Friday, July 30, 2010
Can we truly be confident about our faith? Many people believe that we can’t and have opted instead for a religion of uncertainty. Emergent Church (EC) leader, Tony Jones, goes one step further. Not only are we left with doctrinal uncertainty, but there really isn’t much to be Biblically certain about:
• “Jesus did not have a ‘statement of faith.’ He called others into faithful relationship to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals give cognitive assent [faith] to abstract propositions [His teachings] but with callings persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the NT were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions…” (The New Christians, 234)
Nevertheless, Jones is certain about the Bible’s doctrinal uncertainty – a neat demonstration of incoherent thinking. Even worse, his conclusion flies in the face of everything that Jesus taught. Although He didn’t mention a “statement of faith,” He did teach a lot about what we are to believe (John 6:29) and the tragic consequences of not holding to His teachings (John 15:3-10). In fact, being His disciple means that we are to teach others “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), an impossible task if Jesus didn’t teach “a final set of propositions.”
Why are so many young Christians flocking to this type of teaching and the EC? Clearly, Jones and the other EC gurus are not offering a doctrine-free religion. (Jones is merely offering his own set of “abstract propositions” in the place of the Biblical teachings!) Well, for one thing, the Church has been so badly portrayed by the media and university – and sometimes for good reasons. This leaves many younger Christians with an understandable sense of urgency to remake the Church into something that is acceptable, generally through good works. The EC has consequently been very vocal in championing numerous moral causes, about which the traditional church should have been more vocal. Had it been so, our faith would have appeared more credible within this disdainful world.
There are other reasons why the EC is appealing. For one thing, nobody likes to be told what to believe. A good example of this is the anthropologist, Karen Brown, who wrote about her full-body dive into the embrace of Voodoo:
• “No Haitian—certainly not Alourdes—has ever asked me if I ‘believe’ in Voodoo or if I have set aside the religious commitments and understandings that come from my childhood and culture. Alourdes’s approach is, instead, pragmatic: ‘You just got to try. See if it works for you.’ The choice of relinquishing my worldview or adopting another in its entirety has therefore never been at issue.” (“Mama Lola; A Voodoo Priestess in Brooklyn!”)
However, I think that the main reason that Jones’ message is attracting the ear of many young Christians is because they too are very uncertain about their faith. Many even resent expressions of certainty, which have an unpleasant ring of pomposity to them. In, this postmodern, religiously pluralistic setting, Jones’ uncertain-undefined-Christianity provides a place of rest. It affirms that it’s OK to have doubts and uncertainty -- “This is all that’s possible, so don’t torment yourself about not having a certainty and assurance – a mere fantasy! Instead, let’s be good people and enjoy heartfelt conversation.”
Although, in the short run, this is a comforting message, in the long run, it constitutes a rejection of the very things that God has promised us. Paul writes that assurance is a reality:
• “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” (Col. 2:1-4; also see other verses on assurance – John 17:8; Luke 1:3-4; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:14)
According to the New Testament, “the full assurance of understanding” is nothing short of “riches” and “treasures,” of which we are being deprived if we make up our minds that Christianity is not about a “final set of propositions” or the possibility of having confidence in what we believe.
There are a thousand examples of how the certainty of our knowledge of God translates into “treasures.” I used to have such powerful experiences of self-contempt and shame, that the words of Scripture were no more than a straw hut in a typhoon. However, after many years, Christ has given me an unshakeable confidence that if I merely confess my sins, He would utterly forgive and cleanse me of them (1 John 1:9).
Lacking this promise of certainty and assurance of the truths of the Bible, we shrivel inside and live anemic and joyless lives. My joy comes from the fact that I KNOW that Jesus loves and forgives me and that I will be with Him forever. Lacking such certainty, I had been dying inside.
I’m not saying that it comes easily or immediately. However, we need to seek and cry out for it. But, if we don’t think it’s possible, we won’t implore God for it.
Confidence in the truths of the Bible is a treasure that surpasses anything I can possibly imagine, but it is a process, as Jesus revealed:
• "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
According to firstname.lastname@example.org, at least one MTA board member has reservations about running religious advertising:
• “I don’t think that we should be having any religious ads on our facilities. I understand if you run one, you must run them all. The question is: Should we run any of them? Somebody is going to get offended.”
That’s true! Somebody is going to get offended, but is this a sufficient reason to curtail our freedoms of speech? I get offended by ads for TV shows that promote sexual license, the perfect body, the theory of evolution, and even our thirst for materialistic consumption. Should we ban all ads that might offend? And if the MTA removes the religious ads, atheistic or otherwise, then others will be offended. Where does this reasoning stop?
Actually, I’m not too concerned about the MTA ads. Their effect is probably miniscule compared to the impact of the media and the university, all proselytizing in favor their own religious/philosophical convictions, albeit covertly.
Increasingly, these monopolistic sources of “truth” have successfully resorted to clever means to push their own worldview agendas to the exclusion of others. They too contend that religion shouldn’t have a seat at the table. Religion is about faith, and consequently it should remain personal and private. In line with this thinking, the late Christopher Reeves told a student group at Yale University, “When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table!”
Why not? Why should the secular humanistic (atheistic) perspective be the only one – the establishment religion? This peculiar and unbalanced thinking has become enshrined as sacred within Western civilization. In this regard, Leslie Newbigin writes,
• “The sharp line which modern western culture has drawn between religious affairs and secular affairs is one of the most significant peculiarities of our culture, and would be incomprehensible to the vast majority of people.”
Many atheists/secular humanists will counter that public discussion should be based upon the common language of facts, not faith. Sadly, we have heard this thinking so often that it begins to ring true. However, this position is based upon several false assumptions:
1. That Christianity is without factual/evidential support.
2. That public discussion can be or is divorced from the sticky moral, value and heart considerations.
3. That the secular position isn’t essentially religious. Even the evolutionist and philosopher Michael Ruse admits, “Evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity…an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality... Evolution is a religion.” (The three above quotes are taken from Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth.)
Indeed, all belief systems are religious. All contain notions of justice, truth, morality, and values. It’s not just those which worship God who are religious. Certainly Buddhism and Confucianism are godless religions, at least in some of their forms, but they are still religions! David Noebel writes that even secular humanism has a “religious creed:
One holy god (mankind) offers a plan of salvation (Humanism) that ensures a future paradise (the global community).”
Being religious is inescapable. It is therefore arbitrary and prejudicial to malign those religions that have a god, while giving the “green light” to those that deny a higher being. Why should monotheism be denied a place at the conversational table, while other religions that affirm the supremacy of Self or the intellect are welcomed?
I post essays on cyber-sites that deal with mental health issues. My essays attempt to show that trusting in Christ bears good mental/emotional fruit as opposed to trusting in self. Occasionally, a respondent will protest, “You’re proselytizing!” OK, maybe I am, but if I am, so too is everyone else with their “you can do it; you got what it takes” religious messages. The atheist George Bernard Shaw had famously stated that all good art is propaganda. I would go one step further – all conversation is propaganda, even if it’s only propaganda to promote oneself.
It is astounding that atheism has been able to pull off perhaps the greatest propaganda-coup of the 20th century by convincing both public and professionals that science is about naturalism – that everything happens according natural, not supernatural laws. However, there isn’t one shred of evidence that things happen because of natural laws. Yes, things happen formulaically and predictably. Objects fall and move in predictable ways according to unchanging laws, but it makes far more sense that these laws proceed supernaturally and intelligently from the mind of God. Nevertheless, the mention of the supernaturalistic paradigm is prohibited in the classroom, while naturalism is blindly assumed and enthroned. Now that’s what I’d call the establishment of a State Religion!
Here is the sad outcome of this silent coup. God cannot be mentioned without ridicule. The militant atheists now are arguing that society should treat with contempt those who spout contemptuous opinions. If you are ridiculous, you should be treated with ridicule! For instance, many evolutionists now argue that they shouldn’t even debate creationists. This would only succeed in giving some semblance of respectability to the creationist position, according to this perverted, uncivil position. Instead, these militants advise showering the creationist or ID theorist with the scorn they “deserve.”
In order to convert their coup into an absolute rout, they argue in favor of silencing Christianity by comparing Christians to Nazis, Jihadists and White Supremists, conveniently forgetting that Western Civilization and everything that the atheist values had been built upon the pages of the Bible. God help us!
Monday, July 26, 2010
When we discuss how to live a joyous and fulfilled life, we often overlook the essentials. In her introduction to Against Therapy, Dorothy Rowe writes,
• David Small, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Nottingham University, head of Clinical Psychological services at Nottingham University, and once a practicing psychotherapist, has proposed an alternative to therapy in his book Taking Care. He wrote, ‘Psychological distress occurs for reasons which make it incurable by therapy but which are certainly not beyond the powers of human beings to influence. We suffer pain because we do damage to each other, and we shall continue to suffer pain as long as we continue to do damage. The way to alleviate and mitigate distresses is for us to take care of the world and the other people in it, not to treat them. (Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Against Therapy (Monroe, Maine, Common Courage Press, 1994), 21-22.)
These principles are probably best illustrated within the context of marriage. In this regard, it is interesting to see how the leading names in marriage counseling are counseling couples according to the very principles found in Scripture! Whereas psychotherapists had been jumping on the communication-techniques bandwagon as the means to address marital conflict, now they are returning to the concepts of love and respect. John M. Gottman, professor of psychology and cofounder of The Gottman Institute writes,
• The typical conflict-resolution advice won’t help. Instead, you need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict between you—and learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other. (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York, Three Rivers Press, 1999), 24.)
Gottman claims that a year after the average couple graduates from a standard course of conflict resolution training, only 18% retain any benefit from it (10). This represents far smaller percentage than those marriages which spontaneously improve. Marriage guru, Harville Hendrix, similarly writes,
• Feel more loving toward each other simply by engaging in more loving behaviors…The husbands and wives are to grant each other a certain number of these caring behaviors a day, no matter how they feel about each other.
The type of “other-centeredness” that Gottman and Hendrix advocate can certainly jump-start a languishing relationship. However, in the long run, more is needed. Loving you mate can be hard work! Besides, if we’re just giving in order to get, the getting will eventually dry up along with the giving. In fact, there may be long periods when we’re not going to see the payoff! This is why it requires quite an effort, driven by deeply held convictions, to keep it going. Our focus must rest upon our spouse’s needs. But how do we do this when our own needs go unmet?
Larry Crabb explains that this “humanistic foundation” sets us up for failure by placing the emphasis upon meeting our own needs. Instead, if we are going to continue to act lovingly towards our mate, we need a true other-centeredness based upon the conviction that it’s right to do so even if we aren’t getting what we want from the relationship. And we will not be able to continue with this type of sacrifice unless we are assured that God is taking care of us, providing seed to the sower (2 Cor. 8:10).
If giving to the mate and going to the marriage counselor is only about getting results, then it isn’t truly giving and it probably won’t bare results over the long-haul. Instead, our mate will perceive our behavior as manipulation—giving to get what we want—a thinly concealed business transaction: “I’m giving to you so that I’ll receive my payments.”
What happens to the guy who brings his wife flowers whenever he wants sex? Eventually, she sees through his manipulation and resents the flowers, which are supposed to be signs of true romance and intimacy, but are no more than payment for services rendered by a body.
What can lift the couple out of self-serving “altruism?” The conviction that their mission is far loftier than the immediate fulfillment of their needs—that they are ambassadors (2 Cor. 2:15; 5:20) of the God of all truth, wisdom, healing, and love and that they belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20)! Consequently, they are no longer the helpless depressive but a servant of Glory (Gal. 2:20).
There are many other psychological needs (forgiveness, humility, contentment, accomplishment, validation, joy, beauty...) we can survey in order to demonstrate how our Lord and His wisdom best address those needs. In contrast, there are numerous counterfeits. Curiously, they provide some relief in the short-run, but as with all drugs, there are hidden costs.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
There are seminars for everything – Christian growth seminars, overcoming trials seminars, coping with depression seminars, self-esteem seminars. I even teach courses on “Making Marriage Work” and “Biblical Principles for Handling Depression and Despair.”
However, I think that there should be a seminar emphasizing the truth about us – that we are really helpless flunkies. Why? Because if we forget this fact, we’re going to miss out in a big way.
I was reminded of this fact by the Psalms: “Behold, God is my helper” (Psalm 54:4). This might be a simple truth, but its implications continue to shake me from the temptations of self-trust. The fact that He is my helper suggests that I am helper-less without Him. It also suggests that I can’t do anything without Him.
At first, this awareness is quite anxiety-producing and depressing. It tells me that I’m not in control, nor can I be. I just don’t have what it takes. Gulp! Consequently, James warns us that we shouldn’t go around boasting that we can do this-and-that or even be at certain place at a certain time. Without our Helper, we’re a speck of dust, blindly arrogant and oblivious to the fact that we are blown about by forces greater than we (James 4:13-17).
However, we’re the Lord’s speck and nothing can ennoble and dignify us more than this fact. Indeed, the Bible says little about, “You’ve got what it takes” or “You can do it.” Instead, it’s all about trusting in God and coming to grips with our humbling inadequacies. In fact, it’s so essential for our growth to embrace these painful truths that Paul had to undergo painful trials in order to bring him to the end of any form of self-reliance so that he could learn how to rely on God (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
What does this mean for us? Well, it means that we are weak, vulnerable creatures who inevitably surround ourselves with delusions of our own abilities and accomplishments. Along with this inflated view of ourselves, we tend to place our hope in the wrong things, even spiritual things! We have this mistaken notion that once we grow in wisdom and spirituality, we will arrive, and we’ll be above the struggles.
Instead, we’ll never outgrow our need for our Helper; we’ll never we able to live our lives without placing our trust in Him! Life is just too big for us. Even our own lives are more than we can bear.
I say these things because I am, once again – and perhaps always – facing trials that are bigger than me. I would be lying to say that I am not anxious about them. However, what a joy it is to know and recall that it’s not about me, but about my Glorious Helper (Gal 2:20; Rom. 8:31-32)! Therefore, don’t disdain your trials, but rather regard them as divine reminders that our Helper is always available.
(See this video regarding another type of trial: http://www.coralridge.org/medialibrary/default.aspx?mediaID=2799)
Friday, July 16, 2010
Depression often results from the unresolved crippling feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. John Bradshaw warns about the depressing effect of these feelings, especially shame, which he defines as,
• The internalized feeling of being flawed and defective as a human being…shame, which should be a healthy signal of limits, becomes an overwhelming state of being, an identity if you will. Once toxically shamed, a person loses contact with his authentic self. What follows is a chronic mourning for the lost self.
Bradshaw then explains how shame, the “master emotion,” begins to tragically numb the rest of the emotions through denial, repression, and dissociation. Where did this life-controlling shame come from? According to Bradshaw, it is a product of not being loved unconditionally. If this is the problem, then the answer is matter of providing unconditional love. One way this is achieved, according to Bradshaw, is through loving affirmations:
• Repeated positive messages are emotional nutrients…Here are the loving words you can say to your inner infant: “Welcome to the world, I’ve been waiting for you. I’m glad you are here. I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are. I will not leave you, no matter what...”
There are several problems with Bradshaw’s approach:
1. Bradshaw unjustifiably assumes that toxic shame is the result of a lack of love. Indeed, love might decrease our sensitivity to guilt, but this doesn’t mean that an increased sensitivity is pathological. Instead, it might have a beneficial effect. Likewise, it is better to live with our uncomfortable inhibitions, than to go “wilding” with friends, whose association decreases these inhibitions. Guilt and shame demand self-examination. If we have transgressed, the appropriate action is confession and repentance (1 John 1:8-9) and not soothing self-talk! If sin is the problem, then Bradshaw’s suggestion is merely a professional form of denial.
2. It’s not believable. If positive affirmations are going to work, they must be believed, but they should only be believed if they are in harmony with reality! However, it’s hard to take seriously Bradshaw’s proposed affirmations: “I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are...”
3. Believing something silly can only provide minimal and temporary relief.
On the other hand, if Bradshaw’s affirmations can work to alleviate depression, how much more God’s affirmations! If it helps me to assure myself that “I will not leave you,” how much more God’s assurance that He will never leave me (Rom 8:38-39; Heb. 13:5)! If I am reassured by, “I like you just the way you are,” I will find God’s promise, that He loves me with a love that surpasses anything I can understand, even more reassuring (Eph 3:17-20)! I may be able to forgive myself, but God’s forgiveness (Heb. 8:12) will penetrate so much more intimately and persuasively and will eventually secure self-forgiveness.
Bradshaw’s self-affirmations are to God’s affirmations as masturbation is to true relationship--a substitute for the real thing. Even worse, self-affirmations must be believed if they are to have any impact. However, Bradshaw promotes these affirmations apart from any consideration of their truth-content. The mind and reality are thus compromised for the sake of emotional relief. If we stoop to unreality, we will pay a hefty price further down the road.
In contrast to this, the Bible doesn’t admonish us to believe that Christ died for our sins simply because we’ll derive a sense of relief, but primarily because it is true, as many reliable witnesses have attested. God’s solution never requires us to compromise our intellectual integrity or reality.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Darwin had constructed his “tree of life” to demonstrate how one phylum (category) of creatures had evolved from a morphologically similar, but simpler grouping. Consequently, it illustrated how amphibians descended from morphologically similar fish and how reptiles then descended from amphibians. However, there was a problem. The evidence – the fossil record – couldn’t be coaxed into agreeing with this construction. Even today, the problem has become so serious, that many evolutionists have abandoned trying to prove evolution using the fossil record. Palaeontologist David Raup of the Field Museum of Natural History said,
“We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time.”
Eldredge [American Museum of Natural History] makes an astonishing admission:
“We palaeontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change] knowing all the while it does not…I tried in vain to document examples of the kind of slow directional change we all thought ought to be there every since Darwin told us that natural selection should leave precisely such a tell-tale signal…I found instead that once species appear in the fossil record they tend not to change very much at all. Species remain imperturbably, implacably resistant to change as a matter of course – often for millions of years.”
As a result of this embarrassment, new lines of evidence have been sought and promoted to support evolution. Evolutionists are now trying to reconstruct Darwin’s “tree” based upon molecular or genetic inter-phyla similarities. However, their “tree” remains a dishevelled mess according to the New Scientist:
“Congruence between molecular phylogenies is as elusive as in morphology…Congruence between morphological phylogenies is the exception rather than the rule. With molecular phylogenies, all generated within he last couple of decades, the situation is little better.”
This failure argues persuasively against a common descent among the various species. Instead, the findings paint the picture of a mosaic or patchwork quilt, where we find qualities, like flight or luminescence, sprinkled among admittedly unrelated species. This tends to point to a common Designer and not to a common descent. Based upon this evidence, Thomas and Sherwin write:
“The almost universal phenomenon – that experts can find no objective basis to link one kind of creature to another – is not yet widely acknowledged in the scientific community. General biology texts still often depict phylogenies with smooth progressions of creations evolving into ‘higher’ forms, but these largely ignore the rampant disagreement found at every level in the technical literature. Perhaps this is because many scientists are unwilling to face the broad implication of all these studies: If agreement on what has evolved into what cannot be reached within closely ‘related’ creatures, then what confidence is there that objective evolutionary lineages will ever be found between totally different creatures? And if there are no such lineages, then there never was any Darwinian evolution.” (ICR, May 2009)
However, who cares about the facts when so many other more important things are at stake like lifestyle choices, career and prestige!
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I just couldn’t resist this quote of serial killer, Ted Bundy, who had confessed to over 30 gruesome murders:
• “Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective [it just depends on how you think about them], and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol 33, No 2, 2010, 32)
Reasonable? It should be to an atheist! Many argue that it’s just our arrogance that makes us think that we’re more important than a pig. Of course, many atheists don’t argue this way. However, they lack an adequate rationale to explain why we are more important than pigs.
Important to whom? As Bundy suggests, to the pig, his own life is more important than ours.
Then to whom are we more important? Well, to us, of course! But why is our judgment any more significant than the pigs’? Some atheists argue that it’s our intelligence that gives us the edge. What arrogance! If I score higher on an IQ test, does that make me more important than you? Of course, not? Well then, how can the atheist answer Bundy’s challenge?
You have consistently integrated your critiques with inappropriate personal jabs. While they are never pleasant, I want to reassure you that they don’t upset me. This is not to say that I’m convinced that your jabs are all absurd. Rather, I am painfully aware that many distasteful tendencies dwell within my heart and compete for their day in the sun.
Instead, I’ve come to appreciate that my weaknesses have become my strengths (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is my weaknesses – failures, inadequacies, insecurities – that remind me how blessed I am having a God who loves me beyond anything I can understand (Eph. 3:16-19) and forgives and cleanses me of all my sins and ugliness (1 John 1:8-9).
I need no longer feel ashamed of myself and can accept myself for who I am – and it ain’t always very pretty – because I know that He accepts me and will never leave me. This means that I need not return insult for insult. Nor need I become defensive, because my life is no longer about me but about my Savior. Say what you want about me, however true your attacks might be. It just makes me adore Him more!
Of course, you don’t believe any of this. You believe that my God is just a matter of self-delusion, but I would ask you to consider something. Denial of reality and self-delusions always come at a high price. First of all, flights into unreality are alienating, not only from the truth, but also from ourselves and others, with whom we can only relate meaningfully if we share the same reality. Denial also condemns us to internal conflict, having to continuing fight against the dis-confirming internal evidence that indicts our delusions.
In contrast to this dim assessment of the costs of dwelling in unreality, studies have found that those who believe as I rate themselves as happier and better-adjusted than atheists. (We can observe the same thing when we compare the experience of atheistic/communistic countries with those countries which have emerged from a Christian womb. Delusions seriously interfere with sound management and problem solving, yet the Christian West has led the way in so many ways. How would you explain this?
According to LifeSiteNews.com (June 30, 2010), the Fundamental Rights Agency [FRA] of the European Union invited all NGOs “from EU countries to submit applications for membership in the Platform. The purpose of the platform, the agency says, is to engage in a ‘structured dialogue with civil society, to ensure that the EU and national governments respect the fundamental rights of all persons.’”
However a pro-family Romanian NGO was denied a seat at the table. The FRA denounced the NGO as promoters of “hate,” because the NGO had made a statement terming same-sex marriage as “human degeneration,” in accordance with its Christian views.
The FRA argued that “The qualification of other people’s sexual orientation as human degeneration is not an acceptable basis for creating a structured and fruitful dialogue.” Is the FRA’s reasoning sound? Here are some reasons why it might not be:
1. The sexual orientation isn’t the issue but the behavior. If the FRA is disqualifying discussion of sexual behavior, why not also pedophilia, bestiality, adultery, rape, sex holidays and bigamy? Certainly these are moral issues that have far-reaching social and psychological implications. If these are important moral issues, which need to be discussed, it seems that there should also be discussion about same-sex marriage, especially in light of the fact that history and the world religions have ruled consistently against such an institution.
2. If the FRA is so concerned about human rights, how can they justify the denial of the human rights of this Christian NGO? If the FRA is concerned about protecting human rights by hearing from various voices, it seems to be acting in a hypocritical way.
3. Meanwhile the FRA “accepted the application of the British Humanist Association (BHA), one of Britain's most outspokenly anti-Christian lobby groups that works for the removal of all signs of Christianity from public life in Britain.” If the FRA denied the Christian NGO a seat because of its opposition to same-sex marriage, why then shouldn’t it deny a seat to the BHA for its opposition to Christianity?
4. It is without justification to characterize the statement of this Christian NGO as “hate” speech simply because it regards same-sex marriage as degraded. Perhaps instead, it is an act of love to speak out against an institution it regards as destructive? “Hate” implies an intention to hurt and degrade others. The FRA has failed to demonstrate the suitability of such an allegation. It then should be asked, “Isn’t the FRA exercising ‘hate speech’ against this NGO?”
5. Although the position of the Christian NGO is offensive to gays, the position of the FRA is offensive to Christians. Should free speech be infringed upon simply because some may regard it as offensive? Such reasoning could be used by the Democrats to silence Republicans or by men to silence women. Where does it end?
I think that this example and many others like it are symptomatic of troubling changes taking place in the West. Truth matters little. Power has usurped the place of reason. We refuse tolerate dissenting opinions and personal differences. When we don’t like what others say, we vilify them instead of challenging their opinions in the light of reason. Jesus, come quickly!
Monday, July 5, 2010
“Theology” and “doctrine” might not be four-letter words, but they have become dirty words, even in the church. There are many reasons for this, but I can only mention a few of the reasons or challenges:
“We don’t need theology. The Bible states that they will know us by the love we have for each other, not by our dogmas!” Indeed, it’s true that we manifest Christ through lives of love, but we can’t act like Christ until we first learn how to think like Christ. This was the conclusion of Christian pollster, George Barna, who found that there are profound behavioral differences that set apart Christians who truly believe a certain six basic essentials of the Christian faith. He found that these believers lived in a far more Christ-like way than those who couldn’t affirm these six basic beliefs – like God is omniscient, Christ is sinless, and the Devil exists. Barna concluded that they acted like Christ because they had learned to think like Christ.
Unsurprisingly, this is also the conclusion of Jesus – if we are to be His disciples, we have to first abide in His truth (John 15:4-7; 14:21-24; 8:31-32). The principle is simple. If you are going to be a good locksmith, you have to want to be one and then to equip yourself for the job through learning.
A life of love is essential, but there are no shortcuts. We must first know the truth before we can live the truth (Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-11). Knowing must precede doing (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:10-11).
“We need to trust in God and not in a set of doctrines.” This challenge sets God in opposition to His Word, as if there’s a difference between trusting God and trusting in what He has taught us. Biblically, the two go together: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5-6). Clearly, trusting in the Lord and trusting in His Word are synonymous. If we trust in Him, we are trusting in what He discloses about Himself and His promises.
The two are so inseparable that Jesus is even called the “Word of God” (John 1:1; Heb. 4:12-13), the “wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30), and the “truth” (John 14:6). This is partially true because we don’t relate to Him through touch, sight, or smell, but through believing what He has revealed to us.
“Jesus wasn’t teaching us systematic theology, but a life to live. One indication of this is that we theologians can’t agree on what His theology actually teaches.” There are numerous logical flaws in this challenge. For one thing, even if there are major disagreements among theologians, this fact fails to argue that there’s no truth or that the truth is unobtainable. Otherwise, this same argument could be used against any religion or belief, because there will always be those who disagree. Therefore, according to this reasoning, we shouldn’t choose any religion or philosophy for ourselves because there will always be the naysayers.
Taking it one step further, the above challenge is also a theological statement with which many will disagree. Shouldn’t it then also be discarded because others will disagree with it? Besides, if theologians disagree about Jesus theology, they will also certainly disagree about how we are to live for Jesus. If we conclude that theological truth is unobtainable, then knowing how to live or love is also beyond our understanding. As a result, we are left with no rationale for any lifestyle we might want to choose.
In fact, everything Jesus taught was a matter of dogma or doctrine. Doctrine means teachings! In contrast to this, many today put forward their own Jesus, one who is undogmatic and undemanding: “Jesus would never judge; He’d never exclude anyone.”
Such a conclusion is only possible if we don’t look too closely at what Jesus actually taught. He promised that many who come to Him, trusting in their own righteousness, will be told, “Away from Me you workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). According to Him, there is only one way to God, and that’s through Him (John 14:6). He even informed the religious Jewish leadership that if they rejected Him and His teachings, they would remain alienated from God (John 6:29). It’s therefore obvious that the road to salvation is paved with doctrine (John 17:26; 1 John 5:20).
“I’d rather know Christ than know more about Christ.” This challenge is the challenge of the mystics, who claim that they possess the techniques to experience Christ apart from knowing truths about Him. Instead, knowing about Him is the emphasis of Scripture:
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Moses had had the ultimate mountain-top experience, the ultimate transformational encounter with God, to the extent that his face even glowed. However, when he descended back down to his people, Moses didn’t talk about the experience or how they could have one like him, but instead he focused on what God had instructed him – the teachings of God (Exo. 34:29-34).
If we want to experience God, we do this through understanding Him, and this comes through His Word. We feel intimate with Christ because of what He has revealed about Himself through Scripture. I feel grateful because I know that He has forgiven my sins!
If we want everything that God has for us, we will embrace His teachings. Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders pointed them back to Scripture:
"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
In contrast to this, the mystics are suspicious of the mind and often suggest that it’s the mind that holds us back from receiving God’s blessings. In this regard, the Christian mystic, Richard Foster, writes:
“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.” (Celebration of Discipline, 39)
Although it is true that we can use the mind in sinful ways, the mind is also a God-given gift through which we find great blessing through understanding and meditating upon Scripture. Psalm 1 equates blessedness with meditating on the Word day and night, rather than regarding the fruits of the mind as “barriers to God’s gentle influence.” This is the consistent message of Scripture (Josh. 1:8). In contrast, we can’t find a single word of Scripture about being ushered into the blessings of God by virtue of contemplative techniques. Jesus would agree. Our God is not seeking worshipers who have learned mystical techniques of hearing or influencing Him, but rather those who will worship Him “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
“Knowledge and doctrine makes us proud. Christians use their notions of doctrinal correctness to enable themselves to feel superior to others.” There is little doubt that we do this and abuse the truths that God gives us for selfish, perverted purposes. However, we humans do this with any good thing. We certainly perform good deeds so that we can feel superior to others. We also do this with our spiritual of activities, even prayer. We may boast of the length of time we spend in prayer or the results we’ve achieved through prayer. We might also use prayer to convince ourselves that we’re more spiritual than others. However, the fault isn’t with prayer, but our abuse of prayer. Likewise, the fault isn’t with theology or doctrine, but the way we abuse them.
Rather than forsaking what God has given us – prayer, faith, statutes – because we often fail to deal with them in a faithful manner, we should repent and cry out for His deliverance.
“Doctrine divides. Two much emphasis on doctrine just causes fights.” Once again, doctrine and Scripture can be abused, causing fights where there shouldn’t be fights. However, division isn’t always bad, and there are things worth fighting for. We are instructed to fight for the faith (Jude 3) and to be intolerant of certain things, like bad teaching. Two of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation were commended by the Spirit for their intolerance of destructive teachings (Rev. 2:2; 2:20). Another church was reprimanded because it tolerated intolerable teachings (Rev. 2:14).
When we withhold Bible-based confrontation, we withhold love. There are times when, if we love our community, and even the transgressor, we will confront in a Biblical manner (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 1 Cor. 5:5). There will always be fights, disagreements, and things we should refuse to tolerate. It’s imperative that our confrontations are those whose goal is the ultimate welfare of others, thereby pleasing God. However, it’s only through Scripture and our theological grappling with it that we receive this wisdom.
Learning doctrine isn’t easy. It requires patience and perseverance. Yes, it divides and sets us apart. However, it is doctrine that informs me that Christ died for my sins, all of them. It is doctrine that reassures me that even if I continue to feel guilty, Christ has forgiven me, and even if I feel condemned, that the Cross nullifies all condemnation. It is doctrine that instructs me that He will never leave me, even if I feel abandoned. It is doctrine that puts a smile on my face and convinces me that I’m safe. It is doctrine that informs me that I’m beloved even when it has become painfully clear that I don’t deserve anything from Him. He keeps me through His Word, by the Spirit who works mightily through that Word. Ultimately, doctrine gives me everything I need to follow Jesus (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
(Reminder: The New York School of the Bible begins its four-week July intensive on July 12! Please support our school by bringing a friend! Call (212) 975-0170 x23 for details.)
Friday, July 2, 2010
We are psychologically constituted to seek to understand our place in the world and to comprehend our purpose and meaning within it. The beloved Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Heschel, asserted this very thing:
“It’s not enough for me to be able to say ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for?”[i]
Our reason-for-being and the way we live our lives hinges on these answers. However, not any understanding will do the trick. We have to understand that we’re more than just an accident, a mere product of nature and nurture. The maverick psychologist, James Hillman, concurs:
“We dull our lives by the way we conceive then…By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents.”[ii]
If we fail to see ourselves as part of a higher narrative, there is a great danger of falling into depression. When we recognize that our lives have meaning, we can endure the trials and frustrations. Even the atheist and Christian-despiser Frederick Nietzsche wrote that “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how!’”
But from where does this “why” or rationale come? Not from secular materialism, which denies all spiritual realities! In this regard, Psychologist Arthur Deikman writes:
“Human beings need meaning. Without it they suffer…Western Psychotherapy is hard put to meet human beings’ need for meaning, for it attempts to understand clinical phenomena in a framework based on scientific materialism in which meaning is arbitrary and purpose nonexistent.”[iii]
However, materialism does offer us one road to finding meaning — a self-created existential meaning. The brilliant atheist mathematician, Bertrand Russell was confident he could create his own meaning and purpose. In Why I am Not a Christian, he wrote of cherishing “the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of fate [of the rest of mankind], to worship at the shrines that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance.”[iv]
Yes, Russell could erect his own shrines. However, could a self-constructed shrine of meaning suffice to give us the meaning we so crave? To suggest that we can merely dream up our own purpose is like merely dreaming up our own wife and kids in place of the real thing. Could such self-fabrications satisfy?
Instead, we need to know that we are somehow connected to Someone greater. Russell’s self-created meaning failed to hold back the “coward terrors.” Later he wrote, “I wrote with passion and force because I really thought I had a gospel. Now I am cynical about the gospel because it won’t stand the test of life.”[v]
Instead, we were made to participate in a glorious drama (Jer. 29:11), and only acting on this exalted stage can ennoble and truly fortify us against depression (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
[i] Os Guinness, The Journey, 39.
[ii] James Hillman, The Soul’s Code (New York, Random House, 1996), 5-6.
[iii] Arthur J. Deikman, The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy (Boston, Beacon Press, 1982), 4-5.
[iv] Guinness, 105.
[v] Ibid., 106.