Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Christianity Transformed Civilization :: part 1

Many are familiar with the 1946 film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein the character played by Jimmy Stewart gets a chance to see what life would be like had he never been born. The main point of the film is that each person’s life has an impact on everybody else’s life. Had they never been born, there would be gaping holes left by their absence. This is certainly true of every human that has ever been created, most notably one – Jesus Christ. He has had an enormous impact – more than anybody else – on history. Had He never come, the hole would be a canyon about the size of a continent.[i]

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His garments, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as the one solitary life.[ii] This week we will look at a few of the affects that the cause of Christ has had on civilization.

Yet, we live in an age in which only one prejudice is tolerated – antichristian bigotry. Michael Novak, the eminent columnist, once said that today you can no longer hold up to public pillorying and ridicule groups such as African-Americans or Native Americans or women or homosexuals, and so on. Today the only group you can hold up to public mockery are Christians. Attacks on the Church and Christianity are common. As Pat Buchanan once put it, “Christian-bashing is a popular indoor sport.”

But the truth is this: Had Jesus never been born, this world would be far more miserable than it is. In fact, many of man’s noblest and kindest deeds find their motivation in love for Jesus Christ; and some of our greatest accomplishments also have their origin in service rendered to the humble Carpenter of Nazareth.[iii]

Napoleon, who was well accustomed to political power, said that it would be amazing if a Roman emperor could rule from the grave, and yet that is what Jesus has been doing. (We would disagree with him, though, in that Jesus is not dead; He’s alive.) Napoleon said: “I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel . . . nations pass away, thrones crumble, but the Church remains.”[iv]

Despite its humble origins, the Church has made more changes on earth for the good than any other movement or force in history. This week we will only highlight a few contributions Christianity has made to civilization, and we will only be able to scrap the surface of each of those touched on. There are volumes of historical accounts substantially validating each of the following. (If you would like to study any of the items discussed this week in further, it would be recommended that you read Under the Influence by Alvin J. Schmidt and What if Jesus had Never Been Born by James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. Under the Influence would be recommended for grander research and thoroughness, though it may be harder to locate than the other.) That being the case, below is a bullet list of a few of the many positive contributions Christianity has made through the centuries.

“We must consider
that Christianity’s ‘initial thrust’
has hurled ‘acts and ideas’
not only ‘across centuries,’
but also around the world.’”
(Thomas Cahill)

Read through the following. As you do, see if you are aware of how each of these was initiated and propelled by Christians.

A Brief Overview

  • Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages.
  • Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages. In addition,
  • most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes.
  • Literacy and education for the masses.
  • Capitalism and free-enterprise.
  • Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the
  • American experiment.
  • The separation of political powers.
  • Civil liberties.
  • The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in more modern times.
  • Modern science.
  • The discovery of the New World by Columbus.
  • The elevation of women.
  • Benevolence and charity; the ‘Good Samaritan’ ethic.
  • Higher standards of justice.
  • The elevation of the common man.
  • High regard for human life.
  • The codifying and setting to writing of many of the world’s languages.
  • Greater development of art and music. The inspiration for the greatest works of art. [vi]

“No one is like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is mighty in power.”

(Jeremiah 10:6)

[i] James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 4.

[ii] Some have attributed this to Philips Brooks, the writer of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Quoted by Kennedy, 7-8).

[iii] James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, introduction to book.

[iv] Philip Schaff, Person of Christ: The Miracle of History, (Boston: The American Tract Society, undated), 323, 328.

[v] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, (New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1999), 311.

[vi] James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 3.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is Christianity Bad...?

Jesus said,

“Go into all the world…”

And, they (the disciples) went… But what was the result? Is the world a better place because of the influence of Christians throughout the centuries that have followed?

New Atheists, like Sam Harris, assert that Christianity is the “bane of history.” He states in his book The End of Faith that Christianity and religion actually pose the greatest threat to civilization and human survival. He calls it “the most potent source of human conflict, past and present.”[i]

The premise, many of the new atheist present, is that the would actually be better off without religion, specifically Christianity. What if this were the case?

Suppose we removed Christianity and its influences from history, as we know it, would it make any difference?

Would things really be better off?

In the next series of posts, we'll explore key influences followers of Christ and His teachings have had upon civilization as we know it...

[i] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, 35.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Faith & Doubt :: Crusades, Conquests & Civilization :: week two

Some have said, “I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites… The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture… If Christianity is the true religion, how could this be?”

The solution submitted by atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others, is that the world would be a better place without the "toxic" influences of Christianity.

Could this be an intelligent solution? Would the world really be a better place if all the influences of Christianity throughout history were removed?

Faith & Doubt :: Crusades, Conquests & Civilization :: week two from Jerrell Jobe on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding God with a Pen

One of the disciplines of the spiritual life is to keep a journal of personal reflections relating to what scriptures you are reading, your practice of prayer, your experience with a spiritual director, your participation in small-group discussions, and what God is doing in your life.

Writing and reflecting in a journal is not meant to be a chore but an activity for the purpose of spiritual growth. Over time, journal-keeping can become a regular discipline for spiritual formation.

Journal-keeping is meant to be part of the process of asking the deeper questions of the spiritual life, a way of recording how you feel about certain observations, presentations, and ideas and proclaiming what you believe in a context of prayer and listening.

Personal journal-keeping is aided by feedback from others. In your search for an authentic spiritual life, I invite you to choose at least two persons to read selected entries from your journal and offer their comments related to spiritual formation.

(These instructions on journal-keeping where given by Nouwen to his classes at Yale and Harvard for his course on Spiritual Formation - cited in Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, pp. 14-15).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The True Quest of Reading

Reading is a lost art in our contemporary education. Most students relate to reading as a method to collect information that they can use at some later time. It often has the quality of arming oneself for the battle that is coming.

Books—the Bible included—then become the sought-after resources to actively participate in the competition and rivalry of the world. I continue to be surprised how often books are read with a conquering mind-set.

Usually there are time pressures, exam pressures, grade pressures, and peer pressures, and words written to peacefully dwell with are quickly received, summarized, remembered, and reproduced without ever having reached the human heart

(From ―Theology as Doxology,‖ in Caring for the Commonweal, edited by Palmer, Wheeler & Fowler [Mercer University Press, 1990)] 105-106).

Faith & Doubt :: week two intro

Faith & Doubt :: week two intro from Jerrell Jobe on Vimeo.

Some have said, “I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites… The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture… If Christianity is the true religion, how could this be?”

This week, we continue our series, Faith & Doubt, where we’ll take a historical look at Religion and the atrocities that have transpired in the "name of God."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trapeze Trust

For many years, Henri Nouwen worked as a professor Christian theology at Harvard and Yale, until one day, he felt God call him to leave these esteemed institutions to serve in ministry at a home for physically and mentally disabled adults. Throughout those years, Nouwen wrote some very insightful and beautiful things about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. During a period of personal sabbatical, Nouwen wrote about, of all things, paying a visit to the circus!

He was taken in especially by the trapeze act, a team of brothers who called themselves “The Flying Rodleighs.” He watched them perform, and then he got to know them, learning more about their craft.

There were 5 members in the act- 3 “flyers” and 2 “catchers.” The flyer climbs the steps, mounts the platform, and grasps the trapeze. He leaps off the platform, swinging through the air. He uses his body for momentum, swinging with increasing speed and height. The catcher hangs from his knees on another trapeze, with his hands free to reach out. Trapeze artists usually use a safety net nowadays, but even falling into one of those is dangerous and sometimes fatal.

The moment of truth comes when the flyer lets go. He sails into the air with no support, no connection to the earth. He does a somersault or two. Picture him in the middle of a somersault and freeze the frame. There is absolutely nothing, at the moment, to keep the flyer from plunging to his death. What do you think he feels like? Do you think he feels fully alive- every cell in his body screaming out? Thing he’s feeling any fear right then?

In the next moment the catcher swings into our view. He has been timing his arcs perfectly. He arrives just as the flyer loses momentum and is beginning to descend. His hands clasp the arms of the flyer. The flyer cannot see him; to the flyer, everything is a blur. But then, in an instant, the flyer feels himself snatched out of the air. The catcher takes the flyer home. And the flyer is very, very glad.

Nouwen spent some time getting to know the flyers. He learned that flyers are small, weighing 150 pounds or less, because if you’re a catcher, you don’t want a flyer with a sweet tooth. He learned about the equipment they used. They had socks filled with magnesium dry powder for their hands, because Joe was one of the catchers. They told Henri, “Joe sweats a lot.” and if you’re the flyer, you don’t want a catcher with sweaty hands.

Here’s where the trusting comes in. Letting go is always an act of trust. One of the flyers told Nouwen, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think I’m the star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.”

Nouwen asked him, “How does it work?”

He answered, “The secret is that the flyer does nothing. The catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait.”

Henri asked him, “You do nothing?”

“A flyer must fly and a catcher must catch. The flyer must trust with outstretched arms that his catcher will be there waiting for him,”

To say, “I believe” involves intellectual assent, it’s true. Saying “I believe in God,” takes humility and honesty. But in the end, confessing your faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the words of this creed means letting go, taking a leap, and trusting that there will be someone there to catch you.

There is no way to God that bypasses the call to let go…. The truth is that we are all born holding onto a trapeze- a little trapeze we call our “life”. We hold on to it tightly: our security, our “okay-ness”, our success, our importance, our worth, our stuff, our bodies, our heath, our influence. [1]

[1] Henri Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, 40, 70-75.

The Tension between Faith & Doubt :: week one

Faith & Doubt :: The Tension between Faith & Doubt :: week one from Jerrell Jobe on Vimeo.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Faith & Doubt :: The Tension between Faith & Doubt :: week one

The Apostle Peter instructs us to,

…Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason
for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

As we launch into a new series, we do so with the prayer that God will help us to live our lives is such a way that we actually become compelling to the world around us. Not merely because of the clothes that we wear, the bumper-stickers we sport or the declarations we proclaim, rather by the expressions of "hope" and authentic love that simply permeate our very being.

It seems, that Peter assumed that there would be such compelling life expressions as hope and love were simply the natural byproduct of someone "sanctifying Christ" in their "hearts". As this community of followers of Christ withstood persecution and suffering with steadfast-consistency, others looking on would be stuck by the essence and quality of their "hope" and be moved to inquire the "reason" and source of such strength.

The word Peter used here for “reason” is the Greek word apologia. We get the English word “apologetics” from it. Not to be confused with giving an “apology” of “I’m sorry.” Apologetics is an intellectual response that gives reason or defense for what one believes.

In this series, Faith & Doubt, we are going to explore some of the questions that are being asked about Christianity and faith in God. In recent days, there has been a resurgence within academic settings, that has brought some of the age-old questions and challenges regarding God, faith and science to the forefront of the conversation. In this series, we’ll be exploring some of these questions.

To get started, there will be a lay-out of a few terms that are commonly used in such philosophical conversations. Secondly, before we begin to engage specific questions, it may be helpful to introduce several writers who have been instrumental in reframing specific questions in an attempt to discredit the claims of Christianity and such. There will be a few excerpts from their writings to help us get a sense of the types of things they are writing and the tone in which they are being written.

A Few Terms:

  • Apologetics: apologia (1 Peter 3:15) – to give a reason, answer, instruction or defense. Apologetics is an intellectual response that gives reason or defense for what one believes.

  • Theism: is the belief in the existence of a god (or gods); specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world.
  1. Deity created the universe and continues to actively participate in the world's activities and in human history.
  2. Polytheist (polytheism)poly – many + Theos – God.
  3. Monotheist (Monotheism) mono – one + Theos – God.
  • Agnostic: a (without) gnosis (knowledge) –is one who does not know whether or not there is a God.
  1. The “soft” agnostic does not know whether or not there is a God.
  2. The “hard” agnostic says one cannot know about the existence of God.

  • Atheist: a (not/negative) theos (god/deity) – Without God –an atheist is one who does not believe in God. Additionally, the atheist may or may not actually deny the existence of God.

"The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it," writes Dinesh D'Souza. "They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion - and especially the Christian religion - disappear from the face of the earth."[1]

In recent days, there’s been a resurgence, particularly in academic circles of what’s being called, as I mentioned earlier, “The New Atheism.” It’s more than a casual dismissal of the belief in God…

New Atheism: don’t simply – not believe in God, they are antitheist.

It’s more of an evangelistic crusade to remove the belief in God from the consciousness of humanity… Richad Dawkins calls it “militant atheism.”

As stated, New Atheist, don’t just not believe in God, they are opposed to God and the belief thereof. It’s not just a stance of, “I don’t believe God exists,” rather its one of “God does not exist and you’re ludicrous if you believe He does…”

They contend that since belief in God is so LUDICROUS, there must be some biological reason that causes them to do so. Especially, since no one in their right mind would do so.

As such, Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion supposes, “The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain.”[2]

Or, as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker suggests, there might be a “God module” in the brain that predisposes people to believe in the Almighty.[3]

The contend that such belief in God goes against all reason, not to mention, all the evidentiary facts of science.

Scholars like anthropologist Scott Atran presume that religious beliefs are nothing more than illusions.

Atran contends that religious belief requires taking:

“what is materially false to be true” and

“what is materially true to be false.”

Atran and others believe that religion requires a commitment to “factually impossible worlds.”[4]

The New Atheists refer to themselves as “brights.”

I am bright,” writes Richard Dawkins, which he defines a bright as one who espouses "a worldview that is free of supernaturalism and mysticism."[5]

According to Daniel Dennett, "We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.”[6]

Christopher Hitchens, in his book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything says,

“All religions and all churches are equally demented in their belief in divine intervention, divine intercession, or even the existence of the divine in the first place.”[7]


  1. What are some of your initial reactions to some of these statements?
  1. How would you respond and answer such assertions?

[1] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, xv.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 168.

[3] Steven Pinker, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion," lecture at MIT conference, October 14, 1998.

[4] Dinesh D'Souza, 15, cited by Robin Henig, "Darwin's God," New York Times Magazine, March 4, 2007;
Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary landscape of Religion, 264.

[5] Richard Dawkins, "The Future Looks Bright," Guardian, June 21, 2003.

[6] Daniel Dennett, "The Bright Stuff," New York Times, July 12, 2003.

[7] Christopher Hitchens, "Bush's Secularist Triumph,", November 9, 2004.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Something Worth Pondering :: Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.

Lately, I've found myself in a reflective mood. That is, to simply take a phrase or sentence and allowing it to mull over and over in my head/heart...
...this is a powerful practice!
...Today, being what it is, I thought I would do that with some of the writings of Martin Luther King Jr.
...The more I read and pondered, the more and more amazed I became at some of the things this man said, wrote and did.
The following are a few more thoughts that served as speed-bumps in my pondering... Thoughts that caused me to pause, think, reflect and ultimately will require a response, as all truth does...
"Our lives begin to end the day we
become silent about things that matter."

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.
He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition
was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for,
he isn't fit to live.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free
my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit,
then nothing can be more redemptive.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Life's most persistent and urgent question is,
'What are you doing for others?'

Love is the only force capable of
transforming an enemy into friend.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than
sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind.
The time is always right to do the right thing.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:
"If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"
But... the good Samaritan reversed the question:
"If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those
who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live.
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.
We have guided missiles and misguided men.

The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars
are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

The quality, not the longevity,
of one's life is what is important.

There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life,
devoid of breadth.

To be a Christian without prayer
is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.
He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.
When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Martin Luther King Jr :: Inspiration for Injustice

Martin Luther King Jr was a phenomenal individual. Recently, I listened to a series of talks about his teachings and writings. King was far from perfect, and controversy still stirs regarding elements of his life. Yet, the reality of the message of injustice was and still remains to be seen as a powerful display of truth.

If we took these same truths, that lead to a reshaping of America and applied them to the far reaching regions of the world, we would find ourselves living in a different world indeed.

Here are a few of my favorite sayings by Martin Luther King Jr.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon.
which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.
It is a sword that heals.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“We must use time creatively.“

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Necessary Cultural Changes within the Church

All this week, I'm in a class focused on cultivating an environment conducive for individual and corporate transformation. Our large group times together are being taught and facilitated by Mindy Caliguire.

Mindy, founder of Soul Care, has an intense passion to see the local church become a place where people not only encounter the presence of the Living God, but also to maximize every means possible to assist people in their spiritual formation.

Spiritual Formation, in short, is the process of the image of Christ being formed within us, as the Apostle Paul longed to see happen with those in first century city of Galatia.

My dear children,
for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth
until Christ is formed in you.
Galatians 4:19

The local church
is one of the means in which God has ordained to be a facilitating conduit for such transformation to transpire.

Unfortunately, the church (as an organization) can at times allow itself to become captivated, driven by and focused on things, that while meaningful and well-intended, don't always result in intentional transformation of individuals and communities.

The following are a few cultural areas (pointed out by Mindy) that may need readjusting within our local context(s) in order to see spiritual formation in the local church:

  • We need to move away from a culture of pretending (and pretense) toward a culture of authenticity.

  • From a culture of power to service (and an organization that is more flat).
  • From consumerist church to identity (incarnation/presence). This causes the mindset to shift from what I get out of church, to bring clarity to who I am as a part of it… (This could similarly be seen as a shift from church entity centered to kingdom centered.)
  • From performance to dependence (from outcomes to source of strength).
    There’s a danger in mapquesting
    our own journey or the one of others…
  • From discipleship that is ignored discipleship that is intentional.
Can you think of other shifts that need to take place...?