February 26, 2017

Annual Review — 2016

27244839330_43632c18a1_kAnnual Review
Some Most-Discussed Internet Monk Posts of 2016

2016 was another good year, in my view, for our blog and the discussion community that reads and comments each day.

Before we go month by month through the posts that you find most discussable, I want to thank all of you for supporting our work. I also want to thank all the readers who never comment, yet who find IM a good place to find material for meditation each day. We couldn’t do it without you.

We also couldn’t do it without your donations. Internet Monk never has been, never will be a money-generating website. Our authors contribute out of a love for writing and prompting good conversations. There are, however, costs associated with keeping the blog going. We receive the vast majority of that money from you, our readers. Thank you so much for your generous support.

If you would like to contribute, the easiest way is to use the Donate button at the top right of the page (this works through PayPal). If you would prefer another method, such as sending a check, send me an email at chaplainmike333@gmail.com and I’ll set that up for you. All money is used to keep the site going and to occasionally purchase materials or provide small tokens of thanks to our regular authors.

Again, thank you.

Now let’s take a look back at what you thought worthy of interaction this past year. I won’t include Saturday Ramblings or Open Mic posts in this list.

• • •

JANUARY 2016

Another Look: A Banal Suggestion as to Why We Might Be “Losing Our Religion”

A discussion of how “progress” inevitably leads to an abundance of personal choices, and that religion is not necessarily one that people will always choose.

“Choices, choices, and more choices. In my opinion, churches in the United States have not adequately reckoned with the fact that we live in a new world, a world dramatically different than it was fifty years ago. Today we live a world of virtually unlimited choices and options.”

As one person said, “My life is full without church; it seems kind of irrelevant.”

FEBRUARY 2016

The Cruelest of Teachings

This was my angry commentary on the false teachings of the prosperity gospels, prompted by reading about a woman named Kate Bowler with stage four cancer who explored the history of the PG and what it teaches and promises.

“The false promise of the prosperity gospel is that we get to escape our humanity. We get to control how it goes. We get to rise above the herd. And, most damning of all, we get these blessings not because God sovereignly and graciously bestowed them upon us, but because we somehow got in on God’s “secret” and said the right things, did the right things, and planted the right “seeds,” guaranteeing a good “harvest” in our lives.”

MARCH 2016

The Cross: Religious Self-Projection or Radical Discontinuity? (Rob Grayson)

Our friend Rob Grayson set out two alternatives for understanding the central meaning of the cross. In the first view, it’s about a God of crime and punishment — but perhaps this is just our own projection of our own human tendencies toward violence. In the second, the cross is about how God submitted himself to human violence and offered mercy and forgiveness in return.

“…where I used to believe that God’s required default response to sin was punishment, avoidable only by entering into the transaction of believing in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, I’m now passionately convinced that God has only one response to sin: forgiveness, full and free.”

APRIL 2016

Pastoral Care Week: A Funeral Rant

I call what some pastors do at funerals pastoral malpractice.

I am almost sure that when this pastor went home and his wife asked him how the funeral went, he praised God for the opportunity to preach the Gospel.

He may have used some of the right words. But as far as I’m concerned, he blew it. He missed one of the greatest opportunities ministry affords to be a neighbor, a pastor, a comforter, a friend.

A human being, for heaven’s sake!

Love God, love your neighbor. Is this really so hard to understand?

MAY 2016

Dear John Letter to the G.O.P. (Daniel Jepsen)

Pastor Dan wrote a poignant farewell letter to the political party that he used to love.

Most of all, dear, I remember when, though you were never perfect, you actually were animated by ideas. You spoke of limited government, because that would promote freedom. You spoke of upholding personal morality and rewarding virtue. You spoke of a compassionate conservatism, that would seek to honor the greatest principle of true conservative thought: that people are more important than governments, movements or ideologies, and they must be treasured and helped, especially those too weak to help themselves.

Have the optimism and hope really been replaced by fear and loathing? Have you really traded in your ideas and ideals for an upraised middle finger?

I guess I really don’t know you anymore. The hater-mongers have your ear. And your heart, it seems. I don’t want to leave you. Where will I go? But the fact is, you have left me. You are the one who walked out, and I’ve played the fool. But not anymore.

JUNE 2016

If Only I Could Have Seen the Shore

This was another commentary on a funeral sermon I heard, in which the vision of heaven set forth was hopelessly deficient and uninspiring.

But the Bible doesn’t say we’re leaving Kansas to go to some Oz out there where all is colorful and magical. The Bible says Oz is coming to Kansas, and it also says that it is not God’s intention to replace Kansas but to transform it into the best Kansas there could ever be. God will make his home among us, and then we will truly know what it means to be “home.” The end game is for all creation to be reconciled to God, that all things will be “gathered up” in him (Eph. 1:10). God’s plan is not to discard Kansas and replace it with Oz, but to reconcile Oz and Kansas and transform all creation in Christ.

Our Christian hope is terrestrial, material, physical, and fully in line with what we have experienced in this world. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this age and the age to come.

27462561771_14a7a74b55_kJULY 2016

An Imbalanced and Woefully Incomplete Description of Pastoral Ministry

Here was a commentary on the marks of pastoral ministry as set forth in a so-called “expository sermon” by a supposed expert on the subject, John MacArthur.

This is a topical sermon. It sets forth John MacArthur’s idea of what a pastor should be, and cites biblical material to support it.

So, not only do I disagree with his portrayal of a pastor, I find his method of proclaiming that deceptive and unethical. In essence, he is stating that his own view of what a pastor should be is “biblical” — it’s “what the Bible teaches.” And anyone who disagrees with him disagrees with the Bible.

The problem is, this is so common in evangelical preaching everywhere that I have little hope it will ever change. And people eat it up, thinking their pastor is preaching and teaching the Bible.

Believe me, I know whereof I speak. I’m no innocent here. I have file drawers full of these kinds of sermons — of which I now repent.

But I also have little patience for this kind of preaching and teaching anymore. Especially when the one doing it is so insistent that he is proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

AUGUST 2016

Can This Really Be the Gospel of “Superabundant Grace”?

In a sermon, Pastor Robert Jeffress declared that the majority of people will end up in hell. I don’t think so, and this post is my argument against that position.

That is not good news, and it stupefies me to think it would be to anyone else.

I also don’t think it matches the vision of “superabounding” grace Paul sets forth in Romans 5 (see above). I can’t tell you how it all works out, but the apostle’s unambiguous point is this: whatever sin has wrought, grace accomplishes much more. Whatever terrible consequences Adam brought upon us are overwhelmed by the results of Jesus’ gracious actions.

“Even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness,” Paul exclaims. Or, as the older versions put it, “much more.” That’s what God’s grace in Jesus does — much more.

The scriptures envision that this triumph of grace will culminate in a new creation, populated by vast multitudes no person can count (Rev. 7:9). This has been the anticipation of the faithful ever since God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand upon the seashore.

It greatly diminishes the grace of God and the great victory of our Lord Jesus Christ to argue the opposite: that only a remnant will be with God while the majority of humans are lost to him. How can anyone call this victory? How can that offer any hope worth having? It is not good news.

SEPTEMBER 2016

Exodus from U.S. Religion

In this post, we discuss a study released by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), called “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back.”

The reasons Americans leave their childhood religion are varied, but a lack of belief in teaching of religion was the most commonly cited reason for disaffiliation.

OCTOBER 2016

Blame It All on Sex. Uh, No.

Frank Turek claimed that the reason Americans are turning away from God is that they are replacing him with sex. I disagree.

With all due respect, I think it is Christians like Turek who are obsessed with sex, at least the sexual behavior of others, simply because it offends them so much that they must find reason to blame it for all sorts of ills.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people who don’t want God or a particular moral way of living because they don’t want anyone putting limits on their pursuit of sensual pleasures, but to make the blanket statement that this is “America’s” religious problem is a ridiculous, unsubstantiated assertion.

NOVEMBER 2016

I Won’t Talk about the Election, but I Will Say This

Ryan Patrick McLaughlin summarized it well: “My main point: I think we should stop saying ‘”It’s OK. God is on the throne.’” Me too.

DECEMBER 2016

Dispatches from the Wilderness of Grief

This was a report and my personal testimonial from time at a conference exploring grief and loss and how to help people who are on that journey.

Grieving is the complex inner response to loss.

Mourning is made up of the outward expressions by which we acknowledge our grief and work through it until it becomes more and more integrated into our lives.

We never stop grieving, but our losses can become part of our lives in such a way that we can carry them with us and move forward into a new normal. We can forge a renewed identity, find more peace in the midst of life’s uncertainties, and discover a broader and deeper sense of meaning than we ever thought possible.

8535044129_9126a3e754_o-1OTHER POSTS OF NOTE IN 2016

SERIES OF NOTE IN 2016

Wednesdays with James

Science and the Bible (Mike the Geologist)

On the Grand Canyon and the Flood (Mike the Geologist)

This series continues into 2017.

Civil Religion Series 2016

Introduction

Reflections on Richard Hughes’s Christian America and the Kingdom of God

Reflections on John Fea’s Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction