I am giving another version of this talk tonight (MP3 - the first couple minutes are community building silliness). But this time I did something a little different. Our campus ministry has an unusually high percentage of Scientists and Engineers (Davis is a relatively technical school) yet most homiletics consist of the humanities speaking to the humanities. So I thought I’d try to plot my argument for a change. Here is how it goes.
Consider a statistical distribution of human ‘goodness.’ We will assume a normal distribution normalized to a unit goodness (because it is the one most are familiar with), but it works with any graphical or analytical distribution.
So we can plot a theoretical distribution of Christians with the overall population and, an expected, lower average goodness.
Now, it would be hard to assert that Christianity does not claim spiritual resources for moral progress. And I wouldn’t want to. It does and in a decade and a half in the church, moral progress has, honestly, been my overwhelming observation in this eccentric population. The Church is, in fact, a place where ground is gained in the goodness game. But it also seems like it is hard won. And this seems to be Paul’s experience of the phenomenon as well. He is constantly expressing frustration on how much progress he is NOT making.
So, back to our plot. Consider our Christian sub-sample makes moral progress. However, they started with such a dramatic handicap, that their average is still lower overall. And observable progress is not indefinite. Eventually we die. In the mean time, the church continues to add converts who “come in the back door” so to speak. If the church is vibrant, functional, and healthy it should have a constant stream of annoying, judgmental, hurtful people joining, keeping our overall goodness, spectacularly below average. In a sense, the healthier a church is the more potential it has for crass wickedness.
Therefore, I assert: “If Jesus was who he says he was and did what the Scriptures said he did, I would expect the Church to look precisely the way it does”…a total mess. The empirical test of the spiritual resources Christianity claims to offer is not its overall moral goodness (since we are playing with a substantial handicap) but are we, on the whole, making relative progress? The salient test is not ‘are we better than you’, but ‘are we better than we were’?
This post was written while listening to A Beautiful Lie by 30 Seconds to Mars.____________
 Incidentally, my whole thinking on this topic essentially emerges from a single sentence in Keller’s Reason for God.
 I have tried this before on this blog, including one of my all time favorite posts (and a second one that has been in the works for months) but I have never tried to preach it.
 Where minimum goodness is 0 and maximum goodness is 1.
 I think the implications of measuring the variance in addition to the average is really interesting. For example, moralism with a Christian veneer can turn people (like me) into intolerable, self righteous bigots…but then again, so can moralism with a pluralist or secular veneer. Skewed distributions are also interesting as high or low outliers affect the mean. But I digress.
 Though, the heart of our hope is that actual progress is.
 Unless you are a Pentecostal. OK, just kidding. But this was the retort that I heard to the healt and wellness movement once. If faith can translate directly into physical wellness, shouldn’t nursing homes be disproportionately occupied with Pentecostals.