Jeff Skiles was the copilot of the plane that landed in the Hudson River a few years ago (US Air 1549, Miracle on the Hudson). They are making a movie of this incident and the actor who will play Skiles asked him a simple question: Why does he like to fly? For someone whose vocation is aviation, one would think this would be an easy answer but it was not for Skiles. The reason this question was so difficult for Skiles was:

How does one explain the feel of an open cockpit on a spring morning, or the challenge of an approach to a remote high altitude mountain strip, or perhaps the view from 7 miles aloft of a landscape on the other side of the world. How does one express a feeling to someone who has never felt it? . . .Only those who have experienced flight can truly understand its many charms. [1]

This illustrates, as we have demonstrated in the last few blogs, the fact that theoretical knowledge, our belief system, is not sufficient in any area of our lives. To truly understand something we must live it. We cannot say we truly understand Christianity, we cannot say we know what Christianity is all about unless we actually live it. We must become a new creation, not just profess belief.

Belief in Jesus and his death for our sins is a good first step. But it is only the first step of a life long journey God has planned for us.


[1]   Jeff Skiles, “Why Do We Fly”, Sport Aviation, December 2015, pp. 36-38.

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Entrance Requirements

The cartoon Non Sequitur published on November 24, 2015 shows St. Peter at the entrance to heaven. Beside him is a sign which states: “Entrance Requirements: Actually practiced the morals taught by your religion”. A group of people are waiting in line to gain admittance into heaven and one, upon reading the sign, states: “I think it means we don’t have to worry about it being too crowded in there”.

This cartoon is really more sad than funny. The underlying premise is that religious people subscribe to certain ideals but largely fail to actually live them. Why is this so? Why would we say we believe one thing but do another?

For us Christians part of the reason is because we have made Christianity a matter of belief instead of action. Our doctrine states all we need to do in order to be saved and go to heaven is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins. Nothing is said about our actions in spite of the fact that, as is detailed in this blog and my book, the Bible clearly states action is required (see the “What the Bible Says about Salvation” tab on this blog’s home page). Two examples are: I Corinthians 13 which describes love as an action and places it above faith and hope in terms of importance and James 2:26 which states that faith without works is dead.

Salvation is more than belief. It is putting those beliefs into action; it is the change of our soul so it becomes more like God.

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Knowledge Is an Abstraction

John and Martha King write a monthly column in Flying magazine about aviation safety. They teach that to improve safety pilots must use a technique called risk management which has two components. First is the “habit of situational awareness by systematically thinking about risks”. The second is “coming up with mitigation strategies for the risks you have thought of”. While this idea of risk management has been around for some time, Martha states that much of a pilot’s “aviation knowledge is an abstraction. . .until we apply it in a practical scenario” and therefore she suggests pilots develop habits whereby they address these two components of risk management before every flight. [1]

Our Christian beliefs are also an abstraction until we apply it in a practical situation. Jesus tells us: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44 NIV). This verse is an abstraction for many (e.g. the Westboro Baptist Church) because they do not put it into practice. In fact they do just the opposite by spewing hate toward those with whom they disagree.

Paul tells us Christians should not sue each other but we are to resolve our disputes among ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). This passage is an abstraction for many churches and denominational headquarters as they sue each other over who owns a particular church property. Applying this verse in a practical situation would mean we would be prepared to and in some instances actually experience a financial loss instead of suing a fellow Christian.

Like pilots who institute habits that enable them to use risk management tools to improve the safety of each flight they take, we Christians must develop habits that assist us in actually putting into practice what the Bible teaches us.


[1]   Martha King, “Why Some Pilots Are Bad Risk Managers”, Flying, December 2015, p. 34.

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Knowledge vs. Experience

In the last blog we noted that we must live something to really know it. There are multiple examples of this truth in our lives and we will discuss a few of them over the next few blogs.

I have just finished reading the science fiction novel The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir. It is about an astronaut (Mark Watney) who is stranded on Mars with no way of communicating with earth and no means of getting back to earth. When Mark went to retrieve a RTG unit which was four kilometers from his living quarters (the Hab), he was out of sight of the Hab for the first time. He had been alone on Mars for 66 sols (Mar’s days) and had the intellectual knowledge he was alone on Mars. However, seeing “nothing but dust, rock, and endless empty desert in all directions” [1] and losing sight of the Hab which was his only evidence of civilization caused him to experience his loneliness in a way that mere intellectual knowledge could not. As Mark states: “But there’s a difference between knowing it and really experiencing it”. [2]

As I mentioned in my book, this was brought home to me when my wife’s sons gave us gift certificates to go sky diving. Reading about sky diving, watching videos about sky diving, and talking to people who had been sky diving was helpful but all this knowledge was nothing compared to the actual experience of sky diving.

So why do we think Christianity would be any different? Knowledge of Christianity (our beliefs about Christianity) is so very different from actually living the Christian life. We all know that the Bible teaches that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:33). That is knowledge. However, until we actually take some action that demonstrates that love toward our neighbor we truly do not know what it means to love our neighbor.


[1]   Andy Weir, The Martian, New York: Broadway Books (Random House LLC), 2014, Kindle edition, p. 74, location 1233.

[2]   Weir, p. 75, location 1244.

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Live It to Learn It

I have just finished reading The 33 by Héctor Tobar. It is about the 33 men who were trapped in the San José mine in Chile and how they were rescued.

One of the miners was Franklin Lobos who was formerly a soccer star with the nickname of “The Magic Mortar” for his ability to kick missile-like free kicks into his opponent’s goal. As he got older, his soccer career faded and he had to take other jobs including being a miner at age 52.

The miners even while they were still trapped underground were famous the world over. Franklin’s soccer career showed him how fleeting fame can be and he wanted his fellow miners to recognize that the “heady sense of being at the center of everything, will disappear quicker than they could possibly imagine”. [1] He tried to communicate this to them but he recognized that “the only way to learn it is to live it”. So all he could do was to watch “as his fellow trapped miners’ obsession with their public image drives them to pettiness”. [2]

It is the same with all of us. How many of us learn from the mistakes of others? How many of us learn by reading or hearing what someone else tells us? Most of the time, we must live it to learn it.

That is why Christianity is more than a belief system. Christianity is putting a belief system into practice. It is only when we actually live what we say we believe that our beliefs come to life. “. . .faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17 NIV).


[1]   Héctor Tobar, The 33, Kindle edition, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux ebook, Kindle location 4089.

[2[   Tobar, Kindle location 4100.

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Arena of Ideas

How should Christians handle those with whom they disagree? In the past, Christians have killed those they considered to be heretics (e.g. the Inquisition). While we no longer resort to such barbaric practices, we still resort to character assassination by calling into question the motivation and intelligence of those with whom we disagree.

Martin Luther had higher aspirations for Christianity. He argued:

. . . the path to progress is through change in ideas and beliefs, rather than through forced social revolution or reaction. In Luther’s thought, the most significant warfare was ideological, not material, so he emphasized dissemination of ideas through publication and opposed attempts to destroy opposing ideas through burning either books or authors. “Heretics,” he said, “should be vanquished with books, not with burnings.” Luther wanted an exchange of views, not sword thrusts. He described printing as “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” [1]

However, if Christianity is to compete is this arena of ideas as Martin Luther suggests, then we must deal with any contradictions within our beliefs. If we do not, then we should not be surprised if our ideas are rejected. In this blog, we have identified three contradictions within our beliefs, specifically within the doctrine of salvation. Will we deal with these contradictions or ignore them?


[1]   http://www.worldmag.com/2015/10/a_theological_and_journalistic_reformation

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Political Correctness

What is it about us humans that we think everyone should think and believe as we do? We see it in religion—every religion thinks it is the one true religion. We see it in science—if you don’t believe global warming is caused by humans than you are unscientific and are a (gasp) denier or a crook or a kook.

History is full of examples of people who used political correctness to deal with their opponents. An example is the faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain in the late 1600’s who used “the machinery of censorship to silence a dissident colleague”, a professor who questioned the Copernican system (the earth revolved around the sun). [1] It is a well-known fact that people who supported the Copernican system were also silenced or had their thinking “corrected” (e.g. Galileo).

It is unfortunate but political correctness is as old as the human race. I see two reasons for this. First, our position is short on facts and brow beating someone into submitting to our way of thinking is all we’ve got. Or second, we have the facts but it will take time to explain those facts to someone and we are in too much of a hurry to spend the time.

Using political correctness as a method of persuasion just illustrates how weak our position really is.  It also illustrates our ignorance of the human condition–we are all finite and not infallible.


[1]   J. L. Heilbron, The Sun in the Church, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 217.

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Looking for Answers

John R. Erickson, the author of the Hank the Cowdog book series, recounts his struggles with reconciling his Christian faith with what he was taught at a secular college. He states that typically Christians responded to the assertions of the secular world by turning:

. . . inward, looked for guidance in the Scriptures, focused on personal salvation, and made few attempts to engage the wider culture.”

That might have solved the problem for pastors and church leaders, but it didn’t solve mine. To me and a number of other young people who were coming of age in the early 1960s, it appeared that Christians were talking only to themselves, and were sending their children off to college poorly prepared to defend their faith against students and professors who considered the Bible a book of fairy tales. [1]

Things had not changed much in the 1970’s because John’s experience was essentially the same as mine. Today Christians are much better at responding to the assertions of the secular world as is evidenced by, for example, the courses in apologetics offered by Biola University (see my blog of February 27, 2013).

However, there are still questions about Christianity which the Christian community has ignored and an example is the questions we have raised in this blog. Why? Is our faith so fragile we cannot deal with these questions? Or are we so content with our current life and belief system that we are not interested in resolving any questions that arise?

Questions and contradictions within our belief system are simply a signal that we do not fully understand who God is and how he relates to us. Should not that motivate us to address these questions?


[1]   http://www.worldmag.com/2015/10/mugged_by_nietzsche

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Politics has such a bad name these days that it is common for people to say they are not political or that they do not do politics. I wish it was that easy to avoid politics but it is not unless we are willing to let others, whose ideas might be directly opposite to ours, determine how we organize the society in which we live.

Webster’s definition of politics is about obtaining power and control but says little concerning the end of that power and control which is to structure a society in a particular manner.

We ordinarily do not think of Jesus as political but his entire ministry was political because it dealt with how a society should be organized, how we are to view and treat our fellow citizens, and how we are to live our lives [1]. Jesus’ involvement in politics was not, as Webster’s indicates, to gain power or control but to change people’s lives. When people’s lives are changed, then society will change.

Jesus wanted people to do more than have a correct belief system; he wanted them to change to be a new creation. Christianity has a limited influence on our culture because we are so focused on a correct belief system instead of the new life God wants us to live.


[1]   Mindy Belz, “A policy of engagement”, World, July 12, 2014, p. 32.

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The Berlin Airlift

The Candy Bombers by Andrei Cherny is one of the best history books I have read and it is about the Berlin Airlift. You might ask: What does a history book about the Berlin Airlift have to do with the subject matter we discuss in this blog?

The Berlin Airlift was necessary because the Communists were attempting to take over the entire city of Berlin by essentially starving the city into submission. What if the Allies had responded by telling the people of Berlin to “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” (James 2:16)? Would that have provided any benefit to the people of Berlin?

No, we all recognize that in a case such as this, words, while nice, do nothing to help those who are in need. Instead, the Allies set up an aerial train that landed a plane every couple of minutes in Berlin to feed the city and they did it for months.

So why do we Christians think that we only need to express a belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins to be saved? We have so many examples in our lives, such as the Berlin Airlift, that show words alone are not sufficient and that we need actions to go along with those words. Why do we persist in holding to a doctrine of salvation that teaches the opposite—that words alone are sufficient?

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