Does Evolution Matter?

Recently I was talking with some friends about suffering and God’s work in suffering. During the conversation I posed this question, “Was suffering part of God’s plan for creation?” While on the surface it may sound like a simple question it leads us to some interesting places. The traditional view of God’s “pre-fall” creation is that there was no suffering, death or pain. That is why it was called “very good.” However in recent times as evolutionary theory has matured scholars have begun to try to reconcile death, suffering and imperfectness that are required for evolutionary natural selection to fit inside the Genesis narrative and a larger understanding of God’s goodness.

Now, I want to make this disclaimer, I am not a Hebrew scholar. I am however a follow of Jesus, who I believe is the human manifestation of God’s character. And here’s where I have a problem with the idea that traditional evolutionary process was the planned processes by which God accomplished his creative work. Jesus’ teachings, as I understand them, are based on the idea of love for God and neighbor. That love manifests itself in holding others as valuable as yourself. Serving others. “Whoever among you wants to be great, must be a servant of all,” Jesus said. And in this lies the rub.

Noted author Robert Wright explains that the compassion and empathy that we feel are actually evolutionary processes that are at their core self serving. Even what we may perceive as goodness in humans is actually self serving. This flies in direct conflict with Jesus’ teaching and example of self sacrificing love. Evolution at it’s core cannot function unless the great become greater and the weak become weaker, even if it is through a smoke screen of kindness. For the gene pool to be improved, the weak must be eliminated and the strong must survive.

So this brings me to why I think this whole evolution thing matters. If God’s will, the creation of man, was accomplished through the great becoming greater and the weak becoming weaker then the God revealed by Jesus and the God of evolution are peddling different value systems. The cross itself is the antithesis of survival of the fittest. It is the crescendoing statement by God that He is among us and he doesn’t play by our rules.

When we pair God with the unwieldy tool of biological evolution, we end up with a God that has his hands dirty in the very plot he is supposedly rewriting. Now, does this mean that God does not work in and among evolutionary processes? By no means. God works in and among death, suffering, wars, famines, sin. The cross is enough evidence of this for anyone. Does this make Him the originator, the planner? I don’t think so. The problem is, if God is the architect of suffering and death why are we so hopefully waiting for and participating in the coming Kingdom? What is God making right if what we perceive as wrongs are actually part of his plan? The redemptive work of God, to me, ceases to have meaning if it is carried out by a God who originated the “evil” He is righting.

When God created man, I believe He took a great risk, perhaps the greatest risk. He chose to create beings that were independent from Him. The upside of this risk? I’m not entirely sure but I think part of it has to do with relationship. The down side? These independent beings could choose their own way, including paths that would lead to their own demise. Death and suffering entered the world through the decisions of independent beings that had the freedom to choose their own path. And likewise death and suffering are continued to be carried out by the choices of those independent beings.

To me, this message contains so much more hope. There is hope for humankind to choose a way that ultimately leads to less suffering less death, mainly the way of Jesus.

As always I love conversation agreeing or disagreeing with what I write. I know this post in particular covered a lot of ground and didn’t cover it very completely. Feel free to leave comments, or if you know me personally, give me a call or text and let’s hang out and chat. I hold my ideas in loose hands that are ready to learn.

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Grace, Sin, and the Kingdom

I read a blog post by Stephan over at Sacred Tension, please go over and read the full article here I won’t try to to paraphrase what he is saying because the topic of grace and sin is one that it so polarizing that the nuances of what someone says about them are often lost. So please go read the article before reading further.

Hmm this is a tough one. Can God’s ever pursuing love reach anyone? Absolutely. But Paul also admonishes us to not use grace as a license to keep on sinning. I think when we look at the entire flow of scripture, we see that grace is not a proverbial “get out of jail free card.” The term grace itself is sometimes unhelpful in the English language because we often associate it with looking past an evil or overlooking it. That’s why I have tried to personally re-frame things, when thinking about God’s pursuit of us, in the terms of love instead of grace. Love, it seems to me, is more clear in the English language to communicate wanting the best for another.

Love, does not, necessarily look past all wrongs. In fact love actively works in oppositions to wrongs. It works to right wrongs. In my understanding of God’s kingdom being worked out, the main action taking place is the righting of wrongs through love.

When we look at accounts of “judgment day” in scripture there is something interesting going on. In the account of the sheep and goats, one of Jesus’ most descriptive accounts of judgement, we hear the discussion centering around what people did not what they believed. The goats are found saying “when Lord?” it’s not that they failed to acknowledge Jesus as Lord that causes Jesus to send them away. No, instead it is that their actions were not congruent with the kingdom and what Jesus wants people doing. As Keith Green poetically pointed out in his musical version of the Sheep and Goats, “The only difference between the sheep and goats, according to the Scriptures, is what they did and didn’t do.”

This may be startling to some. Especially those, like me, that have heard “grace alone” all of their lives. I always wonder why I don’t hear more teaching out of books like James. I love James. He speaks in such plain language about the inter-working of faith and deeds, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

It seems to me that perhaps some of the hesitation to address the fact that what we do is intertwined with us being included in the Kingdom of God comes from the fact that the responsibility that it introduces is pointed squarely at ourselves. If we accept the fact that our actions matter, we can no longer point the finger at others, who, have not given the mental ascent needed to be bestowed with God’s grace. No, instead we must look inward at our own actions to see if they line up with what God’s kingdom is about. This can be, as I know from personal experience, an uncomfortable task.

Photo by nowakowskimarcin1 (Pixabay)

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A Living Eucharist

In Rob Bell and Don Golden’s book “Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book” the root words of “Eucharist” are identified as coming from the Greek for good and gift:

“The Greek word for thankful is from the verb eucharizomai – the Greek for eu, which means “well” or “good,” and the word charizomai, which means ‘to grant or give.’It’s from this word that we get the English word Eucharist, the ‘good gift.’ Jesus is God’s good gift to the world.” 1

I’m not an expert in Greek, so I cannot argue the merits of this root meaning insight, but I think the idea holds true with or without it. Jesus is indeed God’s good gift to the world. This is generally accepted among almost all Jesus followers.

Unfortunately, I think we often fail to take this line of thinking to its next logical out-working. If we are Christ’s body, Christ’s ambassadors, Christ’s spokespeople, then, we are also God’s good gift to the world. This is why Paul can say with confidence, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” ~ 2 Cor 4:10

But what does being a Eucharist to the world mean? Does it mean that we tell people that Jesus died for their sins? Does it mean that we help people develop a relationship with Jesus so that they can go to heaven?

Thinking about about Jesus being a good gift to the world, takes me back to the idea of incarnation itself:

If the incarnation does not have a profound affect on our lives now then the act of God becoming man seems to hold much less value.

If God were simply looking for a “spiritual” transformation, then a God-man coming among us is unneeded. All that is needed is God’s grace, which needs no human form to be enacted. If, however, Christ came to earth to affect his kingdom here and now, then the incarnation is a first fruits, an initial taste of God’s kingdom advancing here and now. As the recipients then, of this Eucharist, we have the honor, obligation and duty to carry this Eucharist into the world that it may have a world-changing effect now.

This means that we are not concerned as Jesus followers with spreading a religion. We are concerned with being a good gift to the world, a Eucharist, poured out for those around us. “Carrying around the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed.” We, “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” (Col 1:24) When Jesus sent out the 12 in Luke 9 he sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And what sign accompanies this proclamation? Is it an explanation of the law and gospel? Is it a passionate cry for people to turn from their sins? No. It is the simple command to heal the sick. To bring right to a wrong that sin has brought on the world.

This is how Jesus taught His disciples to advance His kingdom. When did we ever get the idea that it had more to do with mental assent to a set of theological ideas and less to do with God’s Kingdom happening now in real life? Julian, an emperor of Rome at approximately A.D. 360 observed this, “For it is disgraceful when… the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.” 2May we, a Church that is a Eucharist to our world, live up to the reputation that our early brothers in the Roman Empire had. May we take our discipleship out of our heads and put it into our hands and our feet and be a “Good Gift” to our world.

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  1. Bell, Rob, and Don Golden. Jesus wants to save Christians: a manifesto for the church in exile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan :, 2008.
  2. Chinnock, Edward James. A few notes on Julian and a translation of his public letters. London: D. Nutt, 1901, 76.

Rethinking Church Structure: A Connectivist Approach

Church structure, or any structure for that matter, is absolutely fascinating to me. I love thinking about how things relate to each other and how to make those relationships better. As many of you know I have a professional background in education. In education there is a recently developed and popularized learning theory called connectivism. I won’t wander off into an in depth explanation, but the basis of the theory is that learning happens in the connections between thing, ideas, people etc. This mimics the way we understand that the brain work with its connections or synapses.

With this as background, I began thinking about how the local church is structured and functions. I came up with a few diagrams to illustrate my thought process.

Connectivist Church-01

This first diagram shows a traditional church structure. There are all sorts of “ministries” or “boards” or “teams” or whatever a particular church chooses to call them. The overarching structure that everything functions in however, is the local church. Go outside of the local church and you are kind of in a no man’s land without a lot of guidance or direction. Depending on the denomination you may even be labeled as a liberal or not staying true to the teachings of the church if you do things outside of this circle.

Members are usually advised that the best way to serve God and each other is by joining some of these “teams” or “ministries” in the church. Perhaps if you are a musician, you join the worship team which is made up of people varying musical talent, some great, some not so great. Or perhaps you aren’t sure what to do so your pastor suggests you should be on the “cafe team” that makes coffee after the services. You don’t even like coffee, but you figure how hard can making coffee be? We’ve all drunk some of that coffee haven’t we?:P

This system has some inherent weaknesses. First of all, if a “ministry” or “team” doesn’t exist that matches a person’s giftings, they either have to start it from scratch or do something else. If they wish to start it from scratch they will most likely have to work through some leadership structure that may or may not help them. In many cases the leadership structure may even hinder them because the pastor(s) or board have too much on their plate already. Or, they simply don’t want to give up control of how the church runs. And in most churches if the pastor isn’t behind it, it just doesn’t happen.

Second, because there are many necessary ministries and a very finite number of people in most average sized churches, many “teams” are going to be staffed with untalented or under-qualified people. This is why you find pastors who are horrible at counseling people trying to give people advice, or people who don’t even really like kids teaching Sunday school, or people playing guitar on the worship team that would really benefit from knowing more than three chords. In the end, I believe this church structure often yields a top heavy institution that is ineffectual at doing anything well.

Connectivist Church-02

Here’s my alternative thought. What if we thought of the local church as an organism that serves as a launching point or community through which people can move out and accomplish all sorts of kingdom related work? Who says that all the teaching in a church needs to come from a pastor who may or may not be gifted in teaching? And who says that every church needs to try to produce the greatest worship experiences for it’s members?

What I envision is a church that connects people with the best of what is happening in its community and world. Coming back to the connectivist idea then, the value of the local church then does not reside in it’s institutional programs and systems. Instead its value is found mainly in the connections it fosters between people, , resources, organizations, companies, the environment, governments and all sorts of things. In fact I would argue that ideally in this model the local church ceases to be an institution and becomes a living organism that is constantly reacting, reshaping, and finding new ways to affect change based on the environment in which it exists and the hundreds of thousands connections it represents.

Connectivist Church-03

The really exciting thing for me is when I took this drawing one step further. Just like in education, having a connectivist approach to the church allows these separate organisms known as local churches to start to interact and add value and meaning to each other. For example, perhaps one local group of believers doesn’t have any really talented musicians, what is standing in the way of that community partnering with another community that has really talented musicians? Or what if a community has some really talented teachers, in the connectivist approach, what is stopping them from offering teaching sessions to other local church communities? The wonderful answer is really nothing.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Here are few ideas:

  • We are afraid of doctrinal differences and have not learned how to deal with them as believers.
  • The “value” of the pastor goes down and there may not be a justification for it being a full time position.
  • It takes more work on the part of believers. The ministries of the church cannot be simply handed off to professionals to organize and execute. Everyone has to be engaged and involved.
  • We have a lot of language that gets in the way. We think about “going to church”, becoming “members of a church”, “switching churches” etc. Instead we need to thinking about “being church”, “doing church” and “connecting with believers.”
  • We as humans like defined limits. The traditional church structure allows for very defined limits and “approved activities.” But I do not think it allows for a full expression of the Body of Christ.

I’m really excited to continue thinking along these lines and test out these ideas. Feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.

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So I happened upon a very nice extension for brackets today called CFBrackets. In my day job I do a fair amount of coldfusion development. I had been using Coldfusion Builder by Adobe as my IDE but I always felt that it was a bit heavy for what I needed. The applications that I work on use a mix of Jquery, coldfusion and external APIs to function. An eclipse based IDE just didn’t seem to fit well and things like startup time and running memory usage where starting to annoy me.

Then, a hard drive crash a couple of month ago necessitated a rebuild of my machine and my dev environment. I decided to not reinstall Coldfusion builder and look for an alternative. I played with Sublime 2 but it really didn’t fit my style. I loved brackets, but it didn’t have any code hinting for coldfusion. CFBrackets solves that problem for me.

For those of you that don’t know Brackets is a lightweight code editor that is based on webkit and javascript. It is opensource and has simplicity baked into it’s DNA. The developer’s philosophy is that “Tools shouldn’t get in your way.” And I must say that I find that idea put into practice in a code editor has made me faster and have more fun writing code.

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Computer Grading

How EDx is Missing the Point with Autograding

Edx recently announced that they are working on software to automatically grade written work. One of the key developers, Victor Vuchic, states, “One of our focuses is to help kids learn how to think critically… It’s probably impossible to do that with multiple-choice tests. The challenge is that this requires human graders, and so they cost a lot more and they take a lot more time.” While there is definitely some merit to working at automating grading so as to reach a larger audience, I think EDx is missing a bigger problem.

“School work”, in it’s traditional sense, be it an essay or a multiple choice test, does not do a great job of producing critical thinkers. The core issue is that in either case student are not asked to do real world things. How many of us in our jobs, write essays for a living? I realize that I am being a bit self contradictory by writing this blog post, but please allow me that. Critical thinking is much more easily produced by solving real world problems. The problem is, that we as educators have a much harder time measuring success and learning in a real world experience because we have to throw out our traditional methods of assessment, grades, percents, our opinions etc.


I will not deny that a machine will probably be able to do as well or better than a human at grading a paper. But, I can’t see how that’s really going to change anything. Real change is needed at a more basic level than providing grading to the masses. We need to, as educators, find ways to cultivate useful skills in students that translate into real life.

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Starbucks Consistency And What It Has To Do With Design

So I just finished off a Grande Mocha from Starbucks and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would love to be more hip and go to the local coffee shop and get my mochas from there but, I’ve simply had too many poorly made mochas at local shops that I keep going back to Starbucks. Every time I go to Starbucks my mocha is the same temperature, same strength, same flavor. There’s something comfortable and safe about my Starbucks mocha. True, it may not be the best mocha, but it is consistent.

I think this same principle rings true in UI and UX design. Consistency brings people back. How many times have we seen great products flounder because people simply didn’t feel comfortable or safe. Google Wave anyone?. The challenge for us as designers, I believe, is to allow people to do new things in a comfortable and safe way.

I know my posts might not always reflect a love for Apple but, I think this is something that Apple has gotten so right with their iOS products. They are so similar that I can very comfortably move from an iPad to iPod Touch to an iPhone to an iPad mini without so much as flinching. This is also, why UI and UX standards are so important. I think so often designers feel pressure to make their user interfaces new or novel in some way. However if wonderful user experience is your goal, following the established standards and patterns is the best way to 99% of the time. It is more important to allow people to do new things with your design than to do old things in a new way.

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Church Seating

Church Buildings and Next Generation

I read an interesting article today The Death of the Mall and the Future of Church Buildings. In the article, Thom Rainer, points out that Boomers brought the rise the mall and the rise of the mega-church. However, the subsequent generations have witnessed the decline of the traditional mall and may be witnessing the fall of the mega-church as well.

The general point, is that mega-church may be losing it’s cultural relevancy. Something that I have been thinking about in a little bit different terms lately. I have posed this question to several people in the past couple of weeks about the cultural relevancy of the large church service on Sunday morning:

“Where else in our society do you go to a location every week in order to sit with hundreds of other people and listen to someone talk to you about a topic and then get up and leave with little or no interaction with those around you or the speaker?”

The question has been met with a similar answer each and every time. Perhaps, “I don’t know,” or “I guess school or college kind of?”  What concerns me, is that the only equivalent that I can find in our culture, is higher education. Higher education is being challenged every day to think about reinventing itself. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs and online learning delivery are becoming the norm in discussions of the future of higher education instead of the minority fringe. Yet at the same time it seems like the majority of Christians are content to use a model of Christian education that has it’s roots in outmoded educational methods.

The result of this, as I see it, is that to those growing up in Christianized culture, church, in it’s popular form, is extremely accessible and comfortable. However to those outside of Christianized culture, church has almost no parallel to what they experience in their everyday life. I admittedly fall into the former category. Church is very comfortable to me. However, I am finding myself wishing more and more that I was involved in other expressions of Jesus following. When I look at a generation around me that contains a larger and larger segment of unchurched I have begun to question more and more whether “seeker friendly churches” are really that, “seeker friendly.”

As I write this blog post sitting in a Starbucks, as people have conversations on a variety of topics around me, I wonder, are the large lecture halls of America’s churches really the solution to sharing the message Jesus has given us share?  Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

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