God And Culture


Culture is, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, “manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned that building a world requires putting in place the bits of culture that your pretend people have constructed including language, government, schooling, religion, entertainment, art or literature, and so on.

In our western culture, there seem to be parts of what we do as a people that are held in higher esteem than other parts. I suppose that’s true in all cultures, but I’d say these are the aspects of culture we value most: celebrity, primarily gained through sports or entertainment; wealth; political power, external beauty. A distant fifth might be intellectual standing, but that certainly doesn’t overrule any of the others.

Few people who serve others in sacrificial roles get much attention at all, and little or no emulation. In times of need they might receive some measure of appreciation from those who have been helped the most, but generally our society doesn’t lift up “serving others” as a role to be admired.

All this look at culture because I think the way we determine our values is upside down. As it turns out, God says as much in Scripture:

[Jesus concluded,] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. (Luke 16:13-15, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second: what men value, God finds repulsive. Essentially, God hates what we spend most of our waking hours trying to obtain. Unless we are countercultural.

I mean, it’s possible to be a self-sacrificing servant who no one notices, no one rewards or praises. It’s possible because we wouldn’t ever hear about those people.

It’s also possible that a man like Billy Graham who refused to take any credit for what God did through him, remains humble and committed to serving God, not fame or power or wealth. But there don’t seem to be many men like him. Too often the servants become the celebrities and then the wealthy, and somewhere along the line they are no longer serving but being served.

As I’ve been reading through the gospels, I’ve noted that more than once, Jesus told some person who He’d just healed, not to tell anyone what He’d done. Why, I wondered. The best answer seems to me to be the fact that the majority of the people of His day expected the Messiah to be a political figure, a military leader, even. Jesus didn’t want people to prematurely crown Him King of the Jews until He had a chance to explain, at least to His disciples, what that actually meant.

In addition, with His growing celebrity status as a healer, Jesus had fewer opportunities to preach, less time one-on-one. He wouldn’t be able to confront people about their inner life, about their sin, their need to repent.

So, more often than not, Jesus told the newly sighted blind, the healed lame person who could now leap and dance, the cleansed leper who could move back home, to tell no one about Him.

Jesus clearly was not seeking the stuff our culture values. Fame? He tried to dodge the limelight. Political power? He wanted the opposite. Status? He washed His disciples’ feet! Wealth? What He gave had no cost attached. More than once the Apostle Paul refers to the gift or even the “free gift” of grace or of righteousness, found in Jesus (see Romans 5).

I wonder. Are we Christians countercultural, so that the people we most admire are the ones rich in grace? the ones who live righteous lives? Is that what we want in our pastors? Our best friends? Our spouses and our children?

It’s kind of hard to do. We have to understand that God values suffering, that He tells us to rejoice when we suffer for His name’s sake, that we are blessed and the glory of God rests on us. So suffering for Christ—yes. Comfort? That didn’t seem to find its way into Jesus’s lifestyle very much. He had no place to lay His head. Of course He did have a place—just not one He could call His own.

I think it’s pretty clear those first Christians were countercultural. A look at the book of Acts makes that pretty clear. But where are we in 21st century western culture> Still taking up our crosses and following Jesus? Or are we looking for our 15 minutes of fame? Our piece of the American dream?

I don’t honestly know what a countercultural lifestyle will look for anyone else. All our circumstances are different. I have to be asking these questions for myself, not for anyone else. And the Holy Spirit is prompting me through the Word of God, to ask.

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Saving Truth Blog Tour


I have the privilege of being part of the blog tour for the apologetics book Saving Truth by Abdu Murray which has been available for purchase now for one whole week. I’ve already written a number of posts based on what I was learning from the book. It’s a deep well. Hence, I’m happy to tell others about the book, to recommend it unequivocally.

Abdu Murray establishes his premise—that western culture has passed into a post-true era that essentially dismisses the question, “What is truth” in favor of the question, “What’s your opinion, based on your perceptions and feelings?”

In the opening chapters Murray does a masterful job explaining how this post-truth mindset brings on chaos and confusion. As a result, any number of “truth claims” clash. There’s no rational, logical, consistent way of looking at the world, at society. At one university campus, for example, an atheist received such a negative reaction, he was dis-invited to a particular event because he took a stand against Muslims. But at the same campus, violent protests prevented a conservative speaker from taking the podium.

I especially appreciated this perspective because I have repeatedly decried the inconsistencies that have taken hold of society. So on one hand the powers that be claim science and only science can be taught in school when addressing the origin of the universe. But on the other hand, those same powers say a person can determine his, her, its, gender identity, not based on the observable science at all but on what the individual feels like inside.

Abdu Murray sensitively addresses the issue of gender confusion in one of the chapters in Saving Truth entitled “Clarity about Sexuality, Gender, and Identity.” Interestingly, Murray expresses deep understanding for those in the throes of confusion, in part because of the identity upheaval he himself experienced as a Muslim who converted to Christianity.

Many of his remarks brought to mind Rosaria Butterfield who was an English professor steeped in feminism and the LGBT community, until she found Christ. As Murray expressed, Butterfield found the radical change from leaving one group and embracing a vastly different one, to be somewhat unsettling. I can well see why Abdu Murray’s remarks on this subject are full of compassion, while providing the clarity promised in the chapter title.

Clarity is precisely what this muddled post-truth society needs, and Murray includes other particular topics: science and faith, religious pluralism, human dignity, and freedom.

I found Murray’s remarks on the subject of freedom to be particularly enlightening. He explained that what the society based on personal perceptions and feelings is looking for is autonomy, not actual freedom. (See this post for a more complete discussion on the subject.) Autonomy, or self-rule, wants to throw off external authority in order to “have things my way.”

As I read the opening chapters of Saving Truth , I not only found clarity, but I began to wonder just what solution Murray could offer readers as we do our part to “save truth,” to reverse the trend, to restore the absolute in place of the chaos and confusion.

I’ll be honest, I should not have been looking for some human magic bullet that would sway our society away from the way of the world. I know better, but when I came to the end of the book, I felt humbled before the infinite Creator actually does know the end from the beginning and has not been caught off guard by the trends of our time.

It was a powerful ending. Clarifying, just as the chapter titles promised.

Who should read this book? I wish people who are think all religions are basically the same would read it. I wish those confused about sexual identity—their own or someone else’s—would read it. I wish those uncertain about the origins of the universe or the place humans play in the scheme of things or ones struggling against authority would read this book.

I don’t know if any of those people who desperately need the book will pick it up. Are they looking to find the answer to Saving Truth?

Perhaps just as important, and perhaps more realistic would be for Christians who want to understand these issues better, who want to know what to say to the people in their world who struggle with these ideas, to read the book, even to study it with like-minded people. I’d go so far as to say, Christians who are engaged in our culture, who take our faith seriously, well benefit in innumerable ways from reading Saving Truth.

Published in: on May 16, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

Saving Truth


As I mentioned, I’m reading a book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray. This is an advance reader copy, which allows me and others like me on the Saving Truth launch team to get the word out ahead of the release date. It’s pretty fun, actually, to see what others are saying on Twitter and Facebook. But that’s neither here nor there. The point I want to make first and foremost is that the pre-order of the book at Abdu Murray’s website provides some bonus items that are well-worth having.

This is a great book for a small group study, and one of the bonus items is a free study guide. Another is videos to use with the book, which again lends itself well to a small group study.

But I want to mention this book for a couple reasons. First, the culture of chaos which the post-truth era has ushered in could not be seen more clearly than in what is transpiring here in California.

As I noted in “California’s Latest Can Of Worms” we have the liberal left introducing a bill into the state legislature, which passed the assembly, that would seriously curtail the free speech and exercise of freedom of religion for anyone who wants to offer hope and help to someone struggling with homosexuality or even questioning their sexual identity. My intention is not to rehash that article, but I do see this bill as an example of the confusion of the age that Abdu Murray so clearly identifies and describes.

On one hand the bill wants to “preserve the rights” of those with sexual identity issues from being subjected to the kind of therapy that has been hurtful to some, though helpful for others. Trying to “change” a sexual orientation that someone “is born with” has been deemed fraudulent, and therefore advertising or promoting any such efforts is also prohibited. Of course, the other side of the coin is that such a law infringes on the freedom of speech of those who disagree, who have the witness of those who have believed the truth of God’s word and who no longer live under the repressive ideas of those who say a person can’t change once they’ve identified a same sex attraction.

As if that wasn’t enough, freedom of religion is at stake also. Various religions, notably Christians, believe that homosexuality is a sin. But to teach this principle or to write about it, or to sell books that discuss the dangers and the ways in which a person can deal with same-sex attraction would now conflict with the proposed California law, and therefore, the law would conflict with the US Constitution, specifically with the First Amendment.

In fact, as I read the chapter in Saving Truth about sexuality, gender, and identity, I had to wonder if this book will still be legal to purchase here in California, should the law pass.

Besides the way in which the California situation demonstrates the truth of Murray’s premise, I found something else really insightful in a quote in the book from Isaac Newton’s Optics.

The context is the chapter entitled “Clarity about Science and Faith.” Among other points, Murray discusses the question “Have Science and Faith Been at Odds through History?” Here’s the description of the book from the Sir Isaac Newton website:

Opticks is a book by English natural philosopher Isaac Newton that was published in English in 1704. (A scholarly Latin translation appeared in 1706.) The book analyses the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behavior of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders. It is considered one of the great works of science in history. Opticks was Newton’s second major book on physical science.

So what’s the quote that caught my attention? I had to read it a couple times to grasp what it was saying, but here it is in a nutshell. In answer to the idea that life came from chaos, he philosophizes that no development of the eye would have occurred because without the understanding of light and color, there would be no need for an eye. No ear would have come into being without first an understanding of sound and the need to receive those waves. Here’s the quote:

How came the bodies of animals to be contrived with so much art, and for what ends were their several parts?

Was the eye contrived without skill in Opticks, and the ear without knowledge of sounds?…and these things being rightly dispatch’d, does it not appear from phænomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent…?

I personally think that bit of logic is brilliant. If an organism would evolve from a simpler form for the purpose of survival, how would it know that eyes or ears would actually benefit it? There would be no reason to evolve into a sighted being or a hearing being without first an apprehension that there was something to see and something to hear! The two actually have to work together, or there has to be a transcendent Being who fits all the pieces in place.

In short, Saving Truth has helped me grapple with the present day circumstances in which I live, and it’s provided a wonderful piece of information that helps me understand God and His creation in a more complete way.

There are many other details and conclusions that Abdu Murray reaches in this book. I’ll post a more complete review of it when I finish. For now, I invite you to pre-order a copy so you can benefit from the bonus offer. Those will be good through the weekend. The book launches May 8 which is next Tuesday.

Offensive Words And Offensive Actions


When the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By pointing out the inconsistencies of belief in abortion with other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor.

Sometimes love involves a warning—the Old Testament prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in May 2013.

Autonomy VS Freedom


I’m reading a thought-provoking book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, a member of the RZIM apologetics team. He introduces his topic by discussing post-truth and the effects on society of this mindset.

The greatest effect, Mr. Murray says, is that people now believe in autonomy, not freedom. Thankfully, he took time to explain what he means. Autonomy comes from two Greek roots, one meaning self and the other meaning rule. Thus, autonomy means self-rule, or without external control.

The problem with autonomy, of course, is that my autonomy and your autonomy may collide. And then, as Mr. Murray points out, might makes right. The stronger of the two dictates to the weaker. In other words, autonomy is actually the gateway to tyranny, with anarchy a stop along the way.

Mr. Murray likened autonomy to what Israel experienced in the era of the Judges. Scripture records this statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

The result was chaos and all kinds of immoral action. People abused others and reacted in violent ways. And no one was willing to take responsibility until civil war broke out.

Freedom is very different. It’s akin to liberty or the ability to stand on your own, and “implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained” (Oxford-American Dictionary). In truth, true freedom occurs when a person is guided by moral law.

I think of the example I heard years ago when I was teaching. Some experiment was done in which children were given an open field in which to play during their recess breaks. There were no walls, no fences, but the children concentrated their play near the building. Some time later, the children were provided with a fenced area in which to play, and this time they scattered to the distant parts of the designated field.

In reality the “restriction” gave the children a sense of safety that allowed them to take off their self-restraint and enjoy the area where they’d been allowed to go. Without the boundaries, however, they created self-imposed restrictions that hampered their movement.

Of course, the experiment could have taken a different direction. The children without the boundaries could have left the school grounds. They could have run into the street. They might have vandalized homes in the vicinity. They could have harassed neighbors. They might have stayed away instead of returning to school. They could have been abducted.

The point is, their autonomy didn’t have to result in self-restraint. It could just as easily have resulted in their impinging on someone else’s rights and misusing their property, even as they put themselves at risk to be harmed, accidentally or on purpose.

Freedom is something we can all enjoy. Autonomy leads only to chaos and ultimately tyranny.

Again looking to the era of the judges in Israel’s history, when society descended into chaos, the people cried for a king. They wanted someone to impose on them the rules of law that would bring order. Of course, the result was that the entire nation was then under the rule of one man who subjected them to the laws he decided to establish or follow.

As a result the southern nation was a bit of a yo-yo. When they had a king that followed God, they returned to the sacrifices and temple worship established at their beginning. When they had a king that forsook God and worshiped idols, then they built high places and indulged in child sacrifice and temple prostitution. At one point, the Mosaic Law was not just forgotten, the scrolls that contained it were buried in the temple so that the people didn’t even know what God’s standard was.

Post-truth. They lived at the whim of whoever was on the throne.

The northern kingdom fared worse. They actually went from one coup to another as particular military men vied for control of the nation. At one point in history, one man assassinated the sitting king, but the army followed a different leader. So the one who had connived to take the throne was himself ousted.

Chaos. Tyranny. By ignoring God’s law, by choosing autocracy, they actually forfeited their freedom.

Jesus says, The Truth will set you free. Of course, He also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So Jesus is the truth. The truth sets you free. Consequently, Jesus sets you free.

Post Truth And The Confusion It Creates


Recently I heard there has been an increase in the number of people who believe in a flat earth. I didn’t think it was true until I encountered some in a writer group who were arguing for the position. Really? I was a little floored. I mean we have pictures of the round earth, and many more facts, too numerous to mention here without getting sidetracked.

I didn’t realize until just today that this kind of “belief in the face of opposing evidence” is actually on the rise. Another example: apparently there are some people who believe that the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook never happened. I don’t know what they do with the shootings since then. But apparently, the thinking goes, the government put out this fake story with fake pictures so that they can implement gun control and undermine the Second Amendment.

There’s more. Some have held to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or alternatively that the government knew about them and let them happen. As one article on these conspiracies says, “This theory was, of course, widely debunked but continues to live on” (“America’s 10 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories“).

Another ridiculous claim, but one held by a surprising number of people, is that the moon landing was faked. Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the Holocaust never happened.

The point here is that people continue to believe these things regardless of the evidence. It’s the old saying I first read back in 1967: My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts. Back then this was displayed on a card among other humorous quips. Today it more nearly reflects the thinking of a large portion of society

So in the last twelve months I’ve had discussions with people who claim Jesus never lived. This in the face of the evidence. From The Guardian: “The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings” (“What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?“).

Here’s the definitive statement that illustrates the grip post-truth has on western culture:

About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. (Ibid.; emphasis mine)

Postmodern thinking introduced the idea that truth is relative: you have your truth and I have mine. But post-truth basically says that truth is irrelevant. What counts is your perception, how you feel, want you want to believe.

The problem here is that truth does matter. Take the illustration I recently heard about a motorist who had discovered a “short cut.” Parallel to the road he was taking ran an unfinished highway. He crossed the narrow ditch between the two and made great time on the smooth road. But at one point he came upon big flashing lights that announced the road would end at the unfinished bridge ahead. Then followed a series of four signs commemorating motorists who had died THAT WEEK because they didn’t heed the warning.

They simply did not believe the experts because they didn’t want to believe. Maybe they thought the construction company was purposefully keeping the public away for greedy gain. Maybe they simply weren’t paying attention, though it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t see those huge, blinking signs. Whatever the reason, they didn’t believe the truth and it cost them their lives.

And here is Jesus, saying in His word, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” He’s the Truth. A living embodiment of what is True. Consequently, His witness about His Father is True. His statements about our spiritual condition are True.

But I have to wonder if our post-truth culture even cares. They would just as soon continue on the smooth, broad road that leads to destruction. Perhaps they love their sin too much to pay attention to Truth. But the chaos, the confusion that results from ignoring the Truth, is certain.

The Great Divide—A Reprise


As divided as the United States is politically between red states (conservative) and blue states (liberal), the great divide has nothing to do with politics. Nor is it about racial issues or gender. The thing that divides all humankind, not just Americans, is whether God is righteous or Man is righteous.

The people in the latter camp outnumber the former by a wide margin and fall into one of a number of categories. First there are the atheists who simply do not believe God exists. Consequently, by default, Man is the righteous one.

Even though there really is no choice from an atheist’s perspective, I don’t think many who hold to this position are unhappy with the idea that humans are righteous—or we might say, good. In fact, I suspect most agree with the atheists who argue that any “not good” or unrighteous behavior we observe in children, or in adults, for that matter, can be easily remedied by proper education and eventual acculturation. Good will prevail, according to this view, if given a chance.

Another sub-group in this Man-is-righteous camp consists of people who shape god into the image they want him in. These people say things like, My god wouldn’t do such a thing. They determine what they want from a god and dismiss any revelation to the contrary. Consequently they ignore large passages of the Bible which do not conform to the image they created for their god. Some dismiss the Bible altogether and simply decide without the benefit of any “restrictive” book, what they think god is like. Others mythologize the Bible and take from it principles they want their god to stand behind.

At first blush, this group may not appear to believe that Man is righteous, not God, but because Man is shaping god, any righteousness god may have is actually the righteousness of the one shaping him.

A third group most likely would claim to have little in common with the first two. These folk believe in the literal meaning and authoritative place of the Bible—so much so that they say God is required by His very words to act in a certain way. He must bless those who follow Him and curse those who turn from Him.

This is the position of Job’s friends. Here’s a sample of their conversation with the man who had lost his flocks and herds, his children, and his health:

“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
“For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
“From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
“In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
“You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
“You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
“For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
“You will know that your tent is secure,
For you will visit your abode and fear no loss.
“You will know also that your descendants will be many,
And your offspring as the grass of the earth. (Job 5:17-25)

This passage says the person who “does not despise the discipline of the Almighty” will find an end to suffering and hardship and trouble. Man simply has to do the right thing, and God will respond with unwavering provision and protection.

Another of Job’s friends, Bildad, spelled out this position clearly:

“If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate. (Job 8:5-6)

In this view (though it’s unlikely any who believe this way would word it so) Man is pulling the strings, and God is simply reacting to Man’s actions. Man is really in control, then. God is the puppet, not the sovereign, and if the puppet, not the righteous one but rather, the manipulated one. Which leaves Man as righteous, though some fall short.

In contrast to the camp that views Man as righteous and god as either nonexistent, made in the image of the ones who admit he exists, or manipulated by those who believe in Him, those on the other side of the divide accept the fact that God is righteous.

Because God is righteous, He does not lie. Consequently His self-revelation is reliable, as is what He says about the rest of creation, including humans.

In a nutshell, what He says about humans is this:
* we are made in God’s image
* we are fearfully and wonderfully made
* we are made lower than Elohim—lower than God
BUT
* we have all sinned and all fall short of the glory of God
* we are deceived in our thoughts
* we are not righteous, no not one

Here’s one passage in Scripture that declares the last of these facts:

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”
They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;
There is no one who does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there is anyone who understands,
Who seeks after God.
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps. 53:1-3)

“No one does good” does not mean there aren’t kind atheists or Hindus who work against slave trafficking or Muslims who stand against abortion. Rather, the “no one does good” aspect refers to the condition of our hearts, not the individual acts we perform. It refers to seeking God rather than turning aside.

The truth is, our hearts are bent toward self-interest, not the interest of others. We are proud, not humble; greedy, not generous; hateful, not loving; rebellious, not obedient. Those are our natural tendencies—which we may work to change, but which remain the state of our heart.

Not only do we have the numerous passages of Scripture that show us what we are, we have a world filled with evidence about mankind. Shall we consider crime or terrorism? Wars? Sex trafficking or perhaps child pornography? Prostitution? Corporate greed or government corruption? What areas of society are immune to the unrighteousness of the human heart? Are marriages free of self-interest? Are schools? The government? Churches?

Despite the evidence, the world will continue to be divided along the line of righteousness: Is Man righteous or is God? We can’t have it both ways because God has said Man is not righteous. So if God lies, He’s not righteous. It’s one or the other, Man or God. And that is the great divide.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here December, 2014.

God Loves Us Because We’re Special?


George Herbert

George Herbert


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of the Evangelical Myths series:

– – – – –

Another myth that has crept into the Church is that God loves us because we’re special.

Western culture influences the evangelical Church. One evidence of this influence is in the development of a Man-centric worldview. Humankind has grown in importance, at the expense of God.

A literature professor of mine gave a generalized view of the philosophical shift that has taken place.

For centuries the culture was God-centric, to the exclusion almost of Man’s responsibility for his sin. God was over all, created all, engineered all, and Man was little more than a puppet or, as the hymn writer said, a worm.

During the Renaissance there was a shift toward valuing Mankind in a different way—in a balanced way. Writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, and a number of others known as the Metaphysical Poets wrote of God in a more intimate, personal way, and some also wrote of their own personal experience.

Today, the pendulum has shifted further so that Humankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead or non-existent.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran addressed this topic in his article “On Worm Theology,” in which he used the term “worth theology” to describe the current thinking (emphasis in the original):

On the other hand, consider that there is a movement afoot, both in Christian and secular circles, to overemphasize Man’s inherent goodness, giftedness, esteem, and worth. This view swaps worm theology for worth theology, defining God’s redemptive actions in terms of our intrinsic goodness and worth. Rather than self-loathing, worth theology affirms our nature, destiny, and latent abilities. Of course, it can also lead to ego-stroking, gauzy positivism, and an inflated sense of self. Not to mention, denial of the concept of “sin.”

As I understand the rationale for this “worth theology,” it revolves around sentiments like “God don’t make no junk” and “if we are to love our brother as ourselves, then we first have to learn to love ourselves.” Ultimately, we must understand how worthy we are because Christ died for us. Certainly He wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t worth dying for.

Well, actually He did. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

As I understand Scripture, our great worth does, in fact, come from our creation. The “God don’t make no junk” idea is pretty accurate. We learn in Genesis 1 that all God made, including Humankind, was very good.

But if we go no further in our understanding, we are still not better than worms. What we’ve too often overlooked is that God elevated Humans in a way that forever separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: He fashioned us in His likeness and breathed His breath into us. We, then, are God’s image bearers!

He also gave us dominion over the rest of creation—not for us to despoil or waste or misuse, but to enjoy, to maintain, to care for. It’s a high and holy charge that God has not rescinded, despite what Humankind did next.

In Adam, we turned our back on God. WE created a barrier between us and God; because of OUR sin and transgressions, God has hid His face from us so that He does not hear. We marred His image in us. It is this state—the absence of the presence of God, the spoiling of the good He made—that makes us wretched.

Some of us are conscious of our state and others deny it with their every breath—still fighting God for control. We want to prove we don’t need Him, that we can do life on our own.

Denial doesn’t change things.

The insidiousness of the “worth theology” is that Christians climbs into a position of control in a similar way as those who choose to deny Him. Individuals, like finicky cats, deign to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, becomes all about our best life, our health, our wealth, our comfort and ease, our safety and welfare.

But that’s not what God intended.

Christianity is about God. That we have been created in His image is a reflection of His creative power. That He saved us is a reflection of His love and mercy. That we have the ability to walk in newness of life is a reflection of His grace and goodness.

Life, even life here and now, is not about us. It’s about God. And wonder of wonder, He turns around and includes us and blesses us and elevates us yet again.

– – – – –

    Love

    by George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

Is Self-Confidence A Good Thing?


2011_medal_ceremony

This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of a short series of “Evangelical Myths.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-confidence means “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.” Is there any conflict between that trait and what Scripture admonishes in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Clearly, self-confidence and God-confidence are two different things and they hardly seem compatible. How can a person trust God with his whole heart and trust in his own judgment?

It’s hard to let go of the idea that we are to be self-confident, though. After all, public education has spent long hours drilling into the heads of school children the need to believe in ourselves.

Could it be that all that education is paying off, to the point that Christians now consider whether or not they will do what God says or do what they think is right?

How many young people claiming the name of Christ are having sex with people they aren’t married to? Do they do this because they’re convinced the Bible has been misinterpreted all these years? Or do they do so because they are leaning on their own understanding, and their own understanding says, where’s the harm, everyone else is, it’s what I want.

Or how about the ones who have stopped going to church? Do they have an argument to give to Paul’s admonition to believers not to forsake assembling together? Most don’t. They stay home from church because they’re leaning on their own understanding which tells them if they are too tired or if church is boring or if church is all about rules or if the music at church is old-fashioned, then they don’t have to go.

The point is, our great self-confidence has given us to believe that we get to be the final say on all matters. After all, we’ve been taught to trust our judgment. So if God’s judgment is one thing and ours is another, then we’ll opt for ours.

God’s counsel is in direct opposition to this self-confidence instruction of the culture. He tells us to trust Him completely, to commit our ways to Him.

James addresses this issue. After telling his readers to submit to God, he says this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (4:13-16 – emphasis added)

Planning and living according to our own wisdom, without submitting ourselves to God, is something we do out of arrogance.

As I see it, the teaching on self-confidence has us trusting God’s gift rather than God, the Giver. It’s the same thing Solomon got caught doing. God gifted him with wisdom, and he then relied on his understanding, not on God.

Jeremiah gives this perspective:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (9:23-24 – emphasis added)

When you think about it, trusting in ourselves rather than in God makes little sense. God is all knowing; I am not. God is good; I have a sin nature. God is infallible; I make all kinds of mistakes. Need I go on?

There really is nothing about my judgment that commends it over God’s, and yet so often I confidently ignore God’s counsel and commands and do what I think best, for no other reason than that it is my judgment to do so.

The point that we miss in all this is that when I trust God and don’t lean on my own understanding, He makes my paths straight. Does that mean easy to navigate, clear, without detours or delays?

Look at what Psalm 37 says:

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (v. 5)

Do it? Do what? The very next verse explains:

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday. (v. 6)

Trusting God, then, actually enhances my judgment. I rely on Him, He shines the light on my ability. It’s the same concept Peter explained in his first letter: “Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

In short, if we’re busy exerting ourselves, exercising our self-confidence, we’ll miss the opportunity to have God exalt us instead.

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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