Reflections on Sticky Faith and The King Jesus Gospel (RJS)

Last summer Scot posted a few times on the book Sticky Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. This book contains a wealth of good advice for parents, especially parents of younger children looking for ways to build faith in their children. The book also discusses the kinds of things that churches can do to help build what they call “Sticky Faith” in their youth. I have a few doubts about this material, whether what Powell and Clark suggest will really have an impact.

Among the statistics Powell and Clark start off with: 40-50% of those who graduate from a church or youth group will fail to stick with faith in college. (I’d give a page number but the e-book doesn’t have them; one of the real draw backs for scholarly work). This is nothing to write home about, but not apocalyptic either.

Another statistic to consider: Of those who leave faith in college 30 to 60% will return by their late 20′s or early 30′s.

So we are left with a statistic – if the future matches the past – suggesting that of the kids currently in church and youth groups 65 to 84% will retain or return to faith. The error range is fairly large – but according to the statistics they give under the current arrangements in the mix we will “lose” something like 16% to 35% of the youth currently in our church youth groups; that is something between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6. Again the number is not apocalyptic requiring massive changes, but is large enough for some concern; especially if the “loss” is in the range of 1 out of every 3.

What does this mean for the church?

Can the percentage “retained” be higher?

What should we be doing?

Now I would like to turn to another statistic. This one, I think, even more concerning. During the summer of 2010 I put up a series of posts on the fascinating book by Elaine Howard Ecklund Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (well fascinating to me anyway, but then I was part of her survey pool). Among other things Ecklund looked at the correlation between childhood religion and adult faith among professors in chemistry, physics, biology,  sociology, economics, political science, and psychology at 21 “elite” universities and found the following trends:

There is a significant drop in faith among the social and natural scientists surveyed here – pretty much all of whom are beyond their late twenties and early thirties. Well over 50% for both Catholics and Protestants. Of the ca. 18% who remain Protestant Christians something like 10% are liberal or nominal Christians, about 8% hold an orthodox Christian faith. The majority of those who retain a Catholic identity are also on the liberal side of the spectrum.

Scientists are not unique in this trend. I don’t have the statistics at hand and Ecklund didn’t investigate this – but the percentages of Christians among faculty in in the other social sciences and humanities are not much different. The percentages who retain faith or return to faith among faculty in the various professional schools are somewhat higher I believe. The exact numbers are not relevant to my argument here.  The trend are less pronounced, but similar among broader groups of faculty, including the range of institutions from community colleges to elite universities (Gross and Simmons “The Religiosity of American College and University Professors” Sociology of Religion 2009 70:2 101-129).

When I originally posted this chart I considered a number of possible explanations for these trends.

(1) Education removes the reason for God. If God is simply an explanation for gaps in understanding this is a plausible explanation.

(2) Education introduces a dissonance, a conflict, between the evidence and the faith. Young earth, evolution, and old testament studies are all places where this comes into play.

(3) The University environment may be hostile to faith. There can be pressure, both overt and subtle leave the faith. To lose the respect of one’s peers is a severe and real possibility.

(4) The group may be self-selected. Education itself doesn’t cause loss of faith – rather people of faith tend to pursue other career paths.

(5) Education doesn’t cause loss of faith – rather loss of faith precedes the Ph.D. In her book Ecklund related stories by several scientists who comment on bad experiences growing up in the church.

All of these are part of the answer, and other factors are likely at play as well. Today I would like to look at this a little differently and ask a question. Will any of the suggestions in Sticky Faith make a difference in this trend?

I think the trend in the chart above is the tip of the iceberg as we look to the future. These are the culture makers in our society today. These people are training almost all of those who go on to teach in the broader range of colleges and universities. These are my colleagues and friends.  I think we are going to see a change with much of society at large following this path. In the long run I am not a pessimist because I think God is in control, but in the short run I think that there will be deep changes.

I don’t think enculturation, parental involvement, or sending high school and college kids to teach Sunday School will make a significant difference unless … unless it is coupled with an intentional and deep teaching … intentional teaching … of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is missing from most of the advice books, youth ministry books, and Sunday School curricula I’ve read.

Scot hits the nail on the head in his King Jesus Gospel. We have a salvation culture not a gospel culture. And a salvation culture will not produce the Sticky Faith that reverses the trend above.

Read your Sunday School Curriculum sometime … and ask what take home lesson it gives the children and youth. Does it teach the need for personal salvation – and the bible as a collection of stories with moral application for everyday life? The story of David and Jonathon teaches them how to be friends, David and Absalom teaches the necessity to obey one’s parents and other authorities. We skip Jeptha and Achan, most of the Pentateuch, and almost all of the prophets. And the bible makes little sense.

Ask what you as adults are being taught (or perhaps teaching). Is it a selection of sermons again emphasizing moral lessons for every day life? Are the teachings of Jesus connected with the vision of Jesus as Messiah and Lord?

When naturalism is on the rise and belief in life after death is becoming, at least in popular opinion, an ancient superstition that we’ve out grown, a salvation culture has little to offer and nothing that sticks in the face of the questions and challenges.

Read Jeff Clark’s post from yesterday again.

I moved back toward Jesus when I studied, really for the first time, his personality—his magnetically keen personality and the kinds of decisions he made at the end of his life. When looking at those details I not only said, “Yes, this God is real,” but better still, “Yes, and I want this God to be real.”

My story is a little different from Jeff’s. I never walked away, save a brief stretch in graduate school. But what gave me the kind of faith to invest in writing on this blog and leaves me yearning for more opportunities was not salvation accompanied by moral stories and practical advice from the Bible. It was the gospel of Jesus Christ, something that only really began to make sense to me through NT Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus, his larger books, and a sermon series that studied Matthew 5-7 and presented the sermon on the mount as a whole, not as a bunch of short isolated moral lessons.

The only thing we have to offer is the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the focus of the entire Scripture and of the Church. Frankly, I’d rather write on this than the question of Adam, but to Adam we will return in the next post, to Paul’s Adam and his relationship to the Gospel that Paul preached.

I could go on and say more here – but this is enough for today.

What do you think?

What really produces a sticky faith? And what should the church be doing about it?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

If you are interested here is a breakdown of the distribution of religious traditions for both adult scientists and general adults in the chart above:

 

  • http://timmhallman.blogspot.com Tim Hallman

    Christian Smith in his book, the Bible Made Impossible, hits on similar themes of why Christian youth and young adults walk away from the church and their faith. Smith focuses on how Evangelicals, and Protestants in general, tend to read the Bible. He uses Dr. Bart Ehrman as an example of someone who grew up reading the Bible, but then with more education, was confronted with an understanding of the Bible that caused a crisis and eventually an abandonment of faith. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but it’s a familiar story. McKnight and Wright offer up compelling and fresh understandings of Resurrection and the Gospel – the kind that will force a new kind of reading of the Bible, and a new way of living out our faith. Preachers like myself will need to rework their schedules in order to make more time for reorienting themselves to what and how they teach, in light of what Smith, Wright, McKnight, and others are suggesting. There has to be a change within ministers who are “preaching” the gospel.

  • Rick

    Great post!

    “I don’t think enculturation, parental involvement, or sending high school and college kids to teach Sunday School will make a significant difference unless … unless it is coupled with an intentional and deep teaching … intentional teaching … of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is missing from most of the advice books, youth ministry books, and Sunday School curricula I’ve read.”

    Amen.

    It has become the Moralist Therapeutic Deism C. Smith warned about, with a slice of a soterian gospel thrown in (sometimes, even that is not thrown in).

    How often is it not just about what is happening in Sunday school and the youth department, it is also about a churches constantly having the next series about marriage, finances, parenting, etc… Our youth see that emphasis, and know little about the “King Jesus” gospel. Why would they? That is not the pattern they have grown up with, so they don’t see that Jesus is the point.

  • http://www.wyattroberts.com Wyatt Roberts

    “[T]he number is not apocalyptic” 1-in-3 sounds extremely apocalyptic to me, per The Book of Revelation :)

  • RJS

    Wyatt,

    First, 1 in 3 is the worst scenario they find and I think the accurate numbers are closer to the 1 in 6.

    Second, I think this is something that needs attention, but not something that should send us into a crisis mode panic.

  • Alan K

    The habit of the church in the modern era has been to conflate worldview and the Word of God. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is merely the latest symptom of this. In college (and perhaps even earlier now) when the weltanschauung of youth group or local church or evangelical culture gets updated or improved or supplanted, this conflation gets exposed and the shrinking down of Jesus Christ that the conflation necessitated becomes evident. Consequently, one wonders to what extent is Jesus Christ real in this merger of worldview and Word of God.

  • Barb

    a couple of thoughts:
    Make sure that children and then youth are taught the “King Jesus Gospel” first and foremost–NOT–”Why our church is the best/only way”
    Continue to provide true encouragement to students when they go off to college–don’t just leave that up to parents. Engage in deep meaningful conversation with them when they visit on breaks (instead of “what’s your major, and what are you going to do with that?”)
    Allow/encourage students to visit/participate in different traditions–don’t assume they’ve gone off the deep if they now prefer attending something other than the church they were raised in.

  • PLTK

    Perhaps I am missing something here (and perhaps the n was too small and thus subject to bias), but doesn’t the chart indicate that those from non-religious background are much more likely to have an affiliation when adults? Were there any explanation proffered for that? Science draws you to religious faith if you don’t bring to its study all sorts of religious baggage? Bias from international students (particularly Chinese, of whom I know several in this category) who come to study, then are drawn to faith and stay as faculty here?

  • RJS

    PLTK,

    Where do these charts seem to indicate a growth of faith among those originally from non-religious backgrounds? I don’t really understand your question. The top chart gives a picture of the childhood backgrounds of current scientists and the current faith commitments of the same set of people. This is compared with the same numbers for the general population.

  • PLTK

    I could be misinterpreting the chart–but in the top chart, for those indicating “none” (final set to the right), for scientists, in childhood approx 12% indicated religious affiliation, but in adulthood this number is over 50%. This is opposed to general population “nones” who had a much smaller growth in affiliation.

  • phil_style

    If I may be rather blunt: It seems quite clear to me that people leave the faith because they come to the opinion that it is nonsense.

    Of course, the “remnant” are not really concerned about the loss, because for them, being contrarian (“counter-cultural”) is a sign that they are right in God’s eyes.

  • Matt

    I am a scientist who grew up in a Protestant family. I left Christianity after college in my early 30s because I was tired of believing in something that didn’t work. The christian bible presents story after story of people doing dangerous and uncomfortable things because of their faith and often being rewarded with miracles. I’ve known hundreds of Christians from all over the world but have never met one whose life was anything like that described in the bible. I did meet a number of people who did scary or uncomfortable things, including myself, because of their faith, but never encountered a miracle. I heard claims of miracles but the claims were either dishonest or mistaken. What is the point of a religious book that contains so much that is irrelevant to daily life? Why spill so much ink about the miracles of Jesus and his teaching about faith and miracles if it’s not relevant to my life right now? These are not asides in the gospels, they are central (John 14-17 anyone?). After leaving Christianity, I discovered a new joy in living. Suddenly “little” things like breathing and being with friends took on a deeper meaning. Against a Christian background the goodness of these things was not as easy to see. The mystery of life alone evokes all the religious experience I need.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    RJS,

    I know. Let me say some of it in my words, a mixture of hypothesis and status.

    I would never have had the courage to say what I say next, except for the experience of my children, of which 2 out of 3 now professes atheism. I was harassed outright in both my neighborhood growing up and in my school for thinking that I am “better” than others because of the way I thought about things. This has plagued me my entire life as I strove to be like the others. So I refused to believe I may have a better view of the gospel than many others, and so I searched other places to find substance to my faith. My children have clarified it for me. If it is simply about me being good and believing in questionable assertions (such as Noah, literal Gen etc) then I don’t want to do that because I cannot believe in that. But that is what Christianity is in most places. If that is what it is then I too am an atheist.

    I felt that if Jesus coming to earth was just about me being in heaven then that is a shallow pursuit that does not inspire me in the slightest. My picture of God is that he is more than me, better than me, not more shallow than me.

    My kids have access to more information than I did and live in a more black and white culture (the south), so they reached this crisis earlier on in life than me. Frankly I am proud of where they are. They are rejecting a Christianity that I feel is a false teaching, and I think they are better Christians than most who profess the faith. They will need to mature enough to go against the society of shallow faith before they can stand up to the world and acknowledge the supposed foolishness of their views, I think Jesus would be proud.

    Having said all of that: I believe that current Christian teaching does help with a great number of people. Even in the most negative of your stats, 2/3rds are still with the faith. But I have to wonder if it is the faith that Jesus left with us.

    Am I arrogant for thinking that I want more than a personal savior to ensure I have eternal life? I want a King to rule the world, and to bring all into harmony within our existence. I want a big god. I now believe that Jesus is my God, and I wish that Christianity taught it the way that I could consume it.

    Summary – Different things produce a sticky faith for different people. Why can’t we teach that there are many different parts to the body and while having a personal savior is fine for some, and rocking a worship service is fine for others, for some it requires a god that will save the world, not just the individual.

    I won’t be able to write for the next couple hours…

  • Joe Canner

    PLTK #9: The top chart is saying that only 12% of scientists had no religious affiliation as children, but 50% of scientists had no religious affiliation as adults. This corresponds to the drop in Protestant and Catholic affiliation between childhood and adulthood for scientists.

  • phil_style

    @Matt, #11 and DRT, #12

    Your replies have win written all over them.

  • PLTK

    Ah-ha. That makes much more sense. An embarrassing example of taking one framework to interpret a problem and not being able to think outside of it.

  • Sue

    Matt,

    What if it isn’t about your “religious experience” and was never intended to be? What if religion isn’t a commodity that delivers religious goods and services?

    You’ve never witnessed a miracle and don’t know anyone who has, so therefore you say that a book about them is irrelevant. What kind of scientific postulate is that?

    If you applied that logic to other things, wouldn’t you be laughed out of the scientific community?

  • phil_style

    @Sue, I think Matt’s observation goes a lot deeper than his comment allows. Christianity, and Christians place a great deal of emphasis on the intervention of the supernatural into the natural. It’s no wonder that when folks look around and seriously think about whether this supernatural intervention is really going on they become disillusioned with the whole thing.

    I grew up being taught that “faith” was enough to see all sorts of crazy things happen. None of these things happened – thus faith was all but destroyed.

    Now, it might be an unfair characterisation of Christianity, but for so many of us, this is the product we were sold. And oh, how they sold it to us.

  • http://josephgibsonelliott.blogspot.com/ Joey

    I have been participating on this blog a fair amount in the last couple of months, for reasons that are hard to explain here.

    I don’t feel it necessary to add to this post with any specific thoughts or takes on the many thoughts already offered.

    However, I would like to say:

    RJS – this was an excellent post. I hear your heart that you would rather write on this than on the question of Adam, and I appreciate it. I will more quickly read your thoughts on Adam because of it. This connects the tension of science and faith with the definition of the Gospel that I know Scot is so passionate about in very profound and helpful ways. Thank you.

    DRT – thanks for sharing, my friend. I don’t know really what to say, so I just wanted to say I hear you.

    Matt – I regret your experience with Christianity. I won’t dispute it either. But I can tell you that my experience has been the exact opposite. There is nothing more relevant to my life than the Bible. And Christianity to me is not an it, but a He. Jesus. If I were to leave, it would be Him that I was leaving. I’m not trying to convince you of anything – just relating my experience for whatever it may be worth. I wish I could unpack it more.

  • Matt

    @Sue
    What I have done is not at all unscientific because Jesus did not promise one miracle, he promised a miraculous life, at least that is what is reported in the Bible. This is not a case of claiming there are no unicorns because I have never seen one. Jesus and his disciples made it clear that miracles should be common among Christians. I am well aware that Christianity is more than just good or service. However, when a promise is made but not kept, then the person who promised it was either lying or powerless to keep the promise. Either way, Jesus is not who he said he was.

  • Kenny Johnson

    Haven’t read the other comments yet, but I wanted to share…

    I’ve recently purchased Peter Enns’ curriculum (Telling God’s Story) in order to supplement whatever teaching he’ll get in Sunday school classes. What I really like about Enns’ approach is that the sole focus of the teaching for the first 4 years (Grades 1-4) is on Jesus’ teachings and ministry. I’ve read through the first lesson and loved it. So my son isn’t just learning some morality tales, but he’s learning about (and from) Jesus. The later years will broaden the focus to the grand story of the Bible. Here’s the website for the curriculum: http://olivebranchbooks.net/tgs.html

    It’s also available from Amazon (where I purchased it).

  • AHH

    I wonder if the results here for “scientists” are really representing departure from the faith not just by scientists but more generally by those who think critically, who see shades of gray, whose personal style includes questioning authority. All those things are not very welcome in most Evangelical church culture.
    I do agree with RJS that teaching the Jesus-centered story (as opposed to making it all about personal salvation connected to black/white propositions) would help this problem. Making churches a safe place to wrestle with doubts and questions would also help.

  • Kenny Johnson

    @Matt,
    “Jesus and his disciples made it clear that miracles should be common among Christians. ”

    Honestly, it was not that clear to me. I never thought what was happening in the Gospel was expected to be “ordinary.” I know some Pentecostals and Charismatics lean more that way, but that’s not how I’ve ever understood it.

    The way I see it now is that Jesus’ miracles were purposeful for His mission. Announcing the Kingdom of God.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    AHH#21, you are clearly right. Scientists are just one example of people who, by and large, exhibit certain approaches toward the world. I have met scientists that would fit in quite well with the non-scientist categories….and they really frustrate me.

    I had a boss who would say “never try to teach a pig to dance, it frustrates you and annoys the pig”. This has helped my tremendously in my life. When I feel frustrated with someone I am able to step out of it and look at their perspective and see if they are annoyed by me. Generally they are.

    I am certain that I annoy quite a few people….

  • Susan N.

    AHH (#21) – I’m not a scientist, but I have a hard time blindly accepting authority, no questions asked. That does not produce a healthy faith. I hope that both of my children learn faithful obedience to Christ from love and not fear, and never fall prey to confusion of the two.

  • http://www.seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

    I hear you too, RJS. I would think that scientists are so tied into the “logical” side of things that sometimes the experiential is difficult to know or partake in. I am not so sure that I agree with your prediction/fear, however. Science teachers have not done a very good job (public school setting) of convincing the general public that evolution is true, much to the chagrin of many people! The statistics are rather astounding on that. Most of the time, I envy those who are obviously more intelligent than I am – but other times I wonder if the logic-driven brain isn’t a bit handicapped when it comes to the experiential. The experiential isn’t any less important to faith than that which can be plotted on a graph.

    Matt, my heart has been a bit sad all day after reading your words, and I wanted to kindly respond. I hope that I am not offensive *at all,* and if I am, forgive me in advance. I am genuinely sorry for your experiences with religion and the god who didn’t seem to come thru – Ever. Period. I have experienced that at times – young children suffer horrible diseases even though everyone prayed, young fathers die, leaving behind children. Yes, it happens, and I always ask “why?”

    I came very close to losing my husband last year of sepsis that settled in a hip joint and took over his blood stream. He suffered so much, was cut open, cleaned out, put back together. I was carrying our ninth baby – and we found out I had a rare blood disorder. I was caring for our other children, and my two elderly parents at the same time. One of our sons was beaten up when he walked home from a job. Our five year old was airlifted after a severe head injury. All this, and so much more. I watched so many of my friends suffer.

    Why do I tell you this? Well….I am not sure. :) Mostly because….miracles do still happen. Not always like we think – but sometimes. :) I’ve seen my father come back from a three month coma after the doctors told us to unplug the machines because his brain scans showed decline and his extremities were beginning to turn inward. That was 18 years ago. He learned to walk and talk and write and drive all over again – but God gave him life and he has remained to get to know and love all of my children. He is a brilliant, articulate man who experienced a genuine miracle. (I guess that I should state that I’m from a mainline church, not charismatic.)

    I’ve seen my husband rebound to good health, to have his old job replaced with one that is twice as good. I’ve given birth to a perfectly healthy little boy. My five year old is totally whole and as much of a risk taker as ever. (!) My boy who was mugged has struggled….but he is still here and still striving to get to know God. My parents are old, but they are still here…and they have been blessed.

    Sometimes miracles happen quickly, in the “twinkling of an eye.” Sometimes, so slowly we forget that we even asked for them. Other times, the miracle takes place within the heart of the individual. The miracles in the heart are the most hidden, but some of the most amazing!

    Why trials? Why not the quick meeting of needs? Well….nothing is wasted with God. If you stick with it long enough, you will be able to look back and see how He can turn even the really, really horrible stuff into something that is usable in God’s kingdom. (Example: I was molested and abused as a child. Yes, that was horrible. Yes, it took years to work through and overcome. I now see, though, how God has never left my side, and how he uses those experiences in my life to comfort others who have been hurt in the same way. He makes us stronger yet more compassionate through trials, if we let Him.)

    One thing I have learned thru trials is that God doesn’t “owe” us the miracle. If that’s the only reason we have faith, then our faith isn’t really *that,* it’s superstition. I think it is important to stop seeing God as the “controller,” as the “cause” of all things – good or bad. God really wants us to love Him without demands. He wants us to seek to know Him, to judge Him on His character, not on what He can do for us. He wants us to trust Him with what we can not (yet) understand. Big picture stuff. I also believe that the Jesus that I know represents the complete heart of God. I believe that God is motivated from Love, and that one day – He will completely set ALL THINGS right. He is going to flip all of the loss and pain that happens here upside down – and somehow – He will restore all that his been lost, especially to those who have suffered for Him.

    Have you read Scot’s book on the King Jesus Gospel, or NT Wright’s Simply Jesus? They are “simply” paradigm shifting in terms of how I read the Bible.

    Warmly ~ from a friend.

  • http://www.seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

    p.s. (How could I possibly say more?)

    Just this: Sometimes, the miracles come thru the wisdom of doctors and the hard work and tireless research and study of scientists and of the medical community. I am SO grateful for this! Also, so grateful to be humble witnesses for God and His love in that place of deep pain and need.

  • Matt

    @Holly
    I appreciate your comments. Much of what you say is what I used to say to other people and to myself. You have faced a lot of adversity and you haven’t stopped living. I have respect for you. I think, however, that your comments miss the point. I have no problem with adversity. It’s by fighting that I have become stronger and more mature. Apparently Jesus and I would agree with this. I never expected God to save me from all adversity, or even any adversity at all. I did however expect to see evidence of God’s intervention in the world. The gospels promised it. I can’t believe that anyone can read the gospels, especially John 14-17, and claim that miracles were just a sign that was relevant 2000 years ago but no longer relevant now. Jesus is reported to have scolded his disciples for their lack of faith when they could not cast out a demon. Can any Christian seriously believe either that demons no longer possess people or that it is no longer relevant to cast them out if they do? Perhaps it was just not the cool things for demons anymore. Have you ever heard of a mainline church casting out a demon? I tried the liberal thing before leaving Christianity as a last resort, to give up on Jesus-style miracles and to treat the stories of miracles more as lessons for me rather than events that might be repeated in any literal way. The stories do indeed contain some good lessons, but I quickly realized that the stories were in no way necessary to the lessons. In fact, the lessons could be taught through stories that resembled my daily life, a life devoid of the miracles described in Bible. I then became more aware than ever before that just breathing, just being alive for few years is a remarkable miracle to be thankful for, that chasing after eternal life is the ultimate insult to such an amazing miracle.

    I have not read the books you mentioned, however, from their descriptions I can tell that I have read many books like them. I used to be a pastor.

  • RJS

    Thanks Matt,

    I am sorry that your track has been what you describe, but you make my point better than I can make it myself.

    If Christianity is presented only as miracle stories, bible stories as providing moral lessons for everyday life, and the promise of eternal life with God it will increasing lose relevance for large segments of people.

    I think it is far more than this – which is why I continue writing here.

  • Matt

    @RJS
    I certainly agree with about relevance. It seems though that nearly everyone is misunderstanding my point about miracles. I’m not saying that the Bible or Christianity boils down only to miracles or miracle stories. I bring up miracles because they are one of the easiest tests for validity. If the Bible or Jesus make predictions about the future, then I should be able to evaluate the validity of their other claims by how well the future agrees with their predictions. I find that Christians either admit to having no experience with Jesus-style miracles and apply all sorts of complicated interpretations to Jesus’ words to suggest that we shouldn’t expect any such experience, or else they run around making unsupported claims about miracle experiences.

    That said, there are parts of Jesus’ teaching and indeed of others as well that is reveals a far more mature understanding of a life based on real love for others in which miracles are irrelevant. These are the parts of Christianity that speak to me. For example, there is the contrast between the standard Christian view of heaven as some kind of paradise like the Garden of Eden where nothing bad happens and the one described in the last few chapters of Revelation. Superficially the city of Revelation is an actual city with golden streets, but a closer reading reveals that the city is an allegory, a city whose walls, buildings and streets are actually composed of people. The city of God is actually a body of people. To be a desirable destination, you would have to really love being with these people because they are all you get. The letters of Paul go off into so many irrelevant topics and distracting tangents, but in the middle there is this gem found in 1Cor 13 that perfectly fits. The death of Jesus sounds like such a great story of sacrificial love until the resurrection. What a disappointing turn of events! Who wouldn’t go through crucifixion if afterward they would be resurrected and given all power in the universe. It’s no longer about something mature like love but rather about power, and for the Christian being on the team that has all the power and access to eternal paradise. Such a story reminds me more of something I’d see on Saturday morning cartoons … forces of evil battling against the forces of good … than from a wise creator.

  • RJS

    Thanks Matt,

    You’ve given me a lot to think through here – and some ideas for future posts. I don’t agree with some of your conclusions, but not in a way I can easily describe in a short comment.


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