I wanted to explore some of the world of different Christian leaders, small and big. However, I wanted to report less on those and more in their own words. These will be published, slowly, over time.
This, I trust, may open dialogue and understanding between various communities. Of course, an interview does not amount to an endorsement, but to the creation of conversation, comprehension, and compassion.
“Reverend Brad Strelau is a father of two (Caed & Aurielle), husband of one (Lalainia), a fan of English Premiere Football (Come on, Everton!!), always has 4 or 5 books on the go, and is an avid whistler!
He was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C, and resides in the Tri-Cities, ministering as pastor of CA Church: Town Centre in downtown Coquitlam (Evergreen Cultural Centre).” Here we talk about his life and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your personal sect of Christianity?
Pastor Brad Strelau: I am part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church started in the mid-to-late-1800s by a guy concerned mostly about missions work, in China. It was not a church until the 1970s.
It was a missions organization. His big thing: he wanted to cut out the divisive things about denominations. If you believe most things most Evangelical denominations believe, he would say, “You’re welcome into the organization to reach the lost with the Gospel.” [Ed. not a direct quote.]
So, even today, the way the C&MA or the Alliance works is most Evangelicals or Protestants can join in. We do not have a lot of beliefs that have been divisive in a lot of ways. If you come from Nazarene, Baptist, Mennonite Brethren, they can call this home, e.g., the music and language are familiar.
Jacobsen: What will be a contrasting sect of Christianity to the Alliance?
Strelau: Any church that says, “We are not concerned about anything outside of our walls.” We are a missions-oriented church. It is social gospel, helping widows, orphans, and those in need. But we also believe the Message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – is important.
We do not only do physical things. We do things that are life-transforming all over the world. Now, we have people in Turkey giving the Gospel but also helping them start a business. Some of the women are starting a business. We have groups in Zambia, New York [Laughing].
Strelau: Brooklyn, probably the most dangerous one, Mexico, and the Philippines, those are the ones done now. It is always growing. Our main impetus is that we are meant to proclaim the Gospel and go everywhere in the world to do it.
It has always been the goal of the Alliance church. Others who say, “We will hunker down until Jesus comes.” It is the opposite of us. But we are not perfect followers of Jesus.
Jacobsen: There are those most insular in terms of community. There are those more open in terms of community. There are those who reach out to family and friends in terms of evangelization. What would this amount to here?
Strelau: It would be both. When I am preaching on the weekend, I try to remind and encourage people. Jesus is not only best for them and living out the Gospel is not only best for them. It is best for their neighbours, people they meet at Starbucks, and people at school.
We should be reaching out on the individual level and sharing the Gospel and going on mission trips. It is not good enough to go to Turkey and say, “People need Jesus.” You have a neighbour who has never had anyone explain to them who Jesus is either.
All of it. It is from top to bottom, the Gospel. It ought to take over our lives. In the West, we have Gospels that divvy up. Check it off. You read the Bible and went to church. Done!
Strelau: There is Hinduism in India. It can be completely transformative, but not always in a healthy way. The understanding is that this is not something only held in private. It is brought into the public sphere. We believe it is so life changing and changes history.
This is not something that you simply hold down in private. It is brought into the public square. It is so life changing and changes all of history. It ought to take over every aspect. To say, “It does not impact how I do business,” does not make sense.
Jacobsen: What are some difficulties that arise in each of these evangelism areas?
Strelau: It would be assuming our understanding of the Gospel applies elsewhere. For instance, in the Gospel of John, there is a story of Jesus meeting a woman married 4 or 5 times. In the West, the story is that she slept around and has been with different guys.
That is a Western interpretation. In Africa, they will interpret that as a story of a woman treated badly and who needs to be taken care of; we need to make sure we are bringing other interpretations of what the Gospel is about.
We need to remember this is the Hebrew culture that first gave us the Gospels. We will often assume. There is the story of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal son goes away. He spends all his money and there was a drought.
The West, we will focus on spending all his money. In Africa, they will say the problem was that there was a drought. We don’t understand drought! It changes everything. That is an important aspect. Our culture is not the ‘proper’ culture to interpret Scripture.
We have to interpret Scripture as it was meant in the first place. Then we have to apply that to the culture in which we find it.
Jacobsen: There is a history of improper inculcation of the Christian faith. At the same time, some who came out of it, e.g., the Indigenous community, formed, more or less, an Indigenous Christianity.
People like Dr. Terry LeBlanc, Dr. Raymond Aldred, and the late Rev. Richard Twiss talk about this.
If you look at the statistics, about 2/3rds of the population identify as Christian, if you look at Indigenous communities, there are about 2/3rds who identify as Christian.
Strelau: That is interesting.
Jacobsen: If we look at the New York case, they will focus on the prodigal son’s waste of money. If we look at the Zambian case, they would focus on the drought. In a Canadian context, where Indigenous, how would this, in another parable, be interpreted within that context?
Strelau: That is a good question. I do not know if I have an answer for it. That is difficult in a number of ways. If we are bringing the Gospel to a First Nations culture, there is a lot of native spirituality.
It is how the Earth is seen and how the world is seen. In the same ways, like other countries, there are no cookie cutter ways. No book to say, “This is how you reach the Indigenous.” Dare I say it, it takes time to know people.
That has been a failure of Christianity in the past. We have had these ideas if you just walk people through these 6 passages…
Strelau: I grew up in the church. We had a booklet in the 80s called The Four Spiritual Laws. Same with gravity. You cannot fight gravity. It will always pull you down. But that there are spiritual laws. There was a little booklet to carry around and share with people.
It is always such a natural way to open a conversation with people [Sarcasm]. There is The Roman Road going through the Book of Romans. It is a way of going through things in a cookie cutter way.
It is saying, “I am going to declare this to you. I am going to have no clue as to who you are and what you walked through.” Many have walked through horrible situations, as many of the Indigenous have; horrible situations through the church.
It is in the name of Jesus, too. I need to know who you are before I think you will listen to what I say. I think this is where we failed as a culture, a Christian culture. Anyone [Laughing] who tries to share the Gospel on Facebook. Nothing ever evolves on Facebook. It devolves.
Jacobsen: Almost as bad as YouTube comments.
Strelau: Is there a lower level of humanity than YouTube commentary? Maybe, if we watch the news, but!
Strelau: I think the surest way in any culture to share the Gospel is not to bring them to the professionals, not to herd them into the church. The best way, most personable, most realistic way, is if someone has a question or a problem with the church.
It is to sit down and have coffee as if we are human beings.
Jacobsen: For instance, if I remember right, Dr. Terry LeBlanc makes a split between an oral culture and a print/written culture. If you use a book like The Roman Road, that would be taking a booklet to a, more or less, oral culture.
Terry LeBlanc, I believe, talked about two things. If you look at the Old Testament and New Testament, it is a Middle Eastern and written culture in terms of what is produced with a text.
Indigenous is more land-based learning. It is an oral culture. At the same time, both had an idea of Creator with one and the other with God. But it is a single thing behind everything. However, it comes from different frameworks.
He would take the perspective, in a sense, of both taking a monotheistic lens. At the same time, it’s an orientation of when is an appropriate time in history for the Gospel to reach out to people, in God’s providence. It is almost a preparation in time.
“Mistakes were made at and after arrival, but! If given time, there will be the arrival of the Gospel to a culture seeped, for thousands of years, in a view of the world as created by a Creator and comfortable with mystery and an interconnectedness of all things.”
There is not a systematic theology in the Indigenous tradition. There is a Creator. Then there is an innumerable number of interrelationships between things.
It is different than the carving up model of the West with systematic theology with the requisite literate culture as part of it. So, the Indigenous Christian framework works within this context.
Strelau: If we learn anything from the Gospel, it is that Jesus wasn’t sitting in front of thousands of people reading Old Testament texts. He was telling them stories, which was very familiar. It has to do with what the things people were very familiar with, e.g., rain, planting, a son walking away from inheritance. It was culturally relevant.
He would talk about the Good Samaritan as the enemy of the Jews. He was calling them to something strong but doing this with story. He was, in some ways, maybe different than what they were used to – as they were reading the Torah. It is reading stories and seeing if they resonate.
Although, Jews and Christians traditionally have been called “People of the Book.” We can learn from Jesus, one of the best ways to reach people with the Gospel and the good news is through the story. Maybe, it is something lacked by us.
Jacobsen: Regarding personal and family background, what was it? As well, when did you become Christian?
Strelau: I was born into a family, which was Christian. I have been going to church since I was a fetus. It was a conservative German church. I have memories of angry, German faces correcting me. I am sure they were trying to help.
My memories of growing up. The two strongest memories are of my father. They are him kneeling next to his bed at night to pray. If he disciplined me too harshly, in today’s standards he did not at all, he was not a harsh disciplinarian.
He would apologize to me. I inherited prayer and humility when it comes to having made mistakes, which is good for marriage. I say, “Sorry,” almost every day [Laughing].
Strelau: I was given a great heritage. At first glance, I came to faith at 6 or 7. However, someone follows Jesus through everything! No 6-year-old knows this. When I was 16, I was mulling over what I thought I believed.
I decided. I cannot inherit the faith. It has to be my own faith. I had to do my own searching and praying. I thought this is good news for me. Coming out of high school, we learn this in high school. But this does not change us.
We are told to find our identity and to find purpose. To know that my purpose and significance are given by God and out of my control, I do not have to run the treadmill of being a perfect person or trying to succeed in business.
That is, God has already proclaimed, “You’re loved. If you’re wondering, look to the Cross.” It became personal for me. I was 17. I was reading the Book of Romans. I was reading the Psalms. I saw this love and forgiveness.
I am not ashamed to say it; I was weeping. I prayed, “God, I want this to be my faith. Jesus, I want to follow you.” That is how that happened for me.
Jacobsen: What seems like the common experience of coming to faith?
Strelau: It always depends on how heavy the burden was for the individual. There were some guys who attend our church, who walk through recovery and addiction. They burned a lot of bridges. Their identity has been tainted. They see themselves as broken.
They take every mistake and then throw this on themselves, “This is fundamentally who I am.” The Gospel comes and says, “No, first of all, there is a Creator. He loves you. He wants to take all of it. He forgives you.”
Psalms says that God takes our sin and throws it as far away as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). It throws our sin into the lake of forgetfulness and remembers it no more. If I have hurt a lot of people, we all have this sense, whether we admit it or not. I have not only sinned against a fellow human.
But there is also something spiritual going on. “God, nothing else will do. I need your path.” I think that experience compared to the boy growing up in the Christian family will be far more significant. I had coffee before coming here. That is their background. It is seeing God work in their life.
It is seeing a smile on a face that was tainted and broken. It is welcoming them into the community. We are intricate people. To say that we can give some cookie cutter version of the Gospel to someone, I need to know them first and know them before I can tell them about Jesus.
I, first, ask someone who does not like church, “Tell me the Jesus you don’t like.” Then we can look at how he revealed himself and then see if we both like that Jesus. The way people experience the Gospel and the way it is delivered is individual.
It is tailor-made for each of us. God sees your heart; God sees my heart. You are not the same as I am. There is an aspect of the Gospel that you need. There is an aspect of the Gospel that I need.
Jacobsen: From within the community, what are the ways people lose their faith?
Strelau: You are familiar with the “Nones,” right?
Jacobsen: Not the ones in the convents.
Strelau: [Laughing] the N-o-n-e-s, I think that is how they are spelling it. There is a scare. People who were in a church. Now, they see themselves as one of the Nones. If you look at the research done on them, they moved away from the church.
If you look at the polling done over the past 10-20 years, you will see people saying, “I identify as Christian. I go to church.” But then, if you continue on some of the questions, “Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?”
“Is the Jesus the Son of God?”
Those are the people who move into the Nones. Of course, they weren’t buying into it in the first place [Laughing]. If people are given a Gospel, that says, “If you follow Jesus, and your sins are forgiven, it will be great. There will be clowns and balloons. It will be great.”
Nowhere is that promised in Scripture. Jesus says there will be trouble in this world but have hope as I have overcome the world. This is leading somewhere. There is hope. People will leave the church if they believed that when they followed Jesus there would be no troubles.
But God uses struggles and trials. When we come out of the other side, we stretched and grow ourselves. When people buy into the Gospel that says, “Everything will be great. Your kids will be perfect. You will never have any financial problems,” they will leave.
We are so good in the West about compartmentalizing the Gospel or living for Jesus and the life that He offers.
But if we take a version, that says, “You can have my hour on Sunday morning but the other 6 days are mine,” many people when Jesus wants to move into sexual ethics, anger problems, and so on, do not like it.
Those people will move away from the faith. That has become more exciting to them than Jesus. If we love the world more than Jesus, of course, [Laughing] and if he wants to move more into our territory, then we will lose them.
I had discussions with people who had pretty bad moral issues – not even to push it. They say, “If you do not accept me as I am, then I am out of here.” When we are truly challenged, we will give up the faith.
What that is, it is a faith that looked big but has been paper thin, compared to one that is simple and has deep roots. I blather on man!
Jacobsen: When it comes to leading a community, what does an average service look like?
Strelau: Yes, this would be specific. It is different than the high church. We meet out of a gym. It cuts loads of people out. They do not want to be there. We will start our service by welcoming people into it. There will be some worship.
In our church, it is an electric guitar, bass, and drums, which is not uncommon now. We will have a couple songs off the top. We will pray for our children as they go to their own kid’s church. There will be announcements of the community – how we can help them and they can help us.
There is a break in the service – shake hands and ask people how they are doing. Then a 30-minute message from myself or whoever is preaching. A song and then some words of benediction, then coffee and hanging out for half of an hour, because we have to tear it down in the morning.
We have the “Table.” We bring tables. People bring buns and soup. It is not ours passed the one day. So, it is different in building community.
We try to have one time per month where people can stay afterwards, where they can laugh and get to know each other – especially for new people.
It is not just Sunday mornings, but it is Bible study groups. They gather over the tri-cities. We dig deep into what was talked about on the weekends. Or we walk through something like a Christian book club. Although, some go deeper than that.
It is what our week looks like. For me, as the pastor, I am meeting with the people and the leaders in the church, and checking in with people. The new people and the people on their way out, the hurting people. I try to concentrate on them, as I cannot focus on everybody.
If somebody is new, I want to focus on them. If someone is hurting, I want to focus on them too. We live in a culture that is not big on community. The fact you and I are not texting other people while we talk is counterculture right now [Laughing].
To say, “We are going to have a community.” It is a big deal. What I have found, recently, I have been thinking through this.
When you get a text message, the most – and this is research, and you probably already know this – exciting part of the text is the noise and not the actual text, even if it is a positive one.
Same if I order something on Amazon. The exciting part is the anticipation. So, it is a phone cover, great. I found, with a community, this works differently. If at home, people have less anticipation, but the payback is greater when it comes to community.
But compared to other things in our lives, it is a bigger payoff. I believe that we are not meant to do life alone as an individual – and as a church.
We are not meant to do life alone and to walk into the chaos of the world and to think you’re alone and not have people praying for you, and asking how you’re doing.
It is a dangerous way to live life. It is probably why so many people are anxious and depressed and broken. We want to fight against this as much as we can by helping each other, especially as people of faith and to walk out into a culture that says, “Keep that to your hour.”
We cannot do that alone. It would be impossible and detrimental to ourselves.
Jacobsen: Have you ever taken part in interfaith or interbelief dialogues?
Strelau: Not in a formal way, but all the time, especially in our culture. But you mean in an official way. I, myself, have not, personally. We, as a church, did an event called “Love Our City.” It is not just our church. It is anybody, religious leaders and others.
It is taking a week to take care of the tri-cities, whether it is cleaning up or painting things in the park. As for dialogue, sitting down with other faith leaders, I haven’t done it.
Jacobsen: Anyone in local churches who have done it?
Strelau: I do not know that I do. It is not to say that they haven’t.
Jacobsen: If you’re dealing with the people hurting or feeling broken, how do you go about consoling someone in terms of feeling broken? A young person who does not feel secure in themselves or an older person who, recently, lost someone.
Strelau: First, I want to tell them there is a lot more going on than the page they are on. Their life is a full book. I believe and preach that we find our full purpose when we find ourselves in God’s story compared to writing by ourselves. That can be tedious and dangerous, to travel life alone.
So, I try to put people in the middle of the story that God is writing and try to encourage them there. Then I talk about the love of Jesus.
Anytime we try to do that without introducing people to the community we are failing. The reason Jesus brought the church was that we are not meant to live as individuals.
One of the failures of the church is in the very error there. We have a handful of singles at the church. They feel as if they need spouses; some of them do not. But either way, the church should be a place to find community and belonging. People in the church have lost people.
A year-and-a-half ago, someone who goes to our church lost her husband to brain cancer. It was quick. There were some hospice visits and praying. This last week, she was speaking at a women’s event at the church. She talked about how this event drew her closer to Jesus.
The difficulties in finding community. “Where do I fit now?” She has found comfort. You cannot throw nice verses. They have to be invited into the larger story; otherwise, it will fall on deaf ears.
Jacobsen: Some in the religious community, broad base here, will be aggressive about “we don’t want any non-religious people in the world.”
I see this happening in the opposite case. Non-religious people saying they want to eliminate religion or get rid of religion with the implication of no religious people.
I do not feel or think those positions are appropriate, especially in the light of, as we noted off-tape, freedom of belief and freedom of religion.
People have a right to be free from non-religion or free from religion, or freedom to believe something or freedom to not believe something.
To be in a position to eliminate either, it goes against those human rights. You cannot live in a country bound by international human rights and national human rights that permit those freedoms – and then allow them for oneself and then not another person or group.
In that, to me, it is a trend line. How do you think we can build more communication between communities and, maybe, even within communities to lighten up – on that particular strand? They are not big, but they are a problem.
Strelau: One of the issues, we see this everywhere. Wherever faith communities are working to speak in the public square, where people say, “Keep the shouting out until Sunday morning.” I think one of the issues is that we need to understand the meaning of the word “tolerance.”
Tolerance used to mean that “I do not agree with you, and you do not agree with me. That is fine. We want to live in a civil society.” That is not what tolerance means anymore. Now, when people use the word “tolerance,” if I disagree with you, then I am intolerant.
The fact of disagreement creates intolerance. It cuts down any form of conversation. You see this in politics, very strongly in the United States [Laughing]. We do not need to mention any names. If I have given someone a label, you say something. Now, I think you’re a racist.
Anything you say about immigration; I will not listen to it. You have nothing to say about it. People will look at a Christian. They will label me homophobic, Trump-lover – shoot, I said it! Anything I say has lost any validity. There is no use in having a conversation with me now. Christians do this with people of none-faith too.
The understanding of what it means to be tolerant is important, to live at peace in a pluralistic society. YouTube is big on this: “Watch this guy DESTROY this guy!” I do not mean they ‘destroyed’ them. They had a good response. But it is a battle ongoing.
Martin Luther, loosely, said, ‘All of us are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.’ It is a good and humble way for Christians to approach a culture that is broken, hurting, lost – we believe – and does not agree with us.
You have to remember; we are nothing great. But we believe that we found bread and want to share this with people. Do not think that you get some higher moral ground. Scripture says in Philippians. We ought to live in unity.
We take our model from the humility of Jesus Christ, who we believe was enthroned from on high and took on human flesh.
He knew it would lead to the Cross. That is humility. Christians’ engagement with the world ought to be humility. I do not see that everywhere. We can hold our feet to the fire as Christians. We can hold our own feet to the fire.
Jacobsen: Same with non-religious people. The idea: you want to “DESTROY” religion for many people. It becomes not even a matter of faith.
It is simply an important tradition in their lives. Some of the Jewish community. Their “faith” amounts to simple practices, which they feel warm towards.
Strelau: It is a cultural thing. Would you say, I am asking you a question; has there been a bit of back peddling in the atheist community when it comes to that rhetoric with Dawkins? There has been a pullback on getting rid of all religion.
Jacobsen: With Dawkins, he gave a TED talk. He introduced the term “Militant Atheism.” This was in the 2000s, I believe. David Silverman, he was the leader of American Atheists. He invented “Firebrand Atheism.”
The two strands of “strident atheism” come with Militant Atheism and Firebrand Atheism.
Now, technically, Sam Harris wrote the first book. He started writing on September 12th, 2001. He was talking about how faith is bad. So, it was a reaction to the terrorist incident. For him, he probably started the movement.
It may explain why he is the most quoted. Dawkins, though, introduced the term Militant Atheism. Between Dawkins and Dennett, Hitchens and Harris, and a bunch of others, women are less noted in the community.
They took on the garb of various forms of Militant Atheism. Militant Atheism, in some ways, can be a synonym for New Atheism. It does have an evangelistic tone to it, at times. Other times, it has a directness to it.
That can be taken as offensive because atheists didn’t talk much in the public fora. Even within the non-religious community, they are quite small.
You can have 16% of the Canadian population and 16% of the global population, for that matter, being non-religious, in some older data.
The 7 out of 7 on the Dawkins scale would be a small number out of the 16%. So, Firebrand Atheism seems like a sub-brand of Militant Atheism. The harshness and directness of modern atheism tends to come from the New Atheism.
That splits into Militant Atheist & Firebrand Atheism. It is a question, “How direct are we going to be in the current period?”
Something not noted in the community about Christopher Hitchens, sorry folks. He almost always had a drink with him. To me, he seemed like an alcoholic. He was out there in terms of debates.
He could quip well. He was articulate. At the same time, he was able to speak in an aggressive and unhinged tone at times. Others are trained, professional scientists or philosophers.
Daniel Dennett is a trained philosopher, and active. Dawkins is a trained biologist, though inactive as a professional biologist. Harris is a trained neuroscientist, though inactive as a neuroscientist.
More the New Atheist community than the general atheist community; it is embedded in the larger culture. Being embedded in the larger culture, things like the #MeToo movement and others do influence how things play out.
Ironically, if you look at the Roman Catholic leadership, if you look at the New Atheist leadership, if you look at the Intelligent Design leadership, all of them or most of them are white men.
There are Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others. There are some bishops who are African. But in general, within North American & Western European contexts, those tend to be the dominant populations for those, ironically.
There are demographic issues. With a lot of the modern movements that are outside of it, and, arguably, much bigger, there has been a pushback on different sides.
That has caused an attitudinal transition. Where people are looking at different orientations, the New Atheist community, there are a lot more ex-Muslim men coming from Iran, Bangladesh, and other places.
Where these men have more freedom of movement and women have fewer degrees of freedom given less economic independence, so the men can leave, it is making the community more different.
Also, it is bringing different narratives into the community. That changes things too. It seems to be the case. In any early community or early movement, you will have a specific demographic as a majority.
Within that, it can make or cause a bit of an echo chamber. Because many of the old guard atheists, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Although, Neil deGrasse is more public science educator and an agnostic – so I take that one back.
Those old guard atheists tend to have a different tone, more conversational. Now, I don’t necessarily buy the stereotypes of people like Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett – of course, they are different.
However, they will have that, at times, narrow focus, even inadvertent and acknowledged – as in advertent.
Some quotes/paraphrases will be ‘almost by accident focusing on Islam,’ by Harris. It depends on the person. It depends on their educational background, so their expertise.
As with different communities, and leaders, they will have their pluses and minuses.
So, it helps that there is a trained philosopher – Dennett, a trained biologist – Dawkins, a trained neuroscientist – Harris, and a someone who was out doing field work in investigative journalism – Hitchens.
It does help provide a broader base on knowledge in terms of leadership. However, it is a small community. I do not know if we could name more than two dozen moderate to major figures.
It’s also dealing with a smaller pool of the population. So, the narratives are smaller. I think, as a result of being enmeshed in the larger culture and getting washed out of it, things rise and wash out of it.
They find more of their puzzle piece fit in the larger conversation of the culture. So, as that happens, as you get an early movement blossoming and more levelling out of their tone, there will be mistakes in the conversation, the dialogue, or the debate.
One of them, to me, seems to be in the elimination of religion. Because it overlays regular democratic life with a sense of there being an inevitable progress or trend line in history.
In a larger sense, in a 2,000-year history, or a 4,000-year history, or, at least, a 250-year history, there has been a trend towards the progress of better lives, longer lives, more fulfilling work, and more free time to do stuff like this.
At the same time, the idea that there is some inevitable narrative of less religion or people getting more reasonable. For instance, our genetics has not changed in the past 100,000 to 200,000 years in any significant sense.
We are the same species. The people who would wipe their butts with bark and eat moss (joke).
So, why would a species with the same hardware built around tribalism, ritual, superstition, and other things differ in any significant sense when we look at kids who will imbue things with essences and animism? Things like this.
Only with lots of formal schooling will they have a sense of method and rigour, and logic, and “multi-logical” thinking found in science. These are capabilities, but these are not the dominant strains of the ways of our thinking.
If you look at the number of fibres running from the front of the brain to the “emotional” part of the brain – if you will, they are fewer in quantity.
But if you look at the number of fibres running from the emotional part of the brain to the front of the brain, it is vastly more.
We are capable of logical and scientific thinking. But those are not our primary modes of thought. That is for all communities to bear in mind. Because we will default to tribalism.
Strelau: Also, you mention all the benefits we’ve had over the last 250 years. We are more depressed. We are more anxious. There are more questions being asked that can’t be answered. There is a spiritual-emotional brokenness that seems to have come along with it.
It could be because we have pushed a lot of the spiritual to the side. We say, “We do not need that. Let’s become modern. Everything will be fine.” In this wake, we are creating spiritual and emotional brokenness.
Along the lines that you’re saying, anything saying, “Let’s walk through this.” To dismiss this, we have a whole group of people who are broken and hurting.
They cannot put their finger on it. That something more is here than our devices, which needs to be answered and fixed. Often, we will medicate this in other ways.
Jacobsen: That sense of community or need for some, almost, ritual in life.
Strelau: I think there is a need for ritual in life.
Jacobsen: If someone is going to a church and taking of the Eucharist and taking of the ‘body and blood,’ that is, in itself, a ritual. If you look at science in a very stretched sense, it is almost like a sense of a systematic ritual to go through an experiment.
There is this empirical sensibility. Maybe, this is part of the reason science was able to emerge in the first place.
It was able to adapt off something that was 98,000-99,000 years of our history, minimum, and then make it this systematic process. So, on the community, this pops up in the non-religious community too: Sunday Assemblies, Secular Church, Oasis Network, and so on.
So, I see more in common than not, in terms of practice and in terms of the need of the community for people.
Strelau: That is the first thing that stood out to me about atheist churches. You can deny a belief in the existence of God. You can deny what we believe to be true, what Jesus said and did. But there is definitely something in our essence, which says we want to be in community.
That there is something valuable in that. Yet, it is continually battling with something taught to us. The idea of the individual and making your own future and following your heart and so on. It is diametrically opposed to living in a community.
Jacobsen: It is a mono-lensing of the world. It seems like a problem of the time. It seems like a problem in the political debates.
It seems like a problem in terms of how we see social problems. It would be the problem with people unable to partner up if they want to do it.
If people think, “I have to be an independent individual in a relationship.” It does not work that way. You don’t want to work on a dependent relationship either.
Strelau: You do not want the Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”
Strelau: That will never bring health.
Jacobsen: The interdependence is the healthier perspective. It would be why people would be having relationships and communities, and societies. Because these are more robust than an individual.
However, the ability for an individual to get through and on with their life is part of their personal fulfillment as well as their ability to contribute to a relationship, a community, or a society.
Someone can master something: a craft, a leadership position of a community, and so on. They can provide service to the community. But they also live in interdependence in the community.
The ability for us to get a coffee requires someone to stand behind a counter and have some early life skills:
“How do I provide this customer with the best service? How do I make other people happy, make them feel good? How do I also get paid? How do I get someone to some form of a banking system? Why do you need a banking system? You need a common currency, so people can agree on values of things and so on.”
It is quite a deep concept because it is so deeply embedded into the society. The interconnectedness of things. Even though, people might talk about a rugged individual. There may be more rugged individuals than others.
But in general, our livelihoods in a democratic society are built on an interdependence. The balancing act of voting, who falls in where in terms of who wins and loses in an election.
That is based on who votes and does not. That is an interdependence on everyone coming together and voting on who best fits their interest.
It’s not that everything falls into the place exactly as you wanted, even if you got the person that you wanted.
It’s the best for the most in the sense of a democratic vote. Some people get some things they want; others get most of what they want; some get none of what they want part of the time.
Sometimes, you will be the most. Other times you will be the some, and the none.
Strelau: [Laughing] Well done.
Jacobsen: What are the problems of the community, right now, for communities of faith – Evangelicals in particular?
Strelau: I think part of what we said was I think being told to be a part of something is met with suspicion. So, you can commit to coming every week, commit to coming to a group every week. We have been told – as we have been saying – that you do not need others.
It is the opposite of what we live out every day. The intricacies of living in a society are based on living with others. For the most part, people are willing to live their lives with their family.
Rather than say, “I am going to be part of something bigger and something that will bring health – physically, emotionally, spiritually – to our community.”
Whenever we, Christians, get off the path of our mission, Matthew refers to this as the Great Commission; Jesus’s disciples, He says that He will be with us always. I am reminded of Star Wars, “The Force will be with you always.” Anyway!
When we understand that is the goal of the church, it is to move out from ourselves and tell others the good news. Then, whenever we decide that is not our mission anymore, that is when people are less interested in going to church and misunderstand what church is about.
People think, “This music does not speak to me.” It was never about what humans think. It is about going and giving something to God. It is going to church to, at least, not do something for yourself is a good act.
People who call themselves Christians and get off the Great Commission and wish to see it redeemed, top to bottom; they will decide this community is not that important.
It is important to note. That is what the term “church” means. “Church” is an ecclesia (in Greek) meaning “a gathering of people.” It wasn’t until the German translation of Scripture used “a physical building” with Circe or Kirke.
When we call people to be a part of the church, we are saying, “Be a part of this community, which has been changed by the truth of the Gospel and brings health to our community.” That is a great mission.
If I think Christianity is about me getting a good deal with Jesus, so I can get out of here when I die, it is a small version of what God has called us to.
A much better story is God wants to bring us in to being a part of the redeeming part of communities for the health of individuals and the health of communities. It is a boring story. It is not that interesting. The one God calls us to is far more interesting.
When people buy into that and want to live with and in the community, it is much more attractive.
Jacobsen: What is the main barrier to dialogue between Christians and atheists today?
Strelau: That is a good question. One of them will be when followers forget the Bible is not a science book. It is not trying to prove anything [scientific].
For instance, when the Book of Genesis was written, the Creation account is, mostly, talking to Hebrew people who grew up in Egypt and who believed things about gods in charge of the river, the trees, and so on.
When Moses is explaining that God created all things, that is an affront to everything they learned in Egypt. It is not trying to say, “This is 7 days,” which is fine. That does not matter to me. Some Christians are staunchly against evolution.
Some do not have a problem with it. If Christians focus themselves on the most important aspect of their faith, that Christ was who he said he was. He lived, died, and was resurrected. If that is true, it changes everything. If it is just a story, it is one thing.
Paul goes out of his way in 1 Corinthians 15, where he said I am not the only person saying this. 500 people saw this. People in Jerusalem – ask Mo on the corner. He saw the resurrection of Jesus. If that is a true historical fact, it changes everything.
If I am against evolution, I can have the discussion. But this does not change my faith if I have been a staunch Seventh Day guy. Then all these facts come in all of the sudden. I say, “Oh! Evolution is true.” It does not shake my faith because my faith is based on Jesus Christ.
It is not based on whether the Book of Genesis is literally true. That is one thing. Specifically, with atheists and Christians, Christians, and atheists, need to understand what needs to be held with a closed hand and what can be held with an open hand.
7 days of creation can be held with an open hand. It does not matter to me, whether it is real or not real. When people push on if Jesus is who He said He was, that is where things get hardcore and the truth of our faith.
Jacobsen: In Canada, when people say, “Atheist,” they mean the Christian, Islamic, or the Jewish God, the Abrahamic God, usually.
Strelau: That is what they are rejecting.
Jacobsen: Typically, people are coming from a Christian family background, usually, given the population.
When they say, “I am an atheist,” it becomes shorthand for “I am not a Christian. I am not a Muslim. I am not Jewish.” There will be outliers within the bell curve of definition.
Noam Chomsky retorted in one interview on what he is being asked to deny with the “a-“ prefix, obviously, emphasized on “atheism,” as he is an atheist.
At a minimum, I mean “a-“ for the literalist interpretations of purported holy texts for some theism or a Theity.
Usually, it seems to mean that when I am in conversation with people. Their image is some interpretation of a literalist Judeo-Christian-Islamic Theity – Yahweh, God, or Allah.
What do you find Christians tend to mean when they say, “God” – say 3 traits or types?
Strelau: My goodness, I hope they take their definition from Christian and Jewish scriptures [Laughing], the Bible. I do not know if 3 is enough: all-powerful, all-knowing, Jesus was God in human flesh, He is Creator of all things and sustains all things, and so on.
Now, atheists should want this to be true, even if they do not think this is true. God took on human flesh because he loved humanity so much and wanted to have a relationship with him. He is a just and holy God.
But he is also a God; a God with justice and holiness tempered by His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
So, regardless of how I approach Him, the garbage of how I have blasphemed Him, how I have hurt my fellow man, one text says He is faithful, trustworthy, and will forgive you (I John 1:9).
There is no question when it comes to God. He will forgive you. He will not say, “Nah, forget about it.” The Cross of Jesus says, “I will forgive you.”
If there is any question if our God is just and holy, or if he is loving and caring, all answers are found on the Cross. There, we see the brutality of sin, the ugliness of it, what it deserves, but we also see the love and grace of God.
I think whether someone is a Christian or not; they should want that to be true.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Pastor Strelau.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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Photo: Pastor Brad Strelau.