That's A Good Question

One of the best things I learned last week was how to ask better questions—both of myself and other people. When blurting out your own opinion is not an option, asking a good question is the best way to really further a meaningful dialog. In fact, I’m beginning to think that that questions are almost always the best way to further meaningful dialog….even when you do have the option to say what you think!

If you were to die tonight, do you know if you would go to heaven or hell?

Remember when this was pretty much the only way we knew how to start a conversation about faith? Things have evolved a little since then, as we as individuals have matured and as the culture has changed. Now I can think of all kinds of questions I ask myself and my friends about God and faith and life, questions I’m not as sure I have the answers to as I used to be.

Here are some of my favorite/most useful/weirdest questions.

To ask myself:

  • Can I turn this idea, or this frustration, or this passion into constructive action?
  • When tempted to gossip or smart-off—Can I get this same feeling of security/confidence some other way?
  • How am I spending my time? Could I be working smarter instead of harder…and am I spending my time doing things I really care about, things I think are important?
  • Would I say this if I knew the person I’m talking about was in the room with me?
  • Am I living deliberately? (Been asking myself this ever since I discovered Thoreau back in high school!)
  • When was the last time I spent considerable time outdoors?
  • Have I reminded Dan to eat? (He actually forgets if someone doesn’t tell him; I will never understand this about him.)
  • What would Jesus do? (I know. I know. But it’s actually a pretty good question when you really think about it…and when it’s not printed on a bracelet around your wrist.)
  • Am I treating people the way they would want to be treated?
  • Have I focused on making the people around me feel better about themselves or on making me feel better about myself?
  • Is it necessary for me to say this? (I REALLY need to work on asking myself this more often!)

To start a conversation:

  • Would you still be a Christian if there was no hope of heaven or resurrection?
  • Do you ever have doubts? How do you respond to them? (I’ve heard some VERY interesting responses to this question recently.)
  • Do you think that God has a specific will for each person’s life that each person must strive to discover?
  • How do you define “blessing”?
  • If money were not an issue, what would you do with your life? How much of that can you be doing on a smaller scale in your present circumstances? (Also a question I ask myself a lot.)
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • Where were you when 9-11 happened?
  • What’s the most interesting place you have been?
  • What's your favorite animal? (WHY do people suddenly stop asking us this as soon as we reach puberty?)
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What are you reading?
  • Have you ever seen ‘Arrested Development,’ and if not, when do you want to come over and watch it with me?

To improve conversation:

  • What do you mean?
  • How do you define—?
  • Where did you get that information?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • Have you ever seen ‘Arrested Development,’ and if not, when do you want to come over and watch it with me?

What are some of your favorite questions? Tomorrow I’ll incorporate the best of your questions/my questions into a questionnaire, and give everyone the chance to respond. Should be fun!

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Why People Believe Health Care is a Right, Even When They Say They Don't

During my week without opinions, we touched briefly on the subject of health care, a subject of tremendous importance to me personally and a subject of much debate and scrutiny as congress works through various proposals for reform.

Although I’m trying to avoid commenting too soon about the positions I highlighted last week, (as a retroactive response would sort of defeat the purpose of the experiment), I would like to address why I believe we may share more common ground than we might realize.

In talking about health care, the first question people often ask is, “Do you think health care is a right or a privilege?”

This question is beside the point. In fact, I would argue that, regardless of political persuasion or religious conviction, most people in America believe that access to health care is a right.

Here’s why:

Let’s say a ten-year-old girl is brought into the local ER with life-threatening injuries sustained from a car accident. Let’s say she needs treatment immediately. Now, let’s say her parents are uninsured and can’t afford the life-saving treatment she so desperately needs.

Should the girl be turned away because of her inability to pay?

If you answered no, then you believe she has a right to health care.

The fact that most Americans actually believe that their fellow citizens have a right to health care (which is a good thing) explains why the system is so screwed up right now (which is a bad thing). The truth is, we are already paying for health care for the uninsured. In America, a person cannot be turned away from an ER because of his or her inability to pay. So that little girl will get the treatment she needs, the costs for that treatment will be absorbed by the hospital, and you and I end up getting bills that show we paid $100 for a Q-tip when we stayed overnight for an appendectomy. Our ERs get crowded with the uninsured. Costs go up. Premiums go up.  Everything goes up... except for fair and reliable insurance coverage, which goes down.

I would argue that it is our basic, God-given sense of right and wrong that tells us that little girl should not be left to die. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us the poor (and increasingly, the middle class) have as much a right to life as the rich. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us it is unfair when a cancer-stricken woman is laid off from her job, loses her health insurance, and then cannot get it back because of her preexisting condition. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us millions of people should not have to face the choice between a lifetime of debt and the life of a loved one.

We may disagree about how to fix health care, but I hope we can agree that this basic sense of right and wrong that compels us to provide care for that little girl in the ER is not the part of the equation that needs fixing. Just as I believe the unborn have a right to life, I believe the born have a right to life—regardless of their status or income or insurance coverage.

What do you think?

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Watcha Readin'? What's on your bookshelf?

Transient

When you see a bunch of frazzled parents wandering around the school supplies section of Wal Mart with long, printed lists in their hands, you know that summer is drawing to a close. Here in Tennessee, some teachers start back next week!

With this in mind, I thought I’d check in to see how your summer reading is going. Finished any interesting books lately? Any guilty pleasures? Have you spent the summer with fiction or non-fiction, or a little of both? Is there a book you keep putting off?

For some reason, I’ve been in a scholarly mood recently—I’m finishing up N.T. Wright’s Justification (which, in a lot of ways, raised more questions in my mind than answers, and also made me want to read every other N.T. Wright book ever written, particularly Jesus and the Victory of God), and I’ve just borrowed Satan and the Problem of Evil by Greg Boyd from my father, (a thick volume that is intimidating on the outside, but surprisingly accessible on the inside).

I’ve also begun research for an idea I have for my next book. Here’s a list of what I’ve ordered/checked out from the library:

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Marvin R. Wilson, Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians by Lawrence Kushner, The Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd, The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, Decision Making and the Will of God by Gary Friesen, Satan and the Problem of Evil by Greg Boyd, A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas Madden, and Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right by Anders Stephanson.

Any guesses about the topic? Here’s a hint: Like the first book, this book would be written in a memoir style.

Hope I made you curious!

So, the other day, a friend was looking through the books on my bookshelf and I suddenly became really self-conscious. I worried that he might judge my intellectual/spiritual capacity by what he saw!

What’s the most embarrassing book on your bookshelf? What’s the snobbiest? 

For me? Most embarrassing: Philosophy for Dummies or What Would MacGyver Do? Snobbiest: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.

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A Week Without Opinions, Days 6 and 7: Reflections, Links, Driscoll

Quote of the Day: “I’m ready for the old Rachel to come back.” – Dan Evans

So today is the last day of my week without opinions, and honestly, midnight could not come soon enough!  Even Dan, who seemed to really enjoy the first few days of my fast, seems to have grown tired of all the silence around the house. I think we both realized this week that my propensity for self-expression can have both negative, hurtful l effects and positive, life-giving effects. As the famous Proverb states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

My hope is that, after this week, I will continue to exercise more control over my tongue,  that I will get into the habit of humbling myself and listening better, that I will have more patience and peace with ideas I do not like, and that I will prioritize love, servanthood, and friendship over points, counterpoints, and opinions. My hope is that I will continue to learn how to harness the power of my opinions so that they build up and not tear down.

Though I’m already looking ahead, I still have a few more opinion-less items to report.

First of all, I often use weekend posts to provide links to articles I liked on the Web. But, in the spirit of the fast, today I thought I’d include the perspectives of folks I wouldn’t normally agree with.  (As you will notice, these links relate to the subjects I covered during the week.)

Ron Paul argues that healthcare is a good, not a right. John Piper shares a few thoughts on free will.  And John Starke of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood weighs in on the gender debate

Also this week, I pledged to read an entire Mark Driscoll book. I chose The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out (Zondervan, 2004), which I finished this morning. I tried to read with an open mind, looking for insights from which I could learn.  I found this quote particularly convicting:

…Deconstruction is easier than construction, and deconstruction with without a rebuilding plan leads to homelessness…This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find...Christians, especially young Christian leaders, are often so influenced by all this postmodern whining that their faith becomes, in large part, defined by what they are against rather than what they are for…Many of the critiques of modern Christianity are legitimate and desperately needed. Every movement of God to redeem a culture begins with frustration and as a reaction. But those reactions and frustrations are seasons that must be quickly passed through, like puberty, so that maturity, vision, mission, and the hope of the gospel can become the primary issue for God’s people on reformission. We must remember to do more than critique the work of others; we must help cultivate a kingdom counterculture where we live.(p. 169-170)

Ten more hours to go!

So, what did you think of this experiment? Did you take a break from opinions this week? How did it go? Got any links to share about healthcare, gender roles, or Calvinism? What do you think of Mark Driscoll’s quote?

Those of you who have always wanted to give me an earful should proceed now, before it’s too late!  (Believe me, I’ve gotten one or two of those this week already!) :-)

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A Week Without Opinions, Day 5: Calvinism

So my final interview during the week without opinions was with a local Reformed pastor about Calvinism.  I was most nervous about this interview, mainly because discussions about predestination, salvation, limited atonement, and sovereignty tend to elicit strong emotional reactions from me.  I actually cried while writing up the questions!

Fortunately, no tears were shed during the interview itself. Carter, the pastor, could not have been more kind. He even brewed a pot of coffee for the occasion.  We sat in two comfy armchairs in the foyer of his beautiful, brand-new church building, and for over an hour talked about Reformed theology. I learned a lot—about the theology itself, about common misconceptions, and about why it can be so meaningful to some people.

Carter has been a pastor for 24 years, and with this particular church for 18 years. He said that the majority of the people in his congregation did not come from a Presbyterian background, but were drawn to the church because it is a place where the Word is being taught and where the people genuinely care for one another. Indeed, the church has a reputation in the community for being a tight-knit and loving family.

Carter himself was raised in the Reformed tradition. However, because he attended the non-denominational Columbia Biblical Seminary, he had the opportunity to encounter a wide variety of theological perspectives, which actually helped him work through and refine his own views.

Ultimately, Carter felt drawn to Calvinism because he says he found it to be the most biblical approach to Christian theology and because he appreciated its history. (“Calvinism is much older than Arminiainsim,” he noted.) As a Presbyterian minister, Carter believes that what the Bible teaches is summarized best by the Westminster Confession of Faith, although he acknowledged that, as a system of doctrine, the confession is not inerrant.

“Calvinism keeps us from compartmentalizing our faith in that we recognize the sovereignty of God over all things,” Carter said. “We know that the earth is the Lord’s and that it exists for his glory... So wherever there is truth or beauty, we embrace it as God’s. We know that all people were created in God’s image and have the stamp of God upon them.”

(Within Calvinism, this perspective is commonly referred to as “common grace.”)

In addition to recognizing common grace, Calvinism acknowledges the reality of a “common curse,” said Carter, in that “man is fallen, man has a bent toward evil, and man is not capable of creating utopia on his own.”

“Calvinism represents the Bible well in that it keeps man in his rightful place,” Carter said. “It recognizes both the greatness and fallenness of man.”

...which brought us to the first petal of T-U-L-I-P.

I wish I could include our whole conversation about these five tenants of Calvinism—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. In the interest of space and time, I’ll focus instead on some of the points that Carter clarified.

  • Total depravity refers to “pervasive sinfulness, in that no part of our being is touched by sin,” explained Carter.  It does not mean that people are incapable of good.
  • Unconditional election means that “God chooses those whom he will save unconditioned upon anything they do themselves.”
  • Limited atonement means that Jesus' death paid for the sins of the elect alone and by it secured their salvation. Carter explained that Christ’s atonement was “sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.” 
  • Irresistible grace means that grace always works in the manner in which God desires.
  • Perseverance of the saints refers to the fact that those who are saved are eternally saved. They cannot be lost.

At this point, we got into some of the nitty gritty, as I asked him about things like the Problem of Evil and the preordained damnation of the non-elect. Here are some of Carter’s points:

  • Regarding the damnation of the non-elect, Carter pointed out that both Calvinists and Arminian’s share a “problem” in that most Arminians still believe that God permits people to be damned. “Is it any more fair for God to leave the salvation of so many people in the hands of Christian witnesses than it is for salvation to be foreordained?” Carter asked.  Whether we use the word “preordain” or “permit,” we end up with God knowing ahead of time who will be saved and who will not be saved. 
  • That God will keep people out of heaven who want to be in heaven in violation of their free will is a misconception about Calvinism, Carter said. “If man is left to himself, he will never desire to come after God. No one deserves salvation.  We are all on death row. It is by grace that God pardons a select few.”
  • Regarding God’s sovereignty and the Problem of Evil, Carter noted that this is also a “problem” shared by Arminians and Calvinists, in that even most Arminians believe that God knowingly permits things like genocide, rape, and war. Carter acknowledged a distinction between God’s moral will and his sovereign will, in the sense that things like genocide, rape, and war violate God’s moral will because they run contrary to his nature. However he maintained that such things do not happen outside of God’s sovereign will. The Problem of Evil, though difficult, should not lead us to despair, he said. “It’s like reading the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and stopping there because Gandalf dies,” he said. “Though we haven’t experienced the end of the story yet, we know that God will ultimately win and that his purposes are good.”

As we talked, it became clear that Carter found Reformed Theology not only intellectually satisfying, but personally enriching. 

“God is sovereign. God is wise. God loves me,” he said. “Knowing this enables me to rest in the mess and to hold on to hope no matter what may happen. It brings contentment, peace, and excitement for life because I know that God is in complete control. Reformed Theology acknowledges that despite the brokenness of this world, God can be trusted and he will make all things new.”

Because I could not include our interview in its entirety, I asked Carter what reading material he would recommend for a basic understanding of Calvinism. He suggested Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Scott Horton, The Reformed Faith by Loraine Boettner, and What is the Reformed Faith? by John R. de Witt. Regarding T-U-L-I-P, he recommended The Five Points: Define, Defended, Documented - by David Steel, Curtis Thomas and S. Lance Quinn.

Josh, a friend of the blog and a (mostly) Calvinist, recommended this link for a comparison between Calvinism and Arminianism.

What has been your experience with Calvinism through the years? What do you see as the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Calvinism as compared to the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Arminianism?

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