Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Drugs and Spirituality

Many Christians believe that taking prescription drugs for mental illness is tantamount to a lack of faith. I believe the reason is that people wrongly believe that their spiritual nature is greater than their physical nature. Although this problem occasionally becomes evident when people refuse medical treatment in order to be healed of general medical conditions, this way of thinking is more rampant in regards to mental illness.

I'm taking a Psychopharmacology course and my professor, Dr. Archibald Hart, suggests that the reason for this belief is that people lack a comprehensive theology of creation. That is to say, people don't know how God works in creation. Specifically, people remain ignorant as to the physicality of our minds. God created us with miraculously complex brains that can sometimes go awry, just like other body parts. If we come to grips with this truth, we will find that drugs are merely a way to restore our body to it's "natural" condition.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sex and the Human Spirit

I read an interesting article in Relevant Magazine on chastity. Unfortunately I could not find the article online so I am reflecting on it by memory.

The author pointed out that there is a difference between abstinence and chastity. Abstinence is merely not doing it while chastity is something much more. Being chaste means valuing purity as a way of life. I liked this important differentiation because it highlights that sexual purity is more than merely a lack of behaviors. I'd posit that the reason that abstinence pledges tend not to be very effective is that they do not acknowledge the values and thoughts that lead to a chaste lifestyle.

The second point that I appreciated hearing anew was that sexual intimacy without emotional attachment is unhealthy. While most people in our culture tend to think that guilt over sexual acting out is a symptom of an unhealthy approach to sexuality, the author argued that the opposite was actually true. Those who can detach themselves from their sexual experiences are often quite emotionally unhealthy.

On this second point I'd like to add a few of my own thoughts. I have come to appreciate more and more the unified nature of our selves. We cannot detach our bodies from our emotions. As such, the belief that we can share ourselves in a physically intimate way without emotional intimacy is ungrounded.

In addition, I believe that the large majority of human sexuality is actually not caused by "sexual" arousal. I have noticed in myself the drive for sexuality is increased when I feel disconnected and lonely. And I also notice that there are numerous links between sexuality and fear and anger and selfishness. I think healthy sexuality will come when we recognize that our cravings are not for human flesh but for spirit and relationship.

Care to disagree? Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Makes a Church Healthy?

One area where I dabble in is the assessment of churches. I am contracted labor for a small business that does consulting for churches to help them improve. We have some ways of assessing what defines a healthy, growing church but I want to take a second look here.

Now I've grown up in a fairly large church. So I'm biased towards a more institutionalized church where there is little contact with pastors. But most churches have less than 500 members and the pastor(s) have the opportunity to really connect with their congregation.

1) New ideas are welcome and managed well. I believe a healthy church will open itself up to the input of the congregation. Now, this can be dangerous because it can distance members if their ideas aren't taken up. But it also creates a sense of identity and ownership so that people can get excited about their own church.

2) The church has events and activities that the whole church can get excited about. Whether it is a church-wide picnic or a missions fundraising project, the church needs to create a sense of unity and reliance on one another.

3) A feeling of being at home. This is rather elusive but I think there are some defining characteristics. The first is that people talk to one another. The second is that the church building feels welcoming and does not provoke anxiety (i.e. poor parking, etc). The third is that people take personal interest in maintaining the property. Finally, there is a routine that can be counted upon.

4) Music is enjoyable. I can't tell you how important this seems to be to a lot of church members. This is a difficult task to accomplish as the older folks tend to enjoy the hymns while the younger crowd likes more modern music. But either by having numerous services with different types of music or by blending the two types together, music needs to be of high enough quality to draw people in.

These are by no means exhaustive. In fact, they are just some that I thought were important to me. But I think it is important to consider what qualities are important for churches to provide a safe place to grow closer to God.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


As a neo-evangelical that has emerged out of fundamentalism, I have come to see that certain views that I once thought were inescapably Christian are actually the result of reactionary trends in populist views that have emerged neither from Scripture nor church tradition, but rather from a desire to concretize the abstract and dynamic nature of faith. First let me unpack that a little bit with some definitions. By neo-evangelical, I mean that I see myself as holding to the core elements of Christian faith, including but not limited to the belief in the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, salvation through faith and not works, and the induction into a community of believers referred to as the church. By fundamentalist I mean those individuals who have ascribed to an approach towards faith that is dogmatic and uninformed, choosing to retreat to individualistic and propositional belief statements rather than engage in the changing contexts of their cultural surroundings.

Like I said in the opening statement, I came out of a fundamentalist background. Although I do not see my church nor my parents as fundamentalist, I had such a fear of uncertainty that I embraced a worldview that saw the Bible as inerrant, evolution as false, liberals as evil, and my own mind as the best manager of truth. I had been discouraged from incorporating scientific findings into my worldview because they were in contrast with Biblical witness, and therefore wrong.

Fundamentalism represents the most widespread religious understanding among Christians. There is no one criterion for fundamentalism but in general it is the placing of faith and science in conflict against one another. Now, while I cannot explore the fallacies of fundamentalism, Biblically and logically, in this blog for lack of time and expertise, I do want to begin a discussion on what the repercussions are. Because I think a fundamentalist mindset can lead to a number of unhealthy approaches to living.

The first is that science is only to be trusted if it agrees with preconceived notions of Christianity. Despite the clear evidence that these notions have been wrong in the past (e.g. Galileo), people continue to trust their gut instinct (sometimes coined as the Holy Spirit) to determine what is true or not. Such an approach is grounded in pride and results in the person becoming unwilling to take on the perspectives of others. This devotion to one's own belief above love of neighbor causes rifts in relationships with others.

The second is that the Bible is looked at as a source of truth statements. While in reality the Bible is written primarily as a narrative of the story of the people of God, fundamentalists see the Bible as being an instruction book for living. While the Bible does inform us as to how we ought to live, this is done through stories of people struggling and failing and invites us to enter that story.

The third is believing in the dualism of mind (or spirit or soul) and body. Believing that people have a soul is common. And while I don't discourage people to hold such beliefs, I do discourage holding to the complete worldview that such beliefs encourage. Such a worldview would discount the impact of mental illness, including imbalances in neurochemicals, because the mind or soul is the ultimate cause of all action. In other words, mental illness would be seen as a weak soul or lack of faith. Rather than fully considering our embodied nature, which limits our free will, dualists pretend that all lifestyles and ways of thinking can be transcended by the soul through the Holy Spirit.

While there is much more to say I will stop there. I hope that Christians recognize fundamentalism for what it is - an unbiblical approach to truth and faith - and begin to incorporate true faith, which has room for doubting and uncertainty.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Not Disciplined for Spiritual Disciplines?

One person in ten reads the Bible daily. Of course, there are plenty of people who aren't interested in doing so. But there are still others who wish they would read the Bible daily, kind of like hoping they could stick to their diet. Most people suggest that it is a lack of time that gets in their way. But could this really be the case for Americans, who have the time to watch a 2 hour finale of American Idol? I would say not. I think there are psychological obstacles to reading the Bible.

1. Many think the Bible is too long, the language is too difficult, and that it would take a great deal of time to actually read it. But, while the Bible is undoubtedly thick, that is because it actually is comprised of 66 books, all of which are manageable to read in a month. I also recommend that if you find reading the Bible to be difficult, find a different translation. The NIV is written at a 7th grade reading level, and is one of the most popular translations available, but an even better selection for those who have difficulty reading the dense language is the New Living Translation (NLT). Finally, just remember that you don't have to read a whole book in one sitting. Reading one chapter in a sitting can be easily accomplished in ten minutes and makes a good habit just before bed.

2. Although I discounted it earlier, finding time to read the Bible is often a real obstacle. People can sometimes genuinely want to read their Bible but they only remember at times when they are too busy to read. When time is available, people usually just go into passive mode and never even think about reading their Bible. One good way is to read the Bible when waking up or going to sleep. While this is a habit that may take awhile to catch on, these are times where the mind can become prepared for the day ahead or settled down from the day that has passed. Keeping the Bible on the bedstand can be a good reminder.

3. Failure can stop a person in their tracks. Some people try reading their Bible regularly. Then they miss a day or two and suddenly they find it impossible to start again. I think there are two things that you can tell yourself when this happens. First, "This is a new habit so of course I'm not going to do it perfectly. I'm human and I forget sometimes." This reminds you that you are in the midst of a process in which there is a lot of grace. Second, "I want this because it will remind me of ... (God's love for me, how I need to live, or whatever motivates you)." This second one reminds you that you are trying to read out of desire rather than obligation. This is more effective than saying, "I should read my Bible" because that means you are being forced from a power outside yourself rather than making the decision for yourself.

4. Many people, although they wouldn't admit it, feel like the Bible makes them feel guilty. People don't want to be reminded of religious beliefs that contradict their lifestyle. This is a tricky one. In fact, I think this is the most important obstacle to overcome. I noted above that we should remind ourselves why we want to read our Bible and that it should our personal desire. If we are motivated by guilt, then reading the Bible will only last for so long. Instead, we need to be dissatisfied by our life enough to see reading the Bible as a means for change. If we have that mindset then we look at reading the Bible as something that is a positive step for ourselves and thus experience no guilt in it. We may have sins pointed out as we read, but even then we do not wallow in our guilt but rather, by looking at the benefits of a Christian life, find renewed purpose to change.