Friday, September 30, 2011

Apostasy from Islam

Fortunately, it has now been widely reported that the Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is facing the death penalty, having once again refused to convert to Islam to save his life:

Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for the crime of apostasy because he allegedly abandoned Islam for Christianity. As a pastor, Iranian clerics believe that Nadarkhani was preaching in order to convert Muslims.

While it is encouraging that many are petitioning for his release and dismissal of all charges against him, it is important to remember that this type of egregious human rights violations is endemic to Islam. Although most Islamic countries will not impose the death penalty if a Muslim converts, I don’t know of any that will allow this to slide. The Koran reads:

• But whosoever accepts disbelief willingly, he incurs God's Wrath, and there is severe torment for all such people"(Quran-usc 16:106).

Although the Koran does not designate a particular penalty for apostasy, several sayings of Mohammad (the Hadiths) specify death:

• Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate) and leaves the Muslims." (Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17)

According to the Wikipedia, even when Islamic governments do not impose penalties for apostasy, the Imams will:

• The violence or threats of violence against apostates in the Muslim world usually derives not from government authorities but from individuals or groups operating with impunity from the government. An example is the stabbing of a Bangladeshi Murtad Fitri Christian evangelist while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke. Bangladesh does not have a law against apostasy, but some Imams encourage the killing of converts from Islam. Ex-Muslims in Great Britain have faced abuse, violence, and even murder at the hands of Muslims. There are similar reports of violent intimidation of those electing to reject Islam in other Western countries.

The Wikipedia also cites a Pew survey revealing that many Muslims believe that the convert should be put to death:

• A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found relatively widespread popular support for death penalty as a punishment for apostasy in Egypt (84% of respondents in favor of death penalty), Jordan (86% in favor), Indonesia (30% in favor), Pakistan (76% favor) and Nigeria (51% in favor)
Double standards abound! While the evangelism of Muslims is strictly forbidden and punished throughout the Islamic world, the Muslim is free to evangelize anyone. Muslims can even marry non-Muslim women – they then have to convert to Islam – men of other religions are forbidden from marrying Muslim women. While no one is free to criticize Islam, Muslims are free to criticize other religions. While no one can deface a Koran, Bibles are routinely destroyed.

If Muslims are going to settle in the West, these double standards have to be addressed, and not indulged out of fear of a violent response.

However, we Christians have to keep these concerns in context of the higher, more glorious spiritual truths:

1. We too deserve only the wrath of God, but were saved by the sheer grace of God. Therefore, we, as individuals, need to treat the Muslim with the same mercy.

2. Knowing that our foremost battle is against spiritual entities, we cannot be bitter against Muslims but must love them.

Revival: The Work of God

I am not a Methodist, but I must confess that John Wesley’s life and work in the Spirit had transformed society. Charles White, professor of Christian Thought and History at Spring Arbor University, writes:

• The Methodists made such an impact on their nation that in 1962 historian Elie Halevy theorized that the Wesleyan revival created England’s middle class and saved England from the kind of bloody revolution that crippled France. Other historians, building on his work, go further to suggest that God used Methodism to show all the oppressed peoples of the world that feeding their souls on the heavenly bread of the lordship of Christ is the path to providing the daily bread their bodies also need. (Mission Frontiers, Sept-Oct 2011, 6)

• Coming to Christ through the Methodist movement changed the loves of a million people in Britain and North American in the eighteenth century….most of these people and their children moved from the desperation of hand-to mouth poverty to the security of middle-class life as they made Christ their Lord and experienced the impact of His power on their economic lives. As these people moved up the social ladder, they began to influence the political life of their nation. They helped to transform Britain from an eighteenth-century kleptocracy – where the powerful fueled their lives of indulgence by exploiting the poor into a nineteenth century democracy – which abolished slavery and used its empire to enrich the lives of every subject of the crown. (9)

Before this glorious movement of the Spirit, England had been in turmoil. White explains:

• The police were also overwhelmed by the fighting and killing of the mob. The law executed people for 169 capital crimes, but the regular march to the gallows did nothing to make the streets safe at night. Sexual immorality was common at all levels of society, and the nation was overwhelmed with illegitimate children. (7)

What about this revival made the difference? Wesley formed people into small groups where they would confess their sins and pledge to follow Christ in everything! Are we ready to take up our cross? Instead, it seems that we are more interested in congregating to learn various feel-good, mystical-contemplative techniques in order to experience or hear from God. Meanwhile, it seems that our God is far more interested in a broken and contrite spirit:

• Isaiah 57:15 "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

• Isaiah 66:2 "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

• Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”

True revival is always accompanied by confession and repentance. Here’s how one person described the impact of the revival in Wales (1904):

• Judges were presented with white gloves: they had no cases to try. No rapes, no robberies, no murders, no burglaries, no embezzlements, nothing. The District Consuls held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police, now that they were unemployed. Drunkenness was cut in half. The illegitimate birth rate dropped 44 percent in two counties within a year of the beginning of the revival. (The Rebirth of America, The Arthur S, DeMoss Foundation, 64)

Well, what has happened to Methodism? Decker and Whiteman identify two institutional factors. In the latter part of the 19th century,

• It was officially decided that membership in a small group would no longer be required for church membership…Secondly, an emphasis on formal seminary education supplanted the previous grass-roots process by which leadership was largely developed…[This] fomented a greater professionalization of the clergy.

This has been tragic. I’ve been told that all of the Methodist seminaries, with the exception of Asbury, have gone apostate. It therefore became almost impossible for the church to remain spiritually alive when its head was spiritually dead.

What does this mean for the church today? We must cry out to our Savior for revival, confessing our sins and looking to Him as our only hope!

The Dangers of Mysticism

In her address to the “Society of Vineyard Scholars,” Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, assures her listeners that there is something wrong if we fail to have face-to-face conversations with God as Moses had. How then can we learn to experience God in this intimate manner? We need to know that we can find the Word of God within, where it has been waiting for us to discover it. This requires that we have to learn how to scrutinize our thought life in order to encounter the voice of God. However, one need not be a Christian to receive the “Word of God” in this manner. In a paper entitled, The Absorption Hypothesis: Learning to Hear God in Evangelical Christianity, which she co-authored with Howard Nusbaum and Ronald Thisted, she asks:

• How does God become real to people when God is understood to be invisible and immaterial, as God is within the Christian tradition?

For this team, it’s not only having a spiritual proclivity, but also a matter of learning certain skills:

• And yet it may be the case that hearing God speak and having other vivid, unusual spiritual experiences that seem like unambiguous evidence of divine presence might be, in some respects, like becoming a skilled athlete…The larger project here is to emphasize the role of skilled learning in the experience of God.

Experiencing God is not based upon coming to faith in Jesus, or in repentance; nor is it a matter of confessing our sins or meditating on Scripture. Instead, it’s open to everyone through learning a skill that Luhrmann calls “absorption”:

• We believe that “absorption” is best understood as the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and much other spiritual experience in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations (see also Butler 2006; Roche and McConkey 1990). From this perspective, “absorption” is the name of the capacity to become focused on the mind’s object—what humans imagine or see around them—and to allow that focus to increase while diminishing attention to the myriad of everyday distractions that accompany the management of normal life…There are no specific physiological markers of trance or hypnosis or dissociation, but as those absorbed states grows deeper, the person becomes more difficult to distract, and his sense of time and agency begins to shift. Those who become more absorbed live more within their imaginations and their inner worlds, and they begin to feel that the events in their daydreams happen to them and feel more real, that they are bystanders to their own awareness, just as one is when a daydream is so compelling that one lets it unfold to see what happens rather than knowing that the dreamer commands the tale. And we believe that, as the absorption grows deeper, people often experience more imagery and more sensory phenomena, sometimes with hallucinatory vividness…Talent for and training in absorption may be important in other religious practices reported in the ethnographic corpus, particularly in those practices described as trance…And certainly the ethnographic work on shamanism, possession, glossolalia, and charismatic Christian healing suggests that practice makes a difference to the subjective experience of trance and that some people respond to this practice more than others…. Those who speak in tongues often experience themselves as in a dissociated state in which the speaking is involuntary, but in fact their glossolalia displays learning (Samarin 1972). Only some of those who become charismatic Catholics become known as experts in the group; they often have an apprenticeship in their craft; mental imagery is central and cultivated. “If there is any sense in which revelation might be said to be perception instead of imagination” begins a discussion by an anthropologist (Csordas 1994:108). It may be that of the many skills in which these different practitioners are trained, one of them is absorption. Religion and spirituality are enormously complex human phenomena. Here we suggest that we may be able to identify one kind of skill that can be cultivated, for which some may have more of a proclivity or talent than others. Absorption does not explain religion and far less does it explain it away. But to understand that some people may have developed their talent more than others may help us to understand why some people become gifted practitioners of their faith and others with the intention and desire to do so struggle and do not. And it reminds us, as Maurice Bloch (2008) remarks, that at the heart of the religious impulse lies the capacity to imagine a world beyond the one we have before us.

What does any of this have to do with the Christian faith? Many Christian mystics suggest that we can take the skills learned from spiritists, shamans, and pagans and simply apply them to our Christian faith, leaving behind their religious elements. After all, we borrow much from the surrounding secular culture – computers, air conditioners, toilets, sound systems. Why not also spiritualistic techniques and skills? Why can’t we, for instance, use our imaginations to conjure up our God as other religions have?

For one thing, if the spiritists can call upon this spiritual entity at will through their various methods, we have to wonder about the identity of this entity and to what type of influence, however appealing, we are opening ourselves. In fact, spiritistic and contemplative prayer writings contain many warnings about evil entities encountered through their spiritual disciplines. However, can they be sure that the seemingly benign voices that they encounter are truly of God? After all, the Devil is able and willing to present Himself as a light-giver in order to deceive (2 Cor. 11:14-15).

The Bible makes reference to many forms of divination – the act of obtaining secret knowledge. Some Biblically condemned forms might resemble “absorption.” Divination is associated with a “delusion of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14), interpreting “dreams” (Jer. 29:8), and seeing “visions” (Zech. 10:2). These practices were uniformly condemned. Instead of going to mediums and spiritists, Israel was required to go,

• To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.(Isaiah 8:20)

Instead of learning contemplative techniques to cull God’s Word from their thought life, Israel was always directed to God through Scripture. The former seems to have been associated with the pagan nations and was strictly forbidden:
• When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens…Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deut. 18:9-14)

Perhaps this prohibition doesn’t include “absorption.” However, if obtaining secret knowledge from diviners is forbidden, perhaps any forms of divination are also forbidden, including visualizations and meditative techniques. When we depart from the Biblically sanctioned means of encountering God’s Word, we leave behind His protection and might encounter spirits more intelligent than us. The various contemplative/mystical techniques are not to be found anywhere in the Bible. The Bible does refer to meditation, but this is a different type of meditation, one based upon meditating on the message of Scripture. Besides, in Scripture we have everything that we need for salvation and spiritual growth:

• All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

This doesn’t mean that the Spirit is unable to work in any other way but through Scripture, but it does warn us against seeking any other source of revelation. There is not the slightest hint anywhere in Scripture that we also must find a guru or learn certain techniques in order to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In fact, Scripture assures us that we have everything that we need in Christ:

• For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:9-10)

If Christ is everything of worth, and we have Christ, then we too have everything. It means that the Christian need not chase after the latest mystical techniques or therapies in order to find wholeness. We have it already. We merely need to grow into it.

The suggestion that we are missing out on something denies the omnipotence of God in making Himself know to us and guiding our paths into the works He has already ordained for us (Eph. 2:10). It also suggests that God is passive and not omnipotent, and that if we fail to tap into Him through the various skills and techniques, we’ve missed His spiritual boat.

Such a conclusion ignores the many accounts describing God infallibly leading even those who were non-believers and non-seekers. He brought the Assyrians and Babylonians against Israel. In order to rescue His people, He turned allied armies against one another (2 Chron. 20:1-24). These armies didn’t have to learn how to discern the “Word of God” within them in order to walk in obedience to His divine promptings. Our God is able to influence our thinking and decision-making even when we are unaware of His influence:

• The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1)

We need not worry about whether we are hearing the Lord or not. Instead, He hears us and has promised to guide us along the paths He has designated for us (Proverbs 20:24; Psalm 139:16; 37:23; Matthew 10:29-30). Nor should we allow Christian mystics like Richard Foster to undermine our faith when we haven’t received our prayer requests:

• Often we assume we are in contact when we are not…Often people will pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they are not contacting the channel. We begin praying for others by first centering down and listening to the quiet thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition. Listening to the Lord is the first thing…(Celebration of Disciplines, 34)

I wonder whether Foster would apply this principle to Abraham who had to wait 25 years in order to receive the child of the Promise, Isaac. Perhaps Abraham had failed in “contacting the channel” for the first 24 years? The Christian life and relationship with God has nothing to do with learning mystical disciplines and everything to do with what the Bible has specified – faith, repentance, confession, prayer and obedience. It’s really very simple:

• If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

We therefore can rest assured that if we have Christ, we need not worry that we are missing something.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Evolution’s Prediction of Junk DNA

A theory is only as good as its predictions. If it can’t correctly anticipate new findings, this suggests that there’s something the matter with the theory. All have noted that the great majority of DNA does not code for the production of proteins. Consequently, evolutionists had declared this non-coding DNA as “junk DNA,” claiming that it served no useful purpose. Instead, they claimed that this “junk DNA” was the leftover junk that had once been functional in our former incarnations as simple blobs of cells up until our more ape-like forms. This is the way evolutionist Ken Miller had described the evolutionists’ understanding in 1994:

• The human genome is littered with pseudogenes, gene fragments, “orphaned” genes, “junk” DNA, and so many pointless DNA sequences that it cannot be attributed to anything that resembles intelligent design…In fact, the genome resembles nothing so much as a hodgepodge of borrowed, copied, mutated, and discarded sequences and commands that has been cobbled together by millions of years of trial and error against the relentless test of survival. (Salvo, Autumn 2011, 55)

If evolution had been the creative force, Miller’s prediction about the nature of “junk DNA” would have been supported by future findings. However, they haven’t been. Instead, the prediction of ID – that there is a purpose even for what had been regarded as “junk” – has been born out.

Francis Collins, the Director of the Human Genome Project, had also insisted that much of our DNA is “junk” in his The Language of God. However, according to biologist, Jonathan Wells, Collins is now singing a different tune:

• In 2010 he wrote that “discoveries of the past decade, little known to most of the public, have completely overturned much of what used to be taught in high school biology. If you thought the DNA molecule comprised thousands of genes but far more ‘junk DNA,’ think again.”

Is there any “junk DNA?” Wells conceded,

• There may be, but saying that some of our DNA might be junk is a far cry from claiming that most of our DNA is junk – and that this junk provides evidence for Darwinism and against intelligent design. I would add: Calling something in a living cell “junk,” just because no one knows its function, is a science-stopper. Biologists make progress not by closing their eyes to “junk” but by looking for new functions. (56)

A theory is only as good as its fruitfulness – its ability to direct science into fruitful research. So we are left with this question: “Which theory is more fruitful – a theory that claims that biological diversity is a random, messy, non-purposeful hodge-podge, or one that claims that it represents the wisdom of an intelligent Designer waiting for us to discover His incredible secrets?”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Christian Confidence is Offensive but Necessary

The three Jewish magistrates administering in Babylon refused to bow down and worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and were accused before the King of this capital offense:

• But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:12)

The King then offered them one last opportunity to do homage before his statue to avoid being cast into a “fiery furnace.” However, they courageously responded,

• Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

Such courage depended upon a clear knowledge of and a confidence in their God. However, it’s this very type of knowledge and confidence that is being so widely rejected today. While some insist that they aren’t possible, others attack doctrinal certainty as arrogant, unattractive, imperialistic and dismissive of other religious beliefs.

I’d like to argue that these challenges are illogical, unbiblical, and dismissive of the high view of personhood our God wants us to have.

DISMISSING CERTITUDE IS ILLOGICAL: In order to dismiss certainty, the skeptic needs to make a statement of certainty. For instance, one otherwise competent theologian stated, “We can’t be certain about those very important spiritual and moral issues.” However, in order to dismiss Christian certainty, he had to make a statement of certainty – “We can’t be certain!” If we can’t be certain about such matters, how can he state so strongly that he is certain that “we can’t be certain.”

This incoherence is not a matter of wording. It is a necessary byproduct of trying to dismiss certainty. Others call themselves “Christian Agnostics,” claiming “You really can’t know if the Bible is God’s Word!” Here too, they are denying certainty with a statement of certainty – “You can’t know” – thereby contradicting themselves.

Nor can the multi-culturalist complain that our Christian certainty represents an unacceptable judgment of others. In making such an assessment, they too are judging! Nor can they claim that it’s offensive without being “offensive” themselves! Nor can they charge us with “arrogance” without being arrogant and dogmatic themselves.

CERTAINTY IS BIBLICAL: The Bible says a lot about certainty and the need for it:

• John 17:8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with CERTAINTY that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

• Luke 1:3-4 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the CERTAINTY of the things you have been taught.

• Col. 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

• Ephes. 5:5 For of this you can be SURE: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

• 1 Tim. 3:13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great ASSURANCE in their faith in Christ Jesus.

• Hebrews 3:14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the CONFIDENCE we had at first.

CERTAINTY OR CONFIDENCE IS NECESSARY AND PERSONALLY ENHANCING: The three Hebrew administrators couldn’t have lived courageously without confidence in their God. Nor can we live courageously and coherently without the confidence that our faith imparts to us. The Book of Hebrews gives us a condensed set of portraits of the power arising from the assurance of faith:

• Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (Hebrews 11:33-36)

This doesn’t mean that assurance comes without blood, sweat and tears. It had eluded me for half of my life in Christ. I must confess that it would have been easier to have been a postmodern Christian and dismissed the hope that assurance was possible. Instead, I had been tormented by thinking that it was possible, while it seemed that there was nothing I could do to obtain it. This made me feel like a second-rate Christian. However, God is faithful, who eventually brought me to a place of peace and confidence, although it required confronting my various doubts.

Assurance may be delayed because our Savior is producing fruit as we painfully trod through the “valley of the shadow of death.” It was in this barren desert that I was coerced to learn to just blindly trust in Him and to resort to His Word. God will also withhold assurance if we have areas in our lives that we haven’t committed to Him (1 Tim. 3:13; 1 John 4:16-18). However, it’s something that we need to seek and cry out for. However, if we don’t think it possible, we won’t cry out for it and probably won’t receive it.

Paul writes of the “riches of assured understanding” (Col. 2:2). I experienced these riches when the truth that I belong to God came crashing home to me (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). As His possession, I was Scripturally assured He would love and take care of me. I also became rich in knowing that He “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28) on my behalf. Knowing these things gave me courage and a confidence I had never before experienced. Even if I screw up, He has a purpose for it. Even if I die, I go to be with the greatest love of my life. Self-contempt was banished by the light of my Jesus’ love, who promised He would never give up on me.

Of course, this assurance requires me to live for Him, but this is something I enthusiastically do.

THE OFFENSE OF ASSURANCE: If I were to tell guests at a posh cocktail party about an experience that I had had with a goddess or even how faith in Christ worked for me, the guests would smile approvingly. However, if I declared that Christ is the truth, and that no one comes to God apart from Him (John 14:6), their reaction would be hostile. They would feel that I have no right to tell them what is truth.

The truth makes claims upon our lives; experiences don’t. Truth judges, while we can exercise freedom over the way we interpret our experiences. Jesus explained that He was hated because He revealed the truth about people (John 7:7). Nothing is more threatening to us than to be exposed for who we really are, as Jesus stated:

• This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

In addition to the offense of the light, Jesus sets the bar high – perfection Himself (1 Peter 1:15-16)! The only way that we can tolerate this perfect standard in light of our grievous failures is through the assurance of His love and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Before I was brought into this assurance, I lived in darkness, defensively justifying myself. Now He is my defense!

Christ eliminates all of our crutches – all of our sources of self-importance and self-righteousness – declaring us “sinners” and Himself the only answer. His assertions contradict all of our attempts at finding meaning or salvation down other avenues. It prompts us to say, “That’s so narrow, judgmental and dismissive of others.” However, this position is also judgmental! Besides, if He really is our Creator and Redeemer, He is in a position to make such judgments.

Perhaps a safer refuge against Christ is this: “No one can really know.” At first, such a refuge might seem liberating. Many have confidently informed me that atheism brought them freedom. Indeed, if uncertainty is our reality, then there is no absolute standard that can judge us. We’re therefore free to choice whatever lifestyle feels right.

Uncertainty might even feel moral. It forbids us from judging others. If there are no clear standards by which to judge, then we have to be welcoming of all people and all theirs behaviors. That’s OK as long as they are acting morally, but things can suddenly change, and we find ourselves with no means to cope. Besides, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we are still very judgmental.

Also, uncertainty will not enable us to endure the fires. Nor will it give us enough light to emerge from the darkness of confusion.

Christian Youth and Church Flight

Why are churchgoing youth fleeing the church? tallied the results of eight national studies which:

• focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15…nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Most of their findings seem to reflect the clash between what the church represents and the surrounding culture:

1. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church”

2. “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%)

3. One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%)

4. “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%)

5. “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%).

6. Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%).

7. Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%).

8. And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” …

9. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made [sexual] mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”

10. The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

11. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”

12. not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).

I think that all of this testifies to the ubiquitous power of the prevailing culture. It has invaded the family through the schools, universities, and the media. These institutions have spent far more time molding the minds of our children than we have. What’s the answer to the youth exodus? Some churches have elected to become more like the prevailing culture to eliminate the dissonance that the youth might be experiencing. They’ve introduced “bless-the-animals” services in place of “thankfulness-to-God” services. Often, a movie preempts the exposition of Scripture. They celebrate “be-all-you-can-be” and “fulfill-your-dream” rather than God’s dream. The pizza social has replaced instruction in holiness, while encouragement of self-esteem has elbowed aside God-esteem.

While these changes might have made church a more comfortable place for some, they have failed to address God’s priorities and have precluded any hope of Biblical renewal. However, the early church had been confronted with the same kinds of problems. Paul prophesied these would re-surface in the last days:

• But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

Paul’s answer to the apostasy is simple. He instructed Pastor Timothy to,

• continue in what you have learned…I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim. 3:14; 4:1-3)

Paul didn’t provide any special instructions for those who would “not put up with sound doctrine.” There is no Scriptural hint that the church should provide special programs in order to keep the disgruntled. However, Scripture does give a lot of instruction about correcting those who are in error:

• And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26)

Consequently, we can’t run from the hard questions, but instead we must “gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” It all comes back to the transformative truth of the Gospel:

• 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. For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17)

One evangelist to the Muslims was asked how to evangelize Muslims. He answered, “Just like you would anyone else – Preach the Gospel of Christ!”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The ACLU and Sentencing the Guilty to Church

We regularly sentence the guilty to drug programs and secular counseling in lieu of jail. Is there any substantive difference in sentencing them to the church of their choice? Not according to an Alabama town:

• Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year. The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Although such sentencing will cause outcries of “violation of church/state separation,” this form of rehabilitation might be the best one. Actually, this is the claim of many Christian groups that work with the criminal population. Interestingly, while secular drug programs have a high rate of recidivism, Christian programs like Teen Challenge boast a significantly lower rate. According to one source, secular drug programs,

• only have an average long-term (non-recidivist) success rate of 6-7%, compared to Teen Challenge's 86% [who didn’t recidivate].

If this is true, then sentencing to a secular program, while the sentencing option of the Christian Teen Challenge is available, would be both morally and professionally irresponsible. It also bears noting that Christian programs characteristically have a strong moral component, which teaches directly against criminal behavior – the very thing that the courts should require but don’t always receive.

Prison Fellowship, a Christian program that works with the incarcerated, also can boast impressive results:

The program in Texas was studied by the University of Pennsylvania, which confirmed a study by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The studies showed that those who graduated from the program had a 17 percent re-arrest rate and an 8 percent re-incarceration rate after two years. That's a pretty dramatic decrease in recidivism.

It is dramatic, considering that “Recidivism rates are staggering. Two-thirds of inmates will be re-arrested within three years of their release.”

However, it didn’t take long for the ACLU in Alabama to declare that sentencing to church is "blatantly unconstitutional":

• "It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

But does it? Rather than excluding Christianity from the public market place, the Separation Clause was intended to insure that our faith would not be subject to governmental interference. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story III commented in 1883 in section 1871 of his Commentaries on the U.S. Constitution,

• The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion…

Among the Founding Fathers – many of whom weren’t Christian – Christianity was clearly privileged. Vanderbilt professor of political science and law, Carol M. Swain, wrote,

• Scholars like Hatch and Noll argue that the founders understood from the very beginning that the new country was to be a Christian nation. Christianity, in its various denominational forms, became the unofficial religion of the nation. (Be the People, 32)

To eliminate Christian service providers in favor of the secular ones is therefore not only against the spirit of the constitution, it is also discriminatory. The secularist ACLU has no problem with the establishment and government funding of secular counseling programs. These are no less religious than Christian programs. They too promote their beliefs and values – humankind is the measure of all things and not God, self-esteem is promoted in favor of sober self-assessment, unconditional-positive-regard in favor of loving straight-talk and moral correction, trust in self in favor of trust in God, client-centeredness in favor of God-centeredness, self-fulfillment in favor of social responsibility.

Why are such interventions not considered religious in nature? Well, they just aren’t! Why not? Because secularists and humanists have gained the upper hand and are setting the rules for engagement, even if they are hypocritical!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hubris and Religion of Evolution

Let’s take a closer look at the evolutionist’s assertion and “evidence” that our neural hard-wiring for a belief in God proves that we’ve created God. Psychiatrist Thomson and writer Aukofer have been making this claim for a while now:

• In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion’s “DNA.” They have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence…that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around…They [the God-circuitry] helped our ancestors work effectively in small groups and survive. (The Sunday Star-Ledger, 7/24/11)

A Christian has no argument with the assertion that God-circuitry is in our DNA. The Bible says as much (Romans 1:18-21; 2:14-15). We would also agree about the survival benefits of this circuitry. After all, God loves us and wants the best for us! However, we would never ascribe this to random mutation and natural selection, but instead to Design! So let’s take a look at the evidence that this circuitry just evolved:

• Scientists have so far identified about 20 hard-wired, evolved “adaptations” as building blocks of religion.

Nobody is arguing that incredibly complex, elegant, and beneficent circuitry is a central part of our makeup as humans. Instead, we would seek further to understand what evidence the evolutionist might have that these mechanisms “evolved.”

• Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection.

Although the authors claim science as their ally, they fail to show what scientific findings favor their contention. They merely continue to repeat the same assertions that our hard-wiring had survival benefits, something we gladly accept. In this regard, the authors quote Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom:

• It is often beneficial for humans to work together…means that it would have been adaptive…

Again, granted! They cite psychologist Michael Persinger who,

• Stimulates the brain’s temporal lobe, [and] notes that many of his …research subjects reported feeling the presence of “another.”

However, this too fails to prove Thomson’s thesis. He could conceivably stimulate my brain to taste a carrot. However, this doesn’t prove that the carrot is just a figment of my mind, anymore than it proves that God is just a figment of my mind. The two then happily conclude,

• We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct.

Such a conclusion has nothing to do with science, but instead their naturalistic religion. As such, it lacks even the slightest scientific support. Perhaps what’s even worse for the authors, this claim contradicts their original position. While at first they argued that a belief in God benefitted humankind, now they conclude that “We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct.”

This statement also represents the hubris of modernity. It suggests that our race has advanced so far from its early roots that it has outgrown what had once been adaptive. Again, no evidence!

Driving Two More Christian B&Bs out of Business: A Satire

My Dear Wormbottom,

We got those homophobes on the run again! Let me just quote you a snippet about our latest activity:

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has given a homosexual couple the green light to sue two bed and breakfasts after the establishments refused to let out their premises for their civil union ceremony…The IDHR investigation was launched after homosexual Todd Wathen of Mattoon filed human rights complaints against the two bed and breakfasts.

Of course, Wathen and his partner could have found any number of facilities to host their celebration – ultimately, they had it in their backyard – but their civil union provides us with a delightful opportunity to put these Christian homophobes out of business and to strike fear into the hearts of all the bigots.

And it worked so smoothly! We merely emailed one B&B and told them that we wanted to have our civil union celebration on their premises. Would you believe that the idiot responded back, “We believe homosexuality is wrong and unnatural based on what the Bible says about it?”

He cooked himself! This was just the response we were looking for! It won’t be hard to prove discrimination now. The arrogance of that Christian! He might proudly stand on his bigoted beliefs now, but after he sustains a few fines and threats of jail, he’ll decide that perhaps he had been a bit hasty in his judgment. And this is exactly what we are looking for – to shut all of those hateful mouths that dare to utter that “homosexuality is wrong and unnatural!“ To hell with free speech, I say!

Now we even have the courts in our back pocket. It’s just mind-boggling – the extent of our victories, while the big blob called “Christianity” sits emasculated at the sidelines. Before, our tactics had consisted of groveling to elicit sympathy. Even though many of the brethren cringed at the pathetic way we characterized ourselves – we pressed the idea that gays are born that way and had suffered extreme abuse at the hands of a narrow-minded, hateful, and bigoted society – they now appreciate our wisdom. We then followed with the charges that our civil rights had been violated, and the media and the universities bought our entire package, without once questioning whether polygamists and pedophiles might also have had their rights abridged!

Of course, we shamed and intimidated our more stubborn opponents with charges of “hate speech,” “bigotry” and “homophobia.” Yes, we humiliated them, and it worked. However, this wasn’t accomplished without the full cooperation of the media in their persistent portrayals of Christians as complete jerks. In fact, it’s worked so well that the younger Christians have distanced themselves from the church. Of course, we’ve also encouraged them to think that they are different – that they are the sensitive, caring, in-touch and open-minded Christians by taking up our cause. We have them convinced that they embody the spirit of authentic Christianity. Needless to say, we are very careful to give them no indication that they might be betraying their faith.

However, I have to confide in you that I’m deeply troubled that our pedophile brethren are now using our very argumentation and tactics for their own cause. Although I wouldn’t dismiss the truth of their claims, they are now also protesting that they were born pedophiles and that their civil rights are also being trampled down. I told them to lay low until our victories are fully secured. But against our advice, they are now even claiming that they are performing a great service for children by initiating them into sexuality!

The fact that nobody is buying their claims constitutes a great problem for all of us. If the public sees that their claims are spurious, they might wake up to the fact that our claims are equally spurious. I’m sure you can see the great danger in this. I’ve repeatedly tried to preach patience to them. (Did I actually use that accursed “preach” word?) I reiterated the fact that we’re all working in the same direction to eliminate all sexual restrictions and taboos, but as you know, they are jealous of our victories and all juiced-up to go. (Oh, don’t you just love the nudity demonstrations we’ve organized in a number of major cities! We want to make nudity and sexuality as normal as eating a burger.) I just hope they don’t blow it for everyone.

Well, enough of this negative talk. We really have so much to be grateful about. For instance, the lawyer of one of those B&Bs complained,

• “I believe strongly that liberty of conscience, particularly religious liberty of conscience, is what our nation was built on and is something that goes deep to our souls,” he said. “Now we’re getting into a situation where government is telling people of faith, ‘You can’t live out your faith if it happens to disagree with this particular group.’”

This idiot is 50 years behind the times. No one who really matters gives a ___ about his “religious liberty of conscience” and even less about the principles “our nation was built on“ – only politicians who are trying to get re-elected. It’s no longer about abstract principles but pleasure, power and propaganda. People want to feel it! They feel for themselves, and so they feel for us. They don’t want the bigots interfering with their pleasures, so they’re willing to protect our pleasures. It’s that simple!

We’ll see how far their calls for religious liberty and 1st Amendment rights takes them. If the polls are any indication of where we’re going, we will soon convince even the bigots that they are hypocrites for judging us. Then we can delight in watching them slink off in shame, like a slug leaving its trail of slime. Don’t you just love that analogy?

Friday, September 23, 2011

God didn’t Make Atheists; Atheists Made Atheists

In an Op-Ed piece in the LA Times entitled “Science and religion: God didn't make man; man made gods,” authors J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer argue that our hard-wiring to believe in God and moral absolutes proves that we have created God in our own image:

• Humans have developed the remarkable ability to think about what goes on in other people's minds and create and rehearse complex interactions with an unseen other. In our minds we can de-couple cognition from time, place and circumstance. We consider what someone else might do in our place; we project future scenarios; we replay past events. It's an easy jump to say, conversing with the dead or to conjuring gods and praying to them. Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection.

Atheists love to claim that science is on their side. However, science has nothing to say about the origins of this hard-wiring. Even if they succeed in demonstrating that this hard-wiring for a belief in God and moral absolutes has had survival value, this in no way suggests that they evolved. Rather, this finding would just as easily conform to the God-paradigm that we were designed this way.

It’s apparent that the atheists are willing to twist any findings in support for their position. Ironically, it’s these findings that support the Bible’s claim that we are all accountable before God, because He wired us to know these truths (Romans 1:18-21; 2:14-15). It's this truth that will eventually make the atheist flee in terror from the One who created him.

This is another indication that we can’t run from God. The atheist, while assuring themselves that they have avoided Him, will run into Him at every turn, even though they fail to acknowledge His presence.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Plantinga, Dawkins, and Naturalism

I like what philosopher Alvin Plantinga says against Richard Dawkins' defense of naturalism – the belief that everything came naturally into existence apart from any purpose or design. Here’s how he summarizes Dawkins’ argument:

1. “We know of no irrefutable objections to its [naturalism] being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes

2. All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.”

Just in case we have missed the illogic of Dawkins’ conclusion, Plantinga illustrates its absurdity with a parallel example. He tells his wife that he has won the Nobel Prize for physics. Incredulous, she asks him how he knows this. He answers, “Well, I haven’t heard any irrefutable evidences against it!”

This is absurd to the max! Even if there weren’t any irrefutable evidences, this wouldn’t justify his assertion. However, if you want the prize enough, you might be able to convince yourself that it’s a reality.

Anti-Christian Censorship

To control the flow of ideas is to control thought and faith. To eliminate one point of view in favor of another is to ensure that the latter will predominate. This is a form of indoctrination. We are already aware of how politically-correct orthodoxy censors what gets into the mainstream media. However, attorney Craig L. Parshall, has just submitted a report on censorship within new media platforms: An Examination of the Threat of Anti-Christian Censorship and Other Viewpoint Discrimination on New Media Platforms, September 15, 2011

For the sake of accuracy, I will simply present Parshall’s bullet-points as is:

• Apple has twice removed applications that contained Christian content from its iTunes App Store. In both instances, Apple admitted that these apps were denied
access because it considered the orthodox Christian viewpoints expressed in those
applications to be “offensive.” One app had expressed the traditional, heterosexual
view of marriage as set forth in the Bible; the other had stated the view that
homosexuality is inappropriate conduct that can be changed through a Christ-centered
spiritual transformation. Of the 425,000 apps available on Apple’s iPhone, the only ones censored by Apple for expressing otherwise lawful viewpoints have been apps with Christian content.

• The search engine giant Google has committed past practices of anti-religious censorship. For content reasons, it refused to accept a pro-life advertisement from a Christian organization, an issue that prompted litigation in England. Google is also alleged to have blocked a website in America that had conservative Christian content. It had blacklisted certain religious terminology on its China-based Internet service, and in the United States it bowed to questionable copyright infringement threats from one religious sect, which had complained when a blog site criticizing it had quoted from the sect’s materials. Google blocked that blog site on alleged copyright violation grounds, disregarding the obvious “fair use” provisions of copyright law. Such a practice could block the ability of Christian “apologetics” ministries to quote from primary source materials when using Google platforms to educate the public on the teachings of certain religious groups. Also, in March of 2011, Google established new guidelines for its “Google for Non-Profits,” a special web tool program, but specifically excluded churches and other faith groups, including organizations that take into consideration religion or sexual orientation in hiring practices.

• Facebook has partnered with gay rights advocates to halt content on its social networking site deemed to be “anti-homosexual,” and it is participating in gay awareness programs, all of which suggest that Christian content critical of
homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or similar practices will be at risk of censorship. The written policies of the new media demonstrate that anti-Christian
censorship will occur.

• The seven other new media platforms and providers (Apple, Facebook, MySpace,
Google, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon) all prohibit various formulations of “hate speech,” a dangerously undefined and politically correct term that is often applied in the culture to stifle Christian communicators.

• All of these seven giant web-based platforms and service providers have declared the intent to ban undesirable content by using dangerously broad, vague terminology (e.g., banning speech that is deemed to be “offensive,” or “inflammatory”). Similar policies have been struck down by the Supreme Court in numerous First Amendment cases in other contexts on the grounds that they chill free speech rights.

• Facebook, Google, Comcast, and AT&T have issued written policies that prohibit controversial ideas on so-called “hot button issues” (Facebook), or that severely limit the kinds of expression that can be used regarding subjects such as abortion (Google), or that ban content merely based on the viewpoint-complaints of other users (Comcast and AT&T).

• Three of these entities have express anti-religious free-speech policies, forbidding such things as “politically religious agendas” (Facebook), or content that advocates against gay-rights groups or that might criticize, for example, the doctrines of a religious organization or sect because its tenets conflict with the Bible (Google), or content that might contain any expressions of so-called “homophobia” (MySpace).

• Two of these new media companies have policies that expressly grant special free speech rights to expression related to political issues (Apple and Facebook), while at the same time severely restricting religious expression.

• Apple and Comcast both have policies that authorize censorship of content which they determine, in their sole discretion, to be inaccurate or lacking in factual truth, or that they consider to be “misleading.” Such a broad editorial standard elevates those companies to the dangerously exalted position of being the final arbiters of truth and accuracy.

Up until now, this encroaching totalitarian censorship hasn’t affected my own blog, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t, if this repressive trend continues. Most recently, “Under pressure from homosexual activists, PayPal has decided to deny service to famed Brazilian pro-life and pro-family Christian activist Julio Severo.” And it won’t end there. Pay Pal is presently deciding the status of two other Christian organizations. Peter LaBarbera appropriately charges that, “Apparently it’s now open season on Christians in the corporate world.”

Our cultural biases are always declaring “open season” – perhaps silently – on one idea or another. In this regards, evolutionist Karl Giberson cites a good example of the overwhelming influence of the cultural biases of the university:

• [Evolutionist] Ernst Haeckel nudged the racism of the Third Reich along its malignant road by suggesting that…”You must draw [a line] between the most highly developed civilized people on the one hand and the crudest primitive people on the other and unite the latter with animals.”(Saving Darwin, 76)

• How shocking it is today to acknowledge that virtually every educated person in the Western culture at the time …shared Haeckel’s ideas. Countless atrocities around the globe were rationalized by the belief that superior races were improving the planet by exterminating defective elements…there can be little doubt that such viewpoints muted voices that would otherwise have been raised in protest.”

Why was it that “virtually every educated person” believed this way? Cultural bias! What promoted such a malignant cultural bias? The sources that controlled the flow of information! The conclusion is straightforward – our 1st amendment rights of the freedom of speech (and consequently ideas) must be protected, even when some might regard our speech as “offensive.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sharing Contempt with the Atheists

Atheist publications aren’t all bad. The Newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York published the results of an interesting study:

• Benoit Monin, a psychologist at Stanford, has studied anticipated reproach in a number of fascinating experiments. His essential findings: The more we feel as though good people might be judging us, the lower they tend to fall in our regard. As he explains in a recent paper, “overtly moral behavior can elicit annoyance and ridicule rather than admiration and respect” when we feel threatened by someone else’s high ethical standards. (PIQUE, Sept, 2011)

Ironically, atheists believe that this explains the contempt directed against them as “moral crusaders.” However, I think that this partially explains the contempt we experience as Christians. I guess we share a lot with the atheists?

The Religion of Peace and its Treatment of the Dhimmis

Dhimmis are non-Muslims living under Islam. As Muslims are multiplying in the West – and native non-Muslim populations are decreasing – and are trying to institute Shariah Law, as Islam requires, it is important to consider what it might be like to live under Islamic Law. Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief, of World Magazine, gives us a telling glimpse:

• The books of historian Bat Ye’or are full of specific detail. In Persia in 1890, Jewish women had to “expose their faces in public [like prostitutes]…The men must not wear fine clothes, the only material permitted them being a blue cotton fabric. They are forbidden to war matching shoes. Every Jew is obliged to wear a piece of red cloth on his chest. A Jew must never overtake a Muslim on a public street…If a Muslim insults a Jew, the latter must drop his head and remain silent…The Jew cannot put on his coat; he must be satisfied to carry it rolled under his arm…It is forbidden for Jews to leave the town or enjoy the fresh air of the countryside…Jews must not consume good fruit” (Sept. 10, 2011, 75)

• Dhimmis, as historian Bat Ye’or has shown, typically had to pay discriminatory taxes acknowledging their status as second-class citizens. They were on the hook for additional sums payable on Islamic demand. They had to supply forced labor on demand. They were ineligible for any public office and were without the right even to testify in legal battles. Dhimmis were not allowed to construct new places of worship, but sometimes received permission to worship in buildings that predated Muslim conquest…Dhimmis were not allowed to possess weapons, marry Muslim women, meet with others on the streets, or ride horses or camels…(74-75)

Such degrading rulings are not the product of a chance, unrepresentative Islamic culture, but of Islam itself. Olasky quotes French philosopher Jacques Ellul arguing that the dhimmi status,

• Was not the product of historical accident …but the expression of an absolute, unchanging, theologically grounded Muslim conception of the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. It is not a historical accident of retrospective interest, but a necessary condition of existence…one must know what the Muslims did with these unconverted conquered people, because that is what they will do in the future. (75)

The texts of Islam bear out how Islam sees the infidel:

• Muhammad the messenger of Allah said, “Do not greet Jews or Christians with peace if you meet one of them in you way then push them over to a ditch or a narrow path.” (Hadith Number 4030, Reported by Al Muslim)

Consequently, Muslims are entitled to reign over the entire world. Therefore, Jihad should prevail until the entire world is Islamic:

• “And fight with them until there is no more persecution and religion should be only for Allah.” (Surah 8:39)

Nor are these isolated verses. Al-Maqdisi and Solomon claim that:

• Almost two thirds of the Qu’ran that is well over 4,000 verses referring to the Jews and Christians and by deduction declaring them to be in enmity with the Muslims. (Al-Yahud, 26)

It is no wonder that there is no peace in the Middle-East, nor is there any reason to believe that a real peace will occur. Olasky argues that the abuse of dhimmis is endemic to Islam:

• North American 19th century theologian al-Maghali advised that dhimmis be assembled on tax day “in the lowest and dirtiest place” with threatening officials placed above the dhimmis “so that it seems to them, as well as to the others, that our object is to degrade them.” With the stage set, al-Maghali advised, officials could play out a little drama of dragging dhimmis “one by one (to the official responsible) for the exacting of payment…This is the way that the friends of the Lord, of the first and last generations will act toward their infidel enemies. (World, 76)

• The result of beating and belittlement was obvious to observers in Turkey two centuries ago, who noted that dhimmis have “the most submissive cringing tone,” and in Morocco during the 1870’s, who said Jews had terrorized expressions.

Once the opportunity was available to them, these “terrorized” Jews emigrated en masse to Israel. Olasky observes that 9/11 wasn’t a product of radical Islam but of Islam itself:

• The notebooks of two of the terrorists showed their goal on Sept. 11, 2001: “Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The time of fun and waste has gone…Those few hours that are left you in your life are very few. From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise…read al-Tawba and Anfal [traditional war chapters from the Quran] and reflect on their meanings and remember all of the things that Allah has promised for the martyrs…Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and women of paradise are waiting, calling out, ‘Come hither, friend of God.’”

I fear that the moribund West has not the will or the vision to resist Islam. They have blinded themselves with religious pluralism, multiculturalism, multi-sexism, postmodernism, modernism, the new age, moral relativity, and distractions of every conceivable nature. Meanwhile, anyone who tries to shake the West out of its sleep is dismissed as a “hate-monger” or an “Islamophobe.” One might think that they want to be dhimmis?

Monday, September 19, 2011

It’s Not Easy Being God

We all need to feel that we’re a “somebody.” It’s just too painful to be a “nobody.” Indeed, this observation hasn’t eluded a host of modern religions and therapies. They’ve learned to pander to our needs by proclaiming the mantra, “You are God!”

Some years back, a friend brought me to an Eric Butterworth meeting (“Unity Village”) at Lincoln Center. He filled the huge auditorium with the message, “Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are the great ‘I am.’”

I wanted to scream out but restrained myself. This had been my “religion” as a 14 year old. I would take my shirt off, flex my muscles, look at this wonderful hunk in the mirror and tell myself that I was truly a somebody. I would actually believe this self-talk and this enabled me to go to school with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. However, this “fix” would some loose its potency, and so I eventually graduated to loftier messages, finally concluding that I was the Messiah, the savior of the world. Although this gave me a high, in the long run, it also devastated me. Here’s why:

1. This wasn’t the nourishment that I really needed. Instead, it worked as a drug. I found that I always needed a greater dose in order to maintain my increasingly elusive high.

2. For this drug to work, it must be believed. However, by believing that I was a superior person, even God, I began to loose touch with both myself and reality. I couldn’t see or accept myself as I really was. This caused me to make many serious judgment blunders. Whatever we manage well, we must understand correctly.

3. If I was going to believe this about myself, I had to deny the reality that contradicted my distorted beliefs. Consequently, I always had to be right and wasn’t open to constructive criticism or even other people. Therefore, the avenues of growth were shut down.

4. Denial is an invitation to mental turmoil. When I resolved to believe the good things about myself and deny the rest, I made myself into my own enemy. My conscience and perceptions were informing me about another, less pleasant reality. I therefore had to make war against these perceptions—and many of them were telling me that I wasn’t the Messiah, that I couldn’t possibly fill those shoes.

5. Maintaining this artificial high requires a lot of self-deception and avoidance. Consequently, I had to isolate myself from others who reflected back to me a reality that didn’t match my own. Rejections and failures became devastating. I depended upon a steady stream of compliments and recognition to keep my delusion-addiction alive. I needed to surround myself with people who shared my distorted self-concept, from whom I could receive some affirmation. Understandably, these people became increasingly hard to find. Because relationships depend on sharing a common reality, I eventually made myself into a complete loner and outcast.

6. Furthermore, as long as I was determined to build myself up in this manner, I had to correspondingly convince myself that there were no greater gods on my turf. Believing yourself to be god isn’t adequate if everyone else is a God. Therefore, I resorted to putting others down as a way to elevate myself and resented their successes.

What had initially given me “life” was to subsequently bring on me a painful psychological death. Depression, anxiety, shame, and suicidal ideation had become my most faithful companions.

However, we all need to believe that we’re somebody, that we’re significant. We can obtain this in either of two ways. We can either exalt ourselves through some futile exercise of self-righteousness or self-attainments or we can submit to the righteousness that is given as a free gift from the only One who is truly righteous. As Jesus had proclaimed:

• For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Consequently, we’re no longer “nobodies”:

• At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

If the Bible isn’t Historically Accurate, It can’t Support the Faith!

She was completing a Masters of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a very liberal and biblically dismissive institution. I was concerned and asked, “Do you find that your studies are undermining your faith in Scripture?” She assured me that it wasn’t, and that her experience at UTS had even deepened her faith.

Although I knew that this was possible – I profitably read books challenging the Christian faith – I remained somewhat skeptical of her claim. Immersing oneself in UTS on a full-time basis was not the same thing as reading a heretic. It’s like comparing taking a warm shower to being thrown into a boiling cauldron. Yes, God could protect her even in the cauldron, but wouldn’t it be an act of great presumption, putting God to the test, to jump in and depend upon Him to rescue her?

“I’ve even grown by studying the ‘Documentary Hypothesis (DH).’” Although I tried not to show it, I recoiled in horror. The DH denies that Moses had anything at all to do with authoring the five books of Moses. Instead, these books had been clumsily pieced together by various editors over a long period of time beginning hundreds of years later. Although largely repudiated, the DH still holds sway in many universities and seminaries.

“I don’t think that it’s important whether or not Moses wrote the Torah or even if it is historically accurate. I still believe that it’s inspired by God and communicates the spiritual lessons that are essential to the faith,” she assured me. She in the cauldron but didn’t seem to realize it.

This student isn’t alone in her embrace of “higher” criticism. Many Christians with an advanced degree have taken a bite into this apple of compromise. They attempt to hold to their Christian faith while combining it with the fruits of “scholarship.” But can they faithfully serve their two masters? Can we continue to embrace the Biblical faith as we surrender its historical assertions? Perhaps for a while! However, this type of leaven will eventually leaven the entire loaf (Galatians 5:9). Here’s why:

1. MOSAIC AUTHORSHIP: If we agree with the DH that Moses didn’t write the Torah, we are opposing the many assertions of Mosaic authorship found throughout the entire Bible. We’re even opposing the statements of Jesus! How can we continue to believe that Scripture is fully inspired if it’s consistently wrong about Mosaic authorship?

2. INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE: If the historical assertions of the Bible aren’t inspired, we have undermined any reason to believe that any of it is inspired. Therefore, very little of the Bible can be trusted. The genealogies can’t be trusted. The fact that Jesus was in the lineage of Adam and David can’t be trusted. The historical assertions about the Patriarchs and the promises that God had made to them can’t be trusted. The assertions that Israel was in Egypt and that God redeemed them can’t be trusted. What then can be trusted?

3. THEOLOGY: The theological teachings can’t be trusted either! Theology rests upon the foundation of historical events. The theology of the Cross depends upon the history of the Cross and what Christ achieved through His death. Likewise, the history of Genesis is also essential. The theology of marriage rests on the history of what God had accomplished historically, bringing Adam and Eve together as one (Genesis 2:24). Jesus explained that divorce is forbidden because of what God historical matrimonial accomplishments. (Matthew 19:4-6).

Similarly, Peter argues that because God had historically destroyed the world through Noah’s flood, it proved that the promised future destruction wasn’t just a matter of empty threats (2 Peter 2:4-9; 3:5-7). If the flood hadn’t been an historical fact, Peter’s proof that the Lord would judge would be invalidated. Someone could easily have retorted, “Well, since Noah’s flood was merely allegorical, God’s future judgment is also merely a matter of allegory.”

In fact, the New Testament consistently regards the Old Testament accounts as historical. There isn’t even one instance where the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament’s historical claims

4. APOLOGETICS: If the history of the Bible is in question, so too are the reasons to believe the Bible (apologetics). If the miracles of the Bible are simply allegory and not historical bedrock, then their power to affirm the Bible is undermined. If historically, God had made certain prophecies or promises, then our faith can’t be supported by prophecy fulfillment. Furthermore, if the Biblical accounts aren’t historical then the Bible can’t be defended by archeological finds or any form of scholarship.

We also believe in the Bible because of the theological/historical agreement among the parts. There is a harmony among the Bible’s teachings, and this points strongly to its inspiration. For instance, we read that historically, God made everything “very good,” but humankind screwed it all up, bringing sin and death. Then Christ came as the “second Adam” to rectify the mess and restore the world. In contrast, “Christian” evolutionists claim that the early Genesis accounts are not historical in order to neutralize those teachings which don’t agree with evolution. However, this leaves them with a Bible that doesn’t fit together harmoniously: It was a bloody dog-eat-dog survival-of-the-fittest from the start. Therefore, there could be no Fall and no introduction of death with Adam’s sin. Nor could there be any restoration to a pristine creation.

5. CONFIDENCE: If the Bible’s history can’t be trusted, then there is little basis for confidence and assurance. If we can’t believe what the Bible says about history, then how can we believe what it says about theology?

6. THE ENTIRE CHRISTIAN LIFE: After revising the Bible as they do, “Christian” evolutionists then insist that we have to remain humble and somewhat tentative about our interpretation of the Bible. (If only they were equally humble about the theory of evolution!) However, if we cannot be certain about the interpretation of the Bible then we cannot be certain about faith and obedience. We cannot know when to exhort and when to encourage, when to correct and when to comfort. We are then left in confusion about the entire Christian life.

To question the historicity of the Bible is to question the entire message of the Bible and to undermine any basis for the Christian faith. Bad theology is like a computer virus. As one small bit of information can destroy a computer, one theological virus, such as the denial of the Bible’s history, can undermine our entire faith. A little leaven can leaven the entire loaf.

The UTS student was confident that she could add this little bit of leaven to the loaf of her faith without any negative consequences. She fails to see the costs of the compromise she has made. Atheist and evolutionist, Daniel Dennett, wrote about the power of the idea of evolution. According to him, it is an acid that will corrode everything that touches it. Karl Giberson wrote about how this acid eroded away his fundamentalism:

• Acid is an appropriate metaphor for the erosion of my fundamentalism, as I slowly lost confidence in the Genesis story of creation and the scientific creationism that placed this ancient story within the framework of modern science….[Darwin’s] acid dissolved Adam and Eve; it ate through the Garden of Eden; it destroyed the historicity of the events of creation week. It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to the stories—the fall, “Christ as the second Adam,” the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred. (Saving Darwin, 9-10)

The acid of the DH and the other equally acidic ideas that this lovely student will encounter at UTS will corrode her faith. Clearly, it has already! I can only pray that she will begin to see the damage.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Doctrine-less “Christ” and the Coming New Age

In his most recent book, The Future of Faith, liberal professor emeritus of the Harvard Divinity School, Harvey Cox, celebrates the shift in Christianity away from fundamentalism and its emphasis on doctrine to “spirituality” and social activism. He favors a doctrine-less faith – a faith we experience and perform, not something we believe.

Indeed, a doctrine-filled Christianity, if it has little relevance to our lives, would be an unbiblical abomination. However, Cox suggests that the Biblical revelation is entirely unnecessary. He asserts that one can be a “practicing Christian, but not necessarily a believing one.” This makes the teachings of the Bible irrelevant, and Christianity merely becomes a matter of works, and salvation a matter of personal attainment. Furthermore, in describing his liberation from his Baptist roots, he explains:

• I also became friends with several students who seemed to me to exemplify the Christian life better than some of the taut fundamentalists, although they were not particularly concerned with being doctrinally correct. (16)

For him, this constituted proof of the irrelevance of Biblical doctrine. However, is Cox warranted to make such a judgment? God informs that we humans are confined to seeing only the outer man. Therefore, uncertainty must prevail over our judgments as to who’s in and who’s out. This is because we wear skillfully designed, deceptive facades and are also grossly self-deluded (Proverbs 21:2).

Besides, Cox reasons that “Beliefs come and go.” Therefore, we shouldn’t be deemed “Christian” based upon our fluctuating beliefs. Cox also protests that,

• We have been misled for many centuries by the theologians who taught that “faith” consisted in dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds they have spun out. (18)

However, the faith against which Cox protests isn’t a Biblical faith. A true Biblical faith isn’t sterile but obedient. A faith or belief that doesn’t produce fruit isn’t a real faith (James 2:19-24). If we truly trust in God, we will do what He tells us to do. Furthermore, Christianity isn’t about earning our salvation through social activism (Eph. 2:8-9; Romans 3:20-28). It’s about what Christ has earned for us and our receiving the gift of faith to believe this Gospel.

Nor have we any reason to believe that Christ was an Eastern guru, training His disciples in various techniques to experience God. Instead, His message followed on the coattails of the Old Testament prophets who wrote about the primacy of “knowing and understanding” God (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Instead of freedom coming as a product of practicing certain spiritual disciplines, for Jesus, freedom was a product of imbibing in faith the truths (doctrines) of God:

• 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)

Nor did we enter into a saving relationship with God through practicing techniques to experience Him. Instead, the vehicle of salvation was the teachings (doctrine) of Jesus. Even those under the Mosaic Covenant had to believe what Jesus had claimed about Himself:

• 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)

A disciple had to receive the entirety of Jesus’ teachings. When He sent them out to evangelize the world He instructed:

• Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus’ teachings also had the power to transform, not the methods of the spiritual formation movement. He prayed:

• I have made you [Father] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 17:26)

Nor did Jesus warn His disciples against the spiritual techniques of the Pharisees, but rather their teaching:

• Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (Matthew 7:15)

• "Be careful," Jesus warned them. "Watch out for the [doctrinal] yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod." (Mark 8:15)

Technique was not His concern, but teaching. If doctrine could build us up in the faith, then false doctrine would tear us down. Our response to our Savior had to be one of faith and belief in His teachings. We are both transformed and blessed in every conceivable way through Biblical teachings:

• Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

• Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

Trying to separate faith from belief is also illogical. After all, everyone has faith – whether in themselves, their attainments, nature or in another god(s). What distinguishes these various faiths are their doctrinal content. A faith in Jesus is also a belief in His Gospel.

In fact, attempting to separate faith and doctrine, as Cox tries to do, leads to absurdity. While he preaches a doctrine-less Christianity, he has written volumes – all about doctrine (teachings). In fact he is applauded for his teachings. New age guru Deepak Chopra declares, “Cox has been a voice of both reason and faith in our cynical times.” Sound’s like he approves of Cox’s TEACHINGS!

Emergent Church guru, Brian McLaren, writes about this book. “It has also motivated me to keep working to help make actual the possible [belief-less] future Cox envisions.” He too seems to approve of Cox’s teaching-less TEACHINGS!

Besides, how are we to engage in social activism without the guidance that comes from the truths of doctrine and teachings? Nevertheless, doctrine can seem cold and irrelevant. However, this did not remain the case for Martin Luther. In his Commentary on the Book of Galatians, he describes the impact of the truth of Scripture:

• My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner, troubled in conscience that my merit would satisfy Him. Therefore, I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him…Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement, “The just shall live by his faith” [Romans 1:17]. Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, by grace and the share mercy, God justifies us through faith. Therefore, I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressively sweet…This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.

Previously for Luther, Scripture was an object of his hate. It then became “inexpressively sweet…a gate to heaven.” Rather than rejecting doctrine, we need to pray that our Savior would open for us this very gate.

For Cox, it remains closed. He understands Jesus as an ethical teacher who condemns us if we don’t visit the sick and feed the hungry. Of course a true faith will want to please their Savior. If we believe, we will do what He tells us to do! However, we’ll also fall short of His example. We therefore will always need His mercy, a mercy He promises to all who believe:

• If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (John 15:7)

This includes forgiveness! During my years of severe depression, the Word (doctrine) came to me clothed in glorious power. I can relate many such experiences, but I’ll simply mention one. From the midst of depression, I couldn’t love or accept myself. I therefore projected that others – and this included God – couldn’t love me. Like Luther, I tried desperately to win God’s love and approval. However, the harder I tried, the more I’d became convinced that I was unlovable and unacceptable. Not only that, but I also carried a strong and unshakeable feeling that I was condemned by God. In the midst of this, I read:

• Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

With the power of an explosion, this truth broke upon my consciousness driving away my sense of condemnation as a wind drives away the clouds.

Cox celebrates the death of doctrine. It reminds me of how the Ukrainians celebrated Hitler’s advance and victory over the hated Stalin to find that they now faced an even worse extermination. Cox likewise has no idea of the new doctrine-less, religiously-pluralistic age that he heralds in. However, Luther did understand! About the doctrine of justification-by-grace-through-faith-alone, he concluded:

• This doctrine can never be taught, urged and repeated enough. If this doctrine becomes lost, then is also the whole knowledge of the truth, life and salvation gone and lost. If this doctrine flourishes, then all good things flourish: religion, true service to God, the glory of God…We have to fear lest Satan take from us the pure doctrine of faith and bring into the Church again the doctrine of works and men’s traditions. Wherefore, it is necessary that this doctrine be kept in continual practice and public exercise both of reading and hearing.

I am not a prophet, but I think that Luther’s words were truly prophetic. Once “this doctrine becomes lost,” the West will once again descend into a world of barbarity.