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What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)

It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity.  And they are.  If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong.  Not a radical notion.

What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question?  I always get the same response from the atheist.  He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.

I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology.  Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can:  There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry

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Fascinating Phone Call on EWTN Radio

I was listening to EWTN radio this morning and I heard a fascinating phone call.  The caller asked the DJ (maybe the guest, I tuned in and only heard this call) why he needed to receive a sacrament of Penance before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.

I was floored, to say the least.

Catholic theology teaches that the sacraments are containers of God’s grace.  When you receive a sacrament, you are essentially taking an outpouring of God’s grace.  The sacrament of Confirmation, however, is more than that.

In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends upon you, and bestows his gifts chosen for you to be a faithful worker in God’s kingdom.  Though it isn’t strictly necessary, biblically speaking, I think it is an excellent idea to invite the Spirit to take residence in a clean temple.

I stole that from the DJ or guest, because I liked it.

Now, why didn’t the caller already know that?  You think he would.  I knew the answer right away.  True, I was raised Catholic, but it wasn’t on my Catholic upbringing that I drew for the answer.  Consider the words of Paul regarding the receiving of the Supper:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)

I should think that anytime we receive a measure of grace from God, we ought to do such a self-examination.  Just because grace is an unmerited favor that God shares with us, we still ought to accept it reverently and with as clean a heart as we are capable of.  Never should we just take it lightly, or we are taking judgment on ourselves.

For the Catholic, that means confession to a priest, and completing a penance for absolution.  That is so small considering the gift of the Holy Spirit that is about to fill you; greater peace and grace isn’t possible here on earth.

But, is this only a Catholic problem?  Nope.  The whole church, Catholic and Protestant, has done an awful job of educating people of the first step of the gospel of our Lord–that we are sinners in need of a Savior.  The world teaches us that we are basically good; we are evolving toward something greater.  Our evolution is merely incomplete, so it’s not our fault when we behave like roughians.

I blame the world for teaching that.  I blame the caller for buying into it, and not submitting to the teaching of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is one example among many of how far we as Christians have to go to get the gospel message out to a world that needs it now more than ever.

Do I Only Have to Reject One More God to be an Atheist?

There is one particular atheist argument that I hear quite regularly that inspires within me a desire to smack the smug person who says it right in the back of the head, as though he were Tony DiNozzo and I were Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

The argument runs a bit like this:

You are an atheist to thousands of gods.  I’m only an atheist to one more god than you are.

The speaker is acting as if I only have to take one small step and I’ll be free of this Vulcan mind-meld of Christianity and I can live my life like a “normal” person.  But atheism isn’t just lacking belief in one less god than the Christian.  Atheism is lacking a belief in any sort of deity.  In other words, atheism is rejecting the Divine.  Let’s explore that for a moment, because it is far deeper than rejecting “just another god.” Read the rest of this entry

More on PrayerMarket.com

In a previous post, I spoke of a new website called PrayerMarket.com in which users traded prayers for reward money. Basically, I thought the whole idea was reprehensible. I’m not alone; other bloggers who were directly contacted by the site’s founder have pretty much agreed with that sentiment:

The first two are Catholic websites and both used a term that’s new to me, but the concept it describes isn’t. The word is simony: the act of exchanging money for spiritual goods. The origin of the story is Simon the Sorcerer, which is described in Acts 8:9-25. The crux of the sin is found in verses 18-19:

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Offering money to obtain the gifts of God, rightfully obtained solely by God’s grace is not a sign of a penitent heart. The apostle Peter told Simon that his heart wasn’t right before God, and commanded the sorcerer to repent (verse 21-22).

Someone suggested Steve Colbert do a story on it. Not a bad suggestion; there is much to be mocked.

John Wilson, founder of the site, has agreed to an interview with me. I will reprint the interview below in Q&A format, with some further comments from me. Read the rest of this entry

Wit and Wisdom of Facebook

For some reason, one of my Facebook friends inspires quite a few blog entries. So I would like to send a shout out to Domonique–thanks for staying my friend even though we don’t work together anymore. I swear I’ve been getting half my material from your posts recently.

The chatter on Domonique’s recent status update gives us some insight as to why many people refuse to bow the knee to our Lord.

I used to work with Domonique, so I’m confident that she’s a Christian and the deeper meaning I’m drawing from this doesn’t apply specifically to her.

I have no idea what Domonique’s friend Taylor’s religious leanings are. There is nothing on her Facebook profile to suggest that she’s a Christian, but nothing that would suggest she isn’t. No Atheist As or links to anti-Christian/anti-Bible propaganda sites.

The conversation is typical for young, single women. Domonique is moaning that all the good men seem to elude her, and Taylor agrees. Taylor also says that even good men lie to their women. Then Domonique makes the following comment:

I know, i wish i could marry jesus.

To which Taylor replies:

Jesus had a big beard. I do not find big beards very attractive. perhaps if he were to shave i would be happy 🙂

I don’t know if the insight I’m about to offer from this applies to Taylor or not. This insight is meant generally, and I’m not directing it to Taylor personally. Taylor, if you’re reading this and I come off as though I’m personally attacking you, please forgive me because that isn’t my intent! But if you see yourself in this as a Christian and can profit from it, then please consider it a gentle rebuke from a brother in Christ.

Taylor’s comment is interesting in that it reflects the typical desire that underlies most attacks on prayer and original sin. Here, Taylor wants Jesus to change something about himself in order to make him more palatable to her.

The reality, for the Christian, is that we (as humans) are repugnant to God. We must realize this as a prerequisite for saving faith. Once that realization is made and we receive Christ in faith, then begins the long process of sanctification: making ourselves more palatable to God. Taylor (and most skeptics that I’ve dealt with) reverse the formula. Reversing the formula is idolatry.

Again, this isn’t meant as a personal attack on Taylor, and if it was perceived as such then I apologize. I only meant to convey an important insight.

For more information on just how repugnant we humans are to God, please see my essay on total depravity.

Dave Armstrong vs. the Atheists

Dave Armstrong is a braver man than I: he attended a “secular Bible study” in his native Detroit in order to answer questions about the Christian (in Dave’s case, Roman Catholic) position on Scripture. In all, 16 atheists attended to ask Dave questions.

Dave was fortunate to get a good group. They were open to dialog. Not like the group of militant anti-Christian atheists that populate the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees discussion board. (That was a waste of my time; why did I even sign up and post at all?) The majority of Internet atheists are the militant variety who refuse to listen to any Christian response to their nonsense.

Dave had a few great insights into the atheist mindset that are worth a short discussion. First:

DagoodS asked the group (17 including myself) how many believed that miracles occur. I was the only one to raise my hand. Then he asked how many believed that miracles might possibly occur. Jon raised his hand, and possibly one other. Only one or two even allowed the bare possibility. This exactly illustrated the point I was to make.

DagoodS was saying that it is more difficult to believe an extraordinary miracle or event than to believe in one that is more commonplace. True enough as far as it goes. But I said (paraphrasing), “you don’t believe that any miracles are possible, not even this book raising itself an inch off the table, so it is pointless for you to say that it is hard to believe in a great miracle, when in fact you don’t believe in any miracles whatsoever.” No response. . . .

This being the case, for an atheist (ostensibly with an “open mind”) to examine evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is almost a farcical enterprise from the start (at least from a Christian perspective) because they commence the analysis with the extremely hostile presuppositions of: (1) No miracles can occur in the nature of things; (2) #1 logically follows because, of course, under fundamental atheist presuppositions, there is no God to perform any miracle; (3) The New Testament documents are fundamentally untrustworthy and historically suspect, having been written by gullible, partisan Christians; particularly because, for most facts presented therein, there is not (leaving aside archaeological evidences) written secular corroborating evidence. Read the rest of this entry

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part II

In my previous post, I took a peek at six of the twelve points that the Resurgence cites as ways to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. Unfortunately, I’m guilty on some points. Let’s look at the final six.

Hell is real, but don’t let that concern you or your hearers and readers. It’s more important to have a good theology of evangelism than to actually tell others about Jesus, his cross, and his resurrection.

Actually, I think that it is more important to talk about the cross and the Resurrection than it is to mention hell. I don’t think that hell is really the best way to evangelize. It shouldn’t be avoided completely, but neither should it be over-stressed.

People just aren’t comfortable with a judging God. Most likely because people know, at the core, that they have sinned and are under condemnation. Instead of browbeating them with that, let’s focus on what God has done through Christ.

But we’d just be unkind if we didn’t talk about hell at all. People also need to understand the consequences of their choices.

Talk about technique a lot, because techniques are concrete. Miracles like regeneration, God turning haters into lovers, and the fruit of the Spirit are too abstract to be helpful.

Here we see Christianity capitulating to culture. Scientism seems to be creeping its way into the popular culture. People are believing the lie that they can only know what they can touch, taste, smell, or see.

Scientism is a philosophy, not a scientific conclusion. Since philosophies can’t be proven, only believed, scientism refutes itself. If you believe scientism, you’re already being inconsistent.

Everyone believes something on the basis of pragmatism alone, in the absence of empirical evidence. Everyone. Our minds are capable of knowing and understanding things in the abstract, without requiring evidence of their existence.

That means that speaking of love, hate, or the fruits of the Spirit are helpful. Speaking on technique is good, too, but sometimes it is necessary to speak of the abstract.

Guilt is a great motivator. Use it wisely.

I think we all know someone who falls into this category. I’ll move on.

In their sanctification, people should fake it till they make it. Tell them how.

Believing something on the basis of pragmatism is vital to constructing a coherent worldview. Obviously, you can’t see some of the abstractions that underlie your philosophies. If you hold to a theistic worldview, where the material plane is a battlefield for angels and demons influencing the minds and hearts of humans, you can’t see the immaterial beings nor can you see the deity, so pragmatism comes to the forefront in determining the rationality of your suppositions.

But pragmatism is not a good measure of the effectiveness of the gospel, nor is sanctification ever going to work if you fake it until you make it.

The New Testament consistently refers to the church as “the Bride of Christ.” In marriage, you are giving yourself wholly and completely to your spouse; that goes for husbands as well as wives. It is expected that you will put your bride first in all your considerations. Everything should change, and this is meant to be a permanent change.

So it should be in giving yourself to Christ. It should bring wholehearted change into your life. You won’t be the same person afterwords. The Bible declares the faithful a new creation. Just telling people to “fake it until you make it” doesn’t do justice to the gospel, and it trivializes Christ’s promises to make you whole.

Be condescending. Make sure your theology is un-gracious in content and tone.

Yeah, I know, this is my deepest sin in writing this blog. Anyone who wants to throw it in my face, go ahead. Search some past posts. I’m sure you can find plenty of examples of me being ungracious to commenters. But I’m going to really try to move past it, and give my apologetic answers with gentleness and reverence. No more sarcastic bite.

People really want Good Advice instead of Good News, so be a people-pleaser and only give lots of advice.

Yes, Joel Osteen, we are looking at you!

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part I

The folks over at the Resurgence have a great article on how to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. They’ve itemized twelve errors, some of which I’ve fallen into. Let’s take a look at the first six.

Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.

It’s nice that they’ve started off with something that I, too, have railed against. It’s fairly common among skeptics (and far too many Christians!) to get really bent out shape when we mention God’s Law. Most of the resistance comes when we talk about punishment (hell is discussed later in this list). But the revulsion is inevitably there.

We can’t let that deter us.

It’s really important that our hearers understand both law and grace. The Law exists, and we ignore it at our peril. Both Paul and Peter charge us to act like we’re called by God to do great things! Simultaneously, we have to understand that the great things we’re called to do do not add anything to our salvation. We do them because they are the moral thing to do, and acting in accordance with our new, heavenly nature brings glory to God.

Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them.

I’ve probably fallen into this trap. I tend to mention “God” without actually defining that concept in a particularly trinitarian fashion. God isn’t a nebulous concept, but a personal being with whom we can have a real, dynamic, give-and-take relationship with. I should mention the relationship of the divine Persons more often so that readers get a better grasp on who’s who in the Trinity.

“The Little Engine That Could” should be the foundation of your theology.

Another one that I’ve railed against: you can’t possibly read the Bible and come away with the understanding that you can do it on your own, if you only think positively! The Bible wants us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

This is Word-Faith theology, or Name-It-and-Claim-It. If you believe enough in yourself, anything is possible! Makes a great self-help book, but it isn’t biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.

Orthodoxy (right belief) is very important. Orthopraxy (right practice) is also very important. But a balance must exist. Only Jesus can save you.

If you think that God saves only those who remain faithful to the end of their days under their own power and who do their own good works, you have Pelagianism: salvation by works.

This is related to the next error, which leans on orthodoxy to save you.

Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.

Yeah, I’ve done this. A lot. I resisted Calvinism at first because I thought that Calvinists were intellectual snubs. Then I realized the biblical truth of Calvinism, and became a passionate Calvinist–and an intellectual snub!

The rub of it is that I should consider myself a Christian first, and a Calvinist second (if at all). I was saved from the moment that I professed faith in Jesus for my salvation, and renounced the use of my own faculties to obtain God’s favor. I didn’t become “more saved” the day I read Chosen by God and realized the Sproul was conveying the absolute biblical truth.

A Christian relies only on Jesus for salvation, and seeks a cooperative sanctification by God in order to become like Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

If a person believes that only the Calvinist is saved because he properly understands predestination as an unconditional choosing of God’s people by God for God, then you have gnosticism: salvation by secret knowledge.

All denominations (including we Calvinists) seem to lean to far one way or the other. Orthodoxy is important. So is orthopraxy. But they are designed to compliment each other, not to compete with each other. Striking a balance is important to the life of the Christian.

Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.

Now this is an error that I fall into quite often. I tend to propose most of my own philosophies on this blog, and back them up by using relevant Scripture passages. Never do I exegete a passage from the text.

I’ve been considering for a while doing just that. From time to time, maybe each Sunday, selecting a passage of text from Scripture and actually run through it verse-by-verse and expound on the deep, spiritual meanings of it. Kind of like a written sermon.

I could even “preach through” an entire book, section by section, each Sunday. That would help me understand it better, and it would definitely give my unbelieving readers a more through understanding of Scripture.

So far, it looks like I commit as many errors as I rail against. So I’m coming out nearly 50-50 after six. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the remaining six, and I’m hoping that I do better!

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

Image via Wikipedia

Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:

We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural.  So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!)  I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up.  I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.

I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.

What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

Image via Wikipedia

There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.

The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.

The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:

We will use the first point of Calvinism to  illustrate the point:  “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to.  We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love.  Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.

First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:

  • And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
  • The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
  • Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)

The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).

While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.

Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.

A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.

Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.

The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).

Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).

Object Lesson in Why Some Hate Calvinism, part II

Mike from the blog Finding Bliss has objected to Calvinism. He says, “I find it spiritually abusive,” calls it “reckless [sic] doctrine”

In my previous post, I showed that Mike isn’t objecting to Calvinism proper. In that vein, I will answer some of the objections he then comes up with in the latter section of his post, most of which can be defused by appealing to what Calvinism actually teaches, not what Mike thinks it teaches. First objection:

How many nights have people laid awake at night questioning whether or not God chose them first? Or if like me you first believed and then you fell then that could very well mean that I was never truly saved in the first place. Read the rest of this entry