Who is My Neighbor? And Who is a Neighbor to Me? The Discomfort of Grace.

Grace is exercised among people who are not like you, who challenge you, who are uncomfortable to be around.

I have often touted the Unbelievable Podcast on Christian Premiere Radio in the UK, and I do it again here. I recommended the episode on Philip Yancey live Q&A on faith, doubt and the future of the US church: Saturday 19 March 2022. Much was discussed in the episode that I could write about, but one thing stands out above the rest to me this morning. Philip Yancey said,

“It’s easy to find a church, to gravitate toward a church, where people look like you, and smell like you, and vote like you.”

Most of us go to churches like that. It’s a human tendency to gravitate toward people with whom we have the most connections, to settle in with people with whom we have the most in common, to spend time with people most like us, but Yancey says,

“That’s not the way to exercise grace. Grace is exercised among people who are not like you, who challenge you, who are uncomfortable to be around, people who are immoral. That’s where to exercise grace.”

Such a radical statement challenges most of us, I think. I am guilty of settling into churches where I feel most comfortable, but what if God wants me to engage in a church, or in groups, or with people with whom I feel uncomfortable? Would I be open to that possibility?

Jesus often urged people to love their neighbors. When I think of my neighbors, I think of the people in my neighborhood who I know and spend time with. If you are like me, you probably think immediately of your neighbors you know, but what about your neighbors you don’t know?

Jesus knew that people tend to favor those who are like them when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 25:30-35) In the parable, an unidentified man is attacked by robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten and left for dead. (Luke 25:30) Three people come along and see him lying there: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan.

The priest and the Levite were the people most like the man who asked the question that prompted the parable. He was an expert in the Law of Moses, a Jewish leader.

He actually began with a more esoteric question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turned the question on him, asking “What is written in the Law?” (Luke 25:25-26)

When the man responded, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,'”, Jesus answered anti-climatically, “You have answered correctly…. Do this and you will live.”

That might have been the end of the conversation, but the expert in the law “wanted to justify himself”. Perhaps, he wanted affirmation that he was reading the law correctly. Perhaps, Jesus to acknowledge his deep moral thinking. Perhaps, he wanted to prove his expertise in the Law. Whatever he was thinking, he asked, “[W]ho is my neighbor?” (Luke 25:29)

I feel like the man wanted Jesus to engage him in a deep a theological discussion, but Jesus deflected the attempt with the parable. The expert in the Law wanted to make it difficult and complicated, but Jesus kept it simple.

Maybe the expert in the Law was more interested in affirmation that he was a good person who deserved to inherit eternal life. Maybe his question was motivated by his own recognition that some people are harder to love than others. Perhaps, he knew that his own stake in eternal life depended on the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe he didn’t really want an answer; he just wanted to debate.

He is specifically identified as an “expert in the Law”, and the initial question, and the follow up question, read to me like he was wanting a deeper, philosophical conversation with Jesus. He didn’t really want a simple, straightforward answer. He wanted to debate, but Jesus wouldn’t go there with him.

I am also relatively certain that the answer Jesus gave him was not at all what he expected. It certainly what he was looking for. It likely cut him to the quick. Both he and and the wider audience who was listening in.

Continue reading “Who is My Neighbor? And Who is a Neighbor to Me? The Discomfort of Grace.”

Is Intelligent Design a Science Stopper?

Is intelligent design more of a science stopper than the evolutionary paradigm?

I listened to an episode of the Unbelievable! podcast from 2011 that was rebroadcast recently. Stephen C. Meyer was on with Keith R. Fox MA, MPhil, PhD, professor of Biochemistry, Principal Investigator (Nucleic Acids) at University of Southampton in the UK and Associate Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge. The topic was Meyer’s groundbreaking book, Signature in the Cell, and the origin of life.

Keith Fox and Stephen Meyer are both professing Christians. Fox holds dogmatically to the evolutionary paradigm and does not believe intelligent design is an appropriate framework for scientific inquiry. Meyer maintains that intelligent design is a better explanation and is warranted by the science.

I will not attempt to explain everything they discussed, as I would require much more space than a blog article and more time than my schedule might allow at the moment. I encourage you to listen to the whole discussion if this article piques your interest. (You could also read the book.)

I want to focus on one point Steven Fox made about the intelligent design argument. Fox objected that intelligent design is a “science stopper”.

He explained that he believes the promotion of intelligent design as an explanation for the origin of life would stop further scientific inquiry and frustrate science. It will effectively inhibit further inquiry as to how the origin life occurred, says Fox, if we conclude that “intelligence did it”. (A kind of God of the gaps argument)

Meyer didn’t address the point immediately or directly. The discussion went off in a different direction, but I found myself unwilling to let it go.

“Why would intelligent design be a science stopper?” The statement begs for a response.

Fox claims that invoking the intelligent design explanation stops the process of asking questions, but he didn’t explain why. I have heard the statement before, but the statement is conclusory. Does it really follow?

I understand the anecdotal evidence of certain people who have advocated a kind of blind faith approach to Bible and science issues, but that’s only a segment of the population of people who call themselves Christians. It’s not the majority, and they don’t have any influence over people who do science (Christian or non-Christian).

Implicit in that response is, perhaps, the thinking that we have done biological science very well on the evolutionary paradigm for about 150 years. It works. Let’s not mess it up. I can appreciate that.

A person might also observe, correctly, that the focus of science narrowed many years ago purely on natural processes, eliminating divine agency from consideration in science. Let theologians think about God, but the scientists should focus on the science (the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach).

I understand that science is limited to the study of nature and natural processes. Science has nothing to do with theology (though theology was once considered the Queen of the sciences). Science has nothing to do with philosophy (though many scientists don’t appear to know the difference).

I am only speculating that these kinds of thoughts are behind the resistance against considering intelligent design as a competing paradigm to evolution. I understand them, but I would like to push back.

The objection to intelligent design seems to be an extension of the “God of the gaps” argument.

It incorporates the same assumption – that belief in God stifles and stymies science, but I don’t believe it’s a good assumption, and I don’t believe that the evidence warrants that conclusion.


Continue reading “Is Intelligent Design a Science Stopper?”

Caste Systems, Nationalism, and True Christian Faith

The thing about a speck in someone’s eye is that it seems like a plank to the one with the speck.

I’m listening to Unbelievable? | Hinduism, Caste & Christianity: Joseph D’Souza and Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd. The following statement by Anglican, Joseph D’Souza, caught me up: “The caste system in India has poisoned the church in India just as racism poisoned the church in the West.”

Joseph D’Souza is an Indian Christian, but he stands as an outsider in India, which is increasingly being driven by a right wing movement to preserve India’s Hindu heritage and power against the threat of Christianity, in particular. Thus, I find it ironic, and convicting, that he finds a parallel between India’s caste system and racial disparity in “the west.”

Kancha Iliah Shepherd, the other participant on the podcast, was born of the Dalit class in India – one step above the untouchable caste/class. Against all odds, and the rules of the caste system, he became educated, and he wrote a book, Why I am not a Hindu, critiquing the caste system.

On the podcast, he questioned what Hinduism has to offer the lower castes who can not receive the education of the Braham caste, cannot learn to read and write the language of the Hindu gods (Sanskrit) and cannot serve in Hindu temples? Why be a Hindu unless one is born a Braham?

D’Souza observed that many Dalit and untouchables in India are becoming Christian because of Christian doctrines, such as the doctrine that all men and women are made in the image of God; God is Creator of all people; and there is no distinction among people (no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no man or woman) in Christ.

Though the Hindu nationals have succeeded in passing a law against “forced conversion”, D’Souza says that no one in India is forced to convert to Christianity. People convert because they want to. The church, in fact, stands against the idea of forced conversion.

The present Hindu nationalist movement seems to be partly to blame for Christian conversions because of its adherence to the caste system. The lower castes find in Christianity a God who does not perpetuate a caste system, who made all people equally in His image, and who makes no distinction between people on the basis of caste, birth rights or nationality.

Shepherd adds that God cannot be a nationalist. If there is one true God, He is God of all people in all places, nations and stations in the Earth. Shepherd said this as an Indian of the Dalit caste in India speaking against the Hindu conservative resurgence that forbids lower castes from becoming priests while maintaining a strong Hindu nationalist position.

If we look at the world through the eyes of these Indian men, we can gain some understanding and insight to be applied to our Christian walk in the United States. We can begin to understand why Christian nationalism is heresy and why Christian tolerance, ambivalence, and apathy for racial disparity in the US is poison in the church.

Continue reading “Caste Systems, Nationalism, and True Christian Faith”

A Journey from No Religion, to Christianity, to Atheism and Back Again

Atheism can be built on the power of belief as much as Christian faith is.

A listener to the Unbelievable! podcast wrote in to Christian Premiere Radio in the UK and shared his faith journey. He was invited in for an interview. His story is a modern tale.

Jim Thring grew up in a non-religious home. He didn’t know much about religion, which is a typical experience for people growing up in the increasingly post-Christian world that characterizes the UK in the 21st Century.

He became a Christian in college. It wasn’t something he set out to do. He didn’t go seeking for truth. Friends of his introduced him to Christianity. They invited him to believe, and he accepted the invitation.

Over the years, though, his faith waned. It became shallow and lifeless. He eventually walked away and became an atheist. He says his atheism become harder core when he came across the New Atheists and began reading their books and attending their lectures.

He was an atheist for almost a decade. He joined the British Humanist Association. He “rode the rhetoric” of people like Christopher Hichens and Richard Dawkins to justify to himself intellectually that he had made a sound decision.

As time went on, though, he began to question the rhetoric. Some of it seemed shallow. Many atheists were putting Christians down as “people who weren’t thinkers or rational at all”. It seemed as if they were simply against whatever Christians said. If Christians believed something, they were against it.

He remembered people he knew from years earlier who were “a lot smarter” than him who were still Christians. He began to soften in his atheism. He began to realize that reason, logic and rational thinking are tools available to more people than atheists, and they don’t inexorably lead to atheism.

He began to realize that a person can dismiss anything. Dogmatic people dismiss things out of hand, and atheists can be as dogmatic as believers.

Darren Brown talks about the “power of belief” as a stimulant. Jim would listen to that and think to himself, “Yeah! That’s what belief is, and now I am free from all that.” As time went on, however, he began to see that his atheism had a powerful stimulant behind it as well.

The maxim that “for everything there is a material explanation” is a very powerful belief. “It means that it doesn’t matter whatever evidence someone puts in front of you, it doesn’t matter what arguments, however well-constructed they might be, or how valid they are, you’ve got a reason to dismiss them.”

He began to be honest about where his atheism lay. Thus, he gradually began going to church again with his wife and spending time with her church friends. He began to take another look at Christian arguments.

At the same time, he sought to address the issues he had with origins, evolution and young earth. He wanted to take a different look at those issues from a different perspective, but he didn’t want a source that was just a “Christian institute”.

He came across John Lennox, the professor of Mathematics at Oxford, and read his book called Gunning for God: How the New Atheists are Missing the Mark. Lennox put those issues in perspective for Jim, but he also addressed the evidence that Jim thought were “knockdown arguments” against the Christian Faith. Lennox turned them around and applied them to atheism.

Jim’s deconstructed faith began to be rebuilt. Jim’s journey is an interesting one. To hear the whole story, I have embedded the interview below:

Many people have journeyed to faith from Atheism. You can listen to more stories of people who have journeyed from faith to atheism here.

Listening in on a Discussion of the Coronavirus and the Church

What some might see as a threat to the vitality of Christian community, others see as opportunity to advance the kingdom of God.


I am reading through the Bible chronologically this year and paying attention to themes that sweep from beginning to end. One great theme is the promise to Abraham and his descendants, that God would bless him and make of him descendants that would be too numerous to count, and by them God would bless all the nations of the world.

I just got done contemplating why, when God entered the world as a human being and came to “His own” His own people didn’t recognize or receive Him. They had developed their own expectations that were very focused, understandably, on the nation of Israel and the promised land, and Jesus didn’t meet the expectations they had. (See What We Can Learn from Expectations about What God Is Doing.)

Expectations are good. It’s good to be expectant about what God is doing, but the danger is that we anchor those expectations in our own perspectives, which are unavoidably limited. Our expectations should be shaped by Scripture and relationship to God alone, but (being human) we tend to superimpose our own personal, community, societal, cultural and philosophical models on top of that foundation. Sometimes we even import biblical principles on top of a foundation that is not biblical.

American Christianity is no different than any other cultural expression of Christianity in that regard. Perhaps, American Christianity is even super-sized in that tendency, however, because of our historical sense of manifest destiny and extreme confidence in the rightness of the great American experiment in Democracy, capitalism and constitutional framework that has allowed the United States to thrive and become the dominant country in the world.

Because of the human tendency to filter everything through our unique perspectives and miss what other people with different perspectives can see, I spend time listening to and reading Christians and people with other perspectives from other parts of the world. For that reason, I listen to many of the episodes of the Unbelievable? podcast with Justin Brierly, a British Christian, who interviews people from various parts of the world from various viewpoints, including Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a confluence of varying viewpoints in the Church global, the American Church, and communities in and out of the Church and societies all around the world. That global pandemic has, perhaps, heightened the degree of angst that comes to bear on other issues in the world and locally, such as the current racial tensions in the US and particularly acute response that we have experienced as events have unfolded that have opened and exasperated old racial wounds that have not yet healed.

How we respond to these things as Christians is critical. It affects the effectiveness of our mission to carry out the Great Commission – the marching orders Jesus gave to His followers to spread the Gospel throughout the world. The pandemic means that we can no longer carry on “business as usual”. Indeed, God often used catastrophic and extreme measures to accomplish His purposes throughout Scripture and (certainly I believe) continues to do so today. There is opportunity in these times to adjust with what is happening, listen for what God is saying to the Church and advance His kingdom.

I think of these things as I listen to the recent interview by Justin Brierley of three Christians talk about the coronavirus: Mark Sayers from Australia, AJ Roberts from Los Angeles, Ruth Jackson from Great Britain. Continue reading “Listening in on a Discussion of the Coronavirus and the Church”