I appreciate labels.  Since being diagnosed with celiac, I’m a label freak.  I carefully examine labels on everything from food to face soap. My health depends on it.

So, I should clarify.  I appreciate the proper place of labels.

Labels belong on products. Not people.  On products, labels are helpful.  On people, labels are hurtful.  On which side of “label slapping” have you been? I’ve been on both – giving and receiving.

On the receiving side, the label of choice was “liberal.”  “Phillip is just a liberal,” so it was said.

I don’t like people labels. Here are a few reasons why:

* Labels don’t do much to enhance the conversation.  Fact is, labeling seems to stop any conversation. Someone has said (experts are still looking for the source), “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Ouch.

* Once we label someone, we start to see only the label.  We look for information that confirms the label that we have placed on a person.

Want a “for instance”?  President Ford was a great athlete, playing for two championship football teams at the University of Michigan, and being selected an All-American.   Yet, after he took a tumble or two on the ski slopes and then slipped one rainy day coming down the stairs of Air Force One, he developed the reputation of being a klutz.  Then when Chevy Chase impersonated Ford as a klutz on SNL, the label stuck.  The joke was that VP Rockefeller was just a banana peel away from the Presidency.

Or this example:
Stephen Colbert interviewed Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer:
Stephen Colbert: “Would it be safe to say you’re a liberal?”

Con. Blumenauer: “It depends on the issue.  Because I’m also working with some of my more conservative friends to try to eliminate sugar subsidies.  Is that liberal or conservative?”

Stephen Colbert: “It’s liberal.”

Con. Blumenauer: “You think?”

Stephen Colbert: “I do.”

Con. Blumenauer: “Why?”

Stephen Colbert: Cause you support it.”

People will literally ignore anything that isn’t in line with the label they have given to a person.

It’s tough to live outside of the label.

Maybe living with a liberal label isn’t so bad.  Some of the evangelical world’s most respected and quoted leaders hold views that would, by some people, earn them the same label.

Tim Keller, “I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a song about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation…There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages – including Genesis 1.  But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then  none of it can be.” Tim Keller

C.S. Lewis, “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.  For example a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain points.  Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may been in this position.”  Mere Christianity

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Bible remains a book like other books.  One must be ready to accept the concealment within history and therefore let historical criticism run its course.  But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us.” Christ the Center  

Wow.  These guys have made some statements that certainly lie outside the boundaries of some theological systems. In some circles they’d be labeled liberals. Yet, we give their books to people sruggling with their faith. We quote them extensively. We hold them up as examples of Christian maturity and devotion.  I’m all for it. I’m glad we do.  But it begs the question: Why do these guys get a pass and others don’t?

Lessons in a Barbershop

Image“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them.  When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.”  Luke 18:15

It was Saturday morning at the barbershop.  Packed out.   A family of four walked in. Mom and dad took the seats beside me. The two boys, I’m guessing around 4 and 6 years old, took a seat on the floor beside the table covered with the day’s newspaper, your typical array of barbershop magazines and a few children’s books.  The youngest boy found Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham and a big smile crossed his face.  He hurriedly turned to the first page.   Then it began.  The brother-brother dance.  Two kids wanting the same book.  Parents, we’ve all been there.  How would these parents negotiate the tug of war?

“Give the book to your brother.  You don’t know how to read.”  Mom instructed the little guy.

“Yes, I do.  I’m reading it with my mind!” the young reader replied.

I thought, “How cute is that?”

Mom didn’t think it was so cute.  “No, you’re not,” she said. “You’re just looking at the pictures.”

“Mom,” he protested, “I’m reading it with my mind.”

While this “back and forth” went on, the little boy’s frustration as well as mine, grew.  Not being able to keep my nose out of other people’s business, I stepped in.

Leaning forward, I offered this suggestion, “Hey guys, how about if I read the book to both of you? I’ll scoot over and one of you can sit by me and the other can sit on your mom’s lap.”

“Yeah!.” the youngest one shouted and plopped himself beside me in my chair while his older brother climbed onto his mom’s lap.  The older brother lost interest but the youngest was into it.  I read a line, “I am Sam.” Before I could read the next line, the little fella said, “I am Sam, Sam I am.” This pattern continued.  I’d read one line, and he’d repeat the next.  “Would you like them in a house?” He’d follow with, “Would you like them with a mouse?”

How about that?  He really was reading with his mind!

It was my turn for a haircut. We closed the book and I got settled in the barber chair.  Several times, the little fella would make eye contact with me and wave.  I’d work my hand out from under the cape and wave back.  Haircut done, barber paid.  As I went to get my coat, I was waved over by that innocent little hand.   Green Eggs and Ham was opened to the last page we had read.  “Will you finish the book?” he asked.  “You bet,” I answered. “I can’t wait to see how it ends.”

“You’re a good thinker and reader,” I said as we closed the book. I gave the kid a brief hug around the shoulder, walked out of the barber shop into the cold air, warm tears welling up in my eyes.

We know the power of touch.  It feels good to us. It is good for us.  A touch in Jesus’ time was much more.  It was the conferring of a blessing – a statement of acceptance and affirmation.

That’s it.  Kids want and need acceptance and affirmation.  It is food for the soul and is as necessary as vegetables for the body.  My new barbershop friend just needed a “touch.”

How many “touches” am I giving each day?
How many opportunities are there that I have missed?
How many people have I ignored? In my own family? In my community?

Best haircut I’ve had in a long time.

“Accusation is Not Proof”

It’s old news now – Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted about President Obama during the Inauguration.


I’ve stared at this tweet off and on, not knowing how to respond. Not knowing if I should respond.  “Some thoughts are better left unexpressed,” I’ve told myself. “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” advice I obviously have not followed in the past.

News came to me this week, however, that made the tweet personal.  Driscoll lobbed a bomb at the President.  The pastor, along with all Americans, has a right to criticize our leaders and their policies.  It’s the American way.  No problem there.  Driscoll’s tweet though was the delivery of a spiritual slam.

“…who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Several months ago a message began circulating that “Phillip doesn’t believe the Bible.”  Like the Energizer Bunny the message keeps going and going.  I heard it again this week. I thought, “Really?”

The charge came as a result of a teaching I gave in September 2012.   I’ve listened to the audio of that teaching three times  – I never said what was said I said.

I did say this: “We can’t build our faith on the foundation of the Bible, but on the person of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:14)

And I said the following in response to an earlier comment from another teacher at the same seminar concerning inerrancy: “Every inerrantist I know, or have read, believes that only the original manuscripts are inerrant.  So if you base your trust in the Bible on its inerrancy then you won’t be able to trust this book (the one I’m holding in my hand), because the Bible you have right here is not the original manuscript.  And if you base your trust in the Bible on whether or not it is inerrant then you can’t trust what you have here…”

The claim is made by those who hold an inerrantist view, that the trustworthiness of the Bible stands or falls with inerrancy.  If the Bible contains any real errors it cannot be trusted.  Then there is the admission that every Bible that exists probably contains errors.  Only the original manuscripts can be considered perfectly inerrant.

So…think along with me…if the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on inerrancy- as defined as “without error” –  and only the original manuscripts – which no one has – are inerrant, then that does not bode well for the trustworthiness of the Bible we do have.

That is why I like and hold the definition of inerrancy given by John Piper – “Perfect with regard to purpose.” The Bible’s main purpose is transformation, not information (2 Timothy 3:16), and it’s unfortunate that so many people spend their time arguing over the “information” part.  The Bible is absolutely trustworthy to do what it is intended to do.

Back to the tweet.

I do not know why the President is accused by Driscoll of not believing the Bible.  I do know that in the words of Edward R. Murrow, the pioneer of television news reporting, “Accusation is not proof.”

Yeah, it’s a bit personal.