Catholic, Quaker, Evolution, Apocalypse: final TNT for ABCs

We finish with a BANG! Callid and Bo conclude the ABC’s of Theology series with: W-WordofGod

Thank you for all of your feedback and encouragement.

A special thanks goes to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series!!!!

You can find the Unfolded narrative podcast here.


Z is for Zebra

I was taught to refute evolution. It was a cornerstone to apologetics.Z-Zebra

Zebras and their stripes were a primary example used to refute evolution. If the stripes are for camouflaging a herd of zebras from predators … the first striped offspring would have actually stood out from the heard and thus been an easy target.

This is an example of getting ahead of oneself without fully entering into the school of thought one is trying to combat.
We saw this same problem with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s banana conversation. You can’t simply start with where we are and extrapolate backwards from there.

  • Science has a commitment to the process.
  • Apologetics has a conviction of the conclusions.

We can’t pretend to honestly engage in asking questions if we begin with the assumption of the answers. That will always result in coming out with twisted conclusions.

Admittedly, scientists have been baffled over the zebra’s stripes for a long time. Recently some strong studies has have shown that the stripes are not about camouflaging herds from large predators but about flies. The region where zebras dwell has a breed of flies called tsetse that are legendary in their viciousness. Scientists have historically known that flies have an aversion to landing on striped surfaces. The zebra’s striped pattern acts then as a natural deterrent. This leads to greater health with less blood loss and therefore greater vitality which benefits reproduction – passing on those key genetics to offspring.

It turns out that zebras stripes are not about herds camouflaging from large predators but about individuals deterring small pests. This means that the initial zebra ancestor to have that genetic variation would have benefited and thus that attribute would be more likely to be passed on to the next generation.

So the apologetics argument I learned is flawed and would not refute the point it is intended to.

That is problem #1 with not fully entering into an idea well enough to understand it – there has to be a commitment to the question not just a conviction about the conclusion.
Problem #2 is that much of the suspicion from creationists about evolutionary thought is based on the hard and cold version of survival of the fittest from a century ago. Many don’t know of newer strains of evolutionary thought that incorporate cooperation, mutuality and emergence thought.
Evolution has evolved in the past 30 years but many creation apologists prefer to takes pot-shots at the straw man caricature of darwinian schools of the past.

As we wrap up the ABC’s of Theology series, I wanted to acknowledge that not only has christian belief evolved and adapted over the centuries and encourage you to embrace these historic adjustments. The gospel is itself incarnational and the universe is evolutionary. Those two things go together beautifully. The gospel is good news and is constantly in need to be contextualized to new times and new places. The scriptures are inherently translatable and come into every language and culture. This is one of the unique aspects of the christian religion.

If evolution is true of the universe, christians should have no need to avoid or refute it. We can embrace evolutionary thought wholeheartedly.

Christians should, after all, be people who love truth.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri 

You may also want to check out earlier posts about technology, the Bible and specifically genres within the Bible.

This Pope is even good for Protestants

I love this new Pope!  Not because I agree with everything he says or does – nor should I. I’m not even Catholic.

Not a week goes by without someone asking me about the new Pope. Every time he reaches out to some unexpected soul, I am going to get asked about it. Pope

A kid in a wheelchair – did you see that?

A Muslim women – what do you think of that? 

A prisoner – is that like a normal thing or … that just him? 

It started on the day of his election. I got a call from an Australian radio station that wanted to have me on to get a non-Southern hemisphere perspective. [you can hear the audio segment below] I thought it was pretty random at the time (they had seen my blog-post earlier that day where I said it would be a game-changer).

It was not to be an isolated incident. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about the new Pope.

Last week I was watching a football game at a sports-bar. A couple from out of town sits down next to me. A little chit-chat reveals that I am a local but not originally from here.

How long have you lived in LA?  4 years.

What brought ya?  School. I am a student. 

What do you study? It’s called Practical Theology – it’s like a mix between sociology and religion. 

Oh yeah? What do you think about this new Pope?

This is literally 2 minutes into the conversation.


On the TNT that will come out this evening, our third caller asks about the Pope and Marxism … we never get to the fourth call.

[ side-note: On our 2013 Review show Tripp’s pick for moment of the year was during that game Au Contraire Mon Frere where he (in contrast to Tony Jones) said that the new Pope was the real deal.]

I have irreligious friends on Facebook that will email me an article about the Pope and ask what I think.


Why do I bring this up? Well, for over a decade I trained and loved being an ‘evangelist’ and ‘apologist’. I loved giving a reasonable presentation of the faith. I trained others in how to ‘give an answer when asked about the hope that is within you’.
Though I have emerged as a different kind of thinker, the delight of a stranger asking a question about something related to faith never goes away.

Here is the thing: I have spent hundreds of hours preparing to answer questions that people just don’t ask anymore. In apologist circles we were talking about the shift we were experiencing before the events of September 11, 2001.  Since then, it has been monumental. The world is very different than it was 40 – even 30 – years ago.

In an age of Facebook, smart phones and global terror … people are just not that interested in the stuff that I was trained to answer. They are asking a different set of questions.

That is why it is so notable that somebody – every week – is going to ask me about the Pope. So it seems to me that it would be a good investment of time – if you are someone who, like me, is evangelistic or apologetic at all – to keep an eye on the activities of the Pope. I might go as far as to say that it would be a better spend of time than watching another ‘debate’ between creation and evolution …

Who knew that a new season in the Catholic church would open doors for Protestant ministers?  I get to both talk about all the good things that he does which provides an opportunity to distinguish my own expression of the faith in issues of women’s ordination, human sexuality, and economic matters.

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, corrections or questions. 

Branded From Birth and the Web of Meaning (2/2)

Some of the best feedback I got last week, when talking about Social Costructivism being my philosophical orientation within my chosen discipline of Practical Theology, came from WrdsandFlsh

Responding to my sentence:  “I do not believe in the autonomous, selective nor the pre-institutional self. I am a social constructivist who believes that we are socialized, groomed and conditioned from day 1.”,  She said:

Your social constructionist theory fits well within Serene Jones’ theology of sin. We are given “scripts” form the time we’re born. Those scripts teach us consumerism, racism, patriarchy, etc. So we are indoctrinated into sin in our very language. We are shaped before we have a knowing self into the language, patterns, etc of our families/communities. And, that includes being shaped by the societal institutions of sin.

I think there is much to explore in the idea that we can never get back to our “pre-conditioned” selves. We are always indoctrinated (for lack of a better term) into the communities in which we are raised.

So, my question to you as a Pastor and not as a researcher, is to say, how do you live theology differently with this in mind? (As opposed to study theology).Perichoresis

I am always honored when someone asks about translating a theological idea into pastoral practice. It is literally my favorite thing in the world – next, of course, to reflecting on the perichoresis. 

 Four things come to mind initially: 

  •  the first is a joke I got from Peter Rollins
  •  the second has to do with expectations
  •  the third deals with authority
  •  the last addresses translation



A man walks into a lawyers office to inquire about legal council and asks “How much does a consultation cost?”

The lawyer informs him that the fee is $200 for three questions.

Surprised, the man asks “Really?”

The lawyer says “Yes. Now what is your third question?”


Rollins used this joke to reflect on the nature of ideology: we find ourselves deep in the midst of it before we realize that we are even in it.

One of the most helpful things that we can do for people as pastoral leadership in the church is help them to realize the nature of inherited beliefs and assumptions. Through our preaching and counsel we can illuminate the nature of ‘what we are caught up in the middle of’.

While I tend to try and steer away from technological analogies for humanity, this is my one exception:

When people come to us they are often  wanting help to fix A) a glitch with the program they are trying to run or B) a problem with the hardware.

Rarely do they want to address the operating system that underlies the problem. We assume the operating system ( the ideologies and assumptions behind that which we can see)  and either want to fix the program we already use or to download a better version of it.

Getting people to examine the operating system that is in place is difficult because it is a much bigger undertaking than simply tweaking the program or trading out some hardware.

If  what they are using was working they probably wouldn’t come to us – we wouldn’t even know about. Like a medicine woman or a computer repair person we see people when something is broken. Being prepared with how to access the operating system–and not just fixed the program that is running on it–is a gift we can offer people.


Expectations:  I have told this story before but it is illustrative for this point.

A man in my congregation would lose his job at the big factory in town on a seasonal/semiannual rotation. When the economy was in a rut, he remained jobless for quite a while and his family was devastated that God had let them down.

We prayed as a congregation, as we did for everyone, for his employment. It dawned on me, however,  during this period that we might be better off addressing the systemic problem of how the major employers in our area conducted themselves.

 In many circles the way we pray exposes a gap in our understanding. We are fine to pray for people personally and to focus on their individual piety/spirituality (mirco) And to trust in the heavenly/divine of some transcendent realm (macro).  Where we are negligent is in the connective element of systems, structures, and institutions.

The work of folks like Walter Wink on The Powers is essential here.

We do people a great disservice when we neglect this essential component and allow people to conceive of themselves and their lives as individuals – and then jump right to the heavenlies. That enlightenment notion of self and society is deadly both to the soul and Christian community.

christian unity


Authority:  Whether you have a hierarchical model of pastoral leadership or a more egalitarian/communitarian conception, we each have a role to play. That role comes with some level of authority over a sphere of influence.

By first understanding, then articulating a better understanding of concepts like original sin (see part 1 of this post),  we recognize and account for the fact that we are all caught up in a web of conflicting desires and motivations. This acknowledgment is essential for the way one conducts her or himself in Christian community and especially leadership within the community.

The people that we interact with and give direction to are as multifaceted, complex, complicated, conflicted, irrational, and erratic  as we ourselves are!  Knowing and confessing this at the beginning and in the midst of every interaction will necessarily cause us to temper our propensity to be prescriptive and formulaic.


Translation:  In the previous post ‘Wrestling with Original Sin”  some fairly elaborate notions of human and societal makeup were put forward.  Contemporary work in the fields of sociology, psychology, and neuroscience ( just to name a few)  have radically altered the way that we understand and thus talk about what it means to be human and to participate in human social organization (society).

A significant gap forms for Christians who’ve been look to the Bible for direction if they do not account for this. One gift that a Reflective Practitioner  brings to a community is the ability to translate divinely inspired pre-modern notions in spiritual direction into the 21st century.

By helping people to understand the reality of the gap between some portions of our sacred text and the lived realities of modern society, we can bless people with the opportunity of insight and clarity. It helps no one to give old answers to new questions and call it being faithful. Being faithful is a willingness to up with new answers to new questions in a way that is informed by the way that the traditional answers were offered in response to questions within that historic context.

This is why I have little interest in the old ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ debates around notions like depravity. They just don’t work anymore. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince people or convert people to a pre-Copernican world view.


Those are the four things that came to mind  in response to your comment.

I would love to get everyone’s feedback on my 4 and to hear what you might add or substitute. 


Wrestling With Original Sin (1/2)

The conversation has been lively this week. It has been uncharacteristically defused: some on Facebook, Twitter, email and some here at the blog.

What follows in the next 2 posts is an attempt to address a theme that emerged out of that vibrant conversation. 

We have 3 good contemporary interpretations of ‘Original Sin’ on the table for discussion. I will call them:

  1. Evolutionary
  2. Realist
  3. Web -Networked.*


Evolutionary Types might talk about our ‘conflicted desires’ or ‘contradictory impulses’. This has been my favorite way to talk about what the ancients were attempting to describe with the idea of ‘original sin’ in the past. Something is wrong and we know it.

Even the Apostle Paul touched on the idea in Romans 7 by acknowledging that we don’t even do the good that we want to do! That is really saying something.

Evolutionary Types are fond of pointing to the conflicted nature of modern men to A) raise their offspring in a stable environment (like the mutually-beneficial social arrangement of marriage)  B) that is in conflict with another biological yearning to spread their seed far & wide to make more offspring. That is the most brute and easiest example.

Admittedly, this is not a very ‘christian’ perspective in some people’s estimation but I think that it illuminating.

  • Q: What if original sin is nothing more than what is going on at the ‘hard wiring’ level underneath the religions language?


Reinhold Niebuhr is famous for an approach called Christian Realism. He said some really interesting things about sin.

Aurthur Schlesinger Jr. says Niebuhr “emphasized the mixed and ambivalent character in human nature – creative impulses matched with destructive impulses, regard for others overruled by excessive self-regard, the will to power, the individual under constant temptation to play God in history. This is what is known in the ancient vocabulary of Christianity as the doctrine of original sin.”

James Cone summarizes this way:

“Because human finitude and humanity’s natural tendency to deny it (sin), we can never fully reach that ethical standard.”

He was speaking of love and justice. Cone comments, “Since Niebuhr saw justice as a balance of power between groups, whether classes, races, or nations, he saw it always in a state of flux, never achieving perfection in history.”

  • Q: What if original sin is better thought of as a deadly combination of human limitation and the natural tendency to deny it? 


A web approach can be heard from thinkers like Terry Eagleton in ‘On Evil’ and was suggested by Bo Eberly (also know as ‘Bo East’).

Eagleton on Original Sin:

“There is a sense in which freedom and destructiveness are bound up together. In the complex web of human destinies, where so many lives are meshes intricately together, the freely chosen actions of one individual may breed damaging, entirely unforeseeable effects in the lives of countless anonymous others. They may also return in alien form to plague ourselves. Acts that we and others have performed freely in the past may merge into an opaque process which appears without an author, confronting us in the present with all the intractable force of fate. In this sense, we are the creatures of our own deeds. A certain inescapable self-estrangement is thus built into our condition…

This is why original sin is traditionally about an act of freedom (eating an apple), yet is at the same time a condition we did not choose, and one which is nobody’s fault. It is ‘sin’ because it involves guilt and injury, but not ‘sin’ in the sense of willful wrong. Like desire for Freud, it is less a conscious act than a communal medium into which we are born. The interwoven of our lives is the source of our solidarity. But it also lies at the root of our mutual harm…

Original sin is not about being born either saintly or wicked. It is about the fact of being born in the first place. Birth is the moment when, without anyone having the decency to consult us on the matter, we enter into the preexistent web of needs, interests, and desires-an inextricable tangle to which the mere brute fact of existence will contribute, and which will shape our identity to the core. This is why in most Christian churches babies are baptized at birth…they have already reorder the universe without being aware of it.”

He goes on:

Original sin is not the legacy of our first parents but our parents, who in turn inherited it from their own. The past is what we are made of. Throngs of ghostly ancestors lurk within our most casual gestures, programming our desires and flicking our actions mischievously awry. Because our earliest, most passionate love affair takes place when we are helpless infants, it is caught up with frustration and voracious need. And this means our loving will always be defective. As with the doctrine of original sin, this condition lies at the core of the of the self, yet is nobody’s responsibility. Love is both what we need in order to flourish and what we are born to fail at. Our only hope is learning to fail better. Which may, of course, prove not to be good enough.”

  •  Q: What if the doctrine of original sin is addressing a tangled web of human desires and destinies that lies at the core of every self but for which nobody is responsible?


In part 2  I will attempt to address how the tangled web of inherited meanings and desires plays out when pastoring – but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on these theories.



* I am not that interested in conserving outdated discussions of ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ and how classical, patristic or Calvinistic understandings of century’s past may have framed it.  But if that is where you are at, you can simply state that and let it stand on it’s own merit. I don’t speculate about the details of ‘an’ original sin even while I am interested in the reality behind the concept. 


Day 14: Going to College with Christians

I have been waiting for us to arrive at Reed College. While I was fascinated with Albania and appreciate the Horse Brass Pub very much, I love Reed. Neighbors & Wisemen

I first learned about Reed through the book Blue Like Jazz which was written by Tony’s friend named named Don – who he mentions in this chapter.

It rocked me. 

One of the reasons it impacted me so much was that I lived in upstate NY at the time and we had a Reed. Our college was called Skidmore and it had much the same reputation in our town.

When I would go to our area’s pastor breakfast, my fellow ministers would make many of the same disparaging remarks about Skidmore that Tony mentions about Reed.

Evangelicals have an odd relationship with colleges like this. Whether it is the free-thinking, the critical scholarship or the permissive lifestyle of many students – these kind of colleges are seen as something between mission fields and combat zones. They represent a threat.

It was through Blue Like Jazz that I figured out that I had inherited a terrible allergy. My heart was wrong. My attitude was wrong. My approach was wrong.

I instantly changed my perspective and we developed a wonderful relationship with many Skidmore students. I’m not sure how much we changed the campus – but I was changed greatly by my relationship to the campus.


When I moved to the Pacific NW for seminary, the town that I lived in and pastored in had a Reed. Evergreen State in Olympia Washington played the same role for us that Reed played for the christian community that Tony represented. We were able to connect with an amazing young man who was a student at Evergreen and I would drive out every Sunday morning and most Wednesdays to pick him up for church.

 I’m blogging my way through Neighbors and Wisemen for Lent. If you want to catch up on the previous entries [click here]

I am fascinated with this pattern. What sits behind it, for me, is an awareness of a massive shift in american Christianity in the 20th century. After the Scopes Money Trial in the 1920’s, conservative Christianity lost much favor in the public arena. In the court of public opinion we had won that trial but lost much respect and influence.

The result was that conservative Christianity retreated into its own self-made institutions. You see the rise of Christian colleges, Christian radio, and eventually even Christian bookstores, Christian TV, and other manifestations of products tailored to those who wanted to consume Christian goods.

In an open capitalist market it is easy to see why this happened. The assault from the outside world led some branches of the family to pull back into their safe bubbles and develop an animosity to the outside world.

Eventually we got what came to be known as The Culture Wars. 

If you want to read a fascinating book, look into The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Here is a spoiler alert: the Evangelical mind was neglected in lieu of the Culture Wars. We are still suffering for it.


So when it comes to these radical College expressions, they are something to be resisted and even combated. I think that we are worse for it. The culture is worse for it. Our scholarship (or lack thereof) suffers because of it.

That is why I am so happy that Tony is taking us onto Reed’s campus.

We have some growing to do. We have some repenting to do. We have some bridges to build and we have some lesson to learn.

Ring the bell – school is about to start!  


I’m glad that we are on this journey together.
I would love to hear your experiences of this kind of combative mentality
or your what the culture wars look like in your area.