Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Homosexuality, Equality, Discrimination, and Free Speech

Should Christians have the right to discriminate against gays? Don’t they have a right to protection under the law, and doesn’t the First Amendment guarantee our free exercise of religion? How do we put these concerns together? Here’s my response to an atheist on this subject:

Thanks for your willingness to try to understand these issues from a Christian perspective.

There are many difficult moral/legal issues involved in these various cases. You raise the issue regarding a public employee needing to follow the law. Recently, my state of New York legalized gay marriage. There was a Christian clerk (and perhaps also a judge) who had been hoping that she could be grandfathered-in based upon her years of faithful service as a civil service employee. However, Gov. Cuomo told her that absolutely no special allowances would be made for her, even if there were others willing to transact the gay marriage in her place.

This is very reflective of the harsh and militant secularism of today. It wasn’t always this way. Prior to this, government had a greater respect for diversity of opinion and belief. Of course, certain religious practices couldn’t be tolerated. If sexing of one’s young children was a part of religion, society understandably has a prevailing interest to not tolerate such a practice.

However, our nation has often shown itself willing to accommodate religious practices that did not serve the common good. For instance, the Supreme Court allowed for conscientious objectors, even though this provision might serve to create discord within the ranks of the military. It ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance, even though it could be argued that this provision would cause an erosion in patriotism. However, the Court rightly deemed that society could tolerate such diversity.

The secularism of yesterday had a high regard for diversity in belief, and consequently, honored the First Amendment, which forbade government from interfering with the practice of religion. This respect maintained a unity in the midst of diversity.

It also maintained professionalism. Within the mental health community, there was a certain degree of respect for differing points of view. If a therapist didn’t feel she could work effectively with a court-mandated rapist, the case was given to someone else. If a Christian couldn’t effectively counsel a gay couple who were trying to resolve their issues, it was usually deemed that these clients should be assigned to a different therapist.

However, this kind of tolerance is no longer valued. Now Christians are loosing their jobs, credentials, and are even being expelled from counseling programs simply because of their views. California just passed a law forbidding a psychotherapist from working with a youth seeking help to resist SSA!

Should Christians have the right to exercise their faith in regards to their own properties, households/businesses? Even here, the law is messy. I think that most of us would uphold certain forms of discrimination in these regards. The law shouldn’t coerce the owner of home-based B&B to employ or murderer or a pedophile. Nor should it coerce the B&B to rent a room to a known thief or to someone who will pose a threat to the welfare of the business or the patrons.

However, I do acknowledge that society has the right to impose certain restrictions. Because of the overriding social concerns, businesses should not have the right to discriminate by virtue of race or nationality.

However, these are not behaviors but morally neutral, unchanging characteristics. However, discrimination according to behavior – criminality – is entirely another matter. Sexual orientation is one thing – we are all oriented to certain types of sins – but sexual behavior is entirely another matter.

Should a B&B owner be compelled by law to rent space in their home for an adulterous fling? Or to someone who insists on smoking in their bedroom? Perhaps they are intolerant, but isn’t such intolerance warranted? Forbidding this type of “intolerance” would represent needless and malicious government encroachment – the very thing that is happening today. Because of this encroachment, many Christians have lost their businesses.

Christian businesses are now targeted by militant gays who want to force them to violate their conscience. One Christian community can no longer host weddings under their private boardwalk pavilion because of a court ruling that it represented discrimination against gays.

Today, I was discriminated against by an atheist Facebook group, which banned me. I didn’t like it, but I respect their right to do so. Christian groups also do this. They have a right to maintain the character of their group. However, universities – both public and private – have now banned Christian student groups from campus because they “discriminate.” Meanwhile, these same universities discriminate in their hiring against Christians and allow other groups that discriminate – the Young Democrats, for example.

There are so many instances of this type of thing. Mentioning individual cases serves to minimize the extent of this pervasive cultural bias.

I am not really against gay marriage. It’s something that gays have always been free to do, albeit without legal sanction. However, with legal sanction, there will be the inevitable push to silence any criticism of the gay lifestyle. In Denmark, churches are now required to marry SS couples.

Even now, the New Federal Hate Crimes Bill penalizes any speech that can be construed to lead to a hate crime. Some congressmen tried to write in an exception for responsible religious speech. However, this amendment was voted down.

Many have already lost their jobs or suffered intimidation because they have spoken outside-the-job against gay marriage.

I must conclude with one additional thought. This militant, totalitarian secularism is polarizing the nation in such a way that we will not be able to live together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Charity and Compassion: A Legacy of Christ

Charity and Christianity are married. Charity did not have its origin in the world of antiquity as sometimes alleged:

·             Plato (427-327 BC) said that a poor man (usually a slave) was who was no longer able to work because of sickness should be left to die. He even praised Aesculapius, the famous Greek physican, for not prescribing medicine to those he knew were preoccupied with their illness (Republic 3.406d – 410a). The Roman philosopher Plautus (254 – 184 BC) argued, “You do a beggar bad service by giving him food and drink; you lose what you give and prolong his life for more misery” (Trinummus 2.338-39) Thucydides (ca. 460-44 BC), the honored historian of ancient Greece, cites an example of the plague that struck Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 430 BC. Many of the sick and dying of the Athenians were deserted. (Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, 128-29)

The Romans did the same until they were shamed into changing their ways by the behavior of Christian who took in their sick. This inspired their enemy, Emperor Julian the Apostate to say:

·             The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours…It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of assistance. (Epistles of Julian, 49)

With the advent of Christianity came:

·             Hospitals and asylums and refuges for the sick, the miserable and the afflicted grow like heaven-bedewed blossoms in its path. Woman, whose equality with man Plato considered a sure mark of social disorganization, has been elevated; slavery has been driven from civilized ground; literacy has been given by Christian missionaries, under the influence of the Bible. (“The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield”)

We are forgetful of Christ’s contributions. Schmidt reveals that,

·             In the United States the spirit of charity in voluntary associations is greater among church members than among those who are not. According to a nationwide study conducted in 1987. Those belonging to Christian churches also give more financially to nonchurch charities, and they give a higher proportion of their income to such charities. (137)

Schmidt claims that this is the heritage of several hundred years of vigorous church preaching on charity:

·             With these early American precedents, it is not surprising that astute foreign observers noted that the United States has, virtually from its inception, been a shining example of a charity-minded country…When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, he astutely observed: “If an accident happens on the highway, everybody hastens to help the sufferer; if some great and sudden calamity befalls a family, the purses of a thousand strangers are at once willingly opened and small but numerous donations pour in to relieve their distress.” (138)

In the 1890’s, Amos Warner identified the churches as “the most powerful agent in inducing people to give.” Even as late as the 1940’s, Gunnar Myrdal remarked:

·             “No country has so many cheerful givers as America.” He attributed this cheerful giving, or “Christian neighborliness,” as he called it, to the “influence of the churches.” (138)

Historically, charity and Jesus are inseparable. In The Charity Organization Movement in the United States, Frank Dekker Watson concluded that:

·             It is difficult to understand the great influence that charity exerted on the acts of man unless one realizes how religion, especially Christianity, has reinforced by its teachings the instinct of sympathy and altruism. (12)

Schmidt claims that this “cheerful giving” is still among us to some degree:

·             The amount that they gave to the poor and needy in 1991 amounted to $650 per American household. And in 1998 American church members contributed more than $24 billion to their churches, amounting to $408 per member.

What has given the West its incredible vision and vitality? Carlton Hayes states,

·             From the wellsprings of Christian compassion our Western civilization has drawn its inspiration, and its sense of duty, for feeding the poor, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the homeless… (Christianity and Western Civilization, 56)

Schmidt writes that before the advent of Christianity there were “no established medical institutions for nursing and ministering to the general populace”:

·             As the growth of hospitals spread across the nation, it was predominantly local churches and Christian denominations that built them…[However], the Christian identity and background of many American hospitals is now being erased.

·             The physician and medical historian Fielding Garrison once remarked, “The chief glory of medieval medicine was undoubtedly in the organization of hospitals and sick nursing, which had its organization in the teachings of Christ.” Thus, whether it was establish hospitals, creating mental institutions, professionalizing medical nursing, or founding the Red Cross, the teachings of Christ lie behind all of these humanitarian achievements. It is an astonishing mystery that the Greeks, who built large temples…never built any hospitals. (166-67

The same was true for Rome, prompting historian Philip Schaff to conclude, “The old Roman world was a world without charity.” Schmidt therefore concludes,

·             Every time that charity and compassion are seen in operation, the credit goes to Jesus Christ. It is he who inspired his early followers to give and to help the unfortunate, regardless of their race, religion, class or nationality. (148)

Historian and physician Fielding Garrison recognized that “the credit of ministering to human suffering on an extended scale belongs to Christianity.” (In Introduction of the History of Medicine, 118).

Today, we credit secularists with compassion. However, Sociologist Alvin Schmidt reminds us that they “had grown up under the two-thousand-year-old umbrella of Christianity’s compassionate influence” (131). Likewise, Josiah Stamp claims:

·             Christian ideals have permeated society until non-Christians, who claim to live a “decent life” without religion, have forgotten the origin of the very content and context of their “decency.” (Christianity and Economics, 69)

Secularists are quick to claim these successes for themselves. However, historian Rodney Stark contradicts their assessment:

·             Rather, the West is said to have surged ahead precisely as it overcame religious barriers…Nonsense, The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians.” (“The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success,” xi)

Indeed, we find a direct connection between the moral rise of the West and the teachings of the Bible:

·             Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:12-13)

As we see Christian values continue to erode, we should also expect to see the erosion of everything based upon these values – relationships, trust, cooperation, diligence, business and even science. The crimes and financial scandals of today may look like nursery games compared to those of tomorrow.

The Miracle of Salvation and why the World Refuses it

We apologists must never forget that salvation is a Divine and supernatural gift. Forgetting this will lead to frustration and ruffled feelings.

My brothers are both atheists, although they sometimes call themselves “agnostics.” We can agree about many things – family matters, people, the injustice in the world. We can even evaluate evidences together. We were together able to agree about funeral arrangements for dad, the need to cut down the old tree that seemed to be leaning threateningly towards the house of our childhood, and the need for various house repairs.

However, when it comes to evaluating the evidences for the existence of God, we encounter irresolvable and monumental differences. While I see the evidences for God all around me and even within me, they remain unimpressed. While I see uttering compelling evidences, they see a complete absence of evidence. How can we explain this disconnect?

Interestingly, this is the very disconnect to which the Bible frequently eludes:

  • The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
Elsewhere, Paul writes that although we all have incontestable evidences of God, we reject them:

  • The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20) 
According to Paul, the evidence is so clear that we can have no rational excuse for not believing in God. Therefore, the problem of disbelief is not about a lack of evidence but rather a hatred of the evidence. We hate the light because it reveals what we are all about (John 3:19-20).

This truth is highly offensive. It informs us that we don’t believe because we don’t want to believe – that we have access to the light but hate the light. This revelation contradicts our entire worldview and self-concept. We have a lot invested in the belief that we are good and deserving people who really want the truth. However, the Biblical revelation tells us the exact opposite.

We must not underestimate the importance of self-image. In both the movie and the play, Les Miserables, Lieutenant Javier strongly identified justice - law and its enforcement. He saw himself as a pillar of truth and righteousness. He therefore relentlessly pursued the parole-breaker Jean Val Jean. However, an understanding of grace was completely foreign to his worldview and self-concept. Therefore, when confronted by grace, his worldview was so shaken that he committed suicide rather than attempting to embrace it into his self-righteous self-concept.

Judas was somewhat different. He wasn’t a law-keeper but a thief. Nevertheless, he too refused to receive grace and forgiveness. After he had betrayed Jesus, he knew he betrayed a righteous man. Instead of receiving the grace that he had witnessed at Jesus’ side for the previous three years, he was determined to atone for his own sins and kill himself.

Why did not Judas cry out for forgiveness? Why did he take matters into his own hand? Why was he willing to pay such a high price for his sins, when salvation was only a confession away? He hated the light and rejected it.

Years ago, I would take my Sunday School classes into nursing homes to sing and pray for the residents. I marveled at the fact that so few of the elderly were willing to attend our gathering. Some even had no one to visit them. Wouldn’t the company of my young students have been a welcome comfort to them? What did they have to loose? It would cost them nothing! Why were they depriving themselves? For years, they had hated the light and could no longer tolerate it.

I still marvel at these things. Although the Bible prepares us for the fact that humanity hates the light and also those who bear that light (John 15:18-20; 16:1-2), we still ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong. There must be some reason that the world hates us. There must be some reason why I can’t get through to them.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ashamed of the Gospel and Trying to Fix it

One highly esteemed Neo-Orthodox theologian wrote that:

  • Even if biblical critics proved that the person of Jesus is unhistorical…this would not affect the content of God’s revelation, since His truth is revealed even through fallible words spoken or written by human instruments, such as the apostles. “By all means we must ascertain the fallibility of the [Scripture] texts and thereby recognize the miracle, that we always hear the Word of God from this human word.” (Richard Weikart, Christian Research Journal, Vol. 35/Number 6, 41)
The “miracle” is that Scripture can be so factually wrong and yet so right at the same time. Oddly, according to Neo-Orthodoxy, Jesus can be entirely “unhistorical” - the Word of God can be in serious error about historical things – and yet it can be spiritually infallible. The same theologian claimed that:

  • The sentence: Christ is risen and present, strictly understood only as testimony of Scripture, is true only as the word of Scripture [and not as history]. (41)
In light of this, facts are irrelevant to the Christian faith. What then is relevant and why? At best, it’s hard to say. At worst, these words are entirely meaningless.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul insisted that an historically Christ-less faith is a meaningless faith:

  • And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Cor. 15:14-19) 
According to Paul, historical and theology – the facts and the faith – could not be separated. A faith in the clouds could not address needs on the earth. If Christ didn’t historically die and rise, we are bereft of any spiritual benefit.

How then could this brilliant, Christ-preaching theologian have concocted such foolishness? How could he separate the historical Christ from the essence of the Christian faith? And how was it that he had been so popular?

Well, he was a product of his time and reflected what was broadly believed within educated circles. The church had been ravaged by the scholars – the Biblical critics – of that day. The brightest had come to the conclusion that these scholars were correct and that the Bible’s statements of fact couldn’t be trusted. However, they did value the Christian faith and wanted to somehow salvage its central tenants.

How could this be done in light of the Biblical criticism that had taken captive the universities and seminaries? Somehow the Bible’s spiritual core had to be safeguarded from critical scrutiny. A fence had to be erected between the fruits of biblical criticism and the Christian faith.

The Swiss German theologian Karl Barth had perceived the spiritual poverty of Christian liberalism and wanted to find a way to return to basics. Weikart explains:

  • Barth insisted that all Scripture is the Word of God. However, by this he did not mean that Scripture was historically accurate…Barth divided knowledge into two separate realms – religious and empirical [physical], and the Bible is religious truth, not empirical truth…he thought that the historical accuracy of Scripture was irrelevant. (40)
Barth had thought that his reformulation had saved the church by protecting its spiritual message. However, history has passed a different verdict. It has shown that his reformulation has failed to revitalize the church. How could a revelation that could not be trusted in factual matters ever be trusted in spiritual matters? It couldn’t!

However, we are still surrounded by well-meaning Christians who believe that it is their calling to save the Christian faith, at least for the educated, professional and culturally-sensitive.

They feel that a Christianity equated with creationism cannot be sold or salvaged. Instead, it must be reformulated to make it appealing to the educated who believe that macro-evolution is a fact. One campus youth pastor put it this way:

  • I deal with confused Christian students all the time. They are at a loss how to reconcile their fundamentalist faith with what they are learning in the university. I have been able to comfort many of them by showing them how to reconcile the Bible with evolution.
Sadly, comfort is not the same as Christianity or even any form of truth. Often, comfort is no more than a drug, which pays diminishing dividends. In this case, the drug is Barth’s drug – the division of the Bible into statements about the physical world – and these have to be taken tentatively and figuratively – and those all-important statements about the spiritual world. Therefore, if evolution is about the physical world and the Bible is about the spiritual, well then, all of the conflicts have been neatly “resolved.”

However, as with all drugs, this one hides its costs in the fine-print. It does not tell its prey that comfort is a deceptive veneer for an aggressive cancer.

I have little doubt that the campus pastor thinks that he is doing the right thing. He sees confusion and contempt for the Christian faith and thinks that he has the answer. However, despite the diminishing influence of Christianity in the West, Scripture has a different answer:

  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
Nor should we be ashamed. Interestingly, my unnamed Neo-Orthodox theologian almost entirely ceased reading his Bible once imprisoned. He confesses:
  • "Once again I'm having weeks when I don't read the Bible much."
Such is the fruit of Neo-Orthodoxy!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Culture: Its Power and Persuasiveness

Culture is imperialistic. It determines our thinking, attitudes, and worldviews. If this is so, I think we need to be aware of its impact on our lives. After all, the unexamined life is an automated life, and an automated life is a robotic life.

Let me give you an example of the influence of culture, even on the church. Maintaining a good relationship with our adult children should be a high priority, but often, it has become our highest priority. One Christian talk show hosted a counselor – I’ll call her “Doris” - talking on this very subject. She suggested that parents ought to think of themselves as “coaches” rather than “teachers” or even “parents” regarding our adult live-at-home kids. Although she was ready to admit that today’s 23 year-olds were more like 17 year-olds in regards to emotional maturity, Doris insisted that they are still adults, and if we want to maintain a good relationship with them, we can’t talk down to them by telling them how they must live their lives.

Instead, it is preferable that we think of ourselves as life-coaches. We can present the options along with a cost/benefit analysis, but we need to refrain from telling them how they should live.

Admittedly, this strategy will make for a more harmonious relationship, and this is a high cultural priority. It has become the number 1 criterion to determine whether or not you are a good parent. If your adult child likes being around you, this means that you’re a successful parent.

Although this criterion is important, I wonder whether it leaves out the First Commandment (loving God) in favor of exclusive attention on the second – loving others. Doris didn’t even begin to consider whether or not her strategy honored God and His priorities. This consideration was entirely neglected. In fact, some cultural messages are so deeply imbedded within our thinking that we barely notice, let alone question them.

I too hadn’t noticed Doris’ omission of the First Commandment, until thinking about it later. Something seemed to be limiting about the life-coach model. Although it represents one very important tool or option in a carpenter’s tool-box, it shouldn’t be the only one. Instead, we are sometimes called upon to rebuke and correct:

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

Sometimes we need to rebuke and correct. The drug addict requires some tough-love –maybe even a family intervention. Perhaps, if we want to maintain a ripple-free relationship with our adult kid, we will refrain from rebuking.  However, being a coach in certain circumstances might merely serve to enable self-destructive behaviors. Used by itself, the coaching model tends to communicate an erroneous message – “Your life is entirely your own, and you bear no responsibility for others. You’re the captain of your own ship.” It is therefore ironic that our culture then laments the pervasive destruction of communal ties.

Why then do we unnecessarily narrow down our Scripturally-mandated responsibilities? Why are we now content to merely be a friend to our kids and not a parent? We allow cultural standards rather than Scriptural ones to set our priorities.

What type of protection do we have against imbibing the standards of the surrounding culture? We need to be able to see its pervasive influence from a stationary lookout – Scripture (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8; Romans 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). Only when we stand outside of our culture can we be in any position to critique it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Requirement of Faith: Arbitrary or Essential?

Why has God decided to save by faith instead of by good deeds? It seems both misguided and arbitrary to many. They argue that if God is really concerned about justice and love, He would make these the requirements of salvation. After all, shouldn’t He reward good behavior rather than believing a set of doctrines! One skeptic expressed it this way: 
  • I can’t believe in a god who requires mental gymnastics in order to believe the unbelievable. And then, when we can’t perform, he throws us into eternal hell. I’ll take my chances without your god. 
However, if God did grant salvation by virtue of good deeds, it would convey the wrong message. It would communicate that some can be good or do what is good to earn salvation.

This notion, of course, is highly erroneous. No one has ever been good enough that God owes him anything. (Rom. 11:35; 3:19-20) Also, this notion would also produce bad fruit – pride and arrogance – the very thing that God wants to guard against:

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:23-28; 1 Cor. 1:26-30)

Boasting, the fruit of pride, divides and causes conflict, jealousy and resentment. It is the product of hardening our heart so that we don’t see the ugly things about ourselves; all we see is the ugliness of others. 

While humility represents a willingness to truly confront our failings, arrogance represents either a denial or a justification of that ugliness. Instead, it entitles, and entitlement provides the justification to harden our hearts against the promptings of our conscience, thereby enabling evil. After all, I’m a superior person!

Instead, faith and salvation are the gift of grace and are to be received as a free gift, understanding that we do nothing meritorious to earn them:

  • Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:27-28)

Understanding this humbles us and brings gratefulness. These truths allow us to let down our fa├žade and face the truth about ourselves. If salvation doesn’t depend on our virtue, then we need not pretend to be virtuous.

Spirituality and growth must proceed from faith - from the inside out. A changed heart must precede a changed life. Jesus expressed this concept in numerous ways:
  • "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' " (Matthew 15:17-20)
We are made “unclean” or spiritually contaminated by what proceeds forth from our attitudes and motives and not by what impacts us from the outside. In fact, Jesus found fault with the idea that we could cleanse ourselves by acts or rituals:
  • "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26)  
Theoretically, if we could cleanse our hearts and thought life, the rest of us would also be cleansed. However, we can’t and won’t do this! As the Bible says, “…a leopard can’t change its spots.” Therefore, we must be born again (John 3:3). We need a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-27), and this will change our thinking (faith).

Faith is more than believing some new doctrines; it requires a new heart!  We will not believe differently until we are transformed from the inside out. In other words, faith isn’t simply a matter of learning a new set of doctrines. It reflects radical changes in the very center of our being. Paul explains why:
  • [Unbelievers] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  (Ephes. 4:18)
The house cannot be stable until the foundation is stabilized. A bad heart will produce bad thoughts. It is the “hardening of their hearts” that produces “ignorance” and even contempt for God.  Until our heart is converted, we will hate God and His doctrinal truths (Rom. 8:6-7; 5:8-10; 3:10-18):
  • “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)
We have hardened our hearts against the light. The light of God exposes the painful truth about ourselves. Therefore, we prefer the darkness of self-delusion and the struggle to maintain it to the truth.
In contrast, the gift of faith is not a matter of strenuous mental acrobatics but the willingness to receive the light and to come under its scrutiny.  When we understand faith this way, we see that faith is not a matter of believing the unbelievable but a willingness to step into the light to receive what had always been patently obvious.

However, the light is painful. It often carries a personal rebuke. The Book of Proverbs informs us that we are surrounded by the truth. Wisdom is always looking for takers:
  • Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares. (Proverbs 1:20)
However, we shut our eyes to the light of wisdom, because it hurts our pride:
  • Since they hated knowledge…since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. (Proverbs 1:29-31)
Therefore, faith isn’t arbitrary. It isn’t something that God dreamed up because He wanted to try out a new idea. Faith is truth and light. Faith is something that we’ve rejected, and we have hardened our hearts against it. (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15)

You don’t have to be a Christian to see glimpses of this. There is a wealth of evidence that humanity willfully resides in denial and self-delusion. If we are being honest, we are also aware of our own mental gymnastics to justify and prove ourselves. We are aware, to some extent, of our elaborate efforts to manage our image and to avoid the light.

Instead, faith fixes itself on the light and follows it like a flower following the sun across the sky. 

Faith and repentance from sin are inseparable. The same born-again heart that turns to the light in faith simultaneously turns away from the darkness in repentance. They go together as opposite sides of the same coin.  

Paul explained to King Agrippa the ministry to which God had called him by reciting the very words of God: 
  • “’I [God] am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place [salvation] among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'” (Acts 26:17-18)
Turning from the darkness of sin to the light of faith are inseparable concepts. Together, they lead to salvation, the “forgiveness of sin.” Consequently, it is impossible to have the light of faith and to continue to walk in the darkness of non-repentance:
  • If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1 John 1:6)
Living faith doesn’t exist in isolation from repentance, the rejection of sin. Therefore, in choosing faith, God also chose the most fertile soil for the growth of morality and love. If we trust in our Savior, we will do what He tells us to do. If He tells us to love, we will try to love. And when we fail, we confess our sins to find cleansing and the reopening of divine channels to the life-giving light.  

Therefore, the charge that God’s requirement of faith is arbitrary and non-moral fails to understand the nature of faith. Faith is a living seed that grows and produces fruit. 

Faith sires many children. One of them is love. What we believe and know is so critical to the rest of our lives. If I believe that my wife is a real catch, I will treasure her. If I believe that the plumber wants to kill me, this will affect how I feel about him. Closer to home, if I believe that God loves me and is always providing for me, I will want to pass it on. If instead I believe that God might condemn me, I will resent Him and feel jealous of those who are in good stead with Him. 

What we believe is the soil from which everything else grows – our attitudes, desires, motivations, and even behaviors. If I am convinced that nothing will ever disrupt this love-relationship that I now enjoy with my Savior, I can begin to look beyond my own crying needs to the needs of others. If I know that God accepts me, I can begin to accept myself and even others. 

It is possible for the seed of faith to lie dormant until the rains come, but it will germinate and produce fruit. The Book of Hebrews gives us many portraits of the impact 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. (Hebrews 11:33-34)
 Faith and morality are so closely related that James can say: 
  • Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:17-18)
A real faith is not morally barren. A faith that doesn’t attempt to follow Jesus isn’t a real faith. Instead, faith and action are so closely associated that James can say “I will show you my faith by what I do.” If we believe, we will act!

An intimate and saving relationship with God depends on faith – a sharing of the common reality. This principle also applies to interpersonal relationships. It’s hard to have meaningful relationships unless there are broad areas of agreement: 
  • Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Cor. 6:14-15)  
Intimate and bonded relationships require broad areas of agreement. We want friends who will laugh at our jokes, empathize with our pains, and understand our deepest thoughts and concerns. When our most intimate self-disclosures are met with blank stares, dismissals or contempt, we will experience alienation, at best.  
Turning the tables, if our friend believes he is Jesus, there can be little meeting of minds. The parties occupy different non-negotiable realities, and these realities will separate people, unless they adopt common delusions. If one thinks that he is Jesus and the other thinks that he is the Apostle John, and they are in agreement about their identities, they can enjoy a relationship, at least until their delusions change. 

If faith is the light of truth, then only in this light can we and God stand together. 

The doctrines of faith are essential for our mental well-being and growth. These doctrines aren’t inert facts but truths that penetrate into our being. For instance, one doctrine assures us of forgiveness:

  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
Without this assurance of forgiveness, we would become vulnerable to lingering guilt and even resentment towards God. In short, the doctrines of faith protect our minds and bring growth:
  • In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephes. 6:16; Col. 1:23; 1 Thess. 5:8; 1 John 5:4)  
Although many regard the Christian faith as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18), it represents the wisdom of God: 
  • For the “foolishness” of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Cor. 1:25)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Segregation: Its New Incarnation

Segregation can take many forms. Today, a new party is being prohibited from drinking from the public fountain

  • Rev. Louie Giglio, the pro-family pastor picked by President Obama to deliver the benediction at his Jan. 21st inauguration, has backed out after a pressure campaign by homosexual activists. (, Jan. 10, 2013)
  • Obama’s choice of Giglio on Tuesday quickly came under attack by activists who highlighted a sermon the pastor delivered in the 1990s offering a “Christian response to homosexuality.”
  • In the sermon, the pastor expressed Christian teaching that homosexuality is a sin and that it is possible to leave the homosexual lifestyle “through the healing power of Jesus.” He said Christians must “lovingly but firmly respond” to an “aggressive agenda” by some in the homosexual community.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee would not stand behind their choice of Giglio. The Committee could easily have said, “We can’t expect our speakers to agree with us in every way. We can’t demand perfect conformity to our party stance.” However, they claimed ignorance:

  • They were unaware of the sermon when they selected Giglio. They said he was chosen for his work in combatting human trafficking.
Bad Giglio! He uttered verboten words and was removed from the public fountain, no longer allowed a seat at the table. Sadly, the administration is fully supportive of this new form of segregation:

  • “As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans,” said spokesperson Addie Whisenant.
Segregation is now being justified by “this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance.” How ironic! “Inclusion and acceptance” has sent Giglio to the back of the bus! How can Whisenant talk of “inclusion and acceptance” in light of Giglio’s rejection and segregation?

Of course, the Left justifies this hypocrisy by claiming:

  • We are intolerant of everyone except the intolerant. We will tolerate everything except intolerance.
However, this justification is barely coherent. We all draw the line somewhere. There are things and people that all of us will not tolerate, and some for good reason. We still do not tolerate pedophiles teaching children. Nor do we tolerate bigamists, necrophiles or bestophiles. Nor will we include unrepentant muggers or domestic violence perpetrators on our political podium.

For each of us, there is a limit to tolerance. However, Giglio drew his line in the wrong place – in a place mandated by the Bible - and now he finds himself in the back of the bus.

Is the administration really serious about their standard of “inclusion and acceptance?” Hardly! There is little doubt that they will include a Muslim Imam on their podium. However, their holy writings are intolerant of Jews and Blacks (including gays). About the Jews, the Koran teaches:
  •   “Jews are those who were cursed and transformed into apes and swine…” (Sura 2:65, 5:60, 7:166).
  •     “Jews are the worst of Allah’s creation…” (Sura 8:55-56, 98:6)
Blacks fare little better. The Hadiths, the saying of Muhammad read:
  •   “Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham’s descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem’s, the latter would enslave them.” (Al-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 21, p. 21
  •  "Abu Darda reported that the Holy Prophet said: Allah created Adam when he created him (sic). Then He stroke (sic) his right shoulder and took out a white race as if they were seeds, and He stroke (sic) his left shoulder and took out a black race as if they were coals. Then He said to those who were in his right side: Towards paradise and I don't care. He said to those who were on his left shoulder: Towards Hell and I don't care. – Ahmad." (Mishkat, Vol. 3, p. 117
  • Ahmad ibn Abi Sulayman, the companion of Sahnun said, “Anyone who says that the Prophet was black should be killed.” (Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Qadi ‘Iyad, p.375)
However, the Left remains silent about these teachings and the blatant acts of anti-Semitism that are resulting from them. It seems that the Committee is applying its standard of “inclusion and acceptance” in a discriminatory manner. Some get a “pass,” while others are pushed to the back of the bus.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy understandably asked:

  • “Are all orthodox clergy now to be banished from civic life if they openly affirm their faith’s teachings about marriage and sexual ethics? Are only clergy from declining liberal denominations now acceptable according to hyper political correctness?
The answer is clearly “yes!” Tooley then asked:

  • Will the same standard also apply to Muslims and members of other faiths who don’t subscribe to the views of western secular elites?”
It seems that for now, they can still drink from the public fountain, as long as the secularists don’t feel threatened by them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let’s not make the Gospel any more Offensive than it already is!

The Gospel is offensive in many ways. It declares that:

  1. We are all sinners who need a Savior.
  2. We are unable and unwilling to be good enough for God.
  3. There is only one means of salvation: Accepting the free gift of God through the work of the Savior on the Cross.
  4. Those who refuse this salvation will endure eternal consequences.
There is no way to soften these offensive aspects of the Gospel. Consequently, when the sinner comes to the Savior, it must be because He has drawn them (John 6:44). We refuse to approach the Light on our own (John 3:19-20). However, I think that we add to the offensive aspects of the Gospel through our sometimes mistaken and offensive theologies.

For example, one atheist wrote according to this mistaken notion:

  • All you need is a little moral training by a competent adult [in order to be a moral person]. Under the Protestant interpretation of Christianity that you subscribe to, god judges us not by whether we lived a good and moral life, or whether we were evil. Going to heaven or hell is determined by one thing and one thing only, that is whether we accept Jesus as our personal savior. So that means I can kill and steal and rape all I want, and if I sincerely repent and trust in Jesus, I go to heaven.
He did get some aspects of the Gospel correct. Anyone can “repent and trust in Jesus” on their deathbed and be completely forgiven of their sins (1 John 1:9-10). If this wasn’t true, then none of us would have a chance at heaven. The notion that we can be good enough for God or earn anything from God, the Creator of the entire universe, is utterly ludicrous (Rom. 11:35). Instead, we stand before Him as sinners lacking in any merit or any goodness, by which we can say, “God, I deserve you mercy!”

However, my atheist friend’s understanding of the Christian faith has been influenced by an unfortunate teaching that has crept into the church – that there is no fast connection between faith in Jesus and following Jesus. According to this teaching, faith is just a matter of mental assent to a set of doctrinal truths and does include any notion of repentance or commitment. Consequently, one can profess a faith in Jesus without any intention of turning from sin, and he can still be confident about his salvation.

This unfortunate misunderstanding of Scripture has enabled atheists and other Gospel-despisers to heap unjustified contempt on the Christian faith, making it look immoral and ridiculous.

Instead, Jesus insists on both: faith and the holy fruits of a true faith:

  • For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephes. 1:4)
  • For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
  • "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)
If we truly believe in Him, we will follow Him. This is a natural consequence of faith. If I trust in my doctor, I’ll do as he says. If I don’t, I might not. It’s no different if our trust is in Christ.

This doesn’t diminish the fact that salvation is a free gift. However, it is an acknowledgement that this gift is a seed, which germinates into something more than a seed. It is not the gift of a dead seed but a living and growing seed. As a result, a real and living faith cannot be separated from the inevitable fruits of that faith. Similarly, we cannot separate an apple tree from its apples. They are distinct, yet inseparable.

In contrast to this, the non-Christian must seek some form of moral self-vindication. He must convince himself that he is a good and worthy person. After all, we all need to believe that we have worth and significance. Therefore, the non-Christian, by rejecting the God of the Bible, is captive to the life-controlling obsession to convince himself and the world that he is worthy. (In a variation of this theme, some reject the concept of value and worth, while others pay the debt that conscience demands through various forms of self-sacrifice.)

The atheist insists that “I can be good without God). Although, this might be true in the short-run, without an adequate rationale for goodness, moral behavior will inevitably deteriorate over the years.

More seriously, the belief in our own goodness can only be obtained by the denial of everything that our conscience is telling us about ourselves – that we are sinners who need the Savior! Denial will inevitably alienate us from both ourselves and others. To silence the voice of the conscience is to silence our one Hope.

Evolution Did It!

How you ever heard scientific creationism or intelligent design (ID) disparaged as the “Goddidit Theory.” What does this mean? The evolutionist claims that ID is not science but a veiled way of saying “God did it. End of story!” as if ID refuses to engage the same evidences as do all other scientists.

However, this charge can just as easily be reversed into the “Evolutiondidit Theory.” Nobel laureate in physics, Robert B. Laughlin, wrote:

  • Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! (A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, New York: Basic Books, 2005, 168-69)
Is there therefore no difference between ID and the theory of evolution? At its core, ID sets forth an adequate cause to explain all of the marvelous phenomena of this universe – life, fine-tuning, the laws of physics, DNA, consciousness, freewill – but evolution can only say “it just happened naturally!” Naturally? Where did the natural come from?

When God is eliminated, a God-substitute – the natural laws - must be found! However, what was so wrong with the original?