Monthly Archives: August 2011

I’m About to Do Something Strange…

I seldom answer in my own comment section.  So the strange thing I’m going to do today is to answer someone else’s comment section.

Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a fantastic post about the difference between secular giving and Christian charity.  Secular giving is just one thing that you do to be an American, but Christian charity is woven into the fabric of our thoughts and actions.  To be great, Jesus said, you must serve others (Mt 20:26-28).

The first atheist comment to that post deserves a reply.  I think that the replies in the comment section miss the mark somewhat, so I decided to take a crack at it.  Call me Jen’s Rottweiler.  (If Darwin can have one, so can Jennifer Fulwiler, right?)

The commenter identifies herself as Jemima Cole, and let’s tackle her piece by piece: Read the rest of this entry

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I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 6)

The final step for new Christians from Brownlow North is:

Never believe what you feel, if it contradicts God’s Word.  Ask yourself, “Can what I feel be true if God’s Word is true?”  And if both cannot be true, believe God’s Word and make your own heart the liar (Rom 3:4; 1 Jn 5:10-11).

Again, sound advice.  If more people applied that rule, then Susan B. Anthony might never have said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

We, therefore, need an objective measure of truth.  Our conscience does  a pretty good job at showing us instinctively what is right and wrong.  I often give the exampe of my daughter Ashleigh who (at 3) knows that when I tell her to or not to do something, that it is wrong to do the opposite.  And when she inevitably does the opposite (show me a 3-year-old who obeys perfectly and I’ll marvel at your ability to create a cool robot–hopefully it follows Asimov’s Laws of Robotics!), she knows she did wrong.

She tries to get out of the punishment–usually no TV or a time out (I’ve spanked before, but I’m not a huge proponent; loss of privileges and time outs work just as effectively).  But the point is she acknowledges that what she did was wrong and knows she shouldn’t do it.

Which brings us back to the average person.  Knowing and doing are totally different.  Everyone knows it’s wrong to steal, yet people are in jail for everything from petty theft to the Enron scandal.  Everyone knows its wrong to cheat on your spouse, yet that is one of the main reason couples divorce.

So the conscience is effective at blowing the whistle, but we are equally as effective at ignoring the noise.  And, more troubling, is that often we can delude ourselves into believing that God is on our side.

My pastor once told the story of a man who was fired from his job for embezzlement.  During the search of his computer, they discovered e-mails proving that he was having an affair.  When the boss fired him, he told the man that he was really concerned about the man’s relationship with God.  The man told his boss, “I’m fine with God.”

Yeah.  Think so?

What about pastors like Rob Bell who are very good at writing theological redefinitions of God that render eternal judgment unnecessary or plain evil, therefore a God of love would never consign someone to it?  Instead of “Go, and sin no more” we are being told “Sin boldly, all will be forgiven.”  That’s quite different than what Jesus would say, and very different from Paul’s message of grace.

No wonder Susan B. made the statement she did.

So, North’s rule stands.  The Bible states “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9).

Let’s not be Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs when it comes to our spiritual well-being.  Though the conscience can be an excellent guide, we can ignore it in favor of pursing our own passions.  Let Scripture stand as the objective measure by which we know what is right and wrong.  Don’t trust your gut.

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 5)

As we continue with Brownlow North’s six steps for new Christians (and old Christians can benefit from these, too), we come to a tough one:

Never take your Christianity from Christians, or argue that because such and such people do so and so, therefore, you may (2 Cor 10:12).  You are to ask yourself, “How would Christ act in my place?” and strive to follow him (Jn 10:27).

The church is, in fact, “the pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).  So it’s impossible not to take (at least some) Christianity from Christians.  To not take your Christianity from Christians denies the whole concept of discipleship, which is the spirit in which I posted these rules in the first place.

The place of the church is education and discipline.  It should be the responsibility of the church’s elders to identify sin in the congregation and do something about that.

So it’s fair to say that I disagree with the first clause.

The second clause is excellent.  Because other people do it, that doesn’t make it okay.  As a manager for over a decade and a half in the fast food industry, every single time I dealt with someone’s tardiness the first thing I always got to listen to was an angry litany of names of people who are also “always late.”

That’s what North is talking about.  Using someone else’s behavior to justify your own is not acceptable.  Take responsibility for yourself.

Amanda Brown, co-founder of We Are Atheism, posted a video that indicted Christianity using the other side of this coin.  She said that the church she grew up in preached abstinence, but her peers had sex in the pews during the service.  Therefore, abstinence-only education is total crap and doesn’t work

Well, let’s think about this:

  1. Everyone has sex before marriage.
  2. It’s really hard to abstain from sex until marriage.
  3. Currently, the church thinks it’s morally wrong to have sex before marriage.

Given these facts, society has decided that the best solution to the problem is to lower its expectations, accept sex before marriage, and make fun of the church for continuing to preach “antiquated” morals.

Let’s look at this from a different perspective.

What if I were the new manager of your local fast food restaurant?  Let’s say that the people in the store think that it’s okay to serve french fries that have been baking under heat lamps for two hours.  It’s really hard cook new ones and make customers wait, and it also costs a lot of money in wasted food.  Everyone in the store thinks this is cool.

If I were to follow Amanda’s logic, then my best course of action as the new GM is to lower my expectations until I, too, believe that serving two-hour old french fries is acceptable.

Ridiculous, right?

Lowering expectations is never the best solution.  Indeed, it shouldn’t even be an option.  Yet, with sexual morals, this is exactly what society is doing.  It’s too hard to resist having sex until marriage, so let’s just have sex now and risk unwanted pregnancies, incurable diseases, serious heartache, etc.  Just wrap it up with a condom and you’re good to go.  The solution to loose sexual morals is to encourage them, as long as the people involved are being “responsible.”

That’s about like using a Band-Aid to treat an ear-to-ear throat slash.

Bringing this back neatly to the point, we cannot expect to justify behavior by comparing our behavior to the behavior of others.  The yardstick for comparison is what North says next: Ask what the Lord would do were he in our place.  In other words, “What Would Jesus Do?”

We might not have an immediate answer, but if we follow the first rule and the second rule, we’re on our way to having a good sense of the answer.

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 4)

Churches too often focus on evangelism to the exclusion of discipleship.  You confess Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and the Lord of life.  You’re done, right?

Nope.  I’ve already covered three of Brownlow North’s six rules for new Christians, and I believe they really apply to all Christians.

Rule #4:

If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God’s blessing on it (Col 3:17).  If you cannot do this, it is wrong.

I like this.  It touches on the somewhat instinctual nature of moral duties.  Normal people know the difference between right and wrong.  My daughter, for example, knows what she is and is not allowed to do.  She knows that she has to listen to mommy and daddy when we tell her to do things.  She doesn’t, but whenever I get into it with her, she admits that she knows when she does something wrong and understands that it is wrong.

Similar to this would be asking yourself questions like

  1. How would my best friend feel about me if s/he knew I did this?
  2. Would I feel comfortable if my actions were reported on the front page of the newspaper?
  3. In my place, would my hero/mentor act this way?

As Dr. Tom Morris points out in Philosophy for Dummies (yes, I’m reading Philosophy for Dummies), these sorts of questions presuppose a generally good nature.  Humans, according to the Bible, are so enslaved to sin that we can often rationalize the most heinous of behaviors.  However, since we are made in the image of God, we have (at our core) a smattering of goodness that enables us to know the difference between right and wrong.

Asking whether we could, in good conscience, pray God’s blessing over an intended course of action is a great acid test for the validity of such an action.

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 3)

We’ve been looking at Brownlow North’s Six Steps for New Christians.  I’m pretty sure they apply to all Christians.  In fact, today’s step is brilliant:

Never let a day pass without trying to do something for Jesus.  Every night reflect on what Jesus has done for you, an then ask yourself, “What am I going to do for him?” (Mt 5:13-16)

I remember once having a conversation with regular commenter Alex and saying something to the effect of “God created the universe, you, gives you life and sustains your existence, sent his Son to die for your sins, and you’re basically asking me, ‘So what has God really done for me?’  Tough room!”

Alex was a bit irritated by that, and said that if I want him to take me or “my God” seriously, then I shouldn’t be so flip.

Except that it’s true.  God has done a lot for humanity, even though we don’t deserve it.  So, to echo North’s sentiment, and to paraphrase JFK, let’s ask what we can do for God instead of always asking what he can do for us.  He’s already done plenty.

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 2)

So, once you’ve realized that your doubts are emotional, not intellectual, what do you do?  You give your life to Christ.  Then, you’re supposed to begin the lifelong process of discipleship, but many churches focus so hard on filling the pews that they leave folks to fend for themselves.

Enter Brownlow North, who has devised Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  Yesterday, we covered a simple one: pray everyday.  Today’s is equally simple, and profound as well!

Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what he says.  I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules (Jn 5:39).

I think that North is absolutely correct in his assessment.  Daily prayer and daily Bible reading are the most important factors of becoming a Christian.  The necessity of God for the universe is an awesome, if abstract, thing to think of and discuss.  However, the necessity of God for one’s personal life is even more interesting.  And personal.

So we’re called friends of God.  A modern friend isn’t the model, however, but a client/patron.  Still, that’s more personal than most people ever got with the king in a feudal society.  Ancient serfs probably never saw the sovereign.  But, through the power of prayer, we get to talk to the sovereign, and confess our deepest fears and desires.

What’s more, God takes them into consideration!  Look at Genesis 18:22-33.  Abraham is able to strike a conditional bargain with God–if 10 righteous people can be found in the city of Sodom, then God will spare it.  God took into consideration what Abraham had said, and did as was befitting a truly righteous judge.

Other instances can be found.  Jonah preached to Nineveh to repent or the judgement would come.  The people repented, and God averted the judgment.  The namesake of this blog, King Josiah, did the same when he heard the Law read aloud.  God listens to us, and he responds to our actions.

How do we read Scripture, though?  Some people have wildly different ideas of what the Bible means.  Look at websites like EvilBible.com and compare it to the alternative interpretations offered by Mariano Grinbank in his study of the passages used on EB.  Why is Mariano right, and EB wrong?

The answer: consistent hermeneutics.  Mariano uses them, and EB uses whatever interpretive method supports their prior conclusion that the Bible is evil.  How does one approach the Bible consistently?  Some brief points:

  1. Interpret Scripture literally, but not hyper-literally.
  2. Read Scripture in context: documentary (the surrounding paragraphs), genre (the Bible contains numerous different genres; a proverb isn’t the same as a historical book), and cultural (this requires research, humility, and empathy).
  3. Interpret unclear passages of Scripture in light of clear passages.
  4. Newer portions of Scripture supplement, or in some cases overturn, previous portions.  (This is why I confess to God and accountability partners my sins instead of slitting a bull’s throat and splattering its blood at the foot of an altar.)
  5. Do not push language meant to communicate complex, divine truths to its literal extreme (God isn’t a bricklayer per Job 38:4, nor does he have wings per Ps 17:8).
  6. Scripture is multifaceted in its application, but the truth communicated by a given passage should be understood as what the author intended to communicate to his desired audience.

For more information about prayer, check out the very thin book Sense and Nonsense About Prayer by Lehman Strauss.  One of the best volumes on the topic, with high accessibility and readability.

For an introduction to consistent hermeneutics, check out this article at your own risk; I don’t agree with the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture which the site advocates.

Remember, neglecting these two rules will cause more backsliding in your life than anything else I will say in this series.  So get to praying and reading that Bible!

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 1)

The focus of this blog has been on getting you to the point where you can intellectually accept that Jesus and God are very real, and that you can commit in good faith to a relationship without surrendering your intellectual integrity.  I’ve gotten mixed reviews on my ability to do this; people open to the possibility are generally convinced, but hardcore skeptics think I’m deluded beyond even psychiatric help.

Once you’ve actually made it to the point where you accept Christ (or rededicate your life to Christ, in the case of one recent e-mail correspondence I had), what do you do?  Well, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life worked for me.

Warren’s simple 40-day devotional gave me a great introduction into what it meas to be a Christian.  It helped turn the five New Testament purposes for a church into

Shorter and better, however, are Brownlow North’s Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  These aren’t just for young or new Christians–these will work for any Christian, no matter how far along in his or spiritual journey.

First:

Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present, and that he hears your prayers (Heb 11:6).

Short and simple, and something that I think many people forget.  Being omnipresent in our reality, God is present during your prayers and he hears your request.  This doesn’t obligate him to answer affirmatively, but he is present and he does hear you.

That’s simple, yet very deep.  Let’s just think about that for today, and I’ll have more to say on this issue tomorrow, because this rule combined with rule #2 will have a profound effect on the life of the Christian.

Jennifer Fulwiler on Bridging the Gap Between Faith and Reason

Are We Ever REALLY Neutral?

“Human beings are never neutral with regard to God. Either we worship God as Creator and Lord, or we turn away from God. Because the heart is directed either toward God or against him, theoretical thinking is never so pure or autonomous as many would like to think.”

— Ronald Nash

Practical Application of Yesterday’s Theory

Yesterday, I presented a theoretical post.  I said that the Euthyphro dilemma could be solved, as William Lane Craig observes, by the ontology of God.  God is the ultimate source of good, and therefore the dilemma creates a false dichotomy.  God neither commands something because it’s good, nor is it good because he commands it.  God is good, and therefore his commands are good since they flow from his nature.

However, I observed, this wouldn’t satisfy most skeptics because they don’t think a syllable of the Bible is either true or reliable.  Most believe that the Bible has been completely disproved by every discipline of science:

  • Paleontologists and geologists have shown that the earth is older than the Bible declares (my buddy Mike disagrees, as does this website)
  • Archeologists have shown that most of the sites mentioned in the Bible don’t exist (check out some discoveries that attest to the veracity of the Bible)
  • Historians have demonstrated serious contradictions between what the Bible claims and what is reported in other historical documents (begs the question; why couldn’t the Bible be right and the other documents wrong?)
  • Biology shows us that the Bible reports nonsense about animals; hares don’t chew cud, bats aren’t birds, humans aren’t fundamentally different and therefore not special creations of any god (the last has to do with the rejection of the soul, so I won’t give a specific defense)

And on the list goes.

Now, all of those have logical answers.  I’ve linked to what others have said (I haven’t actually addressed any of those claims in depth) if you, the skeptic, would actually care to read them.

But let’s get to a practical application of yesterday: the Resurrection.  This is the central tenet of Christianity, but if the skeptic believes that the Bible is as riddled with error as many believe (above), then how are they ever going to swallow something as improbable and unbelievable as the Resurrection?

And make no mistake: It is both unbelievable and improbable! Read the rest of this entry