Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To Judge is to Love

We want our Christian faith to be attractive. We’ve heard the many voices of our culture clamoring against it, so we modify our faith to make it amenable to our culture. This happens in many ways. After science had assured us that the universe always existed – the steady-state theory – the church jumped onto this bandwagon to show the scientific community that the church was amenable to science. After the scientific community abandoned the steady-state theory in favor of the big-bang, the church jumped-ship to the big-bang theory to demonstrate that it was progressive and in step with the latest “findings.”

Now, according to sociologist and preacher Tony Campolo, “we have no right to judge other religions.” Why not? For one thing, this kind of judging is not in line with the educated sentiments of our culture. According to multiculturalism, we don’t have any right to judge other cultures or religions. To do so just shows our prejudices. We thereby become Islamophobic or Hinduphobic. According to multiculturalism, all belief systems are basically the same! Perhaps there are differences, but they are only superficial. Eckhart Tolle puts it like this:

• 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. And then religion becomes a closed door.

Tolle represents the prevailing spirit of the day. Truth is a matter of finding those universal principles that unite all humankind and all religions. Unity is in, and distinctions separate and are out. Ironically, Tolle has made his own distinctions, his own statement of faith. While he blames others for claiming to have the truth, he too is claiming to have the truth. His truth is that everyone is the same, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong and is a “closed door.” However, there’s no way around making truth-claims.

Campolo falls into this same trap. When he claims that we have no right to judge other religions, he himself is judging other religions. Those religions that judge are wrong; those who don’t judge are right. Those who judge are walking in darkness; those don’t judge are walking in the light. Sadly, he fails to see that he too is judging.

Besides, a religion that doesn’t judge has no boundaries or substance. To not judge other beliefs, is also to not affirm one’s own beliefs. A Christian believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world. However, all other religions reject this belief. If it is illegitimate to judge that these other religions are wrong about Jesus, then it is also impossible to believe that I am right about Jesus. Present-day Judaism denies that Jesus is the Messiah. If I can’t make a judgment about this claim, then I also can’t affirm that He is the Messiah.

Judgment is a natural and necessary part of life. It may sound harsh, but there is no way around it. Nor does judgment preclude love. My wife judges me about the way I clean and where I through my clothes. She even judges some of my beliefs! Fortunately, our love doesn’t require that we throw all judgment out the window. We can love despite our disagreements about running the household. There can be unity even in the midst of diversity and our differing opinions. That’s life!

It’s also life to judge other religions and value systems. We judge the suicidal cult of Jim Jones. We dismiss the truth claims of Heaven’s Gate, whose members committed suicide in order to board a passing comet. We justifiably deride Nazism. We warn against the impact of certain religions. Understandably, the Bible is full of such warnings and judgments against other religions.

How then can Campolo make the judgment that we “have no right to judge other religions?” He asserted something to this effect:

• Jesus even claimed that He didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. What right then have we to judge the world?”

Although Jesus didn’t come to bring judgment upon the world, He clearly said many things of judgment. Here’s just a few:

• Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are…Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (Matthew 23:13-25)

Although His strongest denunciations were against the religious leadership, Jesus also said many things in judgment against His own disciples:

• Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:23).

This points to something often ignored by our permissive society. Judging can be loving! We correct our children and their beliefs because we love them. We also judge the beliefs of others because we care about them. We might sternly advise a friend to not proceed with his plan to have an adulterous affair. We might alert him to its impact upon his entire family. We also have a responsibility towards those of others religions, although there are legitimate and difficult questions about how to proceed with this.

In contrast, Campolo warns us against making any assessment regarding who’s in and who’s out. Although such judgments can be difficult and dangerous, even Jesus gives us license to make such judgments. According to Him, repentance was a necessary requirement or sign of salvation:

• Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. (Luke 10:13-15)

• Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:1-5)

Following Jesus’ lead, we have a duty to warn the unrepentant that if they refuse to repent, the Bible offers little hope. Love requires such a warning. However, instead of issuing such warnings, Campolo insists that those who refuse to repent have a post-mortem hope. To support his claim, he cited a verse whose interpretation remains very uncertain:

• He [Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

However, this verse says nothing about any second chances after death. Instead, it talks specifically about Noah’s contemporaries. By citing this verse, Campolo is extending a temporary palliative, a false hope.

Jesus also taught about another necessary criterion for salvation. He insisted that even the people of the Promise, the Jews, had to believe in Him:

• I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins. (John 8:24).

Christ Himself has given us authority to warn people that if they refuse to believe in Jesus, they are without hope. Therefore, the Christian to proclaim the necessity of faith in Christ. This truth is taught throughout the New Testament. John the Baptist proclaimed.

• Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

The Apostles likewise judged the ruling Sanhedrin:

• “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

This might sound judgmental and exclusivistic, but it’s also Christianity. A watered-down and compromised “Christianity” might win friends in the world but not Christ, who stated:

• I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16)

Repentance isn’t a suggestion; it’s a requirement. It seems that everything that Jesus said was in judgment of some attitudes or beliefs. When He sent out His disciples into all the world, He instructed them to teach the very things that He had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20), instead of telling them, “Well, just teach those things that accord with the beliefs of other peoples. Don’t offend by making judgmental statements.”

We are taught that the two greatest commandments are both centered upon love – loving God and then our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). But what does love require? Accommodation to social norms or adherence to the truths of God?

I had sent Dr. Campolo a copy of the above to which he and his assistant replied, asking me to remove it from my blog. I told them I would if I had misrepresented him. However, I would first need to re-hear the sermon. Upon listening to it again twice, I wrote them a second response attached below reaffirming what I had initially written along with highlighting some additional charges:

Dear Tony and James,

Thanks for the info about Ocean Grove carrying the sermon. Actually, I appreciate Dr. Campolo’s strong affirmations of Jesus and Scripture, his compassion for the poor, and also his humility. I would not hesitate to call him a “brother.” However, upon re-listening twice, I find that there are also many troubling elements, the very ones that I had responded to at the first.

After Campolo states that we can’t judge other religions, he justifies this by saying, “It does us well to not judge others [religions] lest we be judged.” This is a mis-appropriation of Matthew 7. Jesus wasn’t saying that we can’t judge the truth claims or means of salvation of other religions. He was talking about judging individuals. Nor was He saying that we absolutely can’t judge other people, but first we have to remove the blindness from our own eyes so that we can see clearly enough to remove the splinter from another’s eye.

He then tried to justify his position that we absolutely can’t judge by citing the fact that Jews, Muslims and Christians have all done evil things. The Jews committed genocide when they entered the Promised Land. This however is a misuse of Scripture, to equate jihad with what God had ordered the Israelites to do to the Canaanites, when they were carrying out the righteous command of God.

Besides, a Christian does not primarily judge other religions based upon their performance but upon their faith in Jesus – this is central – apart from works of the law.

Campolo next turned to judging the salvation of gays. Firstly, he misrepresented the texts of Leviticus against homosexuality, equating this practice with “touching the skin of a dead pig,” which he erroneously claims is part of the context where God calls homosexuality an abomination. He then wrongly invokes Romans 8:38-39 in hope of proving that homosexuals can’t be separated from God because of their sinful lifestyle.

Although I too believe that none can be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus, the real question is whether or not those who refuse to repent have actually come to Christ in saving faith. However, the Bible extends no more hope to the unrepentant than it does to those without faith.

Campolo then erroneously conflates two separate issues:

• Whether there is salvation through other religions – the issue at hand – and
• Whether God has spoken to those in other religions. (and whether He is at work in the hearts of the unsaved.)

Orthodox Christianity has never questioned #2. However, it has insisted that there is salvation through Christ alone. Although Campolo affirms the necessity of Christ, he seems to dismiss the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation.

Campolo then suggests that we shouldn’t judge (be too quick to condemn others to hell) because Jesus didn’t judge. Although Campolo seems to identify himself as an Evangelical, he is also very quick to judge Evangelicals, presenting them in an overly negative light. He does the very thing (judging) that he accuses others of doing. However, Jesus did do a lot of judging, even to assert that those who didn’t believe in Him were still in their sins.

Also against judging, Campolo suggests that 1 Peter 3 and 4 gives us hope of post-mortem salvation:

• 1 Peter 3:19-20 through whom also he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water.

These verses are very controversial. But even if we take them literally that Jesus did actually descend into hell to preach, it says nothing about salvation. Nor does it suggest that He is still doing the same thing today. I certainly don’t want to limit God’s grace – and I even suspect that His grace will be more expansive than is explicitly promised in Scripture – it is also wrong to presumptuously assert that this proves post-mortem salvation. To speak for God where He hasn’t spoken is offensive to Him.

These are all significant issues. Campolo’s positions will have the effect of discouraging evangelism if salvation is to be found through other religions. They will also discourage Christians from making the critical distinctions that Scripture mandates that they make.

The Bible has consistently denounced the other religions – the Baalim, the Ashteroth – as sinful inventions, as attempts to rebelliously produce God-substitutes. We must also, in love, of course! They are all without excuse (Romans 1:20.)

After Tony’s sermon, we spoke to some of the youth involved in his ministry. Unsurprisingly, they reflected his “non-judgmental” stances. One asserted that the ideal was to “preach the Gospel and only if absolutely necessary, use words.” In fact, they were unable to even begin to use words intelligently, and became very uncomfortable and defensive in response to our questioning. They erroneously believed that it would be enough to just love others. This however isn’t the Gospel, and such an expectation will lead to shipwreck. Instead, Paul asserted:

• I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

Thanks for listening!

Your Brother, Daniel

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