Thursday, February 7, 2013

What do you think of this? Pastor Apologies for Praying at Newtown Memorial Service.

A local pastor in Newtown, Connecticut was asked to pray at the memorial service that was held after the shooting. He was not merely a local member of the clergy called in to say the benediction. One of the children killed in the shooting was from his church. The pastor attended the service and gave the closing prayer.

Now he is being criticized for participating in a service where people of other faiths were not only present but expressed prayers and words of faith. Here is a brief overview of the situation.

Pastor Rob Morris, who leads the Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown and had a young congregant die in the shooting, offered the closing benediction at the interfaith event.In an open letter posted online, Pastor Matthew C. Harrison, the president of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wrote that because of "the presence of prayers and religious readings" and the fact that "other clergy were vested for their participation," the event was a "joint worship with other religions."
"I could draw no conclusion other than that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures," Harrison wrote. "There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don't matter in the end."
Harrison then "asked Pastor Morris to apologize for taking part in the service" because he "violated the limits set by Scripture regarding joint worship" and "gave offense" to the Lutheran leadership.
A day after Harrison's letter was posted, Morris apologized in another open letter."To those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies," Morris wrote in a letter to the Lutheran leadership. "I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology."
In the same letter, however, Morris defends his decision to participate, writing that he believed his participation was "not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy.""Those who have followed the news reports are aware that this event is not quite like anything that has happened before," Morris wrote. "I believe (and I fervently pray) that my ministry will never involve a parallel situation to the one that faced my congregation and community that weekend."

See the full article here.

I will tip my hand here and admit that I don't see the problem. It is not like the pastor was attending regular services at the local mosque or was suggesting that all gods are the same. He represented a Christian voice at multi-faith service. I don't see that he did anything wrong here.

What do you think? And before you comment please keep in mind not to focus your comments on the denomination he represents since I suspect there are others who are also critical of his participation

Religious Studies Degree the # 2 Killer for Employment

Yahoo News has posted an article which lists Four Foolish Majors to Avoid. College students who have these degree are among those with the highest underemployment rate.
Here are the top four

1) Liberal Arts - unemployment rate 9.2%

2) Philosophy and Religious Studies - unemployment rate 10.8%

3) Information Systems - unemployment rate 11.7%

4) Architecture - unemployment rate 13.9%

Here is what they have to say about a degree in Philosophy and Religious studies.

Can you remember the last time you saw a "Wanted" ad that said: "Looking for a really smart person who can solve why I exist"? Neither can we - and we're guessing even Plato could recognize the need for practical skills. It seems like today's employers certainly do, too. Which is why the majors of philosophy and religious studies made our list.
"For philosophy, you need a higher degree to do anything. As for religious studies, in America, and especially in Europe, religious institutions are losing followers. So I'm not high on this degree," says Heathfield.

Susan Heathfield is a career expert and writer of's Guide to Human Resources. To some extent I agree with her comments. Anyone going into philosophy should realize that most places of employment are not looking for a resident philosopher. And since most places of employment do not feature a chapel or an office of spiritual guidance, a bachelors in philosophy and/or religious studies is probably not the best option. 

But I think she also makes an important point. In both of these degrees most people will need to have more educational training than what they receive in their first degree. Those who are interested in philosophy will most certainly need to go on for a masters degree and most likely need to earn a PhD in the same or a related subject. 

Those who are interested in religious studies, will most likely need to go on to a seminary or some other similar institution in order to find a career within their religious tradition. And if they want to teach the subject they will also need to go on for a PhD.

The difference, I think, is about getting a job versus following a calling. We are accustomed to thinking of "calling" as something that only comes from God to those who are to enter into church ministry. And perhaps that is not completely incorrect (see my posts on developing a theology of work: here and here).

But those who are interested in philosophy and religious studies should realize that they are not simply looking for a job, but a way of life. They are pursuing a career path that requires much more than getting a first degree. They are (or at least should be) committing themselves to becoming a life long learner. Their education doesn't stop with the first degree nor with the the PhD. Those are merely the tools they use to help them continue in their pursuit. 

Finally, while you may not find an employer looking for a resident philosopher you will find people you work with asking "what is the point of life." A degree in philosophy and religious studies may not help you to run an  office or operate machinery, but it will help you to make connections on the human level. And hospitals, drug companies and other types of industry need people who have been trained in these areas to help them think through the ethical implications of procedures and policies they create and use. And while religion may be indeed by on the decline in Europe and North America, I suspect the rumors of its death are much exaggerated. If history has shown us anything, it is that religion has a nasty habit of not only bouncing back, but reinventing itself for the "modern age."

So if you are looking at a degree in philosophy and/or religious studies be aware of the statistics. Keep in mind that you will probably need more than a first degree. And remember that the reason you are pursuing it is not because you want a job. It is a way of life for you and one that you want to find a way to share with others.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesdays with Thessalonians: Making disciples, not just converts

I continue with this series from Thessalonians. Today we look at 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 and the return of Timothy from Thessalonica.

 6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith

The story of Timothy’s return and Paul’s ongoing concern for the Thessalonian church should serve as in important reminder to us. The work of the gospel doesn’t end once the person has entered salvation. The apostolic anxiety that we witnessed in 3:1-5 seems to almost vanish into thin air with Timothy’s announcement of “good news.” Yet at the same time, Paul recognizes that although things are “ok” in Thessalonica, he expresses the desire to return in order to make up “what is lacking in [their] faith.” The story of Timothy’s return highlights the tension between being “saved” and knowing that God is still at work. It is an ongoing story that began with God working in Israel and continues through to this day.

An important aspect of understanding the gospel is that it is an ongoing story that requires us to play an ongoing part. God began this story way back in Genesis. As the Manila Manifesto declares God is the chief evangelist. That is, he is the one who began the story, is writing the story and will end the story. Yet, we play a role. Paul recognizes that although the Thessalonians are certainly saved, there are also aspects of their faith in which they are lacking and he wants to make sure that he gets back there to help them to continue to understand their part in God’s story. If we step back and examine Paul’s thoughts and actions here we realize that what he is doing is discipling the Thessalonians.

The act of “discipling” or the definition of who is a “disciple” is something that has sometimes been misunderstood by the church. Because Jesus’ first twelve followers were called “disciples” we sometimes assume that they are the “special ones” the ones who get it. But in reality, a disciple is someone who is living out the gospel; they are participating in the story of what God has and is doing. I like the way Tim Morey puts it in his book - Embodying our Faith when he says:

A disciple is a Christian – not the supercharged version of a Christian, one that is more mature than “ordinary” Christians or one that has been through a certain curriculum. A disciple is a person who has trusted in Jesus for salvation and consequently has enlisted as his apprentice, learning from him how to live, and becoming like him in the process. “Discipleship is the Christian life. And the goal of the Christian life is to become like Jesus.”(Morey Embodying Our Faith: Becoming a Living Sharing, Practicing Church [IVP, 2009], 83).
Morey points out that too often we understand discpling as what happens between evangelism and spiritual formation. But he also points out that the attrition between the two is quite high. This is because we confuse the gospel with selling a ticket into heaven, and discipling as what happens once the ticket is bought. The problem, however, is that the person buying the “gospel ticket” doesn't always consider or even know the cost of what they are “buying.” Once they discover “the cost” they turn and go back to where they came from. But the model Morey suggests is one that making the choice to follow Jesus is also part and parcel with learning what it means to follow Jesus. The apprentice analogy works well here. Those who want to become a carpenter don’t just get a job as one; they start out working with a carpenter and over time decide for sure if this is really for them. Morey suggests that it is the same with the Christian life. Interaction with Christians helps those who are seekers to see what being a follower of Jesus is really all about. In turn they understand that “accepting the gospel” is not simply about accepting salvation and forgiveness of sins. While that is certainly an important part of the process it is not all. They learn what it means to enter into the gospel and to become part of the story that God began writing so very long ago.

The return of Timothy demonstrates that Paul didn't simply get the Thessalonians to buy the gospel ticket. He made them apprentices, disciples of Jesus Christ. This is why in spite of Paul’s own fears for them, Timothy returns with a report that makes Paul’s pen stop and go in another direction. Yes things are difficult in Thessalonica and yes they still have much to learn. But they are apprentices of Christ who know the cost of following Christ and as a result were still there progressing in their faith as disciples when Timothy returned.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I was a stranger and you took me in: Immigration Reform and Evangelicals

It is no secret that the immigration debate in the USA has become louder, especially as the country's white majority quickly loses influence. At times, the church has (and is) behind the curve on important social issues. The below video, however, suggests that some are realizing that the we have to rethink our xenophobia and find a way to solve the problem. And for Christians, it means treating the foreigner among us the way that God commanded Israel in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus in the New Testament.

In the video and in an open  letter to President Obama and other national leaders, they ask not only for leadership and action on the issue, but the chance to meet the leaders and support them.

Read the article about Evangelical Immigration Table at