The Addiction Of Freedom

Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”


So noted Pastor Tim Keller in a 1997 article in Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.”

Interestingly, Pastor Keller identified a shift in attitude regarding freedom in the postmodern era akin to the attitude C. S. Lewis ascribed to those destined for hell in his classic work The Great Divorce.

The attitude is one that puts freedom above all else.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’s bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness.

I couldn’t help but think of atheist Christopher Hitchens and his dread of “celestial tyranny.” How sad that he did not realize the tyranny of his own desires. Unfortunately, he was not so different from the majority of people in western culture.

Freedom, we cry, let us voice our opinions, choose our own path, chart our own life. So we legalize abortion and a good deal of pornography. We outlaw spanking and prayer from school and tell parents Johnny needs medication, not discipline.

And then we wonder why children no longer respect authority, why tolerance is the end-all of our society, why child abuse is on the rise, and human trafficking is rampant, why greed runs Wall Street and corruption keeps cropping up in Washington, or City Hall.

Somehow we’ve missed the connection points. Freedom, when it becomes more important than salvation, enslaves just like any other idol. Freedom to pursue sex without consequences makes a person addicted to lust. Freedom to pursue wealth without restrain makes a person addicted to greed. Freedom to pursue unbridled power over others makes a person addicted to bullying and manipulation.

If we would open our eyes, we would see the trap to which the pursuit of freedom can lead. It held Christopher Hitchens tightly in its jaws. No one, most certainly not God, was going to tell him what to do with his life, not even in the last hours of his life. Why?

Because he wanted to enjoy humanity.

Sadly, he’s chained himself to the ephemeral rather than to the eternal. For, yes, the option to unbridled freedom is also slavery.

But what a difference. Rather than slavery to that which would destroy, becoming a bond-slave of Jesus Christ is freeing. Ironic, isn’t it. Freedom that leads to slavery, and slavery that leads to freedom.

What a contradiction, but that’s in line with what we learn from Jesus. If we lose our lives, we’ll find them. If we are last, then we’ll be first. If we become His slaves, He’ll set us free. Then, and only then, will we be free indeed.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

Christians, Evangelicals, And Jesus Followers

Westboro_Baptist Church protestersOn the internet I’ve had conversations with someone who claims to be an agnostic Christian, another person who said he might be nicer than God, others who say they believe the Bible but not the facts revealed in the Bible—only the intent behind the words (or something like that).

The point is, not everyone who claims the name of Christ believes what Christians have believed from the earliest years. A recent study noted in Christianity Today (CT) illustrates this point. Ligonier Ministries (R. C. Sproul) and Lifeway Research partnered to discover what Christians believe.

The survey quantified fundamental beliefs that have been key doctrines adhered to by two millennia of orthodox Christianity.

The results reflect what the observant believer already knows … error abounds. As false teaching gains footholds and favor, as churches forsake sound doctrine to instead scratch itching ears, the prevalence of error will continue to grow. (“The 2016 State Of Theology Survey“)

Error does abound. According to CT thirty-nine percent or more of the people in the survey, who also said they strongly agreed the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only be removed by Jesus’s death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior also agreed with the following statements:

  • Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature (54%)
  • My good deeds help to earn my place in heaven (39%)
  • Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God (71%)
  • God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (48%)

Things are even more complicated now that evangelicals are in the political spotlight. Some Christians say evangelicals need to explain ourselves for “getting Donald Trump elected.”

Most recently, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne wrote that “The Evangelicalism Of Old White Men Is Dead.” Instead our “Jesus-centered faith needs a new name.”

Apparently a Jesus-centered faith, rather than seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture, ignores most of the Bible, favoring the “red letter” parts—the words Jesus spoke which the gospels record.

I’ve tried to explain more than once that “Christians” aren’t always Christians. For instance, the Westboro Baptists clearly identified as Christians, but they spewed hateful things that in no way showed an ounce of understanding of what Jesus taught. There was no offer of grace, no mention of forgiveness, not any love for their neighbor, let alone their enemy, of whom they perceived to have many.

Others claiming the name Christian who go to church regularly, distance themselves from anyone who takes Christianity too seriously. You’re not one of those Christians, I was once asked.

Another group of “progressive Christians” want to update the faith. So they believe the Bible, but they also believe it contains a number of myths, and they clearly don’t know or understand what it says (see the point above about Jesus being created).

So there are legalists. There are cultural Christians. There are people who believe false teaching.

I’ve called these people “pretend Christians” because they claim the name, but they don’t believe what Christians believe. Some believe some things—those evangelicals who answered the survey agreed that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus as Savior. But are they referring to the Jesus they think God created? And what did He save them from if men are basically good? Do we actually need to be saved or do we need to simply try harder?

The thing is, none of this scrambled, confusing mashup of insincere people flying under God’s banner along side sincere followers of Jesus, is new. From the beginning, Enoch, who walked with God, lived even as “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Later Israel included people who obeyed the Law and those who challenged it, those who loved God and those who clung to their household idols.

Jesus helped to make some sense out of the confusion when he explained to his disciples the parable of the sower.

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)

So some people appear to accept the word, but their belief is superficial or is crowded out by things they care about more. They present as Christians. And they likely claim to be Christians. But they aren’t producing fruit.

Jesus gave another illustration to help sort out the Christ-follower claims, this one found in John 10:11-15.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

One day this confusion will all be sorted out. And that’s the shepherd’s job. He knows His sheep. Our job is not to try to separate the sheep that belong in the fold from those who don’t. Our job simply is to say, Here’s the good Shepherd. Listen to Him.

Harry, Harry, Harry

With the final Harry Potter movie at last in theaters, much talk has once again turned to how the stories about a boy wizard should be understood. Apparently there is a die-hard group clinging to the claim that the Potter books represent a threat.

It seems there are two main criticisms. One claims that these stories about wizards advance the cause of the occult. A second claims that Harry behaves in such unrighteous ways, and receives the approbation of his elders in doing so, that he is no role model for young people.

I’d like to consider each of these more closely. Does Harry Potter advance the cause of the occult? I’m no expert on the occult and have no desire to become one, but I do know that the description of sorcery and witchery in the Bible is not in Harry Potter.

In the imaginative books, wizards have power but must learn to use it and control it (hence the school for witchcraft and wizardry). What is it the young people learn? How to fly their brooms, how to make their magic wands do what they want them to do, how to mix potions for desired magical transformations, and how to defend themselves against evil spells.

The students are not taught how to bring up the dead or how to acquire more power from a spirit.

As it turned out, the more the accusations were leveled at author J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, the more Christian leaders spoke up to say the idea was false that the books advocated the kind of sorcery the Bible condemned.

Ted Olsen, Christianity Today‘s online and opinion editor, put together an Opinion Roundup on the subject.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends “develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world.” Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. … [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” [emphasis mine]

Even a less than supportive review in World magazine drew the same conclusion as Colson did:

Still, [World] magazine notes that Rowling’s witchcraft bears little resemblance to modern wicca. “A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil.”

Interestingly, Rowling herself weighed in on the controversy:

In a quote from a CNN interview: “I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’ They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either.”

Certainly there are pastors and others in Christendom who have spoken out against the Harry Potter books — I heard of another just last week. However, I have yet to hear anyone explain how books written as pretend, with no connection to genuine occult activity, still manage to teach the unsuspecting about the sorcery condemned by the Bible.

That logic is inescapably bad. I can only surmise that someone holding this view cares little for the actual meaning of words or the context in which they appear. Or that they have not read Harry’s story and have closed their ears to all reason.

I’ll look at the second major objection to Harry another day.

Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 3

As a reminder, I’m responding to a September 2009 article in Christianity Today, “Reveling in the Mystery” by D. H. Williams. Relying on a little-known book by Gregory of Nyssa, Professor Williams paints a speculative view of growth in the Christian life while embracing the distance between creature and Creator as something that does not need to be “overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle.”

Using Moses’s journey to the top of Mount Sinai as a model, Professor Williams identifies three stages of growth, the last being entrance into darkness. What follows next is … disturbing on many levels. Perhaps the best way to expose the error is to begin by quoting a paragraph from the article that explains the heart of the matter:

Here is where Gregory of Nyssa makes his most noteworthy contribution to Christian theology: that the Christian life must first be defined by seeking God without end, and “that true satisfaction of the soul’s desire consists in constantly going on with this quest and never ceasing in the ascent to God.” This is a joyful conclusion, since it ensures that one can always progress in holiness because spiritual progress is one of infinite growth. For the Platonist, all change is regarded as a defect or loss; in Gregory’s system, the process of changing may be redeemed by perpetual growth in the good. It is this sort of movement that describes our transformation “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV). However much the Christian is transformed into the likeness of God, God remains ever beyond, so that the soul must always push forward in anticipation in this life and in the one to come.

I’ll take the problems one point at a time.

1. Seeking God without end is contradictory to Scripture, starting with Matthew 7:7 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (emphasis mine). Here’s the crucial point, I believe: We can know God because He has revealed Himself.

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8b-11, emphasis mine).

2. The idea that “ascent to God” is something I accomplish belittles Christ’s work. It is Christ’s righteousness that reconciles me to God. My sanctification is a growth process, but not all up to me. Here’s the key point: We can be like Him only because He conforms us to His son.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:28)

3. Professor Williams assumes something about “traditional” understanding of Scripture that is not true. He implies that a view other than what he is presenting is based on Platonist thinking in which “all change is regarded as a defect or loss.” Certainly this view does not square with Scripture, nor does it square with the Protestant evangelical doctrine with which I’m familiar.

However, “growth in the good” implies something within the individual as opposed to the conformity to the image of the Son which God brings about as He works all things in a person’s life to that end.

4. The never-ending push up after an unattainable God seems to me to be a quest for that which God has put off limits. He is transcendent. He is beyond. Yet He has chosen through Jesus to show us Himself. Should I then be dissatisfied with looking at Jesus to pursue further understanding, deeper knowledge? This seems to me akin to Satan’s thirst to be like God.

5. All this striving after God supposedly happens in darkness. From Professor Williams’s article: “In fact, the closer that God comes to the soul, the more intense the darkness becomes.” His idea is that the darkness blocks out things that distract us from God. But how contrary this is to Scripture in which Jesus says He is the Light of the world.

God reveals Himself as a Consuming Fire in the Old Testament, and in Revelations He says there will be no need for the sun and moon because He will be the light.

John says in his first epistle, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:6-7).

God is not in the darkness. Earlier in his gospel, John says men love darkness because their deeds are evil. Darkness is the place where God is not. Whoever someone finds in the darkness, I suggest he is not God but a pretender, one who wishes to be like God.

God is found in the Light—that of His Son and that of His Word (“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105.) Reaching some kind of spiritual ascension in darkness is speculation at best and diabolical at worst.

Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 2

Yesterday I started a response to a Christianity Today article by D. H. Williams entitled “Reveling in the Mystery.” My first concern was that Professor Williams declares God a mystery though He makes it clear in Scripture He wants to be known.

I didn’t elaborate on this point as much as I should have perhaps. From the beginning, God talked and walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. In their sinless state, they seemed to have no trouble communicating with their Creator. Even after their sin, they are the ones who hid while God is the One who sought them out.

That latter is a metaphor for the rest of history. Yet Professor Williams and others of like thinking conclude God is the mystery, rather than that our sin obscures Him from our understanding.

The second point I discussed was Professor William’s idea that the distance between us and God should not be seen as a problem to our spiritual growth. Again, in pointing out what Scripture says about God’s people drawing near to Him, I neglected an important part of the equation.

Right after James gives the command for believers to draw near to God, he wrote that we are to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. In essence, he is providing us with the means by which we draw near to God. By dealing with sin in action and intent we are approaching God because the barrier to our fellowship with Him has been removed.

This brings me to the point where I left off yesterday. Professor Williams spends most of the rest of the article walking through a book by Gregory of Nyssa entitled The Life of Moses. The idea espoused here is that we grow by emulating “great holy men in the Old Testament and in the Christian past.”

Certainly the history of Old Testament figures is to be part of the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction Scripture gives. But what Gregory, and Williams in his summation, is saying is built on speculation and imagination, not fact.

The two writers take Moses’s life and claim he grew spiritually (“from an Egyptian secular ruler to God’s exemplar of virtue”) in three phases—in the light, in clouds, and in darkness. Gregory claims that Moses was “mystically transformed into the likeness of God” atop Mount Sinai. (Never mind that he later sinned and receive censure from the Promised Land as a result).

Supposedly Moses’s “ascent to God” came first in light. This is a purification stage which Professor Williams links with the beatitude in Matthew “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

I have no problem with this idea, especially because it aligns with what James says. I do question the idea that Moses achieved some kind of purification on his way up the mountain. After all, he’d already had his burning bush experience, and God had used him to bring about the miraculous salvation of His people from slavery, all the while communicating with him closely.

But on to Professor Williams/Gregory’s next stage. Here Moses supposedly moved into the cloud, blocking out all else so that he could “look withing” where he found “the image of God and thereby a knowledge of God. But we must not confuse this knowledge of God with knowledge of God as he is. There is only an awareness of God’s presence.”

Did I mention speculation and imagination earlier? What Scripture would lead someone to think this was Moses’s experience? I see none.

Stage three seems worse, however. Now, according to Professor Williams/Gregory Moses entered darkness and saw God in it. “When Moses climbed higher and became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.” And later, “This darkness expresses that the divine nature remains inaccessible because God is infinite.”

Setting aside the unfounded assumption that Moses “was becoming more perfected,” I can agree that, yes, God is infinite. However, Moses’s encounter with God was not with some inaccessible being. At this time God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel. I’m not sure Moses was even at the top of the mountain at this point since the people were begging him to intercede for them and speak for God because what they were experiencing was too terrible. Check out Exodus 19 and 20 for yourself.

In light of this context, how can we conclude that God is beyond knowing? Yet this is precisely what Professor Williams says: “It should be obvious, then, that no finite mind can plumb the depths of God.”

Well, true enough, but cannot a finite mind grasp what the infinite has deigned to tell of Himself?

There’s more. I’ll aim to wrap this up tomorrow.

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm  Comments Off on Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 2  
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Draw Near to God … for What End?

I thought I was done with my posts about emerging thinkers and false teachers, at least for a while, but then a friend of mine passed along an old edition of Christianity Today. In that September 2009 issue was an article entitled “Reveling in the Mystery,” by D. H. Williams.

“Mystery” happens to be one of the things the people who engage in the “emerging conversation” believe (though they also refute the idea that they hold to any set of prescribed tenets.) Interestingly, last October I wrote an article entitled “Transcendence vs. Mystery” to examine some of the emerging ideas about the mystery of God. As I look at it now, I realize I missed some of the main points.

It’s clear to me after reading the CT article that emergent thinkers would have no trouble embracing the transcendence of God. However, in examining Scripture Professor Williams takes the word “mystery” in a verse like I Timothy 3:16 along with the ideas of “ancient writers” like Ambrose of Milan and Gregory of Nyssa, and reaches the conclusion that “God himself is mystery.”

It’s ironic that he uses the scripture he does (especially considering what follows about deceitful spirits):

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron …

– I Tim. 3:16-4:2 (emphasis mine)

Rather than expounding on the mystery of God, verse 16 seems to be declaring the revelation of God. (This is not uncommon throughout the New Testament. See for example Eph. 3:8-9: “To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” [emphasis mine]).

Nevertheless, having reached the conclusion that God is mystery, Professor Williams gives the heart of his premise:

The distance between creature and Creator is not something to be overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle to growth in the Christian life.

I had to do a double-take and read that line over. As I understand Scripture, the “distance between creature and Creator” is most definitely something to overcome or remove. Except we can’t, try as we will.

The point and purpose of the Incarnation was to remove the distance sin had created. (A passage like Psalm 66:18 shows the effect sin has on our relationship with God: “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear”).

Of equal importance, Scripture is filled from beginning to end with references about God’s people drawing near to Him: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a).

Like so much false teaching, this concept of the mystery of God is not undiluted error. There is a measure of truth.

While God isn’t unknown because Jesus showed us the Father, we have the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives within each believer, we still look through a darkened glass.

In addition, God is greater than we can grasp. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts, not our thoughts. He is higher than we, without need of our counsel or, for that matter, anything we can give to Him. In other words, He is transcendent.

Rather than making God more inaccessible, however, His transcendence coupled with His incarnation and work of redemption, demonstrate His great love and grace: “Although [Christ Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:6-8.

The God of the universe, Highest of the high, stooped to save me! While He has no need of it, He most definitely wants relationship with those He created in His likeness.

Which leads to the next troubling aspect of Professor Williams’s article. But I’ll have to save that for next time.

– – –

Other passages of Scripture about drawing near to God include the following: Deut. 4:7; II Chron. 15:2; Psalm 34:18, 119:151, 145:18; Lam. 3:57; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7; Heb. 4:16, 7:19, 7:25, 10:1, 10:25.

More on Avatar

After posting yesterday, I did more reading. One writer, Ross Douthat, published a piece in the NY Times op-ed section, “Heaven and Nature,” that raised some rebuttal.

The article I read answering Douthat, “The Meaning of Avatar: Everything is God (A Response to Ross Douthat and other naysayers of ‘pantheism’)” by Jay Michaelson in the Huffington Post spells out the beliefs propagated by Avatar and connects them to ancient religions.

While Michaelson is obviously a proponent of these beliefs, his article removes the gloss from the movie so we can peer beyond the imaginative to the metaphysical.

This is what Christians should be doing!

Instead of thinking and studying to find out what the movie is actually saying, many seem content to watch Solomon build his high places for his foreign wives.

This is not OK! Christians need to recognize error from truth, no matter how much or little artistry clothes it. Christians need to say to their friends and children that the message of Avatar is opposed to the message of the Bible. The two beliefs cannot coexist.

Am I saying Christians should not see the movie? Far from it! We should see it and realize that the religion espoused by the Na’vi is the religion espoused by influential people in our culture, especially in the movie industry.

But here’s what at least one voice in the Christian community is saying:

Douthat goes on to call the film “a long apologia for pantheism” that merely reflects the results found in a recent Pew Forum report — that “many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the ‘spiritual energy’ of trees and mountains.”

Hmm, interesting observations, and quite possibly on target. But I simply say, relax. Avatar isn’t forcing anything down anyone’s throat, no more than any other movie — and less so than many agenda-driven films made by Christians — with a message. It’s a fantasy film about an alien planet.

Can’t we all just chill out and enjoy the cinematic ride? I haven’t hugged any trees since seeing Avatar — though they sure are beautiful outside my window right now with today’s fresh snowfall — and I can’t wait to see it again.
Avatar and the Gospel According to James,” by Mark Moring, in Christianity Today Movies & TV Blog

This latter view is what I feared. Christians above all others are not to preach—so say Christians as well as others in our society!

If nothing changed in Avatar except that the Na’vi called their god “Jesus,” I believe there would be a controversy swirling around the movie, the likes we haven’t seen since The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Avatar preaches! It preaches a religion, it preaches a political and social ideology, and Moring has the audacity to say it’s OK because it doesn’t force anything down anyone’s throat. Is that because Cameron didn’t ask for decisions at the end?

I’m sorry, but I don’t see how honest critics can know what the movie was about—and Moring apparently hasn’t missed the pointed message because he says he believes Douthat is probably right in his claims—and still think it isn’t poison.


From time to time we have poisonous things in our houses, but we also clearly mark them with the symbol for poison. Poison is only dangerous for improper use if it is easily accessible and unmarked. However, if it is served in a beautiful goblet, flooded by a sweet smelling wine, it may not be detected at all. In such an instance poison becomes deadly.

Shouldn’t we who know there’s poison in the glass be shouting at the tops of our lungs?

For more discussion on Avatar and Christianity see “Why Christians Aren’t Up In Arms About Avatar”.

Christianity Today Weighs In on Science Fiction

ct-lghomeThanks to an email group I’m a member of, I found an incredible article in Christianity Today entitled “Sci-Fi’s Brave New World”.

The essence of the article is that science fiction is a central component of pop culture and as such has played a much larger part in forming religious attitudes than most of us are aware. The following quote from the fine article written by James A. Herrick (Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs , InterVarsity Press, 2008 ) gives you the essential thrust:

But we must be clear: Arguments against Christianity and in support of rival worldviews now arrive daily as embedded components of visual and written fiction. Pop-culture fiction, not academic nonfiction, is now the cutting edge of public discourse on spirituality.

The thing I like best is Dr. Herrick’s call to action. What should be the church’s response? That’s a question I think that is overdue. Interestingly, the first point in his suggestions is a diligent exercise of discernment. Regular readers here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction know that I’m doing a standing ovation with that one. 😀

Next Dr. Herrick suggests we need to give an answer—form an apologetic, if I understand his point. And finally we need to

attend more diligently to the presentation of her true myth in public settings.

His closing line says that we need to adhere to the one and only true myth (a term he uses as C.S. Lewis did), that is God’s Story.

Good, good stuff. I encourage you to read the entire article.

But my question is, What place does fiction have in the response to this infusion of errant thinking into our society through pop culture?

As you would expect, I think it should play a big part. People love stories. Why, then, don’t we Christians tell stories infused with truth? Stories that pose the science fiction questions. Or fantasies that reveal who Good is.

Stories have been forming our culture for a long, long time. It’s not good enough for Christians to be reactionary and give a Christian version of Twilight or a Christian version of the Matrix or a Christian version of Heroes. We need to be visionary. We need to write the Next Great Thing, infused with truth. That’s the apologetic that everyday people will hear. That’s the greatest response we can give.

The Evanelical Manifesto – Part 1

Discussion is heating up about the recently released Evangelical Manifesto, a document put together by a number of, uh, Evangelical leaders, I suppose. I don’t recognize all the names listed on the list Steering Committee. Notably absent were scholars from some of the more prominent seminaries. Notably present were people connected with Christianity Today.

Interestingly, one key motivation behind this manifesto seems to be the idea that the term “evangelical” has been hijacked. The people constructing the manifesto then are aiming to clarify the definition.

Why interesting? Because I’ve said much the same thing about the word Christian. So here’s my first reaction to the Evangelical Manifesto. Why put forth all this effort to redefine a term that is nowhere in the Bible used to identify followers of Jesus? The tag, and others like it—Protestant for instance, and denominational names—have been created by people to label differences. All the while, the label that should identify our unity—Christian—has been left to absorb whomsoever wishes, illustrated most recently by the effort of Mormons to be included as just another Christian denomination.

The result of this neglect to redefine Christian is serious, I believe. An effort was made perhaps thirty years ago to clarify rather than redefine the term, so people began speaking about being “born-again Christians.” One commenter noted that the phrase is actually redundant—like saying, I’m a Christian Christian. But it would seem such a clarification is needed because so many people who don’t share a Biblical worldview were nevertheless riding the coattail of the term.

I guess I’ve given a second reaction to the Evangelical Manifesto—surprise at those included and those not included in writing such a serious document. How can this treatise be take seriously if the main players proclaiming Evangelical theology are left out of the process?

A third reaction. I understand the desire to distance Christianity from extremist groups. I hate the fact that there are undoubtedly numbers of non-Christians watching the news about the fundamentalist, polygamist Mormon sect, and those non-Christians think this is another arm of Christianity. Or they hear health and wealth preaching and label all Christians as pie-in-the-sky, greedy fools. Or they hear about child-abusing or sexually deviant pastors or priests, and they brand all Christians as hypocrites. In light of this mischaracterization, I think the Steering Committee behind the Evangelical Manifesto is trying to do something helpful. If nothing else, they are drawing attention to the fact that we are not all alike.

What I don’t understand is the need to divide evangelicals from other Christians. As the Manifesto itself points out, there are many points of denominational difference among evangelicals, but there are key points of agreement. Isn’t that true of all Christians? And here, I am using the term Christians in its restrictive sense, the way I defined it in my recent post on Christian Worldview:

But the key is, those externals don’t define me as a Christian. My relationship with God does—a relationship I enjoy solely because Jesus Christ willingly took my just due, swapping in His righteousness instead.

That’s who any Christian is, and it colors how we see Truth.

The fact is, some “Christian” churches no longer believe in the atoning death of Jesus because they no longer believe Mankind is under judgment due to original sin. Instead, Jesus is someone to copy because of his teaching, his exemplary life, his inspiring acts of kindness. Hogwash.

I’m not saying Jesus’s life was not exemplary or his teaching truth-filled, but these are not the things that set Him apart from Gandhi or Confucius or the Dalai Lama.

As far as I’m concerned, before we have any need whatsoever to redefine “evangelical,” we must first reclaim Christian—the word the Bible uses to identify believers, saints, individual members of the body of Christ.

CSFF Blog Tour – Auralia’s Colors, Day 1

When I get an advance copy of a book, I tend to read and review as soon as possible. After all, I think the reason publishers send those books out is so that we can start talking about them and generate some buzz. If I sit on my review until … well, a scheduled blog tour, I’m not doing the author any favor and, in my view, am breaking trust with the publisher.

The dilemma I’m faced with then is, What do I say about the book during the blog tour? I’m referring specifically to Auralia’s Colors, Jeffrey Overstreet‘s debut fantasy novel for adults.

I suppose the place to start is to point readers to my review, posted at Speculative Faith last October. The short version of it is, I highly recommended the book. In fact I classified it as an important book, though I did not personally love it, primarily because I did not love any of the characters.

And still, I called it important. I think, my evaluation of the book today would not only reiterate that view but expand upon it. Why important?

For one thing, I think Auralia’s Colors is a departure from much Christian fantasy. It is not allegorical, though symbolic, and it is not overtly Christian, though containing redemptive elements.

In addition, Mr. Overstreet has given some attention to language, and the result is a work leaning toward literary fiction. The pace of the novel is markedly different from, say, Robin Parrish‘s superhero, high action fantasy Relentless. This fact also is important, in my view, because it expands the Christian fantasy genre.

No more can people pigeonhole Christian fantasy, though some still try. Recently in an interview with Christianity Today, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer said

you couldn’t write Narnia today and have it accepted by the evangelical world because [of the magic] and because in its metaphor, it effectively has a non-Christian worldview.

Now, if we go to another fantasy world, we need to find Jesus there—literally. That is why the Harry Potter books are viewed to be straight from the pit. Even if Rowling says she’s enjoying [employing?] Christian themes, forget it. How do you write a Christian fantasy today? I have no idea. I don’t know that you can. I think we’ve killed it.

I think Auralia’s Colors is the perfect counterpoint to that argument. (For more on this discussion, see my Speculative Faith post on the topic.)

Certainly this novel does not have Jesus there, literally. And as I already pointed out, it is not allegorical, though certainly there are some apparent symbols, color being a primary one.

Auralia’s Colors does one other thing, which I think is especially significant. It is not a children’s book. I don’t know for certain how publisher WaterBrook is marketing the novel, but without a doubt, it is an adult book. Sure, young adults may read it, because clearly fantasy crosses age barriers like few other genres. But that fantasy must be written first and foremost for children is a myth (the old fashioned kind, not the myth of C. S. Lewis).

Here’s a novel, very different from Sharon Hinck‘s adult The Sword of Lyric series, very different from Karen Hancock‘s adult Guardian King Series, written with a sophistication and style that will appeal most to adults. It’s an important addition to Christian fantasy.

Take time to see what others on the blog tour are saying: