Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Day with Ruth Haley Barton

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Ruth Haley Barton, author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. (See my August 08 blog for a review of her book.) She came to Texas to speak to a group of executive pastors for which I’m the facilitator.

We were challenged and blessed by Ruth’s time with us. She helped us look deep into our own souls to become more aware of the places where we had drawn away from God. I especially appreciated her observation that “when church leaders lose their souls, the church we lead may lose its soul too.” In my own journey and in the glimpses I have into the lives of many other church leaders, I see the pace of ministry and the pursuit of “success” taking a significant toll on leaders and churches. We may justify it as “just for a season” or “doing our best for the Lord,” but are we kidding ourselves? I’m pretty sure we’re not kidding God.

So what are we to do about this? This is an interesting time of the year for pastors. We give thanks for our blessings, gear up for all the extra activities of advent, try to catch our breaths with a few days off after Christmas, and then make bold plans for the new year. Perhaps the boldest thing we can do is say “no” to some activities so that we can say “yes” to the quietness in which God can begin to restore our souls.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Have We Lost More than a Symbol?

I recently read Dan Brown’s newest thriller, The Lost Symbol. I read it partly because I like a good page-turner, and partly because I wanted to see if Brown would continue the anti-Christian tone of The DaVinci Code.

So did he? It depends on your definition of anti-Christian. Where DaVinci struck at the core of orthodox Christian beliefs, Lost Symbol was more subtle but perhaps even more insidious. Brown weaves spiritual references throughout the dialogue of his main characters, but it’s a new age, universalism that is advocated. In doing so, they clearly communicate that any intelligent person will agree with this “enlightened” view.

So why is this even worthy of a blog? After all, we shouldn’t be surprised that Brown does this, and plenty of others in the spotlight have similar viewpoints. What struck me was Brown’s use (or misuse) of Scripture to try to undermine Christian teaching. Three times one of his characters quotes Luke 17:21, where Jesus says “the kingdom of God is within you.” Each time this reference is used to claim that the Bible actually teaches a new age philosophy that we are all gods or can all become gods.

Again, this may not be surprising coming from Brown. But I found myself wondering, “How many of the people in my church could refute this teaching? How many are shaky enough in their faith and knowledge of Scripture that they would say, ‘That’s an interesting interpretation’ rather than simply declaring it as wrong?” I don’t know the answer, but I’m almost afraid to ask. My hunch is that biblical literacy, not just in my congregation but throughout the Church in North America, is sadly lacking. For those of us in the Protestant tradition, perhaps it’s time to reclaim a core belief: “Sola Scriptura.”