, "That is true for you, but not for me."

Perhaps though you have found yourself in a conversation with someone who espouses Cultural Relativism and were at a lack for words to help them see the weaknesses of it. Even though we as Christians can identify ethical relativism when we spot it, we still may feel like we don't have an easy way to point out the weakness of this system in a conversation. Cultural Relativism is full of weaknesses, but I thought I would give one that can easily be used in conversation and provide an illustration as well.

1) The Weakness - Cultural Relativism can only describe moral behavior; it cannot prescribe moral behavior. Relativism can only tell us what is going on in any certain culture; much like an anthropologist would. It fails to be able to prescribe what we "ought" and "ought not" to do. This is a huge failure, because it means that ultimately I cannot make a moral decision because I have no standard that I "ought" to do.
2) The Illustration - Imagine an American man who travels to Kenya and meets a Japanese lady. They become romantically involved, and someone suggests that they move in together. Assuming the man and the woman are Cultural Relativists, how do they decide whether this is ethical? Do they use the man's North American model for dating? Do they use the woman's Asian model for dating? Or do they use the African model where they are living? All the Cultural Relativist can do is to describe the different beliefs that each of the three perspectives would have. In no way can it actually cut through the culture and say what "ought" to be done. In other words, epic fail.

Normally for a person to change their mind, they need to see some problem with the view they are holding. This is a fairly non-confrontational way to help Cultural Relativists see the non-sequitur nature of their ethical system. Hopefully, it can lead to a chance to share the Christian worldview, specifically the Gospel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Calvin on Prayer...

It’s easy to understand where someone lands in the stratification of the middle class by applying a simple rubric. When a middle class person tells you they had to put a water pump on their vehicle, the upper middle class person is informing you that the dealer identified a problem with their water pump and replaced it, usually under warranty. A person in the middle of the middle class has a water pump put on by a mechanic, usually professional, but occasionally one who works from home at a discount. The lower end of the middle class replaces the water pump in the garage occasionally with help from neighbors and friends.

This is the situation I found myself in Thursday evening. I had a leaky water pump, and I usually take a little time off school work on Thursdays. What better way to enjoy a lower middle class night off than to replace the water pump on my truck? Taking my daughter’s boyfriend out to the cold garage, we began the project with an estimated time to completion of about two hours. Two hours came and went (along with the boyfriend) and there I sat. Everything had been completely disassembled except one nut, which refused to budge despite repeated efforts, larger tools and the application of salty language.

I needed help.

John Calvin identifies the hopeless state of the believer who recognizes that he greatly needs all that God provides. He says:
"We are taught by faith to know that all the good we need and which we lack in ourselves is in God and in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father has established all the fullness of His blessings and abundance so that we may draw everything from there as from a very full fountain."

The persistent fact that we need God often escapes our immediate notice as we hammer away at our problem. God does not always provide immediate solutions, but often uses difficult circumstances to reorient our attention from the earthly conundrum to His heavenly person. Communication with this heavenly person starts with a deep sense of need.

Releasing the stuck nut proved much easier once I took the water pump to the auto parts store. As the mechanic used an air hammer to knock it loose, he looked at me and said, ‘you know, this is easier when it’s on the truck.’ I thanked him for his help, humbly picked up my parts, went home and finished my project, learning a dual lesson in self-reliance and recognition of need.

Whichever level of the middle class one identifies with, all commonly recognize need in different circumstances. While the lower middle class mechanic handles his own auto repairs, he or she seeks an upper middle class doctor for medical services. The reverse is also true. Everyone, regardless of socio-economic class must recognize their pervasive need of God. Without asking, one neither receives help nor effects growth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Christianizing Politics

Having recently finished the election cycle, I’m hopeful that the influx of different people sends the right kind of message to the people who are still there. In the swirling mix of news items crying for desperate attention an article in a recent Christian publication reminds us of the importance of… food.

Yes, dear Christian reader, make sure that in your ongoing worship of God you pay close attention to the source and ‘fairness’ of the food you consume, the basic content of the article.

While the author offers important caveats and qualifications for her opinions, I can’t help but wonder if this is really the most important focus of Christianity’s global agenda? It seems to me that this is a political agenda which wants to wear the mantle of divine sanction, in this case from a left-leaning animal rights/distributive justice agenda. The political right does not remain immune to this kind of criticism. It looks like everyone wants to receive the divine unction and wear the robe of ‘Christianity:’ when wearing that suit suits the agenda.

The mantle of Christianity belongs to Christ alone. We would do better to wear it as his followers and interact with our culture intelligently. Perhaps the most important aspect of our lives as Christians is not what we eat, but a distinctively restored relationship to Him, to our families and to our communities. Instead of worrying about the content of the meal, we should share a meal with someone around us.

Talk about your faith…

and pass the sausage…

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Measuring theology

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be in seminary. While I sometimes wish I had the advantage of youth, as some of my peers do, middle age brings important temperance to youth’s enthusiasm. As my friends and I discuss theological topics, one important fact continues to surface. When you are confronted with a decision about theology: it really depends on who you talk to. Just about every position claims Scriptural authority, interpretational superiority, historical precedent, logical consistency and resonance with real life.

Different theological perspectives rely on divergent interpretations of the same passages of Scripture. These interpretations and their consequences and logical implications become the bricks and mortar of systematic theologies. Many discussions, both lay and professional, take place in the realm of competing systems of theology and not at the level of biblical or exegetical theology. In order to arrive at a conclusion about the competing views of Calvinism and Arminianism, the discussion must move into exegetical and biblical theology.

Three key positions beg for validation from the biblical witness. The Calvinist position understands election as individual and arbitrary, predestination shows God’s meticulous control of all things, and His divine knowledge of the future determines what will or will not happen. As with any theology, problems arise from the consequences of these beliefs. Individual arbitrary election requires compatibilist free will; meticulous sovereignty assigns the cause of evil to God; foreknowledge as foreordination can lead to fatalism. The Calvinist position looks askance at the Arminian understanding of these doctrines and vice versa. For the Arminians, God elects based on foreseen faith, exercises more general sovereignty and knows the future without determining it. These positions attract criticism which posits a diminution of God’s sovereignty. Both perspectives strive to remain true to Scripture and history marshalling ranks of experts both historical and modern to debate, defend and explain the superiority of their position.

My personal perspective on this discussion requires a longer term project. This task starts by collating the competing passages of Scripture, understanding them in context, tracing historical development and discerning the competing interpretations before deciding which set of interpretations resonates best with the entire biblical witness. Perhaps I will be able to incorporate this into my degree program at some point, particularly since time is the graduate student’s most precious resource, even scarcer than money!