Friday, November 21, 2008

Buck Naked Faith

Eric Sandras is an interesting guy. He's the pastor of a Vineyard church in the USA (at the time of writing this book he was in Washington State, I think he's in California now) and I've heard a few of his sermons in the past. He has some really great faith stories from his own life. Therefore, I'd expected that this book would contain more personal stories than it actually does. That's disappointment number one.

Disappointment number two is that, after a quite shocking (well, quite shocking for a pastor) personal story that he opens the book with, there is nothing that you haven't heard before for the first half of the book. And in many cases the things you've heard before were expressed better the previous times you heard them by other authors.

But I'm glad I stuck with the book. There were some real gems in the second half of it.

When I was a teenager (and not a Christian), I used to mix in Christian youth circles. Very quickly I discovered that there were two distinct kinds of people in these circles. There were those who were genuine Christians and behaved like Christians while in the Christian circles and when they were out in secular circles. And there were the phony Christians, who behaved like Christians in Christian circles and behaved like non-Christians in secular circles (you know, drinking too much, getting off with random people at parties, swearing a lot, the sort of things that 'normal' teenagers do). I rationalised this by assuming that many of the 'phony' Christians weren't really Christians at all, but for a variety of reasons chose to put on that facade while in Christian company, to fit in or to keep someone happy. I was kind of like that myself at that stage, I mixed in Christian company and did all the Christian stuff to maintain the impression that I was a Christian, primarily for my parents' sake (never managed to get off with random people at parties though, not for lack of trying, just never had the knack).

After I became a Christian I thought I'd moved out of 'phony' Christianity into the real deal. It took me several years to discover that there are actually a second category of phony Christians out there - people who are genuinely Christians but put on the facade of being much holier than they actually are. These people appear to live the perfect Christian life when you talk to them on Sunday mornings, but in reality they have doubts and struggles and give in to temptations all over the place. But these doubts, struggles and failings are never dealt with because they put on the facade. These are the 'hypocrites' that critics of the church claim it is full of...

And it is really to these people that this book is addressed.

Obviously, I am up-front and honest about my doubts on this blog. I have struggles and failings too, which I am less inclined to blog about. So this book was aimed fairly squarely at me.

The great thing about the second half of this book (as I said, the first half is perfectly fine, but nothing new) is that Eric Sandras comes from the same place of doubt, struggle and failure that I come from. Even better is that the failings he admits to are worse than some of mine, so he's not preaching down at me from some elevated holy place, he's preaching at me from along side, in the real world. And I must admit that is something really refreshing.

Of course, that makes it kind of hard when he gets to those areas of failure that he has worked through and I haven't yet. You see, there's work for me to do in my life.

The 'Buck Naked' bit refers to the idea that you have to strip away all the facades before you can get to the root problems and actually deal with them. The subtitle of the book is 'A brutally honest look at stunted Christianity' is probably a bit over-stated. I'm not sure 'brutally' needs to be in there, but it is an honest book and does tell 'stunted' Christians how to grow.

In fact, the book keeps referring to one image of stunted growth throughout - the bonsai tree. Viewed in isolation a bonsai tree looks like a proper tree, indeed it often looks like a weather beaten tree that can take what the world throws at it, but if you have perspective you see that this is not the case. This is the image that is constantly used here with regard to spiritual growth. Actually, it gets a little irritating in the first half of the book, but works out better towards the end.

There are many things that you can take away from this book, it even breaks off every now and then and suggests 'growth points' - things to consider or do to help yourself grow spiritually, but one of the main things I took away from it was one of the simplest:

Don't settle for the bare minimum of God.

Why only spend a short 'quiet time' with Him each day? Why not go to two services on a Sunday instead of one? Why not spend longer in worship? And so on. Often we settle for the minimum, when we should be aiming to maximise our time with Him.

So, its not a great book, but it is a good book. Not very long and worth a read. I can lend you a copy if you want, but I will want it back...

Monday, November 10, 2008


Was Jesus nailed to the cross?

This may sound like a strange question to ask, as the crucifixion is central to Christianity. But I'm not asking "was Jesus crucified?" - all the gospels agree on that point - I'm asking was he nailed to the cross or could he have been tied on it?

You see, while we know from history that some folk were nailed to crosses when crucified, we also know that others were not, some were tied on. This generally resulted in the victims having to endure longer on the cross as blood loss was less.

It may surprise you (it surprised me when I first heard it) to learn that none of the gospel accounts of Jesus's crucifixion mention nails being used.

Well, that's not strictly true. Reading John's account of the crucifixion in the Contemporary English Version (CEV) this morning I noticed it described Jesus as being nailed to the cross. The CEV actually says this for all four gospels. But that's sloppy translating, none of the other translations I have speak of nails. They all just say he was crucified, without going into any bloody detail.

How many sermons have I heard that do go into all the bloody details of how the nails were hammered in and where the nails were hammered in, and none of it is biblical?

There's only one verse in the bible that speaks of the nails. And that is in John 20v25:
[24] Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. [25] So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
Now I'm reasonably happy to believe that this account is based on actual events, but there are some who see the whole 'Doubting Thomas' episode as being a later invention added to the story, expressly there so Jesus can go on to say:
[29] Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Given that (at the time these words were allegedly spoken) nobody who had not seen had yet believed. So why would Jesus say such a thing? So it is supposed that this could be a later fabrication. But if it is, then we have no evidence that Jesus was ever nailed to anything.

There are probably loads of things like that which we assume the bible says when it doesn't. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled and will post others here when I find them.