Christian Vision for Cultural Engagement

In his 2010 book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter called upon Christians to become “a faithful presence” in the world.  “Faithful presence” involves being an example of faith, hope, and love toward family, friends, neighbors, and even enemies in all spheres of life, from the classroom to the government, from the dinner table to the marketplace, from the neighborhood to the world stage.  “Christians,” Hunter writes, “should be a blessing in the context they find themselves.”

Just a couple of years prior to appearance of Hunter’s book, Andy Crouch prepared the soil for “faithful presence” in his book Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. At the time, Crouch was editorial director of the Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today magazine.  I remember anticipating with delight each month’s new essay as Crouch articulated a vision for Christian engagement with culture. 

In the September 2008 issue of CT, Crouch briefly summarized the key points of his book in an article titled, “Creating Culture.” It has been included in my Worldviews curriculum ever since and provides the framework for much of what follows here (not so much a review as an appreciation).

Crouch identifies four responses, which he calls “gestures,” that have defined American Christians’ engagement with culture.  His initial observation is that what begins as responsive gesture toward culture can too easily solidify into a permanent posture.  He considers the merits and consequences of each response and then offers a fifth alternative. 

Before we unpack all this, it might be good to think about what exactly culture and “cultural artifacts” are.  Simply put, “culture” refers to the customs, creative arts, social institutions, and achievements associated with a particular people, time, place, or nation.  These things are not just associated with such particularities; they provide identity and often even come to define them.

“Cultural artifacts” are the products of culture:  traditions, religions, moral codes, art & architecture, music, literature; even political, social, and economic structures.  These are the aspects of culture with which we engage.  Further, a distinction is generally made between “folk culture” (more traditional, provincial, unchanging) and “high culture” (more elite, sophisticated, “classics”). 

Today, most of our culture engagement is with “popular culture,” defined by scholar Tim Delaney as “forms of expression and identity that are frequently encountered, commonly liked, and characteristic of a society at a given time.” Pop culture is also highly commercialized and experienced on a mass scale.

Scripture seems to set the “cultural engagement” bar pretty high in Philippians 4:8-9: Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just … pure .  . . lovely . . . commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise, dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

This passage offers us four considerations regarding “culture engagement”:  What does scripture teach us?  What does it give us?  What does it tell us?  What does it show us?

It teaches us to be discerning (Ps. 119:66; Prov. 15:14; Rom 12: 2)

  • Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
  • A discerning mind seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools savor foolishness.
  • Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, perfect will of God.

It gives us liberty in a context of responsibility (Gal. 5:1, 13; 1 Cor. 10: 23-24)

  • Christ has liberated us to be free . . . only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
  • “Everything is permissible,”[a][b] but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,”[c] but not everything builds up. 24 No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person.

It tells some specific things (Ex 20 10 Com’d; Prov 3:5; Micah 6:8, Mt. 5’s “Beatitudes”)

  • No other Gods or idols, name in vain, murder, adultery, steal, lie, covet; honor the Sabbath and parents
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding
  • to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God
  • blessed are those . . . poor in spirit, mourn, gentle, desire righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted

It shows us a “better way” and points to a “higher call” (1 Cor. 12 à 13; Phil. 3:14)

  • faith, hope, and love (but the greatest of these is love)
  • I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s high call in Christ Jesus

Scripture may not necessarily speak directly to every “cultural artifact” we encounter today, but it certainly gives us some specifics to consider and general guidelines to follow.

Now let’s go back to Andy Crouch. He describes gestures/postures that American Christians tend to adopt toward cultural artifacts:

Condemning Culture:  “Some cultural artifacts can only be condemned.”

  • Violence, lawlessness, pornography, blaspheme, taking of innocent life, exploitation, reckless environmental destruction
  • Scripture is certainly explicit about things we are not to do and should not countenance in our culture.  In Matt. 15: 18-20 Jesus affirms the 10 commandments and identifies “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies” as “things that defile a man.”
  • The proper “gesture” toward such things is an emphatic, “NO!”

Critiquing Culture:  “Some cultural artifacts deserve to be critiqued.”

  • Arts, music, media, theater, film, literature
  • These are cultural artifacts which most call for discernment.  Paul writes in Phil. 1 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in[a] the day of Christ.
  • These things, which are the most in need of discerning critique, are the “cultural artifacts” Christians are sometimes too quick to merely condemn.

Consuming Culture:  “Many cultural goods are simply meant to be consumed.”

  • Good food and drink and the fellowship they foster.  Amusements that lighten the heart and cheer the spirit.  Gifts that become personal treasures.
  • Psalm 16 11 You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.  [liberty with responsibility]
  • Matt. 6 19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasureson earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven . . .21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

Copying Culture:  “Borrowing cultural forms  . . . and infusing them with Christian content.”

  • Architecture, music, literature, film, education
  • This response has the potential to demonstrate “the better way,” but it also (too often so with Pop Culture) is characterized by shallow mimicry and imitation.
  • Romans 12 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
  • Still, “at its best, it can be a way of honoring culture, demonstrating that every human cultural form is capable of bearing the Good News.”

Crouch’s 5th alternative:  Creating Culture

Crouch focuses his attention on two “postures” toward culture that “are most characteristically biblical but have been the least explored by modern Christians”:  we are artists and gardeners. Both begin with contemplation, paying attention to what’s already there. Both involve a posture of purposeful work:  a “calling. Both creatively tend and shape the world the original Creator first made

Crouch asks an important question:

Why aren’t we known as cultivators—people who tend and nourish what’s best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done?  Why aren’t we known as creators—people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming an thrilling and beautiful?

We will explore these questions in the future as we look more deeply at each of Crouch’s for gestures, the consequences of adopting any one as a permanent posture, and the potential that “Creating Culture” brings to each gesture. By God’s grace, we will hopefully cultivate a spiritually healthy, culturally impacting “Christian Vision for Cultural Engagement.”

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“Truth Be Told” – understanding how the Gospel resonates with and redeems our imagination, senses, intellect, and emotions

This is the final part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

A healthy Biblical Worldview embraces the diverse ways God has gifted us to understand and navigate the world around us. The Gospel is the essential human story from Creation to Covenant to Christ to Church to Consumation.  It makes fullest sense of the Created order: it provides the fullest meaning and understanding to the Big Questions of life; it gives fullest expression to our deepest needs and longings. As Christ’s Church, we are all called to be “salt and light,” bearing and embodying God’s Truth in our fallen world

The identity, incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ is the ultimate “hinge of history”; the fulfillment of God’s design, purpose, sovereignty, love, and grace. A Gospel understanding of the world animates and reveals the Truth in the previous 4 themes of this series, while also providing the wisdom and discernment needed to navigate their claims in this fallen world.

In each previous discussion, we’ve looked at three ways we “know” the world (let’s give them a name)

  • Idealism: knowing through reason, logic, intellect. In this way of knowing the senses serve “Thinking Man.” We draw universal explanations from particulars in experience. This is the rational aspect of our identity—the basis for philosophy.
  • Realism: knowing through experience and the senses. In this way of knowing, senses and experience have primacy over reason, which serves to process, categorize, analyze experience. Universal experiences lead us to particular expressions of truth we call “facts.” This is empirical aspect of our identity—the basis for science.
  • Intuition: knowing through our imaginations and feelings. In this way of knowing, emotions, revelation, and faith transcend the limitations of Idealism & Realism. Universals truths are rooted in “essences” that undergird the particulars we experience and try our best to explain (they point us to something!). This way of knowing is a paradox: feelings and emotion alone can direct us to inward truths—this is romantic aspect of our identity. But faith and imagination can lead us to look outside of ourselves for answers—this is the religious aspect of our identity.

For most of human existence, this last way was considered to be a perfectly valid a way of knowing—perhaps the best way to know the most important truths. In more “modern” times, reason and science have gained exclusive claim to “Truth for All”; while emotion, imagination, faith are merely “Truth for You.”

Non Sequitur (c) Wiley Miller

Notice, though, how God created us with the capacity for all of these ways of knowing. We have Bodies (allowing us to experience the world through our senses. We have Minds (allowing us to understand the world through our reason). And we have Souls (we respond to the world through our emotions).

Plato described the human identity with a three-part image. Our head represents the mind, intellect, reason—our faculty for knowledge. Our chest represents emotions, feelings—our strength of will. Our abdomen represents our appetites and desires—the needs of our bodies. His idea of “soul” was expressed in the cultivation of virtues that rightly oriented ourselves toward transcendent truth, goodness, beauty.

  • Knowledge is perfected in wisdom (do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of
  • Will is perfected in prudence (My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death—i.e., sacrifice before self)
  • Appetites restrained by temperance (As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance)

The “wisdom” of Greeks is certainly valuable in pointed to a life rightly lived, but in the context of the Kingdom it is ultimately insufficient for transcending the consequences of sin in our lives and in the fallen world we inhabit. When we are redeemed by faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit enables by God’s Grace us to “walk according to the Spirit” and not in “the flesh” (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:14). Thus . . .

For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way,  since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor. 10: 3-5)

Without this integration of the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of our identity, we fall short. Our minds will focus at best on knowledge as the highest good. Our bodies will seek only pleasure. Our souls will be defined by our feelings.

Our true identities are not merely rational, nor physical, nor emotional. We are made in God’s likeness: we are like Him. That means, like the Trinity, we are relational. We can see the relational aspect of God’s character reflected in the three primary facets of philosophy:

Cosmology (the nature of existence) Father = Source; Son = Means; Spirit = Presence

In Him we live and move and have our being

Because we are made in His image, we are drawn toward the Beauty of God!

Ontology (the nature of reality)        Father = Creator; Son = Orderer; Spirit = Sustainer

God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth . . . He gives everyone life and breath . . . He has determined their appointed times and the boundaries . . . He did this so they might seek Him, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

Because we are made in His image, we are drawn toward the Goodness of God!

Epistemology (the nature of knowledge)  Father = Author; Son = Word; Spirit = Discernment

Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.

Because we are made in His image, we are drawn to the Truth of God.

In thinking about worldview, I’m always drawn back to what Jesus says (in Mark 12 and Matt. 22) “is the most important” thing to know . . .

Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.

We love God—and our neighbor—by faithfully bearing witness to God’s existence, the reality of His created order, and the ability of every human being to truly know Him. Only then can we—and our neighbor—know who we truly are, how things are really supposed to be, and what is The Way to making things right again.

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“How Do You Feel About That?”–understanding the world through feelings and emotions

This is the fifth part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

Feelings are perhaps the most direct, immediate, visceral of all the ways we interact with the world. Everything else we’ve talked about—imagination, senses, reason—evoke emotional responses in us. Emotions (love, passion, anger, fear, despair, excitement, longing) are inherently responsive to stimulus/experience. They also often consist of oppostions—love/hate; fear/courage, despair/hope, etc.

“Zits” (c) Scott & Borman

Why do we have emotions? I think they help us understand there is more to being human than just the material, natural, physical. They may be the part of us that most reflects – or distorts—the imago dei. They are also a primary facility through which we are drawn to God. Three important theologians from church history offer us some specific insights into the importance of feelings/emotions.

“Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”

The Early Father Augustine wrote, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” He talks about the ordo amoris (right ordering of our loves). Material pleasures and relationship with other people are good gifts, but they were not designed to provide our lives with ultimate meaning. Our capacity to enjoy these things properly actually rests on whether or not God is central in our affections.

Medieval Scholastic Aquinas asserted: “The more man’s affection is withdrawn from temporal things, the more in perfection will his mind be drawn towards the love of God.” We here on earth are able to relate to things outside of ourselves–including God and others. Relationship is most perfected when we give ourselves to others and to God.

And from Protestant Reformer Martin Luther: “This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content.” God is to be loved in suffering as well as in blessing. God is hidden within the reality of the human condition, so that his goodness is seen in relationships and everyday life. We are best equipped to love God when we have experienced his love and mercy.

As we’ve already learned, Enlightenment Rationalism (18th C.) emphasized the “thinking individual” and his/her place in society over traditional structures of authority.  “Faith” was placed less in the reality of a loving God and more in the inevitability of human progress. The expectation became that man would ultimately understand and explain all things through the exercise of reason and scientific methodology.

Modern Romanticism emerged in the 19th C. as a cultural reaction to Enlightenment Rationalism. Romantics revived the place of the imagination, giving primacy to the “feeling self” as the sole interpreter of transcendental truth.  “Creative genius” was celebrated and the Arts were elevated as an alternative to religious experience.  Some characteristics of Romanticism include:

  • Concern that reason, science, and industry were aspects of social elites’ determination to control all aspects of life
  • Ideas spread from Germany to inspire British writers (Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth) and American Transcendentalists (Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman)
  • Looks inward for universal truth, beauty, ultimate meaning; values freedom to interpret life on one’s own terms
  • Seeks a “universal truth” for the “human story” (but without the exterior forms & “dogmatic” expectations of Christianity)

Eileen Gregory, discussing Romantic poets in Invitation to the Classics, identified what she called “two central elements of a romantic ‘credo’:  a belief in an immanent spirit within nature [and] in the power of the imagination to apprehend it.”  Two things happened in the 18th-19th century that brought a turn toward a Romantic sensibility in Christian faith itself.

German Pietism emphasized personal devotion (scripture reading, prayer) in believers’ daily life. Anglo-American Revivalism raised expectations of an emotional response in conversion and worship. Each of these contributed to the 19th C. Holiness movement (sanctification and a “second blessing” experience) and from there into Pentecostalism (“baptism” in the Holy Spirit, exercise of spiritual gifts, healing). Second and Third Wave “Charasmatic” movements extended the emphasis on emotional response into the broader church world and through new evangelical movements.

For Christians, emotional response is understandably rooted in one’s love for God. But does that mean that emotions, particularly love, are meant to be the “ultimate” way of “knowing” God and His Creation? In 1963 C. S. Lewis published a book called The Four Loves, in which he identified four ways in which human beings express and experience love. (He used Greek words, but we’ll stick with English here)

  • Familial Affection is found particularly between family members, but also in very close shared relational experiences. It is naturally present as a kind of “built-in” aspect of the human condition and exits regardless of the perceived “value” of the object of one’s love
  • Fraternal Friendship forms around shared experiences, interests, or activities. It is the least “natural” of the loves because it requires something for friendship to “be about.” It is worthy because it focuses not on the loved, but on the “about,” for its value.
  • Erotic Love involves an emotional “giving of oneself over” to someone or something. It finds physical expression through sexual activity, but involves a spiritual dynamic that transcends mere “animal lust.” Any appetite can gain godlike status through idolatry.
  • Agape Charity is a love directed toward others which does not depend on any “loveable” qualities of either the object or circumstances of the love process. Lewis considers this the greatest of the loves, and he sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. All other loves must be subordinated to God’s agape love and expressed with Christian charity.

The idea of a proper “ordering of our loves” goes back to St. Augustine. In The City of God, Augustine makes a direct connection between Christian virtue and the proper ordering of our loves: virtu est ordo amoris (virtue is the “ordering of our loves”). To disregard this, he writes, leads to moral self-destruction. He offers a prayer to God that should be a daily prayer for us all: “Lord, set love in order within me”

Lewis expounds a bit on all this in his book, The Abolition of Man

“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.”

Simply put, we are to love the right things in the right way for the right reasons . . .

  • We must recognize God as the true source and giver of our “loves” (and, by extention, all emotions)
  • We must allow God to lead us in the proper “ordering” of our loves (and in discerning what to give love to)
  • Only God can awaken and enliven in us the emotions that “lead us home” and “gives us rest.”

And of course, scripture gives us a wealth of direction on the place love plays in our relationships with God, with others, and with the world. Here are just a few passages to consider:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
  • Ephesians 5:1-3 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
  • 1 John 5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his children as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.
  • 2 Timothy 3 But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!

Without a doubt, feelings and emotions play an important part in shaping our worldview, but as with all other aspects of our complex “selves” (imagination, senses, reason) it is not the exclusive (or even best) way to navigate the complexities of life. As the song goes, the world will know we are Christians by our love—but we are called to love God (and his world) with the fullness of ourselves (heart, soul, mind, strength)!

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Historic Sites of Champaign County (Revisited) Part Two


Picking up the story of last summer’s history adventures, following the 1976 “Historic Sites of Champaign Couinty” guidebook.  See my last post for an overview of the project and for “highlights” of sites #1-17 (beginning north of Urbana and going on to Rantoul, Mahomet, and Bondville areas). 

#18 St. Boniface Catholic Church (SW ¼ Sect. 2, Colfax TWP; 1 mile west of CR 500 on n/s CR 1100E). Heading south from Bondville on CR 500 (the original narrow concrete roadway can still be seen here), five miles brings you to the sign for St. Boniface Church. The current building, constructed in 1912, was designed by noted church architect George P. Stauduhar of Rock Island, replacing an 1880 frame structure. Stauduh#18ar received his architecture degree from the University of Illinois in 1888, and his papers and drawings are housed in the University Archives. He also designed St. Patrick’s Church and rectory in Urbana, St. Mary’s rectory in Champaign, and Catholic churches in Penfield, Rantoul, Ivesdale, and Philo. Learn more about Stauduhar’s life and work at

St. Boniface Catholic Church

#19 Sadorus Pioneer Marker (w/s CR 600E/Co. Hwy. 19, just north of railroad tracks at the Sadorus Community Park entrance). Henry Sadorus settled on the west bank of the Kaskaskia River in 1824 in what is now Sect. 1 of Sadorus Twp., southwest of the present village that bears his name. At his death in 1878 at age 95, he was “the oldest inhabitant and the oldest person in the county.” This 15-ton boulder, first situated near the original homestead, was first moved in 1909 to the family farm about 1 mile south of Sadorus, where pioneer reunions were held. In 1932 a bronze tablet was placed on the boulder “In memory of Henry Sadorus, first white settler in Champaign County, march 7, 1824.” In 2002 the boulder was moved once again to its present location on the north side of town at the community park. Henry’s grandson Frank Sadorus is known for his striking photographs of family and farm life at the turn of the 20th century. Learn more about Frank Sadorus and view a gallery of his photos at

#20  Lincoln Farewell Message Marker (e/s U. S. 45, just north of the RR overpass). The “Looking for Lincoln” marker at the site states, “Even though Lincoln traveled through Tolono several times, February 11, 1861 was significant, for on that day he gave his last formal address in the State of Illinois while on his trip to Washington D. C., saying, I am leaving you on an errand of national importance, attended as you are aware, with considerable difficulties. Let us believe, as some poet has expressed it, ‘Behind the cloud the sun is still shining.’ I bid you an affectionate farewell. It was a dreary, dank, drizzly day. The station was crowded with people from all over the area who had assembled at the depot platform to bid Lincoln goodbye.” The bronze tablet, set in stone, was originally dedicated July 11, 1932 at the railway station (the “Looking for Lincoln” marker shows a drawing of the old Marion House Hotel and Depot, an impressive multi-story building, which was located at the southeast corner of the junction where the Illinois Central and Wabash lines crossed). It was moved from the old railway station to the present location in 1993. The News-Gazette did a nice article on the site in 2009, which can be found at

Lincoln Speech marker, Tolono

#21-24 Four Historic Homes in Tolono.  Richards/Franks House (left photo below, 317 N. Bourne) originated as a three room built on this site in 1865.  It was later extensively expanded and remodeled by local businessman Patrick Richards. Richards had come to Tolono in the 1860s, establishing a drugs and sundries business in the town. In 1882 he held an open house to showcase his newly renovated home, in which he intended to retire. Instead, he later moved to Urbana and became President of First National Bank (Cunningham’s History). The Frank family resided in the house when the 1976 historic site designation was established. It is now divided into three apartments.


L.C. Burr/Nicholas House (right photo above, 319 N. Vorcey). This modest home was built in “about 1872” with locally-sourced bricks. L. C. Burr owned a furniture store, was an undertaker, and served as Tolono’s mayor for several years. During his time in office the city water works were established. Nicholas was the name of the family in residence in 1976. Current owner Amber Stewart was surprised to learn the home, which they purchased one year ago, was so historically significant.

Salisbury/Gardner House (left photo below, 112 E. Walnut). This classic Queen Anne home was built in 1894 by Thomas M. Salisbury, the first Cashier of the Bank of Tolono. Striking features include birdseye maple interior woodwork and fine leaded-glass windows. The design of the house is said to have been influenced by a similar home located in Washington Courthouse, Ohio (Salisbury’s birthplace). The home was restored to its original glory when the Garner family purchased the home in 1949 (they were still in residence in 1976). The house was purchased by current residents Scott and Barbara Godlew in 2007, who had the site’s deteriorated original marker sign replicated.


Wm. Meharry/Dowell House (right photo above, 305 N. Second). William Meharry, along with his younger brother Jesse, were prominent land owners and livestock farmers in Philo and Tolono townships. The brothers arrived in the area around 1865, each eventually purchasing homes in Tolono “finished and furnished in modern style, and everything about the premises indicates cultivated tastes and ample means” (see link below). William’s grand Second-Empire residence was built “sometime between 1870 and 1872” with locally sourced bricks. The extensive grounds, surrounded by “an antique iron fence, still retains much of the character of the period in which it was built.” No one was home at the time of my visit; I’m still tracking down the name of the current owners. The original historic marker sign at the front gate has been altered, now showing the name “Gere Thompson” (current owner?). Read William Meharry’s bio at

#27 Kelley’s Tavern Site (n/s CH 14/“Old State Road,” just east of the Salt Fork River bridge; E ½ Sect. 22 St. Joseph Twp.). Here we find our fourth “Looking for Lincoln” marker designating the spot where one Cyrus Strong originally built a four room tavern “about 1840” (the marker on site says “1830s”). Joseph Kelley, son-in-law of John Vance (the local representative in the General Assembly proposes legislation establishing Champaign County), purchased the rough log cabin from Strong in 1849. He expanded it, added clapboard siding and a long front porch, and established a ford across the nearby Salt Fork River that carried his name. Other businesses soon followed, and the post office located at Kelley’s Tavern was given the name St. Joseph’s (later dropping the possessive “s”). When the railroad came through a mile to the north in 1869, the town relocated there. The building that housed the tavern, frequented by the circuit riding lawyer Abraham Lincoln, stood until it was torn down in 1914. Learn more and see pictures of Kelley’s Tavern at the “Looking for Lincoln” page,

Kelly’s Tavern “Looking for Lincoln” marker just east of the Salt Fork bridge

#29 Eighth Judicial Circuit Boundary Marker (N/S CH 14/”Old State Road,” at the Vermillion Co. Line in Sect. 28 where Ogden & South Homer Twps. meet). This marker is the 9th of 18 identical markers erected in 1922 by the D. A. R and the Lincoln Circuit Marking Association to show the boundaries of the circuit travelled by Abraham Lincoln, 1847-59. Each marker is located at the place where Lincoln’s route passed from one county to the next (the 8th marker is on the west side of Champaign Co. in Sect. 7 of Scott Twp. Where CR 1675N crosses into Piatt Co. ½ mile north of I-72). Learn more about the boundary marker history and project, and find a map, at–real-lincoln-highway-the-forgotten-lincoln-circuit-markers?trgt=fg_1;view=fulltext

Eighth Circuit Marker on the Champaign-Vermillion County line

#29 Old Homer Park (w/s of Ill. Route 49 at the Salt Fork River bridge, where Sect. 32 and 33 of South Homer Twp. meet). Moses Thomas established a mill on the south bank of the river, east of the present bridge, around 1829. He became “one of the proprietors of Old Homer,” which was platted in 1837 by M. D. Coffeen & Co. south of the river “at the intersection of Sections 4 and 5, Town 18, and Sections 32 and 33, Town 19 . . . .” (Stewart’s History). Similarly to Old St. Joseph, Old Homer’s fate was sealed when the Great Western Railroad came through the area one mile south of the river in 1854. In this case, most of the existing buildings were actually moved to the railroad, hauled on sledge rails by oxen during the winter.

“Old Homer” gained a second life in the early 20th century when W. B. McKinley of the Illinois Traction System bought the ground in 1904. C. B. Burkhardt leased the land the following year, and in 1907 he opened “Riverside Pleasure Park.” The ITS interurban line ran a spur to the park to encourage the use of the rail system. In its glory days, visitors could enjoy an outdoor theater, water slide, dance pavilion, roller-skating rink, ball fields . . . even a small zoo! Burkhardt managed the park until 1930, and by then it was in decline. The park closed in 1939, and the land is now owned by the Champaign Co. Forest Preserve. They’ve installed a nice interpretive marker just west of the highway on the north side of the river. Here’s a couple of sites to find some great pictures of the park in its heyday.,%20Homer,%20Illinois%201905-1928/album/#slides/Riverside_Park_Homer_IL_13.jpg

#30 Burkhardt/Taylor House (205 E. Coffeen, Homer). Described in the 1976 guide as “a fine gothic house” looking much as it did in “a postcard view dated 1857,” the house is now unfortunately in a state of decline. It was built in 1855 by a local attorney and sold to C. B. Burkhardt (later famous for managing the Old Homer Park). “Known locally as the house of seven gables . . . , the house has a spiral staircase of walnut [and] 12 rooms, each of which originally had a fireplace. Once the grounds covered half a block, and a large barn with a cupola stood behind the house. It was torn down along with a wing containing the servants’ quarters, on the rear of the house.” The Burkhardt family remained in the home until the 1940s; presumably Taylor refers to the residents at the time of the guide’s publication. The old home’s decorative gable lace and other exterior woodwork is now deteriorating, and it is surrounded by encroaching brush and overgrown trees.

Burkhardt-Taylor House, Homer

#32 & 33 are two sites of special significance in Champaign County Agricultural History.  Sadly, both are gone.  Sullivant Headquarters represents the amazing career of Michael Sullivant from Columbus, Ohio.  He began purchasing land in Champaign Co. beginning in 1852, accumulating some 27,000 acres. He arrived in here in 1854 and built (acccording to Stewart’s History) “a boarding house, with numerous barns and outbuildings, [along with a fine nearby residence] which he called ‘Headquarters.’”  It was located just north Broadlands on the east side of present County Hwy 13  (NW ¼ Sect. 19, Ayers Twp.). “In a day when fenced fields were uncommon, he had all of his estate fenced into single farms no smaller than 640 acres. Almost 2000 acres were in corn, 300 in winter wheat, 40 in oats. He pastured 5000 cattle and 4000 rundown government horses” (Guide). Sullivant sold his Broadlands Estate to J. T. Alexander, another “cattle king” from western Illinois, in 1866. The entirety of Sullivant/Alexander lands in the area were liquidated in 1885, leading to the creation Ayers Twp. Named for the agent in charge of the proceedings, Ayers became the last of the county’s rural townships to be established (McCollum’s History).  A local farmer told me the building was probably torn down sometime in the 1920s. This was quite the place in the 19th Century and is definitely worthy of a State Historic Site designation.

George W. Smith was one of the first African-Americans to settle in Champaign Co. Born a slave in Tennessee in 1835, Smith served the Union Army as a guide in the Civil War and came to Springfield with Gen. John A. McClernand in 1863. There he married, and in the spring of 1876 the couple moved to the Broadlands area to farm. That fall he purchased his first 80 acres in Raymond Twp. northwest of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Farming with his son, John, he eventually came to own the entire quarter section, building a fine home in 1905 on the property (SE ¼ Sect. 12, Raymond Twp.; nw of Immanuel Lutheran Church at CR 400N & CR 2400E). An interesting note from the 1976 Guide: “John Smith’s interest in horses and his frequent competition in English pleasure classes at shows in Illinois and Indiana is commemorated annually by a horse show in his honor.” The SE ¼ of Sect. 12 is all farmland now, with no remaining buildings, but my 2007 plat book still shows the land in the name of John M. Smith. Learn more about the extraordinary life of George W. Smith at . . . and

#34 Raymond House (SW ¼ Sect. 4, Raymond Twp.; east of CR 2000E about ¾ mile south of Block). Nathaniel Raymond came from Raymond, Ohio, in 1864 and settled on this property. “He sited his house on top of a hill, and created a tree-lined lane to connect the house with the section road to the north. Raymond brought with him seeds and seedlings from Ohio and New Hampshire, and gathered walnuts in Lost Grove [4 miles to the east] to create this lane” (Guidebook). The original lane to the north is gone, but many of the grand walnut trees remain, giving the home its name” “Walnut Hills” (presently a long lane extends west to the county road). When Raymond Twp. was separated from Sidney Twp. in 1869, Nathaniel became its first commissioner. In 1884 his son Issac assumed possession of the homestead and began construction on a two-story addition, a “larger, bracketed structure . . . featuring carved woodwork with incised designs of Gothic motif.” This addition was completed in 1891.

The Raymond House, aka “Walnut Hills”

When current owners Sue (a direct descendent of Nathaniel Raymond) and Martin Cutter obtained the property in 1997, it was vacant and had been abandoned for many years. The oldest section of the home was too far gone to salvage, but it has been replicated as true to the original as possible. The 1891 addition was restored, taken down to the studs and renovated with period-style windows and beautiful woodwork reproductions. From its hilltop setting, Walnut Hills holds a commanding view of the surrounding farmland to the north and west. Finding this home intact and visiting with the Cutters has been the most delightful stop in my summer adventure so far! Here’s a bit on the life of Nathaniel’s son Isaac, described as “among the first to enter . . . the [new] State University at Urbana.”

Watch for posts on my Facebook Page (Rick D. Williams) as I visit sites #35-78 in Urbana & Champaign this summer!

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Historic Sites in Champaign Co. (revisited)


To commemorate America’s Bicentennial in 1976, the Champaign Co. Bicentennial Committee published a 50-page pamphlet titled “Historic Sites in Champaign County.” The book is a guide to 78 specific locations throughout the county, with a picture and brief description for each place designated as an official “Historic Site.” Two centerfold maps, one for the rural parts of the county and one for Champaign-Urbana, provide locations for the sites.

Originally, each site was designated by a number that corresponded to a sign posted at the location. My destinations sometimes involved a bit of detective work (for places long gone), often was disappointing (finding cases of neglect or very recent demolition), but always intriguing and rewarding.

Last summer I set out to visit each of the sites to determine what is still around, what is not, and what condition existing sites were in. My adventure took me throughout the county, using current plat maps to find location of places more generally designated by the basic maps in the guidebook. I met a number of interesting people along the way, enjoyed some fascinating conversations, and made some unexpected connections between places that shaped our county’s history and the people associated with them. My summer adventure ended with all rural sites visited (the first 34 of the 78 total in the book).

I just began my second summer of the project, visiting the remaining 44 Champaign-Urbana sites.  It seemed like a good time to look back over the highlights of last summer.

“Sites” where original structures no longer exist (15):

  • Fielder Cabin, Blackberry School, Van Buren PO (#1,2,3 in Urbana, Somer Twps..)
  • Thomasboro Grain Elevator (#5, Rantoul Twp.)
  • Mennonite Church/Dixon Schoolhouse (#9 in East Bend Twp.)
  • Lindsey House, Rea Tavern, Nine Gal Tavern (#10, 13, 14 in Mahomet Twp.)
  • Rapp Farmhouse (#16, Hensley Twp.), Brennan School (#25, Tolono Twp.)
  • Kelly Tavern (#27, St. Joseph), Old Homer Park (#29, South Homer Twp.)
  • Broadlands Boardinghouse (#31), Sullivant HQ (#32, Ayers Twp.)
  • George W. Smith Farm (#33, Raymond Twp.)

Intact structures (4 churches, 7 homes, 2 others):

  • Immanuel Lutheran (#4, Flatville), First Baptist (#11, Mahomet), Mt. Vernon UMC (#25, Hensley Twp.), St. Boniface RC (#18, Colfax Twp.)
  • Scott/Dollahon House (#12, Mahomet), Richards/Franks, Burr/Nicholas, Salisbury/Gardner, Meharry/Dowell Houses (#21-24, all in Tolono); Burkhardt/Taylor House (#30, Homer), Raymond House (#34, Raymond Twp.)
  • Chanute AFB (#6, Rantoul), Interurban station (#17, Bondville)

“Sites” with no structures:

  • Rantoul Prairie & Mink Grove (#7, 8 in Rantoul Twp.); also Savoy Prairie (#26)
  • Sadorus Pioneer Marker (#19); Lincoln Farewell Marker (#20, Tolono); Eighth Judicial Circuit Boundary Markers (#28, at Cha./Piatt & Cha./Vermilion Co. Lines)

#1, 2, 3 (sites only, no buildings) Fielder Cabin Site (NE ¼ Sect. 11 Urbana Twp) w/s of CR 1700E (N. Cottonwood Rd), 1 mi. north of U. S. 150 (said to have been “a few rods [rod = 16.5’] south of Blackberry School.” Fielder “squatted” on the site, located between the old Ft. Clark Rd. (E. Anthony Dr. today) to the south and the “West Branch” (Saline drainage ditch today) in 1822, made improvements, and entered 80 acres into public record in 1828. He built a mill on the West Branch, but moved to Tazwell County by 1830.

Blackberry School Site (SW ¼ Sect. 2 Urbana Twp) w/s of CR 1700E (N. Cottonwood Rd), 1 mi. north of U. S. 150 (located “opposite Trelease Woods”). One room school built c. 1869 on the west edge of Big Grove, originally located on the east side of the road. It was moved to the west side after a new school was built c. 1894 and used for years as a storage building.

Van Buren Post Office Site (W ½ SW ¼ Sect. 26 Somer Twp) e/s of CR 1600E (N. High Cross Rd.) just north of CR 1900 (Olympian Rd). The post office was located in the home of Matthias Rinehart near the old northern route of the Ft. Clark Rd, about a mile and ½ north of the West Branch (Saline).  When this area failed to be selected as the county seat in 1833, population shifted to Urbana, and this early post office closed in 1845.

#4 Immanuel Lutheran Church of Flatville (NW ¼ Sect. 34 Compromise TWP) SE corner jct. Co. Hwy 12 & 11 in Flatville. In the 1870s immigrants from East Friesa established the community of in this area that came to be known as the “Dutch Flats.” The current Neo-Gothic structure is the third building of this congregation (and the first of the historic sites in the pamphlet still standing!). Here’s an article commemorating the congregation’s 100th Anniversary

Immanuel Lutheran Flatville

#6 Chanute Air Force Base (south side of Rantoul). Originally Chanute Field, built in 1917 as one of the earliest U. S. military flight training schools. The 10th Aero Squadron based at Chanute received the first planes in July 1917. Curtiss “Jennies” (JN4H’s) were delivered in crates to Chicago, assembled, and flown to the field. In March 1941 the first all-black fighter squadron (later to become the famed “Tuskeegee Airmen”) was activated at Chanute. The airfield and training grounds became Chanute A.F.B. when the Air Force became a separate military branch after WWII. The base was the headquarters of the Air Force Technical Training Command (my father trained there in Avionics and for the Atlas Missile Program in the late 50s, early 60s), later known as the Air Force School of Applied Aerospace Sciences. Chanute A.F.B. sadly closed in 1993. A hauntingly beautiful photo treatment of the vacated base can be found at Walter Arnold’s wonderful site, “The Art of Abandonment”

#9 East Bend Mennonite Church Site/Dixon Schoolhouse (NW ¼ Sect. 8, East Bend Twp; E/S of CR 700E, just north of CR 3450N, approx. 2 mi. north of present church site). Mennonites began to settle in this area in the early 1880s, and the East Bend Mennonite Church was organized in 1889. The congregation originally in the small frame Dixon Schoolhouse at this location until 1892 before moving to the first of several building erected at their current location at the northeast corner of CR 700E and CR 3300N. In the late 19th C. the original Dixon schoolhouse burned, and a second school was built one mile to the south (still standing, incorporated into a dwelling). The original Dixon School location is marked by an old, small white sign along the road. A brief history of the church is at

#11 First Baptist Church of Mahomet (402 S. Elm St., 1 block north of U. S. 150). Originally organized in 1939 as Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the congregation settled on Middletown as a central location for worship. Town founder Daniel Porter hosted meetings in his home until a small meeting house was constructed in 1840. The first church building proper was a simple frame structure located at the southwest corner of Main and Lombard Streets. The current brick building was constructed in 1867, originally facing east and topped with a wooden steeple. In 1901 the building was remodeled with the entrance now facing northwest beneath a new brick steeply and belfry (Greg Pasley’s “Diggin’ up Bones” column in the Mahomet Citizen). A brief history of the church is at

First Baptist Church, Mahomet

#12 Scott/Dollahon House (401 E. Oak St./U. S. 150). Built in 1872, this was home for many years to Thomas Scott, whose father Fielding is credited with plowing the furrow from the Bryant Ford to Urbana to mark the location of what became the Bloomington Road. Scott, a distinguished Civil War veteran, died in 1902; his family occupied the home until the 1920s. Orville Rudolph

Scott-Dollahon House

then purchased house, and the Dollahon family remained in possession until the 1990s. Lifetime Mahomet residents Fred and Emily (Moon) Kroner bought the property in 2004 and have given new life to both the house and surrounding grounds.

#14 Nine Gal Tavern Site (wooded area at the southeast corner of U. S. 150 and Sunny Acres Rd., Mahomet). This storied location is among the best known historic sites in the rural parts of the county. John Bryant and Malinda Busey (daughter of Isaac Busey) were the first couple to receive a marriage license in Champaign Co. (July 25, 1833). In May 1834 Bryant entered land at the W ½ of the SE ¼ of Sect. 14 along the Ft. Clark Road in then-Middletown (now Mahomet) township, just over ½ mile east of what came to be called the Bryant Ford on the Sangamon River. By 1836 the road to Urbana was known as the Bloomington Road, and the location of the Bryant home (and their prosperity) made it a natural gathering/resting place (though it is not documented as a tavern or inn). In 1848 Bryant purchased 40 acres to the south in Sect. 23, and the family was established there by 1850. In 1853 the original Bryant home was leased to Thomas Davidson, newly arrived from Ohio, and the documented history of the “tavern” begins. Davidson and his family operated the “Ohio Tavern” until 1856, complete with stories of “frequent” Lincoln stays. The property passed to B.F. Harris in 1863 after John Bryant’s death. Stories of the “Nine Gal Tavern,” whose proprietor is said to have had nine red-headed daughters, are the stuff of local legend and oft-repeated folk history, but no primary sources document its operations. For many years in the 1980s-90s, the Mahomet United Methodist Church put on a popular drama/dinner theater titled “Nine Gal Tavern” imagining characters from the era. The original Bryant building was razed in 1891 and replaced by the “Timber Edge Farm” residence (located slightly to the south). That structure, often cited as “the location of the Nine Gal Tavern,” was still standing in the 1990s. Lenville J. Stelle’s 1990 archeological study of the site provides much interesting detail (it also references the Rea Tavern and other documented tavern sites in the area between Urbana and Mahomet).

#15  Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church (SW ¼ Sect. 9, Hensley Twp; northwest corner CR2200N & CR900E). Mt. Vernon Methodist Church was dedicated Aug. 14, 1874 and has been in continuous service ever since. The original structure, a simple meeting-house style building, had separate entrances for men (south) and women (north). Subsequent renovations and editions give the church a more New England chapel look.

The Original Mt. Vernon Church building

#17 Interurban Station, Bondville (northwest corner Market and Ash Streets). The “interurban” rail line from Champaign-Urbana to Danville, officially known as the Illinois Traction System, evolved from the C-U electric street railway developed by utilities magnate (later U. S. Congressman and Senator) William B. McKinley. The line formally opened October 3, 1903, and the line west to Bondville (and on to Monticello and Decatur) was completed in 1907. Passengers travelled the line until the 1950s, after which the Bondville station came to house the Fire Department. The building is currently owned by Premier Cooperative and used for storage. Learn more about the interurban system in Champaign Co. at

Bondville Interurban station

In Part Two, we will continue our tour across the southern half of Champaign Co.

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“What’s on Your Mind?” – understanding the world through reason, logic & intellect

This is the fourth part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

Classical philosophers in the Greco-Roman world, Asia, and Medieval Europe would all agree that the ability to think and reason is one of the defining characteristics of our humanity. Where they would disagree is this: what exactly is the source and purpose of that unique ability?

Let’s start with the “Big 3 of Classical Greece” . . .

  • Socrates (c. 470-399 bc) thought true knowledge comes from being open-minded. He believed that Truth emerges through the process of rational discourse (and motivate us toward the Good)
  • Plato (c. 428-348 bc) thought true knowledge came from understanding the eternal forms or ideas behind everything in the material, experiential world. Truth precedes (and transcends) experience.
  • Aristotle (384-322 bc) thought true knowledge came from experience in the natural world. We use reason and logic to categorize what we learn. Truth is found in the order and “natural laws” we observe.

The Chinese sage Confucius (551-479 bc) believed there was a proper order in all things (“natural laws”) to which all are called to obedience. Knowledge comes from study (of self, society, and nature) and cultivates the virtue. A virtuous person seeks proper balance and harmony in all of life. Thus:  Good in me = good in my community = good in the world.

Classical learning in the West flowed through Greco-Roman culture into Medieval Christian culture, providing two pillars for Western thought.

  • Early Church theology (most notably expressed by Augustine, 354-430 ad) drew from Plato’s philosophy, locating his “eternal forms” in the Trinity. God is the source; Spirit “illuminates” reason; Christ “redeems” creation (the Creed!)
  • Medieval Catholic theology (most notably expressed by Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274) drew from Aristotle: God’s natural law imbedded in creation; the Creator is evident in its order/design; the Church is the Body of Christ on Earth

Our rational capacity is an important part of the Human Identity in both Classical and Christian WVs, providing the basis for both philosophy and theology. In Matt. 22 Jesus calls us to “love the Lord your God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.” But Paul cautions us in Col. 2 to not be taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.” God gave us our rational capacity, our intellect, and he placed us in an orderly creation that invites logical understanding.

What we must keep in mind is orientation. Do we use reason and intellect to seek God’s wisdom—or to elevate ourselves as “thinking man”? Three contrasting views expressed by contemporaries of Socrates and (known as “Sophists”) paved the way for “modern” worldviews . . .

  • Protagoras (c. 490-420 bc) famously decreed that “man is the measure of all things.” From this perspective, “truth” is subject to human interpretation & definition (the basis of modern scepticism)
  • Thrasymachus (c. 459-400 bc) observed that “might makes right.” In other words, “truth” is a matter of perspective, and the perspective of those with cultural power prevails (the basis fo modern relativism).
  • Gorgias (c. 485-380 bc) was resigned to the idea that “no absolute truth that can be known” since all things are subject to disagreement & difference of opinion (the basis of modern nihilism)

The “rebirth” of classical humanism in the Renaissance represents a more dramatic shift toward “thinking man” as the ultimate source of all knowledge. So-called “Christian Humanists” like Desiderius Erasmus in the Netherlands and Thomas More in England attempted to keep intellectual and artistic efforts focused on the glorification of God, but the tide was turning.

A bigger change came in the ideas of 17th C. French thinker Rene Descartes, considered the “Father of Modern Philosophy. His famous statement, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” is celebrated in academia and pop culture as the ultimate expression of “thinking man” as the “measure of all things.”

What does he mean by this? More importantly, how did this statement transform culture?

Pope John Paul II reflected on how Descartes “radically changed” how we think in a 2005 interview published as Memory & Identity. His expression of this transformation went something like this . . .

 Before Descartes: “Self-Sufficient God” exists always (I AM) and gives “Thinking Man” existence; “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Paul in Act 17)

Descartes’ formula makes the cogito (“I think”) the source of the sum (“I am); In Modern thought, “Thinking Man” takes priority; God becomes an aspect of human consciousness.

Hence: “Man decides what is good or evil, [as if] there were no God.” also good/bad; true/false etc.)

(notice how JPII uses logic to reason his way to this conclusion!). What this means is we are the ones in charge, we are the ones who decide, we are the ones in control of our identity, condition, destiny!

The ultimate triumph of “Thinking Man” came in the 18th Century Enlightenment, where Reason joined hands with Science to become the new twin pillars of Western thought.

Historian Ronald Wells (History Through the Eyes of Faith) describes this empirical rationalism as “the modern worldview” and gives us fellow historian Crane Brinton’s (Ideas and Men) description of it as

a cluster of ideas that add up to the belief that the universe works the way a man’s mind works when he thinks logically and objectively, . . . therefore man can ultimately understand everything in his experience as he understands . . . a simple arithmetical or mechanical problem.

This is the mindset of the world we live in. With this in mind, “How then should we live?”

First, we must remember the “real story” and the proper order of things (going back to John 1, we must keep logos before cogito!) . . .

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him,  and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.

Second, we must embrace the challenge Jesus gives us us to “love the Lord our God . . . with all of our mind.” The key word here is love. Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga unpacks this beautifully in a 1998 Christianity Today article, “I Pray the Lord My Mind to Keep” ( “To love God intellectually,” Plantinga writes, “is to become a student of God—a student who really takes an interest in God.”  This means . . .

  • Becoming “somewhat preoccupied with God” (making Him the center of your attention)
  • Giving God “the benefit of the doubt” (trusting Him when things don’t make rational sense)
  • Allowing “God to be God” (exercising “intellectual humility” in our desire to understand His ways)
  • Respecting “the works of God” (cultivating sensitivity to His presence in creation; be “mindful”!)

In conclusion, Plantiga issues a challenge I begin every year’s Worldview class with:

Becoming a real student of God and of the works of God—becoming alert, respectful, and honest in your studies—is an act of flagrant intellectual obedience because it is an act of flagrant intellectual love.

This, to me, beautifully sums up what we are called to do as “thinking people” created in the image and likeness of our loving God. How do we understand the world through our reason and intellect? We begin by understanding that reason and intellect are a gift from our loving Creator, given to us so that we might see Him in our ordered understanding of the world he created. But we also must acknowledge that this gift alone does not provide all the answers to the “Big Questions” of life.

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“Making Sense of Things” – understanding the world through senses and experience

This is the third part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

A major shift in worldview during the Classical Age in the West can be traced to a single sentence, purportedly uttered by Greek philosopher Xenophanes (d. 475 bc): “Men have created the gods in their own image.”

The rejection of “the gods” as mythical realities was certainly not as abrupt as this. Ancient cultures long continued to revere mythic deities, but more as a matter of civil pride than of actual worship. If we no longer look to the heavens and our “gods” for our story, what’s next? Simply look around you and shape your “Story” around the things you can actually experience (touch, taste, smell, hear, see). This is the beginning of what we now call “science-based” worldviews: materialism & naturalism

“Science” comes from Latin skiente “to learn.” There’s no doubt God created us with intellectual curiousity and the ability to learn from our environment. The Big Question is: can we learn all there is to know about the human identity, condition, destiny only through experience and our senses?

“Natural philosophy” in many civilizations challenged imaginative stories and supernatural explanations as the valid ways of understanding the “real” world. Two big questions to begin with were:

  • Is there a basic substance everything is made of? If so, what is it? (the beginning of materialism)
  • Is there a constant order to everything? Or is there constant change? (the beginning of naturalism)

At first, though, the new “natural” and “material” stories were just as imaginative as the old ones. Basic elements (earth, wind, water, fire) or essences (phelm, blood, bile). By the 5th C. bc, Greek thinkers were getting little more sophisticated in their considerations:

  • Parmenides (c. 515-450) viewed matter as an essential, unchanging substance. Our perception of change in the natural world reflected changing conditions, not changes in substances themselves.
  • His contemporary Heraclitus (c. 535-475) viewed change itself as the constant. We draw conclusions from experience, then look for the universal order (logos!) that transcends the change.
  • Democritus (c. 460-370) with his “atom theory” reduced all reality to matter alone. All things can be divided until reaching an indivisible “building block.” These atoms were the essences of reality.
  • Aristotle (384-322) centered his metaphysics what he called the four causes of being (“causal explanations” of being). The material cause of a thing is its physical properties. The formal cause is the structure or design. The efficient cause is the catalyst or acting element. The final cause is the ultimate purpose for which a thing exists.

If the material/natural world is all there is, that reality determines how should we live. Three famous Hellenistic “schools” of philosophy (c. 300 bc to 300 ad) offered these possibilities:

  • Epicureans—life is to be enjoyed; the greatest good is pleasure (a hedonistic extreme)
  • Stoics—life is to be endured; the greatest good is perseverance (a fatalistic extreme)
  • Cynics—life is as it is; there is not greatest good; it’s all up to me! (an existential extreme)

The triumph of Catholic Christianity in the West restored the importance of spiritual realities, but in the context of Medieval dualism (suffering on earth, reward in heaven). The subsequent cultural and religious challenges of the Renaissance and Reformation, in different ways, shifted focus to man himself and the desire to bring “heaven” down to earth through humanism, the arts, individual faith, and personal piety.

In the 17th-18th centuries, pendulum shifted back toward materialism and naturalism with the “Scientific Revolution.” Three important figures give us a framework for what becomes a “scientistic” worldview:

  • Bacon’s scientific method—science will help us explain all things (modern empiricism)
  • Descartes’ universal method—reason will help us understand all things (modern rationalism)
  • Newton’s universal laws—mathematical precision will help us control all things (modern physics)

Darwin’s theory of evolution (19th C.) was the turning point toward a fully materialist, naturalistic, “scientistic” worldview. Naturalism focuses on what can be gleaned only by experience using the senses, leading ultimately to science as a primary foundation for explaining the world and the materialist presumption that only physical substances and forces constitute “reality”.

Is this all there is? Let’s think Biblically about what the material, natural world is created for and what role experience is supposed to play in our “understanding”!

We know from Genesis that God created the “heavens and the earth”—creation consists of both a natural/material reality and a super-natural/immaterial reality (and that is was created “good”). He created humanity “from the dust of the ground” but also “in His image & likeness” (and he breathed life into us—Spirit is immaterial!)

So our IDENTITY and the CONDITION of life consists of both a natural/material reality and a super-natural/immaterial reality. How does God use our embodiment in the natural/material world for our good

  1. To make Himself known to us (Romans 1: 18-20)

“God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”

  1. To provide sustenance and vocation (Genesis 1-2)

God placed the first humans in a garden “and caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God gave them charge to work it and watch over it and to be fruitful: “multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”

  1. To allow us to learn! Proverbs 15 tells us “The discerning heart seek knowledge,” but it also extends a number of cautions into that process lest we be consumed by hubris and think ourselves equal to God. We don’t want to be like the people described by Paul to Timothy as “always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

4. To give us a reason to look to Him in the struggles of life (Genesis 2, Job, Ecclesiates)

  • The natural/material world is cursed because of the fall (consequences of disobedience)
  • Our faith will always be tested (can we say with Job, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him”)
  • All of our “worldly” experiences and achievements, while often beneficial, are ultimately insufficient in providing fullness of meaning and purpose
  • But there is hope! In John 16 Jesus promises, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

The World in its present form has always been “passing away.” It is not where we are called to look for eternal truths or for answers to questions about meaning, purpose, destiny. Remember the admonition in Col. 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

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Three More Questions

This post originated as the Commencement Speech I delivered May 19 to the Graduating Class of 2018 at Judah Christian High School, where I teach.  These graduating Seniors were in my Worldviews class.

I am honored to have one last opportunity to share some thoughts with you on this momentous occasion.  We’ve spent a lot of time in class this year wrestling with “the Big Questions of Life”:

  • Who Am I? Why am I here?
  • What gives meaning to life?
  • Is there a way we “ought” to live?
  • And most importantly . . . do grades really matter?

I hope you’ve come away from the year with confidence that there are, indeed, real and true answers to these questions:

  • You are a unique human being created in God’s image and likeness, placed purposefully in this particular place and time to reflect and proclaim His glory.
  • Life is a gift from God, and you will find fullness of purpose in loving Him—and everyone you encounter–with all of your mind, heart, soul, and strength.
  • A life well-lived is sown in faith, rooted in truth, cultivated in virtue, and evidenced in fruit. What does God require of you? To act justly, love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with Him.

As for grades . . . well, we all know the answer to that one J.   The good news is that you are all here today, prepared and equipped for the journey ahead. Now I’d like to set before you three more “Big Questions” that will shape the rest of your life. They are questions Jesus asked his own disciples. Each was asked in a particular context, for a specific purpose, and with an important lesson in mind. I think they each also have a fitting application for you –- and for all of us—here and now.

By the time of what we call Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s disciples had been following his public ministry for more than a year. They had witnessed him performing miracles. Listened to his teaching. Learned how to fast and how to pray. Yet at the end of this amazing discourse on how to live out the Gospel, Jesus says to everyone gathered there, including his disciples, in Luke 6 . . .

“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?

 He follows this question with a familiar illustration of two men. The one who “Hears My words, and acts on them builds his house on a firm foundation. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built.”

“But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”

Of course, Jesus isn’t just offering advice on good construction techniques. He want his followers to know that a profession of faith in Him brings you life, but obedient faithfulness to Him builds your life upon the firm foundation of His truth. You will need that foundation to weather the storms of life and stand firm against the lies that try to shake your faith.

Jesus’s next “Big Question” comes in Matthew 16 after an encounter with the Pharisees & Saducees, who come to him asking for a sign. Jesus knows what they are really testing Him, looking for proof that he is who he claims to be.

Later, when he’s alone with his disciples Jesus warns, “Watch out and beware of the yeast (or the leaven) of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” This confuses them. Why is he talking about bread? I can see them bickering about who forgot to bring the bread this time!

I imagine Jesus shaking his head and reminding them what happened last time there was no bread. And besides, he must have explained, that’s not what I was talking about anyway! Jesus wasn’t telling them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Then Jesus suddenly seems to change the subject entirely, asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples offer various responses, but then he drives the question home:

“But you,” who do you say that I am?”

 Peter responds, with his famous confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus commends his faith and pledges to build His Church upon the Rock of Truth expressed in Peter’s words. More than that—He promises that the very Gates of Hades will not overpower that Truth.

Now, by implication, we come back to the Pharisees & Sadducees. This phrase “Gates of Hades” is a metaphor for the powerful strongholds of this world that stand against the Truth of the Gospel. We’ve learned a lot this year about some of these strongholds. One of them is the need to have proof before we believe Jesus is who He says he is. Another is the idea that following the rules or doing good things without a repentant heart is “good enough.”

You will encounter strongholds such as these all of your life—we all do. As part of His Church, God is calling you to speak truth into these lies. Your ability to do so with confidence and power rests squarely on how you answer this question.

Who do you say Jesus is?

A good example? Yes, but not enough. A help in time of need? Of course, but still not enough. He is the Christ, the anointed one, God’s only Son, sent to save the world and restore God’s Kingdom. He calls each of you to this great work.

Which brings me to the third “Big Question” for today. After his Resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on several occasions. In John 21, he finds a few of them returning from an unsuccessful fishing trip.   Watching from the shore, Jesus calls out, “Try again.” This seems familiar, they fishermen must have thought. They are not quite sure who the stranger on the shore was, but that nagging familiarity prompts them to listen and act. The net fills with fish, and they immediately realize who’s talking to them—it’s Jesus!

As you leave this place and the daily presence of “Jesus stuff,” you may at times feel yourself distanced from God. That’s a good time to listen and act when familiar old things remind you of His Presence. Respond to that urge to pray at the start of the day (for good measure, throw in a Pledge and Psalm 67!). Stay in fellowship with other believers, even though you no longer have to go to chapel. When you encounter some profound “Big Question” in life, write a thought paper!

Back to our story. Jesus prepares breakfast for the disciples, then asks Peter three times:

“Do you love Me?”

Peter responds each time, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.”  Jesus says back to him each time: “Feed My sheep.”

Now first, remember that Peter had previously denied Jesus how many times? Three. And Jesus asks the question how many times? Three. This is a reminder to us that God’s Grace is limitless, and his love for us is great. Even when we fail Him, He is always prepared to restore us. But there is another important point to the question.

God has given each of you unique gifts and abilities to use in service to His Kingdom. You may be a gifted leader, as Peter was. For you, “Feed my sheep” means “Lead my people.” Some of you are creative, some are compassionate, some are wise, some are encouragers. God is asking you: “Do you love Him? Truly? Unconditionally? Faithfully? Then, empowered by that love, use your gifts, talents, and skills to be a blessing to others. Feed His sheep.

We here at school, along with your parents, family, and other significant people in your life, have all done our best to establish a firm foundation to build upon. Now it is your turn to build. Do so in faithful obedience, loving service, and confidence that “He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Be blessed, be a blessing, and – as our friend Rich Mullins always said – “Be God’s”

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“Once Upon a Time”: understanding the world through the imagination

This is the second part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

Before we had science, philosophy, theology, or Oprah to help us understand ourselves and the world around us, what did we use? We used our imaginations. We told stories. We created myths.

All human civilizations begin with a “myths,” stories used to explain who we are, why we are here (and how we got here), and why the world is the way it is. We imagine immortal beings that are the source of all things (and are in control of all things). We use their interactions with one another, with the world (and us) as a way to explain everything. Ultimately, we develop religious practices (rites) and beliefs (doctrines) around these stories.

So the wisdom of the modern world tells us. And of course, modern science and philosophy tell us such stories are untrue. But what if it really is the other way around? What if there is really One True Story given to us by the One True God so we could “see” and know Him (and all of reality) “through the eyes of our hearts”? What if the Gospel is the One True Myth?

In the video below, from EWTN’s “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings:’ A Catholic Worldview,” J.R.R. Tolkien discusses the “true myth” of the Gospel with his friend Jack (C.S.) Lewis.  Based on an actual interchange between the two prior to (and instrumental in) Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

Ancient Myths are rooted in culture and language and both reflect and project characteristics of those cultures. For example, mythical stories of agricultural societies would center on fertility, seasonal cycles, harvest offerings. Woodland societies would develop myths that are more natural and elemental, featuring animal spirits. Myths of seafaring societies focus on wind and water and longing for far-off lands.

Myths incorporate narrative archetypes (symbolic representations that provide motivation and meaning)

Myth and religion in early human history are intricately connected; both use stories to provide imaginative explanations for human origins and reveal deep truths about the human experience. What we want to consider is what they tell us about the Three Big Worldview Questions: Human Identity, Human Condition, Human Destiny (see the last post for a reminder if needed).

Most ancient myths begin with conflict (often murder) among deities prior to creation. Humanity is created as “puppets to serve the gods and tend to their needs. It is their task to tend to needs of material world and build temples to honor and appease the gods in their spiritual realm.” (see “A Tale of Two Worldviews,” Hearts and Minds podcast, Fr. John Oliver

  • Man is created as an afterthought; the universe was not created for man, but for self-serving deities.
  • This served the interests of the powerful and elite in ancient societies. They come to see themselves as occupying the same position in the material world as the gods occupied in the spiritual world.
  • Society is divided between the powerful and the powerless. Only the former deserved any sort of life after death, and even for them eternity was reserved for royalty or the most noble/heroic.

The impact of this view of the human condition is all-too apparent in history: justification of power and privilege in a variety of forms. Royal families claim to rule by “divine right.” Industrial and commercial capitalists oppress and exploit workers. Darwin’s theory of natural selection becomes the basis for a “survival of the fittest” mentality in society.

By contrast, the Biblical story of creation depicts Father, Word, and Spirit working in unity to craft a cohesive reality—both material and spiritual–and declaring it “good.” This “Great Story” of human identity, condition, and destiny begins both in Old (Genesis 1) and New (John 1) Testaments.

“In the beginning God [the Father] created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” And, “In the beginning was the Word, [Logos, the pre-incarnate Christ] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.

In Genesis, God [the Father] proclaims, “Let there be light.” In John, we are told of Christ, “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.”  God [the Father] continues, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . . So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God . . . male and female.”

This story gives us a quite different view of humanity and our place in the created order than that of other ancient “myths” (again, from Fr. John Oliver):

  • Man is created in the image and likeness of God as the “crown of creation; the apex, not the afterthought.”
  • Man is a distinctive part of creation, endowed with a glory found only in him.
  • All people matter, particularly the powerless. In fact, the worth of the least is emphasized.

The story goes on from here into a classical catastrophe as humanity falls from grace through disobedience to our gracious God. Disobedience brings sin into the world, banishment from God’s presence, and, ultimately, death. Yet even when we reject God’s good plan, he does not abandon us.

To borrow a word from J.R.R. Tolkien, God comes to us by putting a beautiful eucatastrophe into motion. He makes a covenant first with one man, then with one people, extending it through them to all of humanity. The Logos becomes incarnate among us, showing us the Father and paying the price for our disobedience. In His death and resurrection comes the promise of restoration and redemption—not only for humanity, but for the human condition as well. He indeed “brings life.”

Romans 8 fills out the picture of the human identity by assuring us we “are not [merely] in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you . . . . And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through[d] His Spirit who lives in you.”

This truth of “the reality of all things” was, Colossians 1 says, a “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

As beings created in “the image and likeness” of God, we can experience true knowledge of Him, not just information about Him, and enjoy full relationship with Him. We find our identity in Him and find meaning and purpose in life in light of His nature. Ultimately, we find eternal salvation by His grace and have the promise of complete restoration of all! This is the Story God gives us, and it is this Story we are called to take to a world that so desperately needs to be reminded who they really are.

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What’s Your Story? Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life

“Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions. We view the universe as an accident or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and for some of us, meaning to life. ”                — Dr. Armand Nicoli, The Question of God

This post comes from the first in a series of talks I’ve recently given on the topic of worldview at my local church.  This series has grown out of 20 years of experience teaching a class for high school Seniors.  It has been a challenge to boil an entire school year’s worth of material into a six week series of 30-40 minute talks.  It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, though–and it has been a great blessing!

Let’s begin with the word itself. 

Dallas Seminary professor David Naugle, author of Worldview:  History of a Concept (2002), locates the origins of the term “worldview” in German philosophy’s Weltanshauung (Kant, Fichte, Shelling, Hegel, et. Al.), a word used to describe “a set of beliefs that underlie and shape all human thought and action.”  Christian applications of the concept first appear in the writings of Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr (1844-1913) in The Christian View of God and the World (1893).

Dutch Reformed statesman, theologian, and educator Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), addressed the topic systematically in his 1907 Stone Lectures at Princeton (revisited in the 1998 book, Creating a Christian Worldview).  Finally, the concept gained a wider popular audience through the late-2oth century ministry of American Presbyterian theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-84) and his classic work, How Should We Then Live?

A good working definition of “worldview” might be:  a defining and interpretive narrative used to explain/understand the world and your place in it.  It “reflects, interprets, and assigns value to reality, providing a model of the world that guides in the world” (Fr. John Oliver, “Hearts & Minds” podcast). Your worldview does not just inform, it motivates and directs your beliefs and actions. “How we see determines who we are” (Fr. John again).  Prov. 23:7 (NASB): “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

Listen to Fr. John Oliver’s podcast episodes on Worldview at


Here’s my personal definition:  your worldview is the “story” you believe about who you are, why things are the way things are, and what really matters in life. All worldviews address three “Big Questions” about the human experience, either explicitly or through passive implication:

  • The Question of Human Identity (Who are we? What makes us human? Where do we come from?)
  • The Question of Human Condition (Why are we here? How should we live? Who decides things?)
  • The Question of Human Destiny (What gives us meaning, purpose, direction? Where are we going?)

The Worldview “L.E.N.S.

Keeping in mind the fact that worldview not only informs but also motivates human behavior, worldview education becomes a tool for “navigating the complexities of modern life” (the tagline for one of my favorite online journals, I see this task as a four-step process.

LEARN the human story in order to understand the human condition (cultural literacy), so we can . . .

ENGAGE the world from an informed perspective (call to action), helping us understand . . .

NEEDS that exist in your sphere of influence (call to compassion), so we can propose and pursue . . .

SOLUTIONS that truly understand the problem and offer genuine hope to people (call to recovery), allowing us to be “salt and light” in the world!

Too many times Christians tend to start at the end of this process, pointing the finger at what’s wrong with the world before taking the time (and doing the hard work of study) to learn why things are the way they are.  True and lasting solutions to cultural and social problems must come from understanding how things got to be the way they are first.

Consider the example of Paul in Athens in Acts chapter 17.  Before telling the gathered philosophers on Mars Hill where they were wrong and how things “really were,” he first took the time to observe and understand their culture and history.  He begins by recognizing their piety, then uses that as a starting point for telling them the true story behind their “unknown god.”

The call to be “salt and light” to the world begins with being informed and engaged agents of cultural influence and change.  We need to keep in mind the story we know about why things are the way they are so we can help our culture recover its true story.  J.R.R. Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” speaks to this need:  “We need recovery—a regaining of a clear view. I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’—as things set apart from ourselves.”

We also must be steadfastly committed to the Biblical account of the human story as the truth about the reality of all things. It is not merely one religious interpretation of reality among many others. We do not get to decide the nature of reality ourselves; we find the reality of God in His Creation and in His Word, and we align ourselves with it.

The Biblical account of the human story communicates God’s true intentions for humanity from Genesis through the Gospel and the Great Commission. Human disobedience allowed sin to set humanity on a path of progressive (and often destructive) self-determination. God’s grace provides the only means of personal redemption, cultural recovery, and the recognition of His Sovereignty over all things.

Finally, the Biblical account of God’s revelation of Himself and His Truth through the Jewish Witness and the Christian Gospel is faithfully depicted and foundationally essential. Institutional Judaism and Christianity, as “world religions,” express and extend God’s revelation into culture. But we must also humbly recognize that, because of the fallen nature of the world and their human leaders, religious institutions (and individual believers) have often failed to represent God’s Truth faithfully. Such failures do not, however, negate the Truth of the biblical account of God’s revelation.

We cannot allow fears that our culture is beyond redemption to cloud our vision for the people all around who have lost their story.  The challenge of Romans 1:16 must always be before us:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” 

Because God created us in his image and likeness, we are blessed to share in the multi-faceted gifts we’ve been given by Him so we may fully know and engage our world.  Each week in this series we will look at various ways knowing and embracing the Truth of God’s Story about the human identity, condition, and destiny.  Coming up . . .

  1. Once Upon a Time” – understanding the world through the imagination
  2. Making Sense of Things” – understanding the world through senses and experience
  3. What’s on Your Mind?” – understanding the world through reason, logic & intellect
  4. How Do You Feel About That?” – understanding the world through feelings and emotions
  5. Truth Be Told” – understanding how the Gospel resonates with and redeems all the above and how we, as the Church, all called to be “salt and light,” bearing and embodying God’s Truth in our fallen world.
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