The Center for Faith & Culture—Olivet Nazarene University


The God of Christianity and Islam: The Same, Right?

Leading evangelical Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests, and Jewish rabbis are coming together in record numbers to encourage us to join hands with our Islamic brothers and sisters and celebrate the fact that we all worship the same God.  So, in the interest of shedding light on this faith and culture notion, I want you to think with me for a few minutes then decide for yourself if you believe it is true.

If you go to the Internet for your authority, you will be quickly convinced that the proposal is, in fact, true.  Hundreds of people have posted articles, research, blogs, and comments that affirm that God is the same for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  They believe the T-shirt slogan one of my students used to wear to class just to annoy me!  It had symbols of all of the world religions on the body of the T-shirt; under the symbols read “One God; many paths.”  I know a religion professor at a Christian college near my boyhood home who teaches that God took all knowledge of God’s self and distributed it evenly among the world religions.  He says we must all get together and put our puzzle pieces of God on the table to have a complete understanding of God. 

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Culture Responding to the Church?

The news reporter on the evening news made a thought provoking statement that sounded strange to my ears.  I perked up a bit as I listened more closely to the news item.  I’ve been thinking about it all day today.  Here’s the line.  Give it some thought along with me.

“Tonight is the last night of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  So we have to live it up all night tonight, because we’re going to have to start our fast for Lent in the morning.”

Really?  Is this guy serious?  A whole series of questions hit my mind all at once as I pondered that statement about Mardi Gras.  I knew the word literally meant “Fat Tuesday.”  I knew the event started as a celebration that takes place in the days prior to the Christian calendar’s Wednesday which begins the Lenten season.  I knew the purpose of Lent was to prepare our hearts for the Easter season.  So, with that in mind, what do I do with all of the questions rolling around in my mind from the news story on Mardi Gras?

1.    Is secular culture really taking its cue from the Christian calendar?
2.    Does our culture sense a need to party excessively prior to a most sacred time of heart searching leading up to Easter?
3.    Does preparation for Lent grant a license for an entire night of wild parades, liquor consumption, partying, and immoral activity that marks this Tuesday evening?
4.    Will these same people who live-it-up all night during Mardi Gras also be fasting and preparing their hearts for Lent as the news reporter implied?
5.    How do we compartmentalize our lives so completely between a bacchanalian Mardi Gras Tuesday night and a worshipful Lenten Wednesday evening service just 12 hours later?

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The Challenges of Social Media

I’m not sure why, but I vividly remember the first time I ever heard the word “Twitter.”  At first I thought about the oddity of the word, a word that elicits all kinds of sarcastic comments, comments I was quick to offer. I was also skeptical that this “new” social media tool could ever be of any benefit.  Whatever the reason, I remember the day.

It was in October 2008 while sitting in a class entitled “Missional Ecclesiology.” On the first day of class the professor not only introduced us to Twitter, but also forced us to create an account so that we could utilize Twitter for class interactions.  He actually waited for the first ten minutes of class while we begrudgingly created our accounts and posted our first tweets.  It was obvious that we were all thinking the same thing: “This is stupid!” 

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Mission Impossible


One of my favorite television series as a kid growing up was Mission Impossible.  I saw every episode more than once.  I know Hollywood has updated the concept in recent years with three new installments from Tom Cruise.  I'm not talking about that series; I'm talking about the black and white version.  I'm talking about the one without special effects, unless you count exploding reel-to-reel tape recorders!  The thing that kept me tuning in week to week was the notion of the Mission Impossible team taking on seemingly insurmountable odds to reach what seemed to be an impossible goal.  I never doubted their superhuman ability; I had confidence that within the next 60 minutes they would triumph, and the world would be safe again.

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Tags: Culture, Faith

“Red and Yellow, Black and White”



Randy, you pastor an unusual congregation. It is genuinely multi-cultural and is a vibrant, growing church in a diverse community. Would you describe your church and community for us?

It is a church you cannot easily label or easily compare to another. This church is celebrating its 97th birthday and God has essentially recreated it before our very eyes.

The church had typically humble beginnings. Chicago Heights was a progressive middle-class Italian community, perhaps best known for being the weekend "getaway" home of the infamous Al Capone. During the 70's and 80's, Chicago Heights began to decline economically. Businesses began to close down. What growth there was in Chicago's southern suburbs was moving east and west of Chicago Heights. There was obviously a temptation for the church to do what most traditional churches have historically done under similar circumstances. Abandon, sell and relocate.

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Tags: Culture

Kingdom (Culture) Builders



Pastoral leadership is about creating and nurturing culture - Kingdom culture. It isn't essentially about growing the church or even wining people to Christ (though both of those are important facets of the work of the church). It should be centrally concerned with transforming the patterns of value and relations of this world's culture into patterns of living and community that express the embodied and practiced character of the Kingdom of God. Effective pastoral leaders are Kingdom culture builders.

We have been too easily seduced by a production culture. The church becomes a means of producing a desired end. A secular Management by Objective mentality forms the life and directs the energy of the church. We identify an outcome goal - worship attendance growth, new members, etc - and work "backwards" to determine how we can achieve that goal. The measure of our success is our ability to produce that result.

My objection is not to intentional planning, or even to identifying significant outcomes we want to achieve. My objection is to the adequacy of that kind of thinking to express and reflect the full measure of the message of the Good News - that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The point is not  that we shouldn't plan purposefully (even using MBO strategic thinking) but that these tools should serve a higher vision of the work of the church. That vision needs to focus on the Kingdom of God breaking in to transform persons and the life of community to reflect the life and character of God.

One aspect of rethinking leadership in light of the project of Kingdom building is recognition of the critical importance of leadership as culture forming. Strangely, the business world has been more keenly interested in this than the church. Over the last 30 years the business world has engaged in an active conversation about the importance of leadership and culture creation. It has recognized the power of culture, its impact on productivity and effectiveness. Formal structures, policies, and leadership initiatives are forever interacting with informally expressed values, practiced patterns, and implicit definitions of identity.

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Tags: Culture

Moving Half Way Around the World to Find Home


 "Reetu, we're moving," my mom told me in Punjabi, the language I grew up speaking. "Moving?" I asked. "Where are we moving?? To grandma's house? To Ambala, the next city over?" "Actually we're moving to America, to be with your dad," she answered calmly. "What???" I replied -- shocked at my mother's answer. That was how the conversation went when my mom first told me about our big move. My mom, in her mid-twenties, and I, as a young child, were moving from Haryana, India to the United States of America to live with my dad, who worked there.

This little conversation started it all. We gathered our things, packed only the items we absolutely needed, and said our goodbyes to family and friends. I was no longer going to get to go to my grandparents' house every weekend or play with my cousins and their friends in the village center. Though I was sad about the move, my friends got me excited about it. They told me stories about how great America was and how things were so different there. My friends especially loved the fact that I was moving to New York City, the place every Indian only dreams about going.

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Tags: Culture

Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone


I am an educated female; I have more than enough food to eat every day, the water is safe to drink and always available. My home has a roof, windows, and doors that protect from thieves and keep the ements outside. All of my grandparents are alive; my parents are alive and married; and my siblings and I can trust and know that my parents will always be there for us. I am healthy, but if I am ever sick, there is always a doctor who can help me. I have always been able to get medication when I needed it. If I need to get somewhere, I have a car to take me there. I never have to stress about whether or not one of these will be absent in the next hour or how I will get my next meal.

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Writing History From The "Now" Perspective


I recently spent a few days in New York City, the most populated city in the United States. What makes their population figures even more staggering is their small land mass. The City of New York is the most densely populated city in these United States with nearly nine million city dwellers. By contrast, Jacksonville, Florida is the largest city of square miles in the lower forty-eight states, but only ranks thirteenth in population with 1.3 million inhabitants. By the way, if these New York numbers make you feel your personal space is shrinking, maybe you should relocate to Sitka, Alaska where this polar town occupies 2,874 miles but a population below ten thousand!

New York has a lot of history. The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, a subway system with a one hundred year history,

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Tags: Culture