The Carpenter’s World


Ellie grew up in a world of linear thought and logical deduction. She knew nothing else; nothing but the proven bare lines of what she was told was reality. She never questioned its hard edges or simplified structure. She had been told that there was nothing more than what could be explained by observation and experimentation; that anything beyond that was just wishful thinking, or even worse, a crutch. There was no higher beauty than what was readily seen. When she asked if there was ever more to reality beyond the bleak landscape of science she was told not to ask foolish questions.

Then one day out of the corner of her eye, she saw It. She couldn’t describe It, because she had never seen anything of the sort before, but she thought that It was calm, fluid, and deep. It was gone before she could tell what exactly It was. She asked her school teacher about It and he told her no sane person seriously believed that something beyond the proven lines existed. That night she asked her parents about It. They replied that they had seen something of the sort a long time ago and for a while It had transformed their lives. When she asked why they no longer saw It they replied that that over the years It had faded, only to be recalled every so often on a Sunday.
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Does Feeling God’s Presence Come From Being a Good Person?


The spiritual inadequacy complex. That’s what I’ve come to call the condition that seems to ail so many Christians I’ve encountered my freshman year. These Christians feel distant from God, envisioning Him drawing near to more prayerful and obedient Christians, while, metaphorically speaking, they’re stuck outside the door of intimacy. Feeling disqualified by their inadequacies and disobedience, they wait, hoping one day to enter. So what’s the problem? This is a total distortion of the gospel of grace! One of the greatest lies believers can buy into is that outward obedience is the means and method to greater intimacy with God.
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An Interview with Professor Jan de Vries


Professor Jan de Vries is a Professor of History and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. As a professor and a Christian, he is also one of the faculty members of the Advisory Board of To An Unknown God. He shares his views on topics including community, maturity, and Christian living.

Due to space constraints, this interview has been condensed and edited from its original form.

To An Unknown God (TAUG): What is your background as a Christian?

Professor Jan de Vries: Well, I was raised in a Christian home. My parents were Christians, and I was raised in the church in a traditional way, and I lived in communities where most people were Christians, so [Christianity] was in a way just like normal life. And so that’s the context; I’ve felt like I’ve been a Christian since I was baptized. And when people speak of “born-again Christians,” I think, well, I’m not quite sure what that means, because there wasn’t a moment as an adult where my faith was suddenly transformed. It’s more developed over time.
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Where is the Religious Left?


Gay marriage. Abortion. Prayer in schools. When religion and politics show up together on the news, it is generally the Religious Right that is being talked about. The Religious Right is made up of people who come at politics from a religious and conservative perspective, and it has proven to be a powerful political movement.1 In this article, however, I turn to the puzzling question of why religious and political liberals do not have a similarly influential movement. In other words, where is the Religious Left? Religious and political liberals do in fact have influential spokespeople and an interest group presence in Washington DC.1 However, in order to have real political power, this must be matched by a widespread, ground level movement. This broad-based support is what the religious and liberal movement lacks.2 Religious progressive leaders, such as Rabbi Lerner, have been working hard to mobilize a Religious Left,3 but have discovered that they must overcome formidable barriers if they are to succeed.
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It was a night back in Berkeley, and I must say, I was enjoying the familiarity of it all. Walking the worn path back home from studying late, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of fondness for school, maybe even enough to wish class would come just a tad faster. The night was clear, the weather crisp, the streets empty, the walking company pleasant, and the conversation joyful—exactly as I like it.

All too soon we were at her apartment and ready to go our separate ways. It was a familiar routine: hand over her laptop, open the door, and say good night. And oh, maybe something a little out of the ordinary—but not what you’d expect.
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Can I Tell You Something?


 In high school theater, actors did not correct actors. Corrections were left to the director. Even well intentioned peer correction could have resulted in animosity or confusion. Our director, on the other hand, saw the larger picture; she knew which corrections were necessary and what would work itself out, and she knew what each actor was working on. She wouldn’t correct someone’s vocal inflection while they were working on movement.

The “actors do not correct actors” rule can be paralleled in Christian community. I have experienced communities that permit anything, and others that correct everything. I believe Christian correction lies in the middle ground. 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV 1984) says, “‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial.” We know this innately; though we are free through Jesus Christ, we know that some things of this world are not good or helpful. When we see our friends and loved ones doing these things, we often want to help them by correcting them.
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God’s Justice through Ezekiel: Why It Pays to Play by the Rules


The Lord’s way is not fair!” Chapter 18, verse 25 of Ezekiel begins with a lamentation that—let’s face it—may not be altogether unfamiliar to us, especially during times in our lives when we believe that injustices have been inflicted upon us for someone else’s gain. Why do we have to play fair all the time, when so many people don’t? What happened to justice?

Some will answer that God works in ways beyond our comprehension. But when the basis for our beliefs stands in jeopardy, it would be an injustice to ourselves and to our faith if we took to such easy answers as this. If these conceptions of existence are to serve as the blueprints for our goals and for the courses of our lives, they had better be well-founded and we had better have full confidence in them—confidence which only comes with knowledge. God and His methods need not be wholly unfathomable—if incomprehensibility were really the intent, what would be the point of parables, and psalms, and the Bible itself? Rather, the Scriptures exist in order to demystify these misconceptions of God and His way. And what’s more, we need not wait for final judgment for the morals of Scripture to apply. In this article, I will offer an interpretation of Ezekiel’s chapter 18 which illustrates how playing by the rules can be beneficial when applied to everyday life. I will also show how this scriptural message does not only ring true from a religious point of view—I will further illustrate how this lesson posed by Ezekiel is a general fact of life backed by secular sources as well, for example the works of sociologist Emile Durkheim.
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A Way To Find Rest


This semester, I’m taking on a few harder classes and a few more extracurricular activities, and it has taught me that there’s always something productive you could be doing with your time. Being busy, you make a mental list where you prioritize all of your different activities, and I found myself prioritizing academics and other activities, especially those that have deadlines. As all of you already know, things can get overwhelming. Talking to some friends, I felt that I could sympathize with them when they said, “Oh yeah, I’m a Christian, but I’m not a really good one. I don’t really go to church.” I also got a chance to talk to my brother recently about how busy things are nowadays and about his experiences during college, and he gave me this advice. He told me that I should be asking myself, “Am I a college student who goes to church, or a Christian who goes to college?”
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What is Community?


Coming in as a transfer student to Cal, community was a top priority. I knew that as a junior transfer, I would have a harder time finding a community since most students in my class had already been building a community since their freshmen year and through their time spent in the dorms. As a result of this thinking, I may have overcompensated a bit my first semester.

Immediately, from my first day on campus, I was astounded to discover the vast amount of Christian fellowships as well as churches here in Berkeley. The first few weeks I found myself on a “fellowship high,” meaning that I was so excited to see the different Christian communities expressed in these different fellowships that I was eager and anxious to go to as many Christian events as I could fit into my schedule and meet as many people as possible. However, I soon came to realize that meeting people was completely different from having a relationship with them, and that it required a lot more work and energy than I had assumed.
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Letter from the Editor


Dear Reader,

In our perpetually connected society, it is trivial to find others who share our pastimes and opinions, or to communicate frictionlessly via the internet with nearly anyone else on the planet, and the world itself (a so-called “global village”) has been defined by the limits—or rather, the lack thereof—of its own interconnectedness. I can think of no better place where this is exemplified than Cal itself; merely step onto Sproul on a sunny day to be bombarded with invitations to join every sort of community, from professional development organizations to political activism groups to musical ensembles, and yes, to Christian fellowships as well. Whatever the nature of community, it would seem that community cannot help but be present, and the sheer overwhelming plurality of communities present hinders any attempt to privilege any one in particular.

In light of this, is “Community” already obsolete as the theme of this semester’s issue of To An Unknown God? We are faced with a world where to consider community as essential in its own right would seem to be superfluous: who can say that we are lacking in knowledge of community? In quantity? In value?
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