What Near Death Experiences Prove, and What They Do Not Prove

What if reality consists of more than the natural, physical world?


I am interested in peoples’ stories. I can trace my interest in personal stories to my own experience of becoming a Christian and my own spiritual journey. I have found much common ground with other people who have had similar experiences. The story of spiritual journey (a “testimony”) is part of the fabric of the evangelical Christian tradition. The testimony is a test of sorts of the authenticity of the journey, of a real encounter with God that we call being “born again”.

A testimony is the most personal evidence for the existence of God for the person who claims to be a Christian, but it isn’t evidence in a scientific sense. It’s evidence that is easily discounted by the naturalist who relies only on science and empirical, measurable and falsifiable evidence.

It can also be problematic for the Christian community. There is a certain social, group pressure that isn’t intentional or even conscious for every Christian to have “a testimony”. The more dramatic the better. The person who was “always a Christian” may feel a tinge of self doubt. The person whose story does not line up with more “typical” testimonies may feel on the outs.

Personal stories are subjective, and the subjective nature of them engenders some natural and warranted skepticism.

Don’t get me wrong. The intimate and private nature of a personal experience with God is exactly the most compelling thing about it. Like the woman at the well who told everyone of her encounter with Jesus, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (John 4:4-30) the intimate and highly personal nature of the experience is what makes it so meaningful and convincing.

But personal encounter, ultimately, is most meaningful and convincing to the one who experiences it. It can’t be empirically verified, and it doesn’t carry the same weight with other people who can’t appreciate the intimate, personal details.

Personal experiences are not bound by logical, rational or empirical factors. If we rely on personal experiences, especially to the exclusion of more “scientific” analyses, the highly subjective and personal nature of personal experiences can led a person down some questionable rabbit holes. We probably all know people who have been so influenced by their own personal experiences which, unchecked by some objective analysis, have led them down some strange and questionable paths.

For the Christian, that objective analysis is Scripture, doctrine and tradition. For each religion, that objective analysis is some combination of that religion’s scripture, doctrinal corpus and tradition, and for the naturalist, that objective analysis is empirical evidence, proven theory and scientific analysis.

This is where NDEs get interesting. Continue reading “What Near Death Experiences Prove, and What They Do Not Prove”

What Does the Global Church of Jesus Christ Look Like? And Why It Matters?

The church we know in the United States doesn’t look like Church worldwide.


I read today this tweet by David Cassidy (found here):

The average Christian in the world is not male but female[1], not white but brown or black[2], third world, not first world[3], far more Pentecostal than Presbyterian[4]. The “average” Christian in the world today is a 22-year old brown female[5]. She has not been to your conference…

…she has not read CS Lewis or Christianity Today; she has not read your blog, nor mine, and does not go to Starbucks or care one bit about alternative endings to Game of Thrones or if the latest lyric from Hillsongs [sic] agrees with our confessional standards.

She is also likely the vessel God will use to prophesy to the next generation. She’s not afraid of suffering either: Over 215 million believers are persecuted with intimidation, prison, and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ across the world (Open Doors, USA)[6]

* 42% of the world’s population is under 25[7], half in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia[8] * The median age of the global population is 28[9]. If your ‘mission’ is preservation or expansion of White Christian USA nationalism, you need to wake up & repent

South American and Central American churches are thriving and reviving. Thank God. We have to be about global mission and embrace all people everywhere with the love of God. That starts with neighbors next door but won’t stop there.

White American Nationalist Christians need to be at the feet of these global Christian communities and LEARN again the power of prayer, the presence of God’s power in the absence of political power, and the joy of the Gospel. Man, I have so much to learn!

Much of this tweet rings true to me based on what I have been reading over the past several years, but I spent some time fact-checking the various statements. The results of what I found are linked in the references below.

I was able to verify most of the statements. The only ones I couldn’t verify are the statements about the average age of Christians worldwide and the median age of the world population, which was 28 a few years ago, but more recent numbers show a rise to 30. Studies also seem to show that the average age of religious people in the world is increasing (especially in the west), but I couldn’t find anything specific to Christianity.

Still, most of what David Cassidy says in this tweet is true. The key points being that Christianity is not a white, European-centric or even western religion … at least, not anymore.

Think about that for a moment…. While American Christianity still looks very white and paternalistic, the church worldwide looks very different.

Continue reading “What Does the Global Church of Jesus Christ Look Like? And Why It Matters?”

Questions for the Church in America

There were many so-called prophets who said what the people wanted to hear, but they weren’t the real prophets of God.


The NPR headline reads – Survey: White Evangelicals See Trump As ‘Honest’ And ‘Morally Upstanding’. Some of the comments on social media include the following: “Nothing new to me as they are all my racist, homophobic relatives”; and “Scary”.

I am reading through the Old Testament in chronological order this year, and I am currently slogging through Kings and Chronicles. It’s a tough go, and especially tougher as I think about the current political and religious landscape in the United States. It’s hard to know where religion ends and politics begins.

The depressing thing about Kings and Chronicles is how far the people of God go off the ranch. Starting with King David, the man after God’s heart, it’s a steady downward spiral with a few brief interludes of an effort to rid the kingdoms of idols and immorality.

I say kingdoms (plural) because the people began to split under King Solomon and formed two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, immediately after he died. They spent much of their time before the Babylonian captivity fighting and killing each other!

Let me just say this: the United States is NOT a nation of God’s people like Israel was. Yes, we have been blessed by God. Our “founding fathers” (more or less) honored God and used some biblical principals (among other things) on which to form the Constitution and laws by which we are governed. BUT, The USA is not God’s chosen people like Israel was.

We shouldn’t flatter ourselves that way. The Roman Empire became a Christian nation too after Constantine. England, and France, and most of the European countries were Christian nations even more than the US is today. Church and State were married together in governance through the Dark Ages (though it didn’t stop them from warring with each other either).

There is only one people to whom God chose to reveal Himself and to enter into covenant relationship for the purpose of blessing all nations by setting the stage for His own humble entry into history and eventual sacrifice for our sins. Those chosen people aren’t us. God already accomplished His purpose for those chosen people, and now He is on to redemption of the world for all who would follow Him.

We can say with biblical confidence that God ordained Donald Trump as President (Romans 13:1), but for what purpose? God gave Israel King Saul when they demanded a king, but their demand for a king was a rejection of God. Is Trump the king we wanted?

Not that God is thrown off by those things. He works His purpose regardless of the vagaries and ambivalence of His people. I am not concerned about God accomplishing His purposes. He will! But what about the church in America? Where do we stand?

Continue reading “Questions for the Church in America”

My Answers to Questions about Christianity

Good questions are maybe more important than answers


A recent blogger posted the following challenge: Questions about Christianity, do you have answers? I am not sure I have all the right answers, but I feel compelled to respond, nevertheless. Good questions are maybe more important than answers. This blogger asks some good ones, so I will attempt some answers.

Question 1: The Christian religion portends God knows past, present, and future, and only a select group of people will go to heaven. The rest, whom he gave their own ability to think for themselves are condemned to hell for eternity. If God allows people to be born he ultimately already knows [sic] will reject Christianity and are destined for hell [sic] would this not preclude God’s love and benevolence?

I don’t like the word, religion. Growing up Catholic, I never felt good about religion. I didn’t feel comfortable in church, and I recoiled from dogmatism. I became a believer in college after reckless alcohol and drug use, becoming a seeker and exploring philosophy, literature, poetry and world religions. I still don’t feel comfortable with religion.

Religion is what people do and how people appear on the outside. Reality is on the inside. God sees the reality of people’s hearts; we don’t.

Religion, I believe, is too much of a man made construct. Not that there is no truth in religion; it’s just that religion is an effort at boxing in metaphysical reality that more or less defies the effort. The box (religion) often isn’t as flexible and resilient as it needs to be.

I think that God knowing past, present and future (from our perspective) flows out of who/what God must be. This gets into cosmological and other “arguments”. Simply, if the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. They cause of the universe could not possibly be the universe. The cause had to be something other than the universe.

The universe that came into being at the point of singularity (the so-called Big Bang) includes all of space/time and matter as we know it. Thus, the cause must be something other than space/time and matter. This basically means a cause that exists “outside” of space/time matter.

At this point, we don’t have the right words or perspective to flesh it out much further. Our perspective is subject to space/time and matter, so we naturally struggle describing something beyond it. The best conception we have is that God knows the past, present and future.

From our perspective, God did set the universe in motion “knowing” how it would play out. It sounds like you grew up in the Reformed tradition. I don’t understand that either. I don’t think God resigns some people to heaven and some people to hell, but what do I know?

I do think that will to choose is a necessity of love. If a man says he loves a woman but rapes her when she rebuffs his advances, no one would think that he loved her. Just the opposite. Love requires two freely willing entities. (Or it isn’t love.)

Did God know that some people would (or might) reject Him and go their own way? Yeah, I think we have to say He did. If He created a universe in which real love is possible, though, it has to be a universe in which there is real choice.

As for hell, I think it is a construct. It’s an attempt to define a particular reality that isn’t good. (Not all Christians believe in eternal flames.) It is the reality of not choosing or choosing not to love and embrace God. If God is love, rejecting or failing to choose God leaves a person without love (at a minimum).

I have come to conceive it kind of like gravity and other laws of physics. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know what hell really is. Some people say that people who reject or fail to choose God just cease to exist, and they have strong arguments from Scripture for that view. I really don’t know, and I am not willing to claim that I do.

CS Lewis, in the book, The Great Divorce, explores the idea of hell being an extension of our existence on earth (as is heaven) in which people are forever moving away from each other and fading into a shadowy existence. We choose the direction we go; and though we are free to choose otherwise, at some point, the inertia of our movement carries us along in the direction we have chosen. It’s not so much a single choice, but an untold number of small ones that can become reflexive over time.

CS Lewis also paints a picture in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia that gets at the idea that we don’t know what is in the heart of a person, but God does. For want of time and space, the whole world is lined up in front of the Lion (the Christ figure) and most walk past Him. As each person approaches, they are either drawn or repelled.

At that point, they have no more choice left. People have made their choices (the sum of all the choices they made during life). The surprising thing is that some of the people who are drawn and some of the people who are repelled are not what you would expect.

One last thought: the conversation between Jesus and the thief on the cross suggests that a person can make the choice at the very last minute. Despite all the choices or failing to choose during life, if a person turns to God, even at the last minute, God will accept them. This makes sense if God is, indeed, love as Scripture says.

There is so much more to explore here, but time and energy suggest that I more on. Continue reading “My Answers to Questions about Christianity”

Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians


This piece I post not without some trepidation. I throw it out into the blogosphere nevertheless. For what it is worth.

I was listening to a podcast this morning by an atheist, turned Christian apologist, who commented that an “overwhelming number” of American Christians do not know what scripture says about key issues, including salvation. The comment stood out to me, so I googled it.

I found a Lifeway article that doesn’t focus on Christians, per se, but on Americans generally[1]. (We’re supposedly a Christian nation, right?) The article focused not on the content, but on how much of the Bible people have read. While the article didn’t focus on people who call themselves Christians, it began to paint the picture.

A whopping 53% of the people polled had read no more than “several passages” or “a few stories”. Twenty three percent (23%) had read no more than “only a few sentences”, and ten percent (10%) of the people polled hadn’t read a single word of the Bible.

I am not completely surprised, though I would love to see the percentage of those people who have a strong opinion about what the Bible says.

About fifteen percent (15%) of the people polled said they had read “at least half” of the Bible. Another twelve percent (12%) said they had read “almost all of it. Only twenty percent (20%) of the people polled said they had read all of the Bible, but only nine percent (9%) had read all of it more than once.

Clearly, we are not very Bible literate as a nation, though we have strong opinions on what we think the Bible says. That goes for people who have strong positive opinions and strong negative opinions.

Interestingly, I found an article written by a well-known atheist that suggests most Christians don’t understand the fundamentals of their faith.[2] He concludes, “This survey shows that a lot of people take on a particular religious label, not because they have a full understanding of what that faith believes, but for other more superficial reasons. Maybe their parents raised them in it. Maybe they were led to that religion by a friend. Maybe they attended a service and found it welcoming and inspiring.” Anecdotally, I see some truth in that statement.

It’s not just atheists making that observation. An article by the Barna Group, a Christian organization, finds that most churchgoers have “never heard of” the Great Commission.[3] Another article commenting on a similar survey concludes that most Americans are heretics and claims the results show that even “those who wear Christianity on their sleeve” … “Christmas-treed the survey, espousing all kinds of unorthodox views”.[4]

I found many articles by Christian leaders expressing concern about Bible illiteracy among people who consider themselves Christians (calling it a big problem[5], a scandal[6] a crisis[7] and an epidemic[8]), so it seems there truly are an “overwhelming number” of American Christians who do not know what scripture says about key issues – to circle back to where I started. And, where do I get off this feedback loop?

Continue reading “Some Consolation in the Biblical Illiteracy of Modern American Christians”