Reverend Buzz Thomas knows there are millions of Americans out there who just want honest answers to life's biggest questions. In 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You, Rev. Thomas cuts through all the agendas the Bible is used for today and finally says what many ministers are afraid to say when someone asks…
- How did it all begin?
- Why are we here?
- What is the Bible?
- Is there really such a thing as a miracle?
- How do I please God?
- What about women?
- What about homosexuality?
- What about other faiths?
- What happens after we die?
- How will it all end?
Filled with humor and warmth, Rev. Thomas's answers are long on love, short on judgment, filled with surprises and replete with faith for whatever the twenty-first century may hold.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||7.68(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.35(d)|
About the Author
REV. OLIVER "BUZZ" THOMAS is a Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer who currently serves as executive director of the Niswonger Foundation and writes a monthly column for USA Today.
Read an Excerpt
10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You
(But Can't, Because He Needs the Job)
By Oliver "Buzz" Thomas
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Rev. Oliver Thomas
All rights reserved.
How Did It All Begin?
It all began with a police escort. Not the world, of course, but my understanding of just how important the question of origins had become to ordinary Americans. It was the spring of 1998, and the culture wars were heating up. In northern Alabama, they were sweltering.
My business partner and I had driven to the Dekalb County school district to provide court-ordered in-service training to about five hundred teachers on the subject of religion, including the teaching of creationism. Governor Fob James had declared war on the First Amendment, and we were caught in the cross fire. As I pulled to the curb, the police — and the protesters — were waiting for us.
"Wow," I remember saying, "we should have worn our flak jackets."
My partner smiled. "Yeah, it looks like there're more protesters outside than teachers inside. Maybe we should just start the training out here."
We should have seen it coming. A year earlier and two thousand miles to the west, we had strolled into a California gymnasium packed for a school board meeting on the same set of topics. The town had become so divided that the pro-creationism people sat on one side and the anticreationism people on the other. Writing school policy was becoming a blood sport.
Today the battle has spread to virtually all fifty states, and despite the court's unequivocal decision to stymie a pro-creationist school board in Dover County, Pennsylvania, other cases are still pending. But before we get bogged down in the latest court decision, let's take a step back and examine what our religious traditions actually teach us about the origin of life.
The Christian and Hebrew scriptures begin with a bang. Not the big one of twentieth-century notoriety, but a bang nonetheless. It's a double bang, really, since the book of Genesis contains not one but two separate creation stories.
Bet you didn't know that.
The first and more familiar story is contained in Genesis 1 and begins with these simple yet elegant words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The writer, most likely a priest, then proceeds with one of literature's most familiar stories. It is cast in the form of a poem and may even have been sung in the early Hebrew community. And, like most poems, it was never intended to be taken literally.
Come to think of it, no one should be entrusted to interpret Scripture who doesn't have a poet living inside him. Jesus sure did. How else could you talk about camels passing through the eye of a needle or God's concern over the lost sheep of Israel? Those surely weren't literal sheep. So, why, then, must it be a literal twenty-four-hour day?
The truth is that the word your Bible translates as day doesn't always mean a twenty-four-hour time period in Hebrew. It is also used to describe time periods of undesignated duration. Epochs, even. There's nothing to say that God couldn't have put natural forces into effect that took millions of years to reach fruition.
Then, there's the name given to the man in the story. Adam is the Hebrew word for all of mankind, not an individual's name like Abraham or Ezekiel. If we're supposed to be taking this story literally, why didn't the writer give us a real name?
If you're still not convinced, there are even more obvious cues that this is not to be taken literally. Light is created before the sun, moon, and stars. Think about that for a minute. The earth is flat with waters under it and over it. The waters over it are held out by a clear dome or "firmament." (To a prescientific mind, what else could account for the sky's blue color if not water?) Later, in the book of Malachi, we learn that this firmament has windows in it that God opens from time to time to let down the rain. (There must be water up there for it to rain!) The first creation story culminates with the creation of mankind, whom God creates "in his own image" ("Male and Female created he them.")
The second creation story begins in Genesis 2:4. (Remember, the chapter and verse designations were added centuries later.) This writer lacks the poetic flair of his priestly counterpart. He shortens things and switches around the order but in the end gives us a new story that men couldn't resist, so it gets grafted onto the first creation story as if it were part of the original. It is the story of woman being created from the rib of man and her subsequent role in introducing sin into the idyllic world God created. She does this by enticing the man to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Handy stuff for a patriarchal society bent on keeping women in their place. It's worked so well, in fact, that as recently as the 1980s, a Southern Baptist Convention resolution justified the denomination's shabby treatment of women by referring to their being second in creation yet "first to sin."
Both creation stories, though different in the detail, tell us two important things about how life came to be. First, God did it. We are not here by accident. There is a mysterious, creative force in the universe we call "God," and all of creation — including man — stand under his dominion. Second, life is good. And if anything seems screwed up, it's our fault, not his. (Note to self: The next time tragedy strikes, don't ask why God allowed this. God allows everything. It doesn't mean he approves.)
Some readers may be surprised to learn that these stories in the book of Genesis are not unique to ancient literature or to Judaism and Christianity. Several creation stories actually predate the Genesis accounts. In one of my favorites, a dragon literally vomits the world into existence. The great Hebrew prophet Isaiah, speaking centuries later, refers to the dragon in a passing slap, saying simply that the Hebrew God "cut him to pieces."
If the creation stories of Genesis are not intended as literal scientific accounts, how do we use our twenty-first-century knowledge to make sense of what God is trying to tell us here? More specifically, how do Darwin, the big bang, and punctuated equilibrium fit into a worldview that says we are not here by accident?
First, to the extent it helps us understand how life came to be, scientific study should be encouraged, not feared. Healthy religion seeks the truth. Certainly Jesus encouraged truth seeking when he told his disciples, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!" Rabbis across the ages have done likewise. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides put it like this, "One should accept the truth from whatever source it proceeds."
Think about what Jesus and Maimonides are saying. Perhaps religion and science have nothing to fear from each other. At least if they are true to themselves.
Science and religion operate in different domains. Religion deals with what theologian Paul Tillich called "ultimate concerns" — abstract philosophical questions such as what the nature of life is and why we are here. Religion seeks meaning, purpose, and moral truth, not physical knowledge.
Science, on the other hand, seeks to understand the natural, observable world around us. Unlike religion or philosophy, the claims of science are falsifiable. That is to say, they are capable of being proven or disproven. Scientific progress is only made as its hypotheses are rigorously tested, analyzed, and refined.
While science asks us to accept nothing on faith, religion asks little else. No one can prove whether there is one God or many gods or whether God's spirit is alive in a particular human being, but we can most certainly prove whether the earth is six thousand years old or six billion years old. In short, science is an essential tool to understanding the world in which we live. Science cannot, however, tell us how to live or answer our ultimate questions.
As dominant as science has become in our world, we might be tempted simply to discount anything that is impervious to its probing finger, including religion, but that would be a mistake. The truth is that the things we care about most deeply — starting with love — lie beyond the reach of science.
Consider again the question of origins. If, for example, scientists are able to take us back to a big bang, nagging questions remain. Why did it all happen in the first place? For what purpose? What does it all mean? How should we then live? Only the philosophers and theologians can help us here.
Occasionally scientists venture outside their discipline and into the realm of theology. Carl Sagan was guilty of this when he opined that the cosmos "is all there was, is, or ever will be."
Says who? Or, better yet, prove it!
When scientists give in to the temptation to address ultimate concerns, the result is "scientism" — philosophy masquerading as science. Sagan's statement is no more scientific than that of the fundamentalist preacher who claims that God created the universe in six twenty-four-hour days.
Similarly, religion can masquerade as science. Consider the Christians who ask public schools to give "balanced treatment" to creationism and evolution. Creationism is not an alternative scientific theory. It is a nonfalsifiable claim that a divine being intervened in the natural order to create life. Calling a cow a billy goat doesn't make it one, and calling creationism "intelligent design" doesn't make it any less religious. It's still a nonfalsifiable claim that a supernatural force (which by definition is one coming from outside the natural order) accounts for life on earth. Intelligent design is just creationism in a suit.
Forcing science teachers to teach a particular theological view is like a judge instructing a witness to testify that the light was red whether the evidence supports it or not. Science teachers must be free to teach their discipline without the constraints imposed by one religious view or another. Hard, factual truth is the objective, not preconceived notions about how life came to be.
So, is there any common ground when it comes to what should be taught in the nation's public schools? Yes. The answer seems to lie in simply teaching about the controversy. Tell kids the truth! Students should be taught the predominant scientific view, no doubt, but they should also be alerted to the fact that not everyone agrees. Not even all scientists agree! A small minority of scientists consider the evidence for evolution to be spotty and unpersuasive. We shouldn't give them equal time, but a liberal education demands that students be alerted to their views and to the ongoing debate about how life began.
When science and religion stick to their respective realms, all of society benefits. Science helps us understand the world around us, and religion helps us make sense of it all.
In this case, good fences really do make good neighbors.CHAPTER 2
Why Are We Here?
"Who am I and why am I here?" Admiral James Stockdale's bewildered comment during the 1992 vice presidential debate is remembered as one of the funniest, and most human, moments in American political history. But his not-ready-for-prime-time remark is really the question for the ages. Why are we here? And now that we're here, what is it we're supposed to be doing?
Poets and philosophers through the ages have answered the question in a million ways, but Christianity's answer has been nearly singular. We are here to glorify God.
Every time I hear it, I cringe. "Is that it?" I want to ask. Or, as Peggy Lee famously put it, "Is that all there is?"
Worshiping and praising God has its place. An important one, no doubt. Most Americans try to worship at least once a week, and we pray more than that. But life is more than worship and praise. As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, "For everything there is a season. And a time for every purpose under heaven."
In addition to glorifying God, we are here to eat, drink, dream, dance, work, play, fish, make love, comfort, cry, celebrate, and a thousand other things. We are, in short, here to be human. Made in the image of God but different from God. Very different.
God, for example, has the luxury of silence. We don't. We must talk if we are to communicate with each other, and our talking gets us into trouble.
God has no physical body. No penis or vagina. No estrogen or testosterone. I won't even start on the troubles those can cause. God has never been to the emergency room, much less the coronary care unit. God has never taken a milligram of Prozac. As best we know, God will never have to die. God is, after all, God. But, he has made us human, and human we shall surely be.
So, what does it mean to be fully human?
The Hebrew scriptures, with their characteristic frankness, tackle the question head-on, eschewing some of the more pious answers traditionally associated with religion. The writer of Ecclesiastes (whom many believe to have been King Solomon) gives four concise directives: (1) eat, drink, and be merry; (2) work hard; (3) enjoy living with the person you love; and (4) fear God and keep his commandments. Simple, sensible and hard to argue with.
The New Testament also offers some clues. Consider Jesus' great summation of the good life found in Matthew 22 and Luke 10.
First, he said we should love God. Now, loving God is a challenge. For starters, he's a spirit. An abstraction. We can't rush into his arms and give him a hug. We can't send him a birthday present. He has no e-mail address. But we must be able to love him, otherwise our greatest souls — from Moses to Mother Teresa — wouldn't have instructed us to try. So, how do we do it?
We've already mentioned worship and praise. Surely that's one way to love God. For me, singing the great hymns of the church is one of my favorite ways to express my love and devotion to God. For others, there are the sacraments.
Prayer is yet another way to love God. Lots has been written about this fascinating subject, but boiled down to its essence, prayer is nothing more than conversation with God — talking and listening but not necessarily asking.
But what about the asking? Does it work? Multitudes attest that it does. Although the most comprehensive study of prayer to date suggests no connection between prayer and physical healing, those doing the praying in that particular study were strangers to the people for whom they were praying. When the prayers are offered on behalf of oneself or a loved one, they oftentimes work. We may argue about why they work, but work they do. At least in some cases.
Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, for example, recently presented a study of more than five thousand African Americans to the American Society of Hypertension, which showed (to the researchers' great surprise) that those who prayed and worshiped regularly had lower blood pressure readings than those who didn't, even when they forgot to take their medication! Whether it's the result of divine intervention or the simple relaxation that occurs when individuals engage in prayer and meditation is hard to say. What isn't hard to say is that for many people, prayer works.
One question pertaining to prayer has always intrigued me. If God is all- loving and all-knowing, as most Jews and Christians believe, why should we pray for anybody? Doesn't God know about their problems before we do? And, better still, what sort of God would he be if we sinful humans had to talk him into helping anybody? Doesn't he want them to get well more than we do?
Before you jump on my bandwagon, let me share with you a curious story Jesus once told about the importance of prayer. It's recorded in Luke 18:2–8:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, "Vindicate me against my adversary." For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, "Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming." And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And, will not God vindicate his elect who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you he will vindicate them speedily."
How's that for an interesting portrayal of our heavenly father?
I can reconcile the story with the notion of a loving God only by reminding myself that parables are not allegories and have only one point, which in this case is that persistence pays. But why does it pay? Does it pay because God is ornery, and he needs us to change his mind? I don't think so. The entire Judeo-Christian tradition hinges on the belief that God's attitude toward humanity is one of benevolence. If "God is love," as the Bible teaches, we certainly don't need to change his mind.
If not his attitude, then, what about his actions? Perhaps God has deliberately chosen to intervene in earthly affairs as infrequently as possible. Suppose he has put in place a universe governed by natural laws that should not be disturbed. Jesus seems to be saying that sometimes God is willing to intervene. When or why we're not entirely sure, but that he does seems a distinct possibility. That's one possible explanation for the many healings and other mysterious phenomena for which science seems unable to account.
Excerpted from 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You by Oliver "Buzz" Thomas. Copyright © 2007 Rev. Oliver Thomas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. How Did It All Begin?,
2. Why Are We Here?,
3. What Is the Bible?,
4. Is There Really Such a Thing As a Miracle?,
5. How Do I Please God?,
6. What About Women?,
7. What About Homosexuality?,
8. What About Other Faiths?,
9. What Happens After We Die?,
10. How Will It All End?,
Epilogue: So What?,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was actually given to me by my friend who is a minister. I loved this book. It shares some of the religious beliefs that I currently have, and answers alot of questions for me that I have always had about religion. I would say that if you are someone who is not very open minded about religion and become affended very easily then this book is not for you. If you have questions on why churches seem to hold onto things that just dont seem to fit todays time, then read away you should enjoy. it goes over the bible when it was written and how there are alot of things that seem to be taken to literally in todays times. speaking of hell, and sexuality, and so on. small book that can be read in a day or so.
If you are a Christian, this will make you think about your faith and actions. A must read if you are trying to lead a faith filled life.
Definitely not a book religious fanatics will enjoy. Very informative and insightful! I found his honesty and candor refreshing. A very entertaining and humorous book. I recommend this book!
it was a bit too trite and simplistic for me. he reduces everything to the lowest common denominator and doesn't do the issues he talks about real justice. because of his approach this book is easy to dismiss which is a shame because he does have some good things to say.
This slender volume has ten essays on particularly pointed issues in Christian teaching. The implicit argument is that minister's -- whatever their theological ilk -- have been taught the general answers to these questions but dare not share them for fear of offending -- or scandalizing -- members of their congregation. So the wisdom of the ages is kept under wraps by those afraid of losing their jobs.Certainly, there is a tendency toward the comfortable, albeit biased, answers people are taught in Sunday School. There is comfort in faith that can be explained on bumper stickers and posters. After all, faith is not supposed to be incomprehensible: all faiths have pretty much shunned the Gnostic tendencies of those who claim God gives secret knowledge to only a few people, preferring to keep the rest of us in the dark.On the other hand, I have met people in all kinds of churches who asks the very questions Thomas believes they don't want the answers to. I've met many pastors who are fairly open about their views, sharing their thinking with people who ask. So I am troubled by Thomas' premise for his book. On the other hand, I largely appreciated the essays, which tackle hot topics like creation, sex, gender roles, and eternity. They are thoughtful attempts to sincerely approach these topics. Frequently I agreed with Thomas' assessments. Still, they were narrow in their approach, usually offering single competent answers to questions that have historical been answered in many ways.Some people may find Thomas' candor and approach refreshing or novel. Thomas himself seems to be one of them. I am not.
If you have friends or family who hold conservative interpretations of biblical texts and you find it difficult to explain your own more moderate views, then this book is for you. It provides short simple takes on today's big religious questions: homosexuality, the place of women, evolution vs. creationism, the plausibility of miracles, religious pluralism, life after death and others. "This book is written for all the people who want to live lives of purpose... without having to put the...more If you have friends or family who hold conservative interpretations of biblical texts and you find it difficult to explain your own more moderate views, then this book is for you. It provides short simple takes on today's big religious questions: homosexuality, the place of women, evolution vs. creationism, the plausibility of miracles, religious pluralism, life after death and others. "This book is written for all the people who want to live lives of purpose... without having to put their brains in their pockets". Read in May, 2007
Rev Thomas' book is exceptional. It is informative, inspiring and highly educational. It exposes truths the Church need to deal with honestly if I wants to be taken seriously in this modern age. The theology is sound and I highly recommend it to all believers! Rev Hiram Irizarry
This book is written by a liberal that wants to bring down Christianity. He should not consider himself a minister but and Laywer. May God have mercy on his soul and the damage he causes to the faith. Satan has won a battle with the help of this so called minister.