Countering False Assumptions


A member of the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse waits to board a UH-1Y Venom, with Joint Task Force 505, for transportation to the Villages of Chilangka and Worang, Nepal, May, 11, during Operation Sahayogi Haat. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson/Released)

I never knew there were so many false ideas out in the world until I got on the internet. I knew there were false ideas about Americans—I’ve lived in various other places such as Africa or Latin America. But the internet has shown me the false ideas about politics, and Christians, and God, and the Bible—things I was not as aware of.

According to some on the internet, of the atheist stripe, Christians have no basis for their religious beliefs other than wishful thinking. The idea is, Christianity is a myth but we refuse to accept the truth and believe anyway.

Bong! Wrong answer.

I’m not sure what this group of atheists thinks about the hundreds of thousands of theologians who study the Bible and history and archaeology and science and psychology and on and on. One possibility is they simply are unaware of the depth of scholarship, the number of universities, of books, of seminars, of debates, or of university lectures.

The other possibility, of course, is that no contradictory ideas are tolerated, no matter how studied the view. I got such a response concerning a scientist, the head of the human Genome project, who became a Christian. Gave up his atheism. But in doing so, in the eyes of some he is no longer qualified to speak.

But God’s existence is only one position targeted with false assumptions. Even within Christianity I’ve discovered there are false assumptions, such as “Christians who believe the Bible are Pharisees.” Or those who are into “easy believism” aren’t really saved. Or evangelicals are all hateful. Or fundamentalists are all judgmental.

So many of these false assumptions are so far from my personal experience, it’s really hard to understand how these exaggerated and generalized ideas came to be accepted as the true—by anybody.

Here’s one in the political realm that I’ve heard on TV not the internet, but I’m sure it is there because the sponsors of this campaign post their website. It’s a movement to impeach President Trump. Frankly, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a more rigorous and intentional attempt to remove him from the Presidency sooner, but the point for this post is that this group claims President Trump is the acknowledged “most corrupt President in history.”

I guess these people have never heard of Richard Nixon who would have been impeached and ousted from office had he not resigned. Or what about Warren Harding? One site says this about President Harding: “He loved playing poker and womanising, but was less interested in running the country. His cabinet and official appointments included a large coterie of old pals from Marion, Ohio, including several of his relatives. Many of these people made personal fortunes from taking bribes.”

Then there was James Buchanan who pulled all kinds of shenanigans that exacerbated the brewing conflict over slavery. Or how about Andrew Johnson who actually was impeached, though never convicted, because of his mismanagement of reconstruction after the Civil War which enabled the Carpetbaggers to sow havoc in the South.

I could go on, but the point for this article is how false the statement is that President Trump is the most corrupt President ever.

I guess what surprises me most about all the false assumptions is how easily a little online research can expose the false assumptions. Without half trying someone can find out that Evangelicals are not hateful but actually have been behind a host of projects and organizations that promote the welfare of peoples of all stripes, in all places.

For example, several years ago CNBC reported “The top 10 charities changing the world in 2016” which included the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (number 7), Samaritan’s Purse (number 4), MAP International (number 2).

But those are only the large international organizations that get noticed the most. There are everyday things that go on under the radar, such as the $100,000.00 raised by my church in the Thanksgiving offering that went to help those in need in our local community—with things like laptops for moms who were volunteering to replace a discontinued after-school program that helps students with their homework.

There are so many examples I could give that simply blows apart the idea that “evangelicals” are hateful and narrow-minded and bigoted and judgmental. Never mind programs for the disabled like Joni and Friends or outreaches in local universities to international students. Or inner city shelters. Or missionaries and the hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Christians who support them as they provide means for needy people to access clean water or give needed medicine or teach literacy.

I have no doubt that some people identifying as evangelical Christians are not generous. I mean, Christians are people and therefore sinners, and we are capable of falling into error ourselves. But certainly all evangelical Christians are not legalistic and bigoted and fear mongers.

So many of the false assumptions, like the “most corrupt President” line, are just completely false, but whether there is an element of truth or the idea is an out and out lie, they ought not stand unchallenged.

Of all the things that matter these days, one matters above all others: TRUTH, which, by the way, points to Jesus, since He is the way, the truth, and the life—the only Way we can come to God.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

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The Reformation And The Five Solas


I may be one of the most ignorant Christians about Church history. It simply wasn’t something I learned in my growing up years, and I actually counted Church history as one of my least favorite subjects when I was in college.

But since those days I’ve had an increasing interest in What Went On Before. Consequently I dug out my old college Church history text book and even bought (a used) copy of a book about the development of Protestantism. What have I learned?

For one thing, I learned that the Church as it went from a group of persecuted followers of Jesus to an institutional organization of power became corrupt. Enter the reformers.

Men like Martin Luther had no intention originally of doing anything but bringing much needed reform to the Church. The problems were systemic. Not only had the Church lost its first love, but it had allowed false teaching to become embedded in the fabric of the institution.

As the power of the Church expanded along with the Roman Empire, “converts” were little more than conquered people. Salvation became little more than a requirement of Rome, achieved by doing the right things or paying the right price.

In the Medieval church, salvation was seen to be dependent upon a person’s participation in the Sacraments, obedience to church law, and the accumulation of “merit,” either through good works, spiritual disciplines (such as Pilgrimage), or borrowing merit from someone with far greater merit, such as a saint. (The Five Solas Of Our Faith)

Martin Luther, a priest, knew Scripture, and he wrestled with the concept of salvation in light of what the Church required, as well as a practice started by Pope Leo in 1517 that allowed people to buy “indulgences”—essentially the “forgiveness of sins” as granted by the Church. In October, Luther wrote a paper entitled “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” which was really a point by point discussion of the practice. Here’s one example, translated into English: “Christians are to be taught that the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.” And another: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

Woven throughout Luther’s ninety-five points were five themes which have come to be known as the five solas, taken from the Latin meaning only or alone:

Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

These points of emphasis have become the backbone of Evangelical Protestantism. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that the Catholic Church would agree with three of these. The first two would likely be disputed. The third would probably be understood somewhat differently by Catholics than Protestants.

In light of the fact that this year marks the 500 year anniversary of Luther making his objections public, I thought a closer study of these points might be in order. The plan is to take one a day next week.

To wrap up this introduction, let me say that one thing is certain: what resulted from Luther’s study of Scripture and public criticism of the Church changed the religious landscape of Europe and, it could be argued, of the entire world.

Beauty And Function


LaPieta-MichelAnge_detalleFrom time to time Christian evangelicals are criticized for our view of the arts. The critics believe something that is truly artistic can exist for no other purpose than to be truthful and beautiful. A song, a poem, a painting, a novel–none of those has to serve a greater purpose than to shine as art. In contrast, Christian evangelicals always want art to be functional–especially if the function is to declare something about God.

The ironic thing is, this criticism often comes from other Christians, and the next plank in their argument is to point out that God made beautiful things in the deepest parts of space which no human eye has seen until modern science captured these glories on film. Same with things growing at the bottom of the ocean. What function does the beauty of those objects hold?

Add to that argument, the one from the Old Testament about the beauty of the objects connected with worship—the priestly garments with the gem-studded breastpiece; the ark overlaid in gold and covered by the carefully crafted mercy seat with its gold cheribium; the perfumed incense; the curtains made of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with embroidered cherubim.

God wanted all these things to be beautiful. He specifically picked out two craftsmen to “make artistic designs” though many of the objects would not be seen by the public but only by the high priest once a year.

So does beauty exist for beauty’s sake? Are evangelical Christians wrong to think art can and should do more than just be beautiful?

It’s a much more complex question than it appears on the surface. First, the “just be beautiful” argument neglects the twin arm of art–truthfulness. Real art is more than a picture of an angel of light because Satan himself walks around in that guise. He is not truthful, so regardless of his outward appearance, he is far from “art.”

If someone painted his portrait showing him as an angel of light, no matter how skillful the painting, it would still not be good art because it didn’t reveal truth.

There’s another principle to consider, though, besides the definition of art. That is the idea of an integrated life. When a person becomes a Christian, Scripture says we are made new. We have a new self. In other words, Christianity isn’t tacked on. It isn’t layered over top our existent lives. We’re not adding on a little religion like we might add on a hobby or a new friend.

Rather, Christianity gives a person a new core that ought to have radical implications all the way out to our fingertips. In other words, art is simply an extension of our Christianity in the same way that driving should be an extension of our Christianity or Facebook commenting should be an extension of our Christianity or getting our job done at work should be an extension of our Christianity.

In this view, all of life is “functional” in the sense that all of life should be a reflection of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingTim Tebow comes to mind as an example of a man who is intentional in this regard. He wants others to know that at his core is this relationship with God that changes every other aspect of who he is.

Some people hate that Tim talks about his faith so openly and so repetitively. Other people are attracted to the reality they see, whether he’s leading the Broncos to a playoff win or has been cut loose by the Patriots and is out of work.

In many respects, Tim represents Christian fiction that is overt. Reporters who interview Tim know that there will be a point where he will talk about his faith in Jesus Christ. So, too, in some Christian fiction, there will be Christianity front and center at some point in the story.

Other Christians, even those in the limelight, are less verbal about their faith. A. C. Green who played for the Lakers alongside Magic Johnson comes to mind. His faith and his moral compass were the same as Tim’s, but he didn’t use every interview to draw attention to his relationship with God.

Is A. C. Green’s life more “artistic” because it is more subtle? Is Tim’s more “artistic” because the truth is front and center?

In my way of thinking, both men are living integrated lives. Their Christianity comes out of their pores, but that doesn’t mean their lives must look exactly the same or that they handle all circumstances alike.

So, too, with art. Some beauty has a function. Male birds have more colorful plumage than their female counterparts for a functional purpose–to attract said females. The design of some animals camouflages them from predators. The sweet scent of flowers attracts insects that spread their pollen, and so on. God gave function to some beautiful things, including those Old Testament items involved in worship.

Because a piece of writing or a painting or a song carries an overt theme does not disqualify it from being artistically great. If the opposite were true, no great art existed in Europe until the twentieth century. Michelangelo wasn’t a great artist, Milton wasn’t a great writer, Handel wasn’t a great musician, Charles Wesley wasn’t a great hymn writer.

On the other hand, absence of truth does disqualify something from being great art, though not all truth is represented in any one piece of art. The function of some great art, then, is to depict something sinful–the crucifixion, Humankind’s rebellion against God or mistreatment of each other. These may have poignant beauty and gut-wrenching truth and be some of the best art of all time.

But function? As I see it, function does not qualify or disqualify a work from being artistic–and certainly not the function of declaring God’s glory or His work in the world or in the hearts of men and women. What could be a more truthful, more beautiful event than the change that takes place when “The Lord my God illumines my darkness”?

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Evangelical Myth #2 – God Loves Us Because We’re Special


George Herbert

George Herbert


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 Mankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran recently 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.

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, 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, or spirit, 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 Humankind climbs into a position of control in a similar way as we do if we choose to deny Him. Man, like a finicky cat, deigns to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, is all about our best life, our comfort, ease, our safety and welfare.

Not really.

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.

– – – – –

    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.

Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 6:26 pm  Comments Off on Evangelical Myth #2 – God Loves Us Because We’re Special  
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