Thursday, April 29, 2010

Listening to Him or Experiencing Him

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ three cowering disciples heard a heavenly voice: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7). There was nothing unusual about this message. Jesus often admonished His disciples to obey Him (Matthew 5:24-27; John 14:21-24) and to abide in His Word (John 15:10). This was how Israel had always been directed to love their God (Deut. 10:12).

Instead, this had been a voice from heaven, reinforcing what the disciples had already been instructed. It is noteworthy that the voice didn’t proclaim “experience Him” or “visualize Him” or “channel Him” instead of “listen to Him!” While the Bible often instructs us to obey or to listen to God, it never hints about even trying the other three alternatives.

This is so important for us today, especially since that are many teachings advising us experience, visualize, or channel Jesus and insist that if we don’t learn these techniques, we are missing out.

The late mystic, Henry Nouwen, wrote, “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart…This way of simple prayer…opens us to God’s active presence.”

Besides being unscriptural – Jesus taught that we aren’t blessed because of the repetition of meaningless words (Mat. 6:7; also 1 Cor. 14:6). Nor need we be concerned about missing out on “God’s active presence.” We are already assured that we have a God who never leaves us (Heb. 13:5) and is always at work, blessing our lives (Rom. 8:28).

After Moses had arguably the greatest mountain top experience after spending forty days with God, he shared God’s Word with the Israelites. No one asked Him what it was like to experience God. Instead, all knew that blessedness wasn’t a matter of experiencing God but obeying Him (Exo. 34:29-35). Opening themselves “to God’s active presence,” was never a concern for Israel. Rather, they feared it, and for good reason.

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster approaches the blessings of God in a slightly different way – through visualization:

“Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day. Fill him or her with the peace and joy of the Lord. In sleep the child is very receptive to prayer since the conscious mind, which tends to erect barriers to God’s gentle influence, is relaxed.” (39)

Foster insists that we have the capacity to envision and to channel Christ’s healing blessings to others. This is highly presumptuous. Instead, James warns us against a presumption and boasting that is far more innocent than Foster’s proposal. James speaks only against those boasts pertaining to our doing and accomplishing certain things (James 4:13-16). Foster goes far beyond this form of hubris. Not only can we make certain guarantees about our own life, according to Foster, we can also commandeer Jesus into our services and channel His healing powers without regard for His will in these matters!

To make matters even worse, Foster also claims that God is very limited. According to him, the “conscious mind…erects [insurmountable] barriers” against God’s grace. In contrast to this, the Bible assures us that it’s our sin and rebellion that that prevent us from receiving God’s grace. It’s not a matter of His weakness, but our stubbornness.

Foster is only one of many Christian mystics and healers who claim that the answer to blessing is through the imagination. One such teacher would put the hurting Christian into a state of relaxation and then have us imagine taking Jesus by the hand and leading him back into our traumas in order to have Him heal them.

The mystics add an additional and offensive presumption – that without their techniques, we will miss out on the grace of Christ. In contrast to this, we are guaranteed that if we have Christ – forget about learning any mystical techniques – we are assured that we are completely protected and graced (Rom. 8:31-32; Col. 2:9-10).

I marvel that the Church is forsaking the simple message of “listening to Him.” Sadly, words and theology hold little attraction for this postmodern world. Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey’s New Age guru, raises one common objection:

“If you go deep enough in your religion, then you all get to the same place It’s a question of going deeper, so there’s no conflict here. The important thing is that religion doesn’t become an ideology…the moment you say 'only my belief' or 'our belief' is true, and you deny other people’s beliefs, then you’ve adopted an ideology [theology]. And then religion becomes a closed door.”

Everyone has their ideology, as even Tolle’s words so clearly demonstrate about his own ideology. Instead, the question should be, “Do I have a theology or ideology that accords with reality and helps me to see it and to direct my steps in a fruitful direction?”

This is why it’s so important to listen to Jesus. His words lead us to health and blessing. They also reprove us when our heart is wrong. Before Scripture convinced me that salvation was completely a free gift, and that all I had to do was to trust in Jesus with my feeble faith, I was tormented and couldn’t turn away from obsessing about my own failures and inadequacies. Listening to Jesus freed me (John 8:31-32) and enabled me to accept my own unworthiness (Luke 17:10) and to esteem the riches I now have in Him. He has won my ear!

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Threats to Our Freedom of Speech and Religion

Christian attorney Dave Opterbeck reports,

“This past Monday, the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez was argued before the United States Supreme Court. The case arises out of the refusal of the University of California, Hastings Law School to recognize a local Christian Legal Society chapter as an official registered student organization…

• “The CLS requires members to affirm a basic Christian statement of faith and to seek to live a Christian lifestyle, including avoiding sexual practices believed to be inconsistent with Christian faith. U.C. Hastings found that these membership standards violated the school's non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, because the CLS' standards would prohibit gay students from joining the organization as members or leaders. CLS argued that this action violated the U.S. Constitution's free speech and free exercise of religion clauses.”

Opterbeck feels conflicted about this case. On the one hand, he believes that our freedoms of speech and religion should be upheld and cites US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to this effect:

"It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership. . . To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy."

Membership is one thing, but the “Martinez” challenge would also prevent a campus group from discriminating in terms of selecting its “officeship.” This would mean that a campus Christian group would no longer retain the means to protect its own voice, character or viewpoint. Opterbeck adds:

“Without doubt, a ruling in favor of U.C. Hastings could jeopardize not only ministry organizations that operate on secular university campuses, but also religious educational institutions, such as Christian colleges, that benefit in some way from federal funds. This case could represent a substantial wedge between access to government benefits and religious organizations that adhere to "discriminatory" views of human sexuality or belief in God.”

Sadly, with a “Martinez” victory, I can see many Christian institutions changing the statements-of-faith and protocols so as to not loose their support. Nevertheless, Opterbeck has some reservations about the CLS’ appeal:

• “It also bothers me, to be honest, that this case seems to represent another round in the war between evangelicals and homosexuals.”

It bothers me also, but there is no reason to believe that if the Church doesn’t defend its right to freedom of speech and religion in this instance, that the conflict will evaporate. Many have already lost their jobs for maintaining a politically incorrect position in regards to alternative lifestyles. In Canada, a suit was brought against a church for prohibiting someone living a gay lifestyle from serving at the altar. In this country, a suit was brought against a Bible publisher because of the “homophobic” verses in the Bible. The culture wars don’t remain in the culture; they are infiltrating the Church and trying to re-invent what it means to be a “Christian.”

Opderbeck also has a misconception about the nature of the battle:

• “The issue involves preserving Christianity's historical privileges in American political culture. Why should an organization like the Christian Legal Society fight so hard for official status and the paltry funds that accompany that status?”

This is not about “preserving Christianity's historical privileges,” but preserving “equal access.” Christian groups should have the same right as everyone else to have the right to assemble and to make their voice heard. There is no justifiable basis for this kind of “viewpoint discrimination!”

It’s also hypocritical. The universities covertly exercise their own "viewpoint discrimination." They discipline those who leave the unwritten confines of their own multi-cultural, religiously pluralistic religion. Would faculty be hired or receive tenure if they spoke out against the homosexual lifestyle, evolution or abortion?

Most egregiously, UC Hastings and many other universities point the finger at the CLS and other Christian groups for discriminating against other students. However, they are discriminating against the CLS. This represents a double-standard. The university can discriminate, but woe to the CLS! This then represents nothing more than UC Hastings imposing its own religion and discriminatory standards on the CLS, in effect saying, “My religion is better than yours!”

I think that we need to promote an open marketplace so that no viewpoints are summarily censored. It's just too repressive, monopolistic and dangerous to allow our institutions to determine the type of speech or viewpoints that can be expressed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jesus’ Resurrection is Historical Fact

There are several bodies of evidence that argue powerfully in favor of Jesus’ Resurrection. First of all, we have to establish that He was crucified to death – something that virtually every historian regards as an established fact:

• “That He was crucified is as sure as anything historical ever can be.” (John Dominic Crossan)

• “Both Gerd Ludemann, who is an atheistic NT critic, and Bart Ehrman, who’s an agnostic, call the crucifixion an indisputable fact.” (Lee Strobel)

• “Jesus suffered the extreme penalty under the reign of Tiberius.” (Tacitus, Roman historian, 110 AD)

• “Josephus [the Jewish historian, 90 AD] reports that Pilate ‘condemned him to be crucified’…Even the Jewish Talmud reports that ‘Yeshu was hanged.’” (Lee Strobel)

• “Lucian of Samosata, who was a Greek satirist, mentions the crucifixion, and Mara Bar-Serapion, who was a pagan, confirms Jesus was executed.” (Apologist Michael Licona)

Licona claims that “The scholarly consensus—again, even among those who are skeptical toward the resurrection – is absolutely overwhelming.” Nevertheless, six hundred years after the event, the Koran claimed that a look-alike died in Jesus’ place, “and Allah raised him [Jesus] up to Himself.” However, this assertion does not rest upon any historical evidence.

POST-RESURRECTION APPEARANCES: The Disciples believed that He appeared to them. Their assertions about this event are quite numerous and credible:

• This is the uniform testimony of all 27 books of the New Testament! Licona states that, “Even very liberal scholars will concede that we have four biographies [Gospels] written within 70 years of Jesus’ life that unambiguously report the disciples’ claims that Jesus rose from the dead.” (“Finding the Real Jesus,” 83)

• Preserved oral tradition is also in agreement. According to Licona, the NT “preserves several sermons of the apostles…We can say that the vast majority of historians believe that the early apostolic teachings are enshrined in these sermons summaries in Acts – and they declare that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.”

• This is also the uniform testimony of all the Church Fathers. For example, Clement (95 AD) wrote, “Therefore, having received orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty…,” and Polycarp (110 AD) wrote, “For they did not love the present age, but Him who died for our benefit and for our sake was raised by God.”

• It’s apparent that Christians have practiced baptism and communion from the very inception of the Church. These rituals testify to the fact that they acknowledged the death and Resurrection of Christ.

There are several things that make these testimonies highly credible:

• Some of the Church Fathers, whose writings we still retain, knew the Apostles of Jesus. Many were also martyred for their insistence that Jesus rose.

• The Apostles “were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom….The church fathers Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Tertullian, and Origen – they all confirm this. In fact, at least seven early sources testify that the disciples willingly suffered in defense of their beliefs – and if we include the martyrdoms of Paul and Jesus’ half-brother James, we have eleven sources” (Licona, 85). They wouldn’t have suffered for their testimony of the Resurrection unless they were convinced that it had actually happened.

• The Apostles presented themselves in a very unfavorable light in the NT writings. They must have been convinced of a greater and surpassing truth – the Resurrection – to have made themselves look so ridiculous. If their testimony of the Resurrection had merely been fabrication, they would have had every reason to present a winsome self-image to the world.

• Their writings emerge with flying colors when examined culturally, critically and historically.

• Jesus appeared to His disciples over a 40 day period following His Resurrection. Paul reports that on one occasion, He appeared to over 500 at one time: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul is suggesting, only about 20 years after the Resurrection that his readers could verify, through these eyewitnesses, whether these events really took place. Had they not taken place as Paul had reported, he would have been dismissed.

• Jesus’ Apostles weren’t reporting about an event that had taken place in China, but in Jerusalem, where their testimonies could easily have been discredited. There certainly were enough people trying to do so.

• The Gospel accounts record that two members of the Sanhedrin had taken the body of Jesus and buried it. This could have easily been contradicted if it hadn’t taken place. Likewise, many supernatural events accompanied the accounts of the Crucifixion – appearances by dead saints, darkness upon the land for three hours, the rending of the Temple veil, and an earthquake. Had these events not taken place, the Gospel accounts could easily have been falsified by the Jerusalem establishment, situated as they were in the very location of these events.

• The Gospels report that women were the first to testify of the Resurrection. However, no one would have fabricated such an account, because the testimony of women was disdained. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene seems to have been the first to report the Resurrection. However she had an additional onus upon her. She had been regarded as a sinner. The Apostles would never have fabricated such accounts.

• There is no record of the disciples ever recanting, even under torture. If this had ever happened, such a record would surely have been preserved.

Licona reports that Gary Habermas had consulted over 2,000 scholarly sources on the Resurrection and concluded with Habermas that “probably no fact was more widely recognized than that the early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.” (86). For instance:

• “Even the atheist [Gerd] Ludemann conceded: ‘It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.’” (Lee Strobel)

• “The Disciples’ conviction that they had seen the risen Christ…is historical bedrock, facts known past doubting.” (Jewish historian Paula Fredriksen)

However, as non-believers, they are more inclined to ascribe the disciples’ sincere accounts of the Resurrection to hallucinations or visions. If so, they all experienced the very same hallucination during the 40 days of Jesus’ appearances – 500 at one time – even hallucinations that included eating and talking with Jesus, and even touching Him!

EVIDENCE OF CONVERSIONS. The Apostle Paul had been the leading persecutor of the Church, leading lynching parties against them. However, he reports that he had had an encounter with Christ which blinded him. He was them miraculously healed and subsequently had other encounters with Christ. Had he not been convinced that Jesus had risen, there would have been no conversion. Licona concludes, “He had nothing to gain in the world – except his own suffering and martyrdom – for making this up.”

Initially, Jesus’ family had thought that “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21; John 7:3-5). This assessment would have been reinforced by the Crucifixion. However, James and Jude became believers. Had the Resurrection not taken place, it is hard to conceive how this transformation could have taken place.

Without the Resurrection, it is inconceivable that multitudes would have sacrificed everything for a disgraced “Messiah” who had been shamefully crucified. The Book of Acts reports that even after Peter had preached his initial sermon, 3000 came to believe (Acts 2:41). Had there not been substantial evidence for the Resurrection, this could not have happened. No one would have risked persecution for a disgraced would-be Messiah.

The Gospels show us that, following the Crucifixion, the disciples had fled and abandoned their faith. Only the Resurrection could have convinced them that they had a future with Jesus and given them the boldness to stand against persecution.

Only the Resurrection could account for the growth of the Church. Had there been no Resurrection, only scorn and ridicule would accompany anyone who continued to believe in someone humiliated and crucified.

THE EMPTY TOMB AND THE FAILURE TO PRESENT ANY COUNTER-EVIDENCE. Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one was able to produce His body. Had it been produced, any claim of a resurrection would have easily been dismissed All early reports, even Jewish, cited an “empty tomb”! However, there are no reports of anyone producing His body, although the Jews and Romans had every reason to produce it. Had it been produced, Christians wouldn’t have been able to believe in a resurrected Christ.

To guard against the possibility that Jesus’ disciples might say that He rose from the dead, the Jewish leadership prevailed upon Pilate to provide a Roman guard at Jesus’ tomb. However, even with the guard, the chief priests claimed that the disciples stole the body:

• “Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. 12When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13saying, "Tell them, 'His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.' 14And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will appease him and make you secure." 15So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” (Matthew 28:11-15)

Even Justin Martyr (150 AD) wrote in his “Dialogue with Trypho” that the Jews still sent ambassadors throughout the Mediterranean, claiming that the “Disciples stole the body.” However, this doesn’t seem to be possible for a number of reasons:

• The disciples had been running scared prior to the Resurrection.

• They would never have died as martyrs for a story that they had cooked up. Besides, as mentioned above, there is no indication from the Gospels themselves that this was all part of a subterfuge. Their accounts that women were the first to see the risen Christ also argues against this.

• They had no motive to do this and to risk martyrdom themselves.

• They could not have stolen away the body with the presence of the Roman guard.

According to Lee Strobel, Gary “Habermas determined that about 75% [of historians] on the subject [of the empty tomb] regard it as an historical fact.” He adds, “All the strictly historical evidence we have is in favor [of the empty tomb], and those scholars who reject it ought to recognize that they do so on some other ground than that of scientific history” (Strobel quoting William Ward).

There have been many attempts to humanly explain the empty tomb. However, these have all failed. William Lane Craig sums it up this way:

• “All the old theories, like ‘The Disciples stole the body’ or ‘Jesus wasn’t really dead’ have been universally rejected by modern scholarship.”

Historian N.T. Wright concludes:

• “It is no good falling back on ‘science’ as having disproved the possibility of resurrection. Any real scientist will tell you that science observes what normally happens; the Christian case is precisely that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens…I prefer the elegant, essentially simple solution rather than the one that fails to include all the data: to say that the early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily raised form he dead, and to account for this belief by saying that they were telling the truth.” (94)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Assured Results of Biblical Criticism

Bart Ehrman, self-confessed agnostic and Professor of Religious Studies, boasts that,

• “A large number of seminarians are completely blind-sided by the historical-critical method. They come in with the expectation of learning the pious truths of the Bible so that they can pass them along in their sermons, as their own pastors have done for them. Nothing prepares them for historical criticism. To their surprise they learn, instead of materials for sermons, all the results of what historical critics have established on the basis of centuries of research. The Bible is filled with discrepancies…” (Jesus Interrupted, 5)

The “historical-critical method” is a way of investigating the texts of the Bible by starting out with the presuppositions that the Bible is entirely the product of human machinations and that its true underlying history can better be reconstructed by modern scholarship than by allowing the texts to speak for themselves as genuine historical documents.

Sadly, Ehrman is correct that many seminarians are “blind-sided” and overwhelmed by the “fruits” of this method, to the great detriment of the Church. However, the important question is “why?” Ehrman believes that this represents their coming into the light of “centuries of [sound] research.”

However, there are many others who take a very different view of the “historical-critical method.” Some point out that this method can be subjectively manipulated to derive the conclusions that we want to find. Professor of Religion Scot McKnight writes,

• “The quest for the historical Jesus [not the same thing as the Jesus of Scripture] is an attempt to get behind the theology and the established faith to the Jesus who was – I must say it this way – much more like the Jesus we would like him to be.” (“Christianity Today,” April 2010)

Bart Ehrman would like to find a Jesus who had no Messianic aspirations and didn’t regard himself as God, and this is the very Jesus he “found.” Similarly, Marcus Borg wanted a mystic Jesus, and unsurprisingly was able to reconstruct a mystic Jesus. McKnight rightly observes,

• “The theological conclusions of those who pursue the historical Jesus simply correlate too strongly with their own theological predilections…A reconstructed Jesus is just that – one scholar’s version of Jesus. It is unlikely to convince anyone other than the scholar, his or her students…” (25)

This is just the problem. Students enter universities and are convinced that they have been freed from their religious strait-jackets in order to think for themselves. However, they leave their schools indoctrinated into the worldviews of their professors without even knowing it.

This shouldn’t be surprising. The “Jesus” of the skeptics is not based upon any solid evidence – reliable, ancient documents – but speculation based upon their idea of what Jesus must have said. Well, what was it that Jesus must have said? Words that conform to the cynical expectations of the skeptics!

McKnight quotes Dale Anderson, who he regards as the “most knowledgeable New Testament scholar in the United States”:

• “I opened my eyes to the obvious: I had created [Jesus with the historical-critical method] in my own image, after my own likeness.”

• “Professional historians are not bloodless templates passively registering the facts: we actively and imaginatively project. Our rationality cannot be extricated from our sentiments and feelings, our hopes and fears, our hunches and ambitions.”

• “The fragmentary and imperfect nature of the evidence as well as the limitations of our historical-critical abilities should move us to confess, if we are conscientious, how hard it is to recover the past…We wield our criteria to get what we want.” (26)

The tools we choose determine the results of our investigation. The criteria or scholarly tools that we use can only give us a certain spectrum of “evidence.” A microscope cannot show us planets; a telescope cannot see bacteria. This doesn’t mean that these tools wrong. It simply means that we have to be aware of the one-sided data that they give us. The historical-critical method can only hope to give us data about the humanity of Scripture. However, many scholars proceed as if they are seeing the entire universe and erroneously conclude that Scripture is a messy human affair.

Our tools determine our conclusions. If the selection of our tools is biased, so too our conclusions! Former atheist and Professor of New Testament, Craig Keener, attempts to take an overview of the “historical” quest for Jesus and concludes:

• “The Gospel writers’ portrait of Jesus makes much better historical sense than scholars’ historical reconstructions do.” (CT, 27)

What is the matter with the New Testament accounts that the skeptical scholars treat them as criminals “guilty until proven innocent?” For one thing, they testify of miracles, something that many of the skeptics rule out as impossible from the get-go. For another thing, many simply regard the Christian faith as objectionable and therefore resort to a double-standard. Keener continues:

• “Historians would normally take very seriously biographies written within a generation or two of their subjects. I contend that if skeptics really treated the Gospels as they treat other historical documents, they would be less skeptical.” (CT, 28)

While Ehrman insists that we can trust the fruits of his methods, McKnight insists that these kinds of inquiries have come to a fruitless dead end:

• “The historical Jesus game has run its course and it cannot deliver us the original Jesus.” (26)

However, Bart Ehrman is right about another thing: “Nothing prepares them [seminarians] for historical criticism.” Truly, they need to be prepared to recognize the biased nature of these tools and how they can be used selectively to derive skewed results. We also need to be aware of the powerful, but often hidden, biases of our institutions of “higher” learning, and perhaps even to avoid some of them. Perhaps we are overly arrogant in thinking that we can sit under a cadre of well-trained skeptics and expect to emerge unscathed?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thankfulness and Depression

Thankfulness is great for body and soul and even for depression. According to Lauren Aaronson:

Feeling thankful and expressing that thanks makes you happier and heartier… Just jot down things that make you thankful…Call it corny, but gratitude just may be the glue that holds society together.

In other words, "Just do it!" Although helpful, thankfulness, without God and an assurance of heaven, can be irrational and delusional. Just consider someone who is terminally ill, has lost family and friends, and has nothing tangible to look forward to but death! Besides being insensitive, advising her to be thankful is asking her to be irrational. Although, thankfulness might work emotionally, it requires the client to lobotomize her mind and to deny the most significant aspects of her life.

In addition to this, there remains the awkward question: “Thankful to whom?” Indeed, thankfulness makes sound psychological sense, but Aaronson avoids this obvious question. It’s like throwing a party without inviting the host—not a very thankful thing at that!

Thankfulness demands that we open our eyes and acknowledge that there must be a hidden subject who should be acknowledged. This all comes very naturally and comfortably for the Christian, who needs not make believe that the Host doesn’t exist. In fact, the Host is the lynch-pin who ties it all neatly together, making sense out of thankless situations.

Asaph, the Psalmist, writes, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, NIV). Besides, practicing Biblical thankfulness doesn’t require the depressed to deny the painful realities of their lives, but instead to acknowledge that they are part of a grander narrative that will find its fulfillment in eternity.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Self-Esteem and Believing in Myself

We are not aware of the extent to which the surrounding fads and cultural biases take our thinking captive. In a 2005 Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Robert Epstein exposed some of psychotherapy’s fads and “Misguided Ideas.” He considers the “cult of self-esteem” to be the worst offender:

“Hundreds of studies have failed to show that self-esteem training produces lasting positive results. To put this another way, merely feeling good about yourself doesn’t necessarily make you more effective. What’s more, recent studies suggest that self-esteem training may be harmful — that it leads many students to overestimate their abilities, for example. One study even shows that people with high self-esteem are more likely to be violent or racist.”

Here’s another example -- Scientific American reports that teenagers "with high self-esteem are less inhibited, more willing to disregard risks and more prone to engage in sex" ("Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth," Jan. 2005;, as quoted by

The erroneous association of low self-esteem with violence and criminality has long been pervasive within the West. However, in my years with the New York City Department of Probation, we were encouraged to read recent studies regarding this fallacy. I had been supervising a unit of Probation Officers who oversaw domestic violence (DV) cases. Prior to these studies, the prevailing wisdom – thinking that violence was a matter of low self-esteem – required us to refer domestic violence perpetrators to psychotherapists. However, it was repeatedly found – more often than not – that this one-on-one relationship was instrumental in perpetuating DV! Why? It merely reinforced the DV perpetrator in his rationalizations. Instead, it was his spouse who had backed him into a corner. DV perpetrators are often intelligent and charming, and – already believing in themselves – they had little difficulty co-opting the psychotherapist into their web of carefully knitted rationalizations.

Fortunately, now the treatment of choice is DV groups, where their rationalizations aren’t reinforced, but exposed. Understandably, few like going and had to be coerced by the courts.

However, we need to feel good about ourselves in order to get out of bed in the morning and this means thinking good things about ourselves. Consequently, the truth is usually the last thing we want. We prefer to think about ourselves what feels right, not what is right. As a result of this ubiquitous tendency, I’ve never seen a therapist advertise, “Come to me and learn the truth about yourself!”

But if we need to feel good about ourselves, and if this also means that we have to believe in ourselves, what other options do we have? Perhaps there’s only one – if we are assured that God loves and accepts us – warts and all – perhaps we can begin to accept ourselves. If we are confident that He has forgiven us eternally, perhaps then we can begin to face the truth about ourselves! If we know that we are safe in Him and that our ultimate needs are being met, perhaps we can begin to learn how not to manipulate others. All of this means freedom in the most intimate sense:

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Evolution is Inevitably Correct

Most theories are amenable to falsification. They can be proven wrong. Others are like silly-putty. They can simply change shape in the face of disqualifying evidence. Evolution is big, slimy, and ever changing. There is no magic bullet that can bring it down. It just absorbs the bullets, however well-aimed they might be.

After it had been found that all living things were comprised of cells and that these all contained DNA and RNA, the evol.-establishment celebrated. These common substances “proved” common descent. According to evolutionist Niles Eldridge,

• “The basic notion that life has evolved passes its severest test with flying colors: the underlying chemical unity of life, the myriad patterns of special similarities shared by smaller groups of more closely related organism, all point to a grand pattern of ‘descent with modification.’”

About their optimism, biologist Cornelius Hunter writes,

• “Evolutionist believed that the fruits of molecular biology, unknown to Darwin, had resoundingly confirmed his theory. In fact, it is difficult to overestimate the confidence instilled by these findings.”

However, this confidence was soon to evaporate. New findings revealed many dissimilarities along with the similarities. For one thing, the protein machines involved in the replication process were just too different. For another, the DNA replication processes were also found to be very different – too different. Hunter concludes,

“For the process of DNA replication, the evolutionary prediction that this fundamental molecular process is conserved across all life has been empirically falsified. Not only are the key molecular components not conserved, but there is not one, but several types of DNA replication processes.”

Instead of finding a portrait of gradual common descent among cells made possible by lining them up according to their overwhelming similarities, the evol.-establishment encountered such differences, among the similarities, that they were prompted to consider independent lines of evolution to account for the differences. According to Hunter,

“Now they say that the fundamental molecular processes within the cell, that perform functions common to all life, may not originate from a common ancestor, but perhaps evolve independently.”

But how can such similar structures (DNA, RNA) have come about independently without design? The notion that life came about by chance is already mind-boggling, but that it happened more than once in very similar ways is just too much. However, this is no problem for the theory of evolution. Like a blob of jelly, which can be made to conform to any container, evolution can conform to whatever the scientific findings and then boldly say, “Oh, you see, that fits in with our theory.” There can never be a wrong fit. How convenient!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Faith in a Scripture-less Christ?

Membership in some communities serves to insulate us from what other communities are saying. This is even true of the university community, where its members can be mutually reinforcing to the exclusion of other points of view. Bart Ehrman, agnostic and head of a religion department, writes something that sounds utterly absurd to the great majority of Christians:

• “For most Christians, Christian faith is about believing in Christ and worshipping God through him. It is not about belief in the Bible…In traditional Christianity the Bible itself has never been an object of faith.” (Jesus Interrupted, 225)

If “the Bible itself has never been an object of faith,” what then has been the object of faith? Ehrman answered “believing in Christ.” However, how would the church know what to believe without the Word of God? Paul rhetorically asked,

• “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)

Christian faith has always rested upon a body of revealed truth. Without this, there can’t be a Christianity or even a Christ that we can believe in. In fact, Biblical faith has always been measured by our response to God’s Word. The Word of God had informed Adam and Eve to not eat from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” They disobeyed the Word, fell and suffered alienation from the Word-giver. In contrast, Abraham believed God’s Word, and as a result, he was reckoned as righteous (Gen. 15:6). Later, Abraham was obedient to the Word of God, even when God instructed him to convert Isaac into a burnt offering. God, therefore, told Abraham that He would bless him because of his obedience to His Word (Gen. 22:15-18).

Spiritual maturity has always been directly related to our response to the Word of God, His self-revelation. Job had been commended by God because he repented in response to the Word of God and spoke correctly of God, not according to his three critics (Job 42:7-8). All of our trials are about the very same thing. Will we abide in the Word of God or won’t we?

It seems almost pointless to rehearse the evidence against Ehrman’s proposition. The entire history of Israel demonstrates that they prospered as they were obedient to the Word and suffered calamity in their disobedience and rejection of their Word-based faith. I can’t list all of the times that Moses stressed this equation without quoting the entire Bible. God’s Word of the Covenant was always central to Israel. Even after Moses had spent 40 days and nights with the Lord and he descended back to his people after having the greatest mountain-top experience, it was all about teaching Israel the Words he had been given (Exo. 34:29-35).

Israel’s holidays weren’t about conjuring up ecstatic experiences, but instead reciting the Words they had been taught. It was these teachings that would product the joy and gratefulness.

Jesus’ Word continued in this very same tradition. For Him, life wasn’t about food, but about the Word of God. Even when tempted by the Devil, He quoted Scripture:

• Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deut. 8)

Faithfulness wasn’t a matter of great exploits or even how much time we spend in worship, but about embracing all of God’s written Words. Love was also to be measured by our response to the Word of God:

• “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:21-24)

Even worship had to be according to the truths of Scripture. In his discourse with a Samaritan woman, Jesus informed her that true worship had to be according to the truth about God as revealed in Scripture:

• “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

God’s people were never free to offer up any worship or to conceive of God in any way they so pleased. It had to be according to God’s truth, as revealed to Israel. (We too want to be adored for who we are!) Even after His resurrection, celebrating with Jesus was never a matter of letting-go or of setting aside the truths of Scripture. Instead, Jesus instructed and encouraged them from the Word of God, demonstrating that everything prophesied about Him had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). If Jesus was so entirely centered upon the Word, so too must we be!

Ehrman’s message, however un-Scriptural it might be, is a popular message. It gives encouragement to those who want Christ but prefer to reject His Word. However, Jesus will not allow us to separate Him from His Word:

• “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15).

We deprive ourselves when we attempt to separate Christ from His Word – a Word that is so foundational to every aspect of our lives, as Joshua asserted:

• “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

As unbelievable as this statement might seem to modern humanity, many can attest to its truth through their changed lives. (If you haven’t experienced a changed life yet, just be patient and wait on the Lord – Psalm 27:14).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Authenticity, Self-Esteem and Self-Acceptance

We have to be real, but this is difficult. When we lack the ability to be authentic and transparent, we are in disharmony and conflict, obsessively trying to maintain an image. Karen Wright writes about the importance of being real:

o “Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one’s core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of the three basic psychological needs.” (Psychology Today, June 2008, 72)

o “People feel profoundly like they’re not living for who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation.”
(Wright quoting Stephen Cope, 72)

Here are some of Wright’s suggestions to achieve authenticity: read novels, meditate, cultivate solitude, play hard. These suggest that all we need to do is to spend some quality time with ourselves. She also maintains that we should “be willing to lose” and cites Thomas Moore’s rationale:

“Feelings of inauthenticity are heightened by a lack of a philosophy that allows failure to be part of life. If you’re leading a full life, you are going to fail some every day.” (Wright, 75)

Moore is correct. Failure is a part of life, and we need to learn to graciously accept it rather than to in-authentically deny our failures. However, finding that supportive philosophy is not easy. Secularism can’t provide it. If you believe that you only go around once, then failure or the lack of pleasure assumes monumental importance. Secularism puts an even greater burden to succeed and get what we want in our limited time upon our shoulders. If we fail to achieve, well then, we’ve just failed again. No mercy for those who stumble!

Buddhism is more compassionate and accepting of failure, but at a great price. It diminishes the significance of failure because failure is illusion, but so too is the rest of life! Life in this temporal world of illusion must be transcended through attaining enlightenment. However, “enlightenment” is a matter of “recognizing” that everything we’ve valued (friends, family, vocation, beauty…) is also illusion. Buddhism therefore represents a denial of not just failure but everything we value. It’s like cutting off the head because of a toothache.

In contrast to this, Christ proclaims that through Him we attain abundant life (John 10:10). How does this work? We can only be authentic if we can first accept and see ourselves as we truly are. This however is the most painful thing. To see myself also involves accepting what the Bible tells me about myself. It says that I’m desperately wicked (Jer. 17:19), that I hate truth (John 3:19-21), that I am an enemy of the One who created me (Rom. 5:8-9; 8:7); that I had become worthless (Rom. 3:12), and, despite all of my protestations to the contrary, I hadn’t been seeking after God (Rom. 3:11).

This understanding of self is something from which we all flee. Denial and self-righteousness have become our bosom buddies. Consequently, normalcy is equivalent to self-delusion. The psychologist, Otto Rank, had proclaimed, “With truth, one cannot live. To be able to live, one needs illusions.” Similarly, the novelist, Andre Gide, confessed, “Each one of us has his own way of deceiving himself. The important thing is to believe in one’s own importance.”

What does this say about authenticity and self-acceptance? They are rare commodities. Psychologist Shelley E. Taylor sums up the clinical evidence:

“People are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal.” (Positive Illusions, 46)

Ironically, mainstream secular counseling is actually pandering to our insatiable appetite for more positive illusions about ourselves through building self-esteem—something diametrically in opposition to authenticity and self-acceptance. Inflating our esteem represents a refusal to accept the truth about ourselves.

What resources does the Bible provide to counteract this? It unmasks us by unmasking our ugliness. God also puts us through trials to make this truth very graphic through His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 4:7-18; 12:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; Eccl. 3:18). However, it is only through the promises of His unchanging love and forgiveness that we can tolerate such a glimpse. Only through the assurance that He accepts us can we begin to accept ourselves along with the depth of our destitution. Accordingly, Elyse M. Fitzgerald, director of Women Helping Women Ministries, writes,

“The depressed person needs a deep draught of encouragement, not trite banalities like, “Cheer up, things are bound to get better,” or “You’re not so bad. You’re really a wonderful person.” No, the depressed need strong medicine like, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”…The counter-intuitive truth that the depressed person needs to hear isn’t “you’re really a wonderful person,” but rather, “you’re more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe”…Bathing our soul in the Gospel message will powerfully transform…It’s true that I’m more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, and that truth frees me from the delusion that I’ll ever be able to approve of myself; but I’m also more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope, and that truth comforts and encourages me when my heart condemns me and my darling desires are all withheld. It assures me that although I struggle with accepting myself, the Holy King has declared me righteous.” (Tabletalk, March 2008, 15-16)

It’s through God’s encouragement that we can begin to accept the painful truth about ourselves and to live authentically. Ironically, there is great freedom in this. If we can learn to rejoice in the pit, then enjoying the mountaintop isn’t problematic. If we can accept the unflattering portrait of ourselves, we can cease the obsessive and strenuous occupation of trying to prove ourselves to both self and the world around us. If we can accept ourselves, then the opinions of others loose their bite. Criticism will no longer constitute a treat because it can tell us no new dirt about ourselves. If I take an umbrella, I will not fear the rain.

Self-acceptance is a pre-condition for authenticity and the peace associated with it, but God’s acceptance of us is the pre-condition for everything else. Modernity’s answer is self-esteem, but it turns out to be the antithesis—a REFUSAL to accept ourselves as we truly are.