The number of Christians in the Middle East is dwindling. Read about it in the latest National Geographic:
Ironically, it was during the Crusades (1095-1291) that Arab Christians, slaughtered along with Muslims by the crusaders and caught in the cross fire between Islam and the Christian West, began a long, steady retreat into the minority. Today native Christians in the Levant are the envoys of a forgotten world, bearing the fierce and hunted spirit of the early church. Their communities, composed of various Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects, have dwindled in the past century from a quarter to about 8 percent of the population as the current generation leaves for economic reasons, to escape the region’s violence, or because they have relatives in the West who help them emigrate. Their departure, sadly, deprives the Levant of some of its best educated and most politically moderate citizens—the people these societies can least afford to lose. And so, for Jerusalem’s Arab Christians, there is a giddiness during Easter, as if, after a long and lonely ordeal, much needed reinforcements have arrived.
I’m not sure who RJS is, but there’s some good stuff in his post here at Scot McKnight’s blog. Read the comments, too. One of them gives this great quotation from the book.
“It is somewhat ironic, it seems to me, that both liberals and conservatives make the same error. They both assume that something worth of the title word of God would look different from what we actually have. The one accents the human marks and makes them absolute. The other wishes the human marks were not as pronounced as they were. They share a similar opinion that nothing worthy of being called God’s word would look so common, so human, so recognizable. …”
I’ll have to add it to my list.
This is excellent. I want to track Scot down and make him my best friend.
Many readers of the Bible read the whole Bible through the lens of the gospel they believe and this is what that gospel looks like:
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
But you have a sin problem that separates you from God.
The good news is that Jesus came to die for your sins.
If you accept Jesus’ death, you can be reconnected to God.
Those who are reconnected to God will live in heaven with God.
Every line of that statement is more or less true. It is the sequencing of those lines, the “story” of that gospel if you will, that concerns me and that turns Jesus’ message of the kingdom into a blue parakeet. And it is not only the sequencing, it is the omitting of major themes in the Bible that concerns me. What most shocks the one who reads the Bible as Story, where the focus is overwhelmingly on God forming a covenant community, is that this outline of the gospel above does two things: it eliminates community and it turns the entire gospel into a “me and God” or “God and me” gospel. Who needs a church if this is the gospel? (Answer: no one.) What becomes of the church for this gospel? (Answer: an organization for those who want to do that sort of thing.) While every line in this gospel is more or less true, what concerns many of us today is that this gospel makes the church unimportant.
I believe this gospel can deconstruct, is deconstructing, and will deconstruct the church if we don’t change it now. Our churches are filled with Christians who don’t give a rip about church life and we have a young generation who, in some cases, care so much about the Church they can’t attend a local church because too many local churches are shaped too much by the gospel I outlined above. To be truthful, the gospel above is a distortion of Romans. More and more of us, because we are reading the Bible as Story, are seeing the centrality of the church in God’s plan and the gospel being preached too often is out of touch with the Bible’s Story.
I dealt with some related concerns here.
There’s a good piece in the Atlantic about Flannery O’Connor:
O’Connor was dismissive of any pressure, whether of religious or secular origin, for more “positive” fiction. She saw no contradiction between her faith and her art. Just the opposite: “Because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist.” However, she stated,
the novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.
The new report from the Pew Forum is worth a look.
Among the findings:
The biggest gains due to change in religious affiliation have been among those who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith. Overall, the 2007 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” found that 16% of the adult population is unaffiliated, with the vast majority of this group (79%) reporting that they were raised in a religion as children.
Among the currently unaffiliated, large majorities of both former Catholics and former Protestants report attending worship services at least once a week as children (74% and 64%, respectively). However, regular church attendance drops dramatically by adolescence for both groups, and very few unaffiliated people report regularly attending worship services now, as adults. Unaffiliated former Catholics and former Protestants are equally unlikely to say they regularly attend worship services as adults.
Three-in-four former Catholics (75%) and former Protestants (76%) who have become unaffiliated say that many religions are partly true but no religion is completely true. Most of those who agree with this statement say this is an important reason they became unaffiliated, including 48% of former Catholics and 43% of former Protestants. About seven-in-ten (73% of former Catholics and 71% of former Protestants) say that religious organizations focus too much on rules and not enough on spirituality, with nearly half saying this is an important reason they became unaffiliated. A slightly smaller fraction of those who have become unaffiliated say that religious leaders are more concerned with money and power than they are with truth and spirituality, and about four-in-ten say this is an important reason they decided to become unaffiliated.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” –Matthew 6:5-6
Sometimes I really am just confused. How do we go from this to prayer tents at city hall?
(No, I’m not commenting on this too late. I’m really early for next year’s event.)
From an email to Andrew Sullivan.
I used to respond to critiques of Buddhism by trying to patiently explain the misunderstandings of this complex religion. I thought that sharing my own journey with some of the same issues would be helpful. However, I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I’m happy when I hear Westerners becoming disillusioned with Buddhism. Westerners are destroying Buddhism by turning it into an eclectic philosophy that supports the opinions they already believe.