Monday, January 16, 2012

Christianity: The Religion of Truth

Why has Christianity become sidelined? In his essay, “Why Christianity Lost America,” Vishal Mangalwadi asks:

• Why did Christianity lose the power that gave it influence over education and economy, government and law, press and entertainment? How can the Church recover the power to prevail over the forces of evil?

He explains that today’s Christianity is not the vibrant Christianity of the recent past. Today’s version has separated truth from faith, leaving Christianity unbalanced – a plane with one wing, trying to fly with only feelings, mystical experiences, and a private and personalized faith, separated from its provable truth-claims:

• Christianity lost America because 20th-century evangelicalism branded itself as the party of faith. By default Secularism (science, university, media) became the party of truth. This is one reason why 70% Christian youth give up meaningful involvement with the church when they grow up.

He observes that many of today’s Christians believe in a Christianity that has little to do with truth and facts and everything to do with internal experience. This imbalance has proved disastrous for Christianity. Mangalwadi cites several examples:

• In November 2011, I met an American missionary who has served in Guatemala for 36 years. He described a recent (unpublished) doctoral study examining Protestantism in one part of Guatemala. The Hispanic scholar had hoped to substantiate Max Weber’s thesis on the connection between Protestantism and economic development. The data, however, drove him to conclude that the gospel taught by present-day American missions makes no perceptible difference to the economic life of the believing communities.

What a contrast with what Christianity had been historically. One example of the vibrancy of the Christian faith is found in its establishment of universities. Schmidt writes:

• Given the powerful influence that secularism now has on most Americans, they are probably not aware that “every collegiate institution founded in the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War – except the University of Pennsylvania – was established by some branch of the Christian church.” Nor are most Americans aware that in 1932, when Donald Tewksbury published The Founding of American Colleges and Universities before the Civil War, 92 percent of the 182 colleges and universities were founded by Christian denominations. (How Christianity Changed the World,190)

This should not surprise us. The Bible’s teachings unequivocally testify that the faith rests upon the verifiable truths of God – what He revealed and what He accomplished historically. God never asked Israel to just believe, but rather to believe by virtue of the evidences. For example, when Moses asked God for evidences that He could take to the Israelites to prove that God had appeared to him, God didn’t say, “Well, just tell those Israelites to believe!” Instead, He consistently provided the necessary proofs:

• Then Moses answered and said, "But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, 'The LORD has not appeared to you.' "So the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A rod." And He said, "Cast it on the ground." So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail" (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand), "that they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you." (Exodus 4:1-5)

Likewise, Jesus never instructed His followers to believe without reasons to believe. Instead, He provided evidences through his miracles and prophecies:

• He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

• "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:28-29)

The Biblical faith embodies verifiable truths (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; Titus 1:1). Mangalwadi contrasts this with other religions:

• Hinduism, like Greco-Roman religions, is based (self-consciously) on myths.

• The Buddha rejected Hinduism’s mythical gods and goddesses in favor of mystical (non-rational) Silence.

• Islam has words that are believed to be true. These words were uttered in a state of non-rational trance, called “prophecy.” Islam, therefore, rests on private, non-verifiable communications of an individual. Sometimes Mohammed went into “prophetic” trance in public, but no one saw or heard angel Gabriel talking to him. The power of his utterances rested on the sword, not on evidence. When his words about the past (e.g., stories from Old and New Testament times) contradicted documented history, his followers had to assume that contradictions mean that texts have been corrupted. Non-verifiable trance communications overrode documented history.

Sadly, Christianity has been going the way of the other religions. In the face of secular attacks upon the truth-claims of Christianity, Christianity has retreated into a cocoon of private faith experiences, defensively responding, “Well, I just know what I’ve experienced, and no one can tell me any differently.”

This response hasn’t proved adequate. Against the weight of the claims of the modern university, Christianity has retreated and compromised. It has surrendered the life of the mind for the life of internal experiences. Mangalwadi explains:

• The church created the university to train godly leaders who will look at all of reality through the light of the Truth (revealed by God’s works and words). Fundamentalism insulated Bible Institutes from other departments to study the Bible alone. It gave up the mission to seek public truth in favor of cultivating private spiritual lives. Once the Bible was put into the silo of Bible Institutes, the Bible teachers were isolated from the public life of the mind. Preachers memorized the Bible but by and large they did not learn how to meditate upon God’s word in a way to shine its light on all of life.

We have compromised in many ways. We have put the claims of the Bible on the bench in favor of charismatic pastors who have promised experiences if we would only turn off our minds and our insistence to check everything out according to Scripture.

We have embraced a neo-orthodox “Christianity” that tried to salvage the Christian basics by insisting that the Bible really isn’t about what it clearly teaches. Instead, it is a tool to bring us magically into a saving relationship with Christ apart from its verifiable truth claims – claims that the university rejects.

We have embraced theistic evolution (TE) in a vain attempt to make friends with the university. This worldview attempts to make peace by claiming that the Bible isn’t about the physical world – science, history, geography – but about the spiritual. However, in making this compromise, TE has separated Christianity from all of its supporting evidences – evidences that cannot be found outside of this physical world. However, it’s the physical – miracles, fulfilled prophecy… - that supports the spiritual claims.

We have embraced “Christian” mysticism and Postmodern “Christianity.” These have, in various ways, demeaned doctrine and apologetics in favor of experience, dogmatically claiming that we can’t really know and that “doctrine divides,” and what really matters is a direct experience of God apart from what we Biblically understand about Him.

Consequently, “the church reads the Bible mainly for private edification. Corporately, the Kingdom of Christ has ceased being the city on a hill.” Indeed, we can’t be the light if we believe that biblical truth-claims aren’t verifiable.

In contrast to this, it had been the light of the Bible that had provided the impetus to shed its light upon creation and to master it. Sociologist Alvin Schmidt concludes:

• Modern science is an outgrowth of Christian theology of the Middle Ages. It proceeded to show that it was Christianity’s values that provided the necessary Weltanshauung (worldview) and motivation to encourage many of its educated adherents (now called scientists) to study the world of nature…The public are unaware that virtually all scientists from the Middle Ages to the mid-eighteenth century – many of which were seminal thinkers – not only were sincere Christians but were often inspired by biblical postulates and premises in their theories… [they] knew and believed the words of the biblical writer: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). (How Christianity Changed the World, 243-44).

What then is the answer for us today? To return with courage to the basics! Jesus instructed us to:

• " Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

When we leave out truth and the “mind,” we fail to live faithfully to the teachings of Scripture.

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