Poor vs. Poor in Spirit

I was doing a Bible study last month in which we went through the Beatitudes together. One of the questions that came up was the fact that Luke says “Blessed are the poor” whereas Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So which is it? Are all the poor blessed or just those who are spiritually impoverished or what?
So I started poking around and found a wonderful resource answering this question from Hans Kvalbein: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/journal-issues/12.3_Kvalbein.pdf

He does such a good job explaining that I’m not going to even attempt a summary but will just share key highlights: 

“The beatitudes of Luke are not in the third person [they], but in the second person plural [you all]. His beatitudes are directed to ‘you poor,’ to a specific group Jesus has in front of him. The context leaves no doubt as to whom Jesus is speaking: ‘Looking at his disciples, he said…’ (v. 20). The message of Jesus according to Luke is not that everybody who is poor is blessed, but that the disciples, in spite of their bad condition now, are blessed because they are receivers of the kingdom of God.”
The beatitudes seem to be drawing from a particular passage in Isaiah 61, which is “a promise to the ‘poor,’ the ‘brokenhearted,’ the ‘captives,’ the ‘prisoners’; it is a word of comfort to ‘all who mourn’ and ‘those who grieve in Zion.’ …When we look at the content and the wider context of Isaiah 61 it is evident that the promise refers to Israel as a whole. It does not refer to a limited group of the economically poor within the people, nor does it refer to all the poor and destitute in the world.” (Note well, here, that Christians consider ourselves to be in the lineage of Israel, that is that the Israelites were the “people of God” under the Old covenant and Christians have been “grafted into” this family tree (cf. Romans 11).  This would mean that the promises to the poor/afflicted of Israel apply to the poor/afflicted in the church.)
“The meaning of the word ‘poor’ here is not the economically poor, destitute, or needy… ‘Poor’ here means ‘helpless’, dependent on others, unable to pay back. The recipients are in this word indeed described as beggars. But the word does not refer to their economic or social status. The tax collectors, the fishermen, and the farmers in the fellowship around Jesus were certainly no beggars and could hardly be called ‘poor’ in a material or social sense of the word. They were able to sustain themselves by their own work. But they were beggars before God. They were dependent on his grace as it was proclaimed and demonstrated in the preaching and person of Jesus. The word is used in a transferred sense and describes the fundamental position of man before God.
One of Martin Luther’s last words was this: ‘We are beggars, that is true.’ As far as I know, Luther had never been a beggar in the literal sense of the word. But he had learnt both from Scripture and life that we are dependent on God, we are beggars before him. The gospel is the message that God gives his gift, his kingdom, to beggars, into empty hands. We have nothing with which to pay him back.”

Jesus, John, and the Intimacy of Physical Touch

I forgot to cross-link this here sooner because of the holidays. But I have a post I rather like over at Spiritual Friendship. A teaser:

It’s precisely the dearth of this physical intimacy within normal friendships that makes celibacy in the modern world so difficult. Man was made with a need for physical intimacy, but in our rather touch-phobic society, it’s difficult to meet that need outside of a romantic relationship…

If the church can express that sort of chaste love for all its members, then our deepest human desires can serve not simply to tempt us but to help us cleave all the more closely to the church. If Jesus let John share his bosom, then it seems we have a more than sufficient precedent to do the same.

Read the rest here: http://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/12/21/jesus-john-and-the-intimacy-of-physical-touch/

Spurgeon on Science

I’m working on a project right now and came across a beautiful quote that I love dearly. I’m afraid it’s not suitable for the project, but it’s desperately worth keeping somewhere. Perhaps I shall turn this blog into a commonplace book.

From Charles Spurgeon:

Two sorts of people have wrought great mischief, and yet they are neither of them worth being considered as judges in the matter: they are both of them disqualified. It is essential than an umpire should know both sides of a question, and neither of these is thus instructed. The first is the irreligious scientist. What does he know about religion? What can he know? He is out of court when the question is—Does science agree with religion? Obviously he who would answer this query must know both of the two things in the question. The second is a better man, but capable of still more mischief. I mean the unscientific Christian, who will trouble his head about reconciling the Bible with science. He had better leave it alone, and not begin his tinkering trade. The mistake made by such men has been that in trying to solve a difficulty, they have either twisted the Bible, or contorted science. The solution has soon been seen to be erroneous, and then we hear the cry that Scripture has been defeated. Not at all; not at all. It is only a vain gloss upon it which has been removed. Here is a good brother who writes a tremendous book, to prove that the six days of creation represent six great geological periods; and he shows how the geological strata, and the organisms thereof, follow very much in the order of the Genesis story of creation. It may be so, or it may be not so; but if anybody should before long show that the strata do not lie in any such order, what would be my reply? I should say that the Bible never taught that they did. The Bible said, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” That leaves any length of time for your fire-ages and your ice-periods, and all that, before the establishment of the present age of man.1 Then we reach the six days in which the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh day. There is nothing said about long ages of time, but, on the contrary, “the evening and the morning were the first day”, and “the evening and the morning were the second day”; and so on. I do not here lay down any theory, but simply say that if our friend’s great book is all fudge, the Bible is not responsible for it. It is true that his theory has an appearance of support from the parallelism which he makes out between the organic life of the ages and that of the seven days; but this may be accounted for from the fact that God usually follows a certain order whether he works in long periods or short ones. I do not know, and I do not care, much about the question; but I want to say that, if you smash up an explanation you must not imagine that you have damaged the Scriptural truth which seemed to require the explanation: you have only burned the wooden palisades with which well-meaning men thought to protect an impregnable fort which needed no such defence. For the most part, we had better leave a difficulty where it is, rather than make another difficulty by our theory. Why make a second hole in the kettle, to mend the first? Especially when the first hole is not there at all, and needs no mending. Believe everything in science which is proved: it will not come to much. You need not fear that your faith will be over-burdened. And then believe everything which is clearly in the Word of God, whether it is proved by outside evidence or not. No proof is needed when God speaks. If he hath said it, this is evidence enough.

 

Why Intelligent People Are Less Likely to Be Religious

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I have a new article featured on Christianity Today, expanding on the thoughts I published for Fare Forward:

My story is almost always met with surprise: How could an atheist convert to Christianity at Harvard, the bastion of secular intellectual elitism?

Now this reaction has some empirical justification. A recent meta-analysis of studies on religion and intelligence found that yes, overall, people with high IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious. Researchers analyzed 63 studies on religion and intelligence from the past 80 years with differing results to discover the slightly negative correlation between the two.

Unlike previous studies that tried to explain the data by suggesting that smart people simply see past religion’s claims, these researchers, led by University of Rochester psychologist Miron Zuckerman, tried to identify other social factors in play. Nevertheless, the hype about their conclusions is overblown, and all of us—the religious and the non-religious—should be wary of placing too much weight on their findings.

Read why at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/brains-and-belief-arent-mutually-exclusive.html

Why I Need Celibate Gay Christians

I’ve been invited to contribute to the blog Spiritual Friendship. Given the amount of current free time I have (can you have negative free time?), I’m not sure how much I will be able to actually write for them. But I’m pretty proud of my first post, dedicated to one of my dearest friends:

I was forced out of the closet by a phone call. A dear friend had confessed that she was struggling with attraction for a woman, but was trying to not act upon it because of her Christian faith. Our other two friends on the phone strongly recommended she accept her sexual identity rather than let her sexual practices be dictated by her religious beliefs. I—the once militant atheist—came to her defense and said she should let her conscience be her guide. If she believed her religion that deeply, then she should try to her best to adhere to it and we shouldn’t admonish her for prioritizing her religion over her sexual inclinations. This, of course, stunned them and I was forced to come out of the closet as someone interested in Christianity. I confessed that I had started doing Bible studies and attending church. These were the friends least surprised when I was baptized a few months later.

Being witness to my friend’s intense struggle as I came to faith—even though I myself am straight and will not personally share her particular pains—was an immense blessing. It was readily obvious to me as I counted the cost of discipleship that making the commitment to Christ would truly entail dying to myself and taking up my cross every day. I did not know what this dying would look like—Can we ever fully know what new sinful part of ourselves we shall be called to crucify years down the road? But I knew that the Christian walk entails—even for Western Christians with all our comforts—a great deal of suffering and no immediate promises of deliverance. I learned that repentance comes in waves, and that even the most faithful need God’s mercy again and again. I’m so grateful for my friend’s transparency in our relationship and her faithful wrestling with God through her struggle.

Read the rest here: http://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/20/why-i-need-celibate-gay-christians/

Religion, Intelligence, and Socialization

A recent post for Fare Forward, in response to a widely publicized study:

The Independent just reported that “religious people are less intelligent.” Whatever remains of the “new atheist” crowd will argue that this study proves that education causes one to reject religion. Atheism is academic. Being enlightened or “bright” means you reject that dim-witted dogmatism of your fathers.

Read the rest at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/fareforward/2013/08/religion-intelligence-and-socialization/

I’d also like to note one of the wiser commenters, Rebecca Trotter, made a decent point:

… The church is often a terribly unwelcoming place for highly intelligent people. A person who is highly intelligent can’t help but ask questions, be skeptical, look at thing in New and novel ways. The fact that people given to do these things find what is often their first experience with acceptance and affirmation among the non-religious is an indictment of the church.

I am a religious writer, a member of mensa who could give away two standard deviations and still be a member of mensa and a highly creative person. Every time I write about the intersection of creativity, intelligence and the church, I am inundated by people sharing their experiences of being practically hounded out of the church. Some churches and Christians are very open and even vicious about those who are intelligent. Scientists are evil and serve the devil. There are bible verses which gets used as weapons to put down intelligence. Nearly every church has a policy of not supporting the work of their creative members.

But, as always, “Christians”, such as they are, would rather cast blame outward than look inward for solutions. It’s a comfortable but narrative, but one which is complete an utter horse hockey of the most putrid sort.

I never meant to imply that my socialization hypothesis is the end all, be all explanation. It’s just an alternative theory that would be worth exploring more, and an example of how we should be careful when it comes to drawing immediate conclusions about studies revealing correlation. Rebecca is right that some Christians (particularly the fundamentalists) have definitely been hostile toward science and intelligence over the years in a way that has driven people away from Christianity. But it’s interesting that those people have been driven – not to the arms of liberal churches – but from the church altogether. In that case, it seems to me that socialization is still playing a role because secularism is the alternative taken rather than a more intelligence-friendly form of Christian faith.

A Playlist of Songs of Lament

Last month, a tragedy occurred in the life of one of my closest friends. She was understandably furious at God, and I was frustrated by a God who sometimes seems to love her less than I do. After we’d taken care of the necessary odds and ends, I retreated to my room to pray. Yet my tongue was stuck; there was nothing I wanted to say to God. Normally when I’m verbally incapacitated during prayer (a frequent occurrence for a reluctant convert), I resort to song for communication. Yet in this moment facing tragedy, I had no songs to sing.

Songwriter Michael Gungor explains the reason for my sudden muteness – “Approximately 0 percent of the top 150 CCLI songs (songs sung most in churches) are laments.” Popular songbooks contain half the number of laments found in the psalms; for evangelicals whose worship leaders pick and choose their favorites, the number of laments we learn dwindles even more. I could only think of one – “It Is Well With My Soul” – whose titular refrain couldn’t be farther from what I was feeling. To save you from having to dig as thoroughly as I had to to find appropriate songs to sing at this time, I figured I would share. So, here are some of the songs I found myself capable of singing during this time of lament, organized in order of the amount of frustration relative to praise I could muster while singing them.

Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2

Yahweh/40 – U2 

Pride – U2 

Rivers of Babylon – Sublime 

Trenchtown Rock – Bob Marley 

Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens 

For the Widows in Paradise for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti – Sufjan Stevens 

Hallelujah! What a Savior! – traditional hymn

Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley 

Timshel – Mumford & Sons 

Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons 

Awake My Soul – Mumford & Sons 

Dry Bones – Gungor 

How He Loves – John Mark Mcmillan

Satisfied in You – The Sing Team 

Feel the Tide Turning – Mumford & Sons 

Beautiful Things – Gungor 

In the end, I believe in a God who can redeem all our suffering, just as he did for the suffering of Jesus on the cross. I believe in Jesus, who felt such palpable distance from God – just as my friend did – that he cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I needed songs of lament to remember this.

Gungor sums it up best in his article, “Why Worship Music Should Be Sadder“: “A Christianity that does not lament is a shallow Christianity. It is a medicinal, numbing balm we use to avoid living life in a world that is groaning. It is a Band-Aid to cover our wounds. Fig leaves to be sewn over our humanness. And many of us need to be saved from our addiction to this anemic, shallow substitute for Christianity.”

Hopefully this list may help you find this list of songs a helpful tool for living life in a world that is still groaning, aching for the full justice and grace of God.