Thursday, June 30, 2011

Liberal Christianity Is Anti-Intellectual

Imagine that your friend Tom ran up to you and frantically blustered out, "Mike said that an angel revealed to him the date of the apocalypse - we have to leave the country and form a colony in the middle of the Pacific. It's our only hope!" You might dismiss the comment out of hand, for no particular reason other than that it sounds unlikely. But that's not a good reason to dismiss it. Let's say you go to question Mike, and you ask "Why the Pacific?" Mike confidently tells you that there's a mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and that if we all climb to the top of that mountain we'll be spared from the apocalypse (presumably a flood) and live. So you threaten to kill him, stabbing him through the shoulder once to show him you're serious. He still won't recant - he believes what he's saying is true. You still won't follow Mike because you've checked Google Maps and there is no mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

You go back to Tom and tell him everything. Tom looks at you kind of condescendingly and says, "______, you're too much of a literalist. I know Mike is wrong about the mountain in the middle of the Pacific, but I believe him on spiritual matters." Mike is dangerously wrong, and Tom is an idiot. Why? And what does this have to do with Liberal Christianity?

Why Tom Is Like Liberal Christianity
In the example, you can't check whether the apocalypse is coming, but you can double-check whether Mike is really trustworthy on the subject. But if Mike fails on the things that you can prove (or disprove, as in this case with the mountain in the Pacific), Tom is a fool for trusting Mike on the things that can't be proven (like the apocalypse or the angel). Tom is anti-intellectual; he chooses to keep believing when he has no reason to do so. Tom even admits that Mike is wrong about basic facts, and he still won't give up following Mike.

Liberal Christianity is just about as dumb and anti-intellectual as Tom. It really believes that the Bible has failed on the factual stuff (historical details, science, failing the test of non-contradiction), and it still says incredibly laughable things like "We still believe the Bible on spiritual matters." That's crazy. Why would you believe a book on an unprovable subject when it has supposedly failed every test that can be thrown at it? Liberal Christianity thinks it's enlightened because it's kept the beliefs, and thrown out all of that small-minded literalist stuff. But it has no reason to hold to Christian beliefs, any more than you or I have reason to believe in fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (followers of whom declare themselves to have been "touched by His noodly appendage"). They believe a book which they also believe has been disproven on every other issue. With that kind of standard, next they'll be drawing their beliefs about Jesus from Tom Harpur's thoroughly debunked book Pagan Christianity (woops, some non-Christians already do).

Plenty of Reasons to Believe the Bible

That said, there are plenty of reasons to believe in the Bible. Liberal Christians think that the Bible contradicts itself, but I'm addicted to reason and even I haven't found a contradiction that holds. Liberals think that the Bible doesn't fit with historical knowledge, but archaeological finds overturn that opinion every other year. The accepted dates for Biblical writings just keep getting earlier and earlier. The writers of the New Testament believed their message so much that they died for it. Not only that, but no one even contradicted their facts until hundreds of years later. I can't double check what the Bible says about the Trinity, or salvation, or angels and the apocalypse, but I can check what it says about other things. And if it fails to prove that it's trustworthy, if the writers fail to prove they were trustworthy, then you and I have no reason to be Christians. There is no such thing an intelligent, non-literalist, I-believe-the-Bible-only-on-spiritual-matters Liberal Christian faith. The only intelligent faith options are literalist, Bible-believing Christianity, or agnosticism.

Not Heaping Scorn On Liberal Christians

My hope? Not to heap scorn upon liberal believers, but to show them that their position doesn't work. I've been reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and all I keep thinking is, "Wow. That's a really good argument against non-literalist Christians." Dawkins is right. The kind of faith that some Christians -liberal Christians- hold to is no more believable than trusting in Wotan or the tooth fairy. If the Bible contains errors, contradicts itself, and isn't historically trustworthy, then it can't be trustworthy on spiritual matters either. Ditching the Bible and holding to the faith isn't really a well thought-out, intelligent option.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christians Lie to Make Converts

What makes something ethical? Some people think that actions in themselves are good or bad no matter what (deontologist), and others believe that it really depends on the situation and whatever results in the greater good (utilitarian). Take abortion for example: Lots of Christians are deontologists who argue -passionately, and I think rightly- that abortion is always wrong because a human life is at stake. Most non-Christian feminists seem to be utilitarian, countering that abortion doesn't harm society at large and that it results in greater freedom for our culture, and especially women as a whole. One has a strict moral code that cannot be transgressed; the other shrugs their shoulders and mumbles that the ends justify the means.

And this brings us to the all-too-common phenomenon of Christians lying and manipulating to make converts - it's classic "Ends justify the means," utilitarian behavior, totally inconsistent with the way Christians approach the abortion debate. We see this kind of thing in every lazy apologist who lies rather than doing the proper research that they should be doing, in every camp speaker who has ever capitalized on the emotional vulnerabilities of children, and in Christian missionaries who withhold food from the hungry until they can extract a confession of faith.

A Stroll Down Imagination Lane

Okay, let's stop for a second. Let's imagine that you believe people can choose whether or not they want to follow God (the term for this is Arminianism). You also believe in Hell, a place of ongoing torture which lasts forever, and you believe that everyone who chooses not to follow God ends up going there, and you don't want that for anybody! Right? So, maybe, if you have to lie and manipulate to get someone to accept Jesus, that's just what you'll have to do. Sure it goes against your moral code, but it ends up serving the greater good. The ends justify the means. Maybe you hope that by the time your manipulation has worn off, or the lie has been found out, that person will have found some more solid reasons to believe in Christianity. So you go ahead and lie to the poor sap and exploit his need for friendship, and by the end of the month, he's a baptized member of your adult Bible study.

Deceit, Inconsistency, and Arminianism

These kinds of things happen all the time. A Christian council in Geneva recently had to issue a ruling against this sort of behavior, according to The National Post:

"A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths... It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon 'inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means', saying that such behaviour 'betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others'. Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches."

The truth is, this is one of the practical problems with the belief that people can choose to follow God (Arminianism). If people were free to choose, and deceit could get them to that point (and out of danger of Hell), it would be difficult to say no to indulging a couple of well-meaning fabrications every now and then. The ethical situation would be a jumbled mess of deontologist values and utilitarian pragmatism. On the other hand, the Bible says that no one can come to Jesus unless God makes them do so (John 6.44), and thankfully, the Reformed Christian belief that God chooses to make some people Christians (Predestination) rescues us from having to be a religion of dishonest, shifty religious hucksters. It shows us that it's useless to lie to people to make converts anyways, because God is the one who does the real work of bringing people to faith. The truth is Christians do lie to make converts. The more comforting truth is that, if we understood conversion better, we wouldn't have to. Practically, Arminianism not only has some Biblical holes but creates some ethical ones as well, with the confusion over whether or not it's okay to cut ethical corners in sharing our faith. But I'm thankful that, also practically, the Calvinist belief in Predestination helps keep things ethically together. If you have ever had a Christian try to manipulate you into belief, then I apologize. If you are one of those Christians, then knock it off.



*I need to include a note here, just in case there are people who aren't Christians reading this: Ahem. God doesn't have to change you because you're unable to follow Him (in which case you'd be faultless); He has to change you because you're unwilling to follow Him (which means you're not faultless, though Jesus does offer the way to forgiveness). This isn't meant to sound accusatory because we're all in the same boat: it wasn't too long ago that I was mocking God and writing "Jesus was the Antichrist" on my school binder, so I feel where you're probably coming from. Hopefully you at least appreciate my honesty.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What They're Saying 06.23.11

Christianity Today writer Michael McGowan on existential reasons for faith; by the way, I totally squirmed right before McGowan wrote 'some Christian apologists will squirm.'

"Some of these existential needs are self-directed, and some are directed toward others. For example, we need to love and be loved; to do good things and delight in the goodness of others; to feel cosmic security and expand the realm of justice; to receive forgiveness when we lose our way and admire those who tread morally praiseworthy paths; to absorb the beauty of nature and connect with those we love. We need to feel like our lives have meaning here and now, but we also need the hope of living beyond the grave. And we need to know that in heaven we'll finally be free from this life's problems. What Williams calls the existential argument claims that belief in God is justified because it satisfies these needs. At this point, some Christian apologists will squirm. For them, reason is the best way to justify belief in God. Emotions are fickle and unpredictable. They can blind us to the truth or disrupt our commitment to our deepest values. But Williams doesn't abdicate reason altogether. After all, he teaches philosophy at Trinity College (in Deerfield, Illinois)."

Gayle Trotter at Evangel asks, "Can Buddhists Teach Christians?"

"The most fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that Christianity orients the entire search for wisdom toward a God who creates the universe, who gives the very active existence. There is nothing in Buddhism that exactly corresponds to that belief in God as creator of the universe. I heard the Dalai Lama say once he could believe in God as infinite love, but he could not believe in God as creator. This is a very important, fundamental difference that shapes all of the words that we use in the dialogue between Buddhists and Christians. Having said that, there are similarities in that the Buddha is looking to an underlying pattern in life experience, and there is certainly a similarity between that and the ancient Israelites’ search for wisdom in everyday life which then continues through the New Testament into the early church."

John Piper thinks we should watch a video of a Christian being beheaded

"World Magazine received a two-minute video of Islamic militants beheading a man for becoming a Christian. The article is called “Brutal Beheading”. I hope many of you read it. Why? Because we can’t get into the reality of most of the Bible without some real emotional connection with terror. Every book of the New Testament has terror in it, somethinglike a beheading. The situation in the first century, when these books were written, was more like Afghanistan than America. Without the help of horrific news we will likely romanticize the New Testament."

3 Statements from Tim Challies on assurance of salvation

"Today I would like to make 3 statements about a subject that is always relevant to Christians: assurance of salvation. This is an area of great confusion for many believers and an area that can lead to great discouragement. I am going to make 3 statements about assurance and then, Lord willing, follow up tomorrow with a word about the true basis for assurance. (1) It is possible and even normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation; (2) It is possible and even normal for the non-Christian to experience false assurance of salvation; (3) It is possible and even normal for Christians to have doubts about their salvation."

Mark Driscoll, meditating on a first-century tax collecter by the name of Zacchaeus, writes about rediscovering restitution

"Penance is the false teaching that you need to pay God and others back so that you can be forgiven. Restitution has nothing to do with forgiveness in the sight of God. Rather, Zacchaeus practiced restitution as evidence that he’d received God’s forgiveness. Restitution is making right to those that you’ve sinned against as a response to the work of Jesus in your life. It’s not penance. It’s justice. And it’s the duty of every Christian."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Imago Dei: Made to Reflect God's Character

In Genesis 1.27 we are told that out of all of creation, "God made man in His own image." That is a great honor! But this can also be very confusing. What does it even mean to be created in God's image? Does that mean we look like Him? Ephesians 4.24 gives us more information here: the divine image is something that is inside of us, and has to do with qualities like "true righteousness and holiness." We don't look like God, but we do reflect His nature and His character to the world around us; we are His ambassadors. If you want to know what it looks like to live out this doctrine, Ephesians 4.24-5.2 shows us: because we are made in God's image, we, unlike nature, get to represent God's truthfulness (put away all falsehood), his righteous anger (be angry and do not sin), his love for grace and building up rather than crass talk and tearing others down (let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths) and his absolute kindness and forgiveness towards us (be kind to one another... forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you).

Summary & Further Reading

Read Ephesians 4.24-5.1, and go further than that if you like. This passage shows us what the "Image of God" lifestyle looks like, and teaches us about what God is like in the process.

We were made to reflect God's nature to the world;

Our lifestyle is the representation of His character.

What They're Saying 06.22.11

Tabletalk interviews Peter Hitchens, the Christian brother of well-known Atheist Christopher Hitchens

"PETER: Atheism has dozens of failed arguments. The ones I felt qualified to deal with were these: that religion, and specifically Christianity, is a major cause of conflict; that an effective moral code can exist without a belief in the eternal; and my brother’s claim that the Soviet regime was religious in character."

True Woman blogger Karen Waddles has been writing a series on objections to the gender roles (specifically, submission). Read the whole series: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

"Prior to getting married, we decided that we would build our marriage and family based on the principles of the Bible. So, of course, I went to God’s Word to find support for my position. Surely, God didn’t expect me to belittle my intelligence by submitting to a man! As I was confronted with the concepts of headship, submission, and biblical roles for marriage, I came to an awakening; a realization of how radically different God’s ways and thoughts are than ours. They are so far beyond our capacity to understand, that unless He reveals them to us, they cannot be known. My heart overflowed in appreciation for God’s desire to make His will known to His children. Along with this awakening came a sense of brokenness; the hardness that was part and parcel of my radical stance had to be reckoned with."

On a related note, Jennifer Smidt at The Resurgence writes "An Excellent Wife Is Forged, Not Found"

"A godly wife understands that she is nothing outside of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and has no excellence apart from Him. Christ’s grace and love are precious to her. Fueled by his riches, she will become a glorious crown to her husband as she helps, nurtures and loves him from the depths of Christ’s righteousness in her. It takes a 10 minute ceremony to become a wife. It takes a lifetime to become an excellent wife."

Stuart Dauerman does not believe that the Church replaces Israel's relationship with God. Messianic Jews and Christians are 'one' - but not the same.

"The One New Man is an Inconvenient Truth because it reminds us that God intends that Jewish Yeshua believers live in the context of Jewish life and community, integrated with the Jewish world rather than being assimilated into the Gentile or Church worlds. Although in some cases due to factors such as intermarriage, this priority cannot and even should not be honored, nevertheless that would be an exception to the rule which affirms that those who call themselves Jews should be living communally Jewish Torah observant lives. This comes as an inconvenience to most of us who have accommodated ourselves to secularism or to other ecclesial contexts."

John Starke has some advice for slow readers (like me!)

While this isn't an article about doctrine or defending the faith, it is kind of related; if we want to know more about either topic, we need to READ, don't we? Of course! So if you're a slow reader like I am, hopefully this article will give you some encouragement. Some of us read everything quickly and memorize everything as soon as we've gone over it once. The rest of us need strategies to get our reading done - so here are some strategies which might be helpful to you. -SEAN

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Imago Dei Series (Take 2)

For the next few days, I will be writing about the doctrine of Imago Dei (we were made in God's image and likeness - Gen. 1.26). Mostly, I'll be focusing on how this doctrine works out practically as a way of life, how it gives us a framework for understanding the reason behind Christian views of sexuality, marriage roles, ethics, and prayer. Here's an initial thought to get you started, and then we'll dive in tomorrow: the Imago Dei is what God made us for; it's our purpose for existing, it's what we've fallen from as a race of people, it's what we return to once Jesus has saved us, and it's why God chooses to do much of His work through us. It is sort of all-encompassing. Hopefully by the end of this series you'll be able to explain why Christians do all of the things we do, and you'll see ethical commands in the Bible as something more than a list of "do's" and "don'ts." In the meantime, check out my (unfinished) series on the Imago Dei. Also, take a look at the full text of Ephesians 4.23-5.2 - pay special attention to the therefore's!

Full Text of Ephesians 4.22-5.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One-Shot Prophet

"It's not his fault that his prophecy didn't come true; he just misunderstood what he heard from the Lord. People are allowed to be wrong sometimes, aren't they?" Having gone to mostly Pentecostal churches since getting saved, I have heard this line of reasoning over, and over, and over. Some preacher or leader would speak 'a word' over somebody's life, and it wouldn't come to pass. Then they would make the same mistake the next time. Then again. And who know how many times after that? And this line of reasoning is widespread! - when failed (false) prophet Harold Camping predicted the end of the world on May 21st, 2011, lots of people cited Matthew 24.36 as a reason for not believing him, but few if any cited Deuteronomy 18.22 and connected it with Camping's failed prophecy in 1994. That Old Testament passage says,
"When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him."
Deuteronomy 18.22 on Failed Prophecies and False Prophets
Read this passage with me: First, if a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh and that prophecy does not come true, then we do not need to be afraid of that prophet or honor him. When do you and I stop fearing or honoring the failed prophet? After his failed prophecy. The clear meaning of this passage is that if a prophet fails, we should never listen to him again. (The immediate context is more harsh; if a prophet speaks a word that turns out not to have come from Yahweh, the Israelis were supposed to stone that prophet to death.)

New Testament Prophets Are Different - Aren't They?
There is no evidence that says prophets today should be held to a different standard than prophets in Old Testament times. There is no passage, for example, where Peter, Paul, or John write to the churches saying,you know what? Sometimes legitimate prophets make mistakes. God's just into making faulty prophets now - so give the guy a break.

Some people think that Old Testament prophets couldn't make mistakes because God had them write books of the Bible, and that -supposedly- was the only reason for these kinds of requirements. But, (1) Deut. 18.22 applies to all prophets, and not every prophet in the Old Testament wrote books of the Bible: Gad (1 Samuel 22.5), Nathan (2 Samuel 7.2), Ahijah (1 Kings 11.29), Jehu (1 Kings 16.7), and Elijah (1 Kings 18.36) are all Old Testament prophets who never wrote books of the Bible; (2) At least one New Testament prophet wrote a book of the Bible as well - John the Apostle (or John the Elder), who wrote Revelation.

Last Argument (For Now): God Does Not Change
There is no denying that something special happened on Pentecost. Even though the disciples had already been given the Spirit before then (John 20.21-23), the gifts of the Spirit came on that day in a greater degree than ever before. The proportion of people who received gifts of the Spirit (entire churches) and the variety of those gifts (healing, tongues, prophecy, etc.) was greater than ever before. The Spirit was definitely with the New Testament Church in a bigger way than He had ever been with Old Testament Israel.

But in the midst of all this excitement, God did not change. As Christians, we're supposed to believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8), right? So God did not change. He did not decide one day to start giving the Church faulty prophets, who could not figure out the difference between His voice and their own imaginations. He did not stop being angry with so-called prophets who speak in His name out of their own imaginations (Jeremiah 23.16; Jeremiah 23.19). He did not stop commanding that His people refuse to listen to failed prophets - in fact, there is no New Testament passage that says we should listen to them.

The Line In the Sand
Look, if you or a someone you respect thinks that they hear prophetic words from the Lord, I don't doubt your sincerity. But I have to listen to what the Bible says, not you, and if you have failed in even one prophetic utterance, then the Bible says that you are wrong to call yourself a prophet. It says that God does not speak through you. It says that I should not listen to you. It says that you are dishonoring God by speaking, in His name, out of your own imagination. That's what it says.

God has not changed and started to give us faulty prophets; New Testament prophets are not demonstrably different than Old Testament ones; the Bible places a high standard on those who claim the prophetic gift, and nowhere does it go back on that standard.

If you are following someone who does not fit the Biblical requirement for a prophet, get out of that situation before things go bad. If you fit the Biblical definition of a false, failed prophet, and you're just realizing it now, repent publicly and do not claim to prophesy again; ask God's forgiveness and shut down your public ministry until you get your head straight.

This is a serious issue.


*The title picture is of public figure and Christian television personality Pat Robertson, who wrongly predicted that the world would end in 1982. He still claims to receive prophetic words from God.