Atheist Arguments: What About Evil?


Christianity and atheism, which of necessity requires belief in evolution, are two contrasting worldviews, not only because they have opposing views about God but also because they have opposing views about humankind. While the focus of discussions and debates often concentrates on the existence of God, it is the view of humankind that leaves atheists with an unanswerable question.

There are two specific ways that Christians and atheists view humankind differently. First, Christians believe that humans are unique from animals because we have an eternal soul. Atheists believe instead in the “common descent” principle:

In evolutionary biology, a group of organisms have common descent if they have a common ancestor. “There is strong quantitative support, by a formal test”[1] for the theory that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.[2]

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of universal common descent through an evolutionary process in On the Origin of Species, saying, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one”.[3]

Second, Christians believe humans, though created in God’s image, have a fallen, or sinful, nature passed down through Adam who turned his back on God when he intentionally disobeyed Him. The only way to change society is to point individuals to Jesus Christ who provides a way of escape from sin, guilt, the law, and death.

Atheists, on the other hand, believe humans are morally neutral at worst and might even be considered “good” by virtue of the fact that what exists has survived.

Right and wrong, good and evil, then, according to this view, are not existent apart from the perception of a group or community. Hence, homosexuality is wrong until the group determines it is right.

Infants come into the world as blank slates or even as good slates and only turn toward evil if they are influenced by societal patterns (racism, for example) or errant views (such as religion). The way to change society is simply to re-educate people.

One atheist puts it this way:

So if we are determined, then how do we define evil? If our minds come from our brains, and our brain circuitry is out of our control, then is anyone responsible for anything – no matter how courageous, no matter how innovative, no matter how good or evil, that the person is? (“An atheist’s view of evil”—link no longer available.)

Another atheist discussing evil concludes with this:

For atheists, a better explanation for the presence of evil in the world is that God does not exist. (“Atheism”).

A number of others discuss evil only as an argument against the existence of God. But here’s the question that atheists can’t seem to answer: where did evil come from? If life has a common descent, if we’re born with no natural bent toward evil, what injected evil into the equation?

Seemingly, the atheist scenario is one that would seem to result in utopia: humans, evolved from a common and not evil descent, growing toward their full potential without any negative force to intercede.

Except for society. Which teaches gender differences and racism and encourages belief in mythical gods which motivate people groups to hate.

But in truth, society is nothing more than people interacting with one another. So how and why did humans start acting in hateful ways toward people who were different from them? Why did the strong decide to take from the weak instead of using their strength for the greater good?

In other words, where did evil come from?

This is the atheist’s unanswerable question, not the Christian’s.

As I mentioned, a number of professing atheists lay evil at the feet of God, then declare that its existence proves He couldn’t possibly exist: that he doesn’t eradicate evil shows either that he’s too weak to do so (and therefore, not God) or too evil himself or too undiscerning to know evil from good (and therefore not God).

The argument, of course, ignores what God Himself has to say about evil and its existence. But more so, it offers no alternative, no explanation for the virulent presence of evil in the world.

In fact, some atheists deny the existence of evil:

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that evil doesn’t actually exist. In his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life Dawkins writes: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (David Robinson, “The problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than Christians,” Christianity Today)

Of course such a view collapses the argument that evil disproves the existence of God, because something that does not exist cannot itself be used to disprove anything. So either evil exists, or it doesn’t. And if it exists, but there is no God, then where did it come from? How did it come to be included in this mix of materialism?

Actually the atheist I quoted above, was on the right track. Evil comes from the absence of God. He does exist, but He doesn’t force Himself on our lives. Humankind, having chosen to leave God out, now experiences the world with the absence-of-God component a reality.

This post, second in the Atheist Arguments series, is a revised version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

Advertisements

Be Holy Because God Is Holy


One of the early surprises I received when I first stepped into the world of the Internet was that not all people who identified themselves as Christians believed what I believed. Oh, I knew there were differences, one denomination to another. I knew there were liberals and there were conservatives. But I thought people who believed the Bible would have a shared understanding, more or less.

I suppose that’s true. The Bible does seem to be a line of demarcation. But apparently so is holiness.

As I’ve shared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in a previous discussion about holiness, before I started blogging, I joined a writing discussion board. At one point I brought up the topic of holiness, with the intent of discussing how a writer can show the holiness side of edgy. Instead I got an inordinate amount of discussion about legalism. Legalism!

Color me still surprised. Legalism has as much to do with holiness as prostitution does.

How is it that a Christian can mistake a works theology for holiness?

Judaism is based on works. Keep the law, observe the holy days, offer the sacrifices. Do, do, do.

Hinduism is based on works. Everything is geared toward doing better in order to move up the reincarnation chain into a better life.

Islam is based on works. Much like Judaism, Islamic law is the guide for daily living, and failure has consequences here and in the after life.

Buddhism is based on works. Walking the path of ethical conduct, wisdom, and discipline is the way to freedom from suffering—nirvana.

Christianity on the other hand declares rather boldly, all our works get us nothing. We can’t do enough or be enough. We can’t be the kind of person we should, we can’t think pure enough thoughts or purge our desires of self. In short, we aren‘t holy and we can’t be holy by our human efforts.

Legalism, then, is antithetical to Christianity.

And yet 1 Peter 1:15-16 says,

Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

A couple things stand out to me. In the same way that God is love, He is holy. How have we lost sight of that, I wonder. So often we hear pastors giving as the rationale for a person to love the unlovely, the fact that God is love and we are to be like Him. But where do we hear the sermons about not lying to our kids or not stealing from our employer?

Enough, we say. That borders on works and we are all about grace.

Salvation is by grace, certainly. Except we are to grow up in respect to salvation (see 1 Peter 2:1-5).

Life in Christ is life—it starts with a new birth but does not end there. We are then to grow, and we do so by feeding on the word of God.

Ironically, there are some people who believe holiness is conferred instantaneously upon a Christian and that the sure sign a person is in the family of God is that he no longer sins. I say “ironically” because this belief seems to bring us right back to legalism.

A person can proudly congratulate himself that he has not sinned for years and years, missing the fact that his prideful attitude is in fact a sin.

Such a “holiness” doctrine seems to stifle all chance for growth as completely as someone who thinks all holiness is tantamount to legalism.

The bottom line is that we are commanded to be holy. That’s the second thing that stands out to me in the passage from 1 Peter 1. It’s not just an Old Testament thing that Christians can ignore.

At the same time, reality and Scripture tell us we cannot be holy. Only Christ lived a holy life. So what we who have newness of life are to do is to be imitators of Him, submit to God’s work of remolding us into the image of His Son, feed on the pure milk of the Word. And grow.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2012.

The Christian Distinctive—A Reprise


When I read Kay Marshall Strom‘s Blessings of India books (The Faith of Ashish and The Hope of Shridula—see review here), what struck me so forcefully was the legalism of Hinduism. India of the 1940s was a society centered on the caste system and karma. Every social strata bowed to or benefited from the laws and traditions. They commanded attitudes toward children, gender, work, neighbors, food, and these all played out in prescribed actions.

Legalism, of course, was (and for those who are Orthodox, still is) endemic in the Jewish religion. Jesus constantly chastised the Pharisees for “straining at gnats but swallowing camels”–that is, they paid such close attention to the minutia of Jewish law and tradition that they missed the main things God asked of them–their commitment to Him and compassion for one another.

Consequently, when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, the Pharisees criticized Him for breaking the Sabbath.

Jesus answered the charge by turning it back on them: To keep the Law, you all bypass compassion. He went to the Law itself to illustrate what He was saying, then pointed out how they treated their animals with more regard than they did hapless people who suffered from severe maladies for years and years.

Hindus and Jews aren’t the only ones who place a premium on obeying religious laws. Systemic to Buddhism is its path to liberation which includes following ethical precepts–not just by doing good deeds, but by doing them with pure intention.

Confucianism is another religious teaching that puts its followers on a path of doing:

Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. (from “Confucianism”emphasis mine)

Islam is another religion based on law.

Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are basic concepts and obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, providing guidance on multifarious topics from banking and welfare, to warfare and the environment. (from “Islam”)

All this law! No wonder a good number of people opt out of religion. They see the lists of do, do, do and decide that it’s too much to ask or that the rewards are too far off or that the requirements are too unattainable.

And then there is Christianity.

In a sense, Christianity agrees with all those other religions. Yes, there is a right way to behave. There are ethical ways of treating other people, and there are corrupt, nefarious, selfish ways of doing so. So Christianity’s distinction is not in doing away with a required standard of how to live.

Christianity also agrees with the secularist who says the standard is too unbearably high for anyone to reach. Rather than prodding Man to be better, to reach higher, to do more, Christianity says, no matter how much he might try to achieve the required ethical standard, he can’t make it.

It’s at this point that Christianity separates itself from all other systems of thought. Because of God’s great mercy, He mitigated the penalty for failure to live ethically and morally by taking it upon Himself.

Christian doctrine refers to this as grace.

What a huge difference to live under grace rather than under law. Rather than hoisting the burden of righteous living, a believer in Jesus Christ experiences God’s forgiveness, cleansing, redemption, and pardon.

The distinction, then, is grace—God’s free gift which He provided “while we were yet sinners.”

This post first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on June 11, 2018 at 5:59 pm  Comments Off on The Christian Distinctive—A Reprise  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Difference Between Christianity And Other Religions


I’ve addressed this subject before, but I like what Dr. John Lennox says in answer to the question at an event at Harvard a year ago. (Not sure what the title of the video is referring to. His answer is all of six minutes long.)

Published in: on June 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments Off on The Difference Between Christianity And Other Religions  
Tags: , , ,

Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization


Easter_LilyPerhaps some will think I’m crying wolf. Is Western civilization really declining? I think we have only to look at Easter and see how our society treats it to realize that there’s been a fundamental shift.

Many Christians—perhaps most—identify Easter as the single most important event in human history. It is also the bedrock of the Christian faith–without a resurrected Christ, we have nothing. In fact the Apostle Paul said, if Christ was not risen from the dead, we are most to be pitied:

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:14-19 – emphasis mine)

For years—perhaps centuries—Easter has been afforded a place of honor in Western civilization among “Christian” nations. Here in the US many traditions sprang up around Easter that have little to do with Christ’s resurrection.

For a time it was the Easter bonnet and the Easter dress. Then there was the Easter lily, the Easter basket, and the Easter bunny with Easter egg hunts. There was even Easter vacation for school kids. TV often put on special programing, and stores kept special Easter hours or remained closed. For years Easter cards have been available, and these often contain something of the resurrection message.

What seems apparent to me, however, is that Easter, even its non-religious traditions, is fading from the public arena.

A number of years ago a minor controversy arose that proves this point. First, Google chose Easter Day to “honor” Cesar Chavez with a doodle on its search page. As it happens, March 31, the day Easter fell that year, was Chavez’s birthday and two years earlier President Obama declared that date to be Cesar Chavez Day. The point is that Google had a choice—feature Cesar Chavez or feature Jesus Christ. Their response? We’ll honor Cesar. After all, he means so much to Western civilization.

The other part of this controversy, however, is the way some downplayed it, calling it “silly” and “much adoodle about nothing.” In other words, commenting or complaining about a business like Google ignoring the holiday that marks the singular most important event in Christianity was simply not considered newsworthy.

Of course, Google wasn’t the only entity that ignored Easter. CalTrans, the road maintenance organization here in California, was busy at work Sunday morning on at least one freeway. I don’t recall any businesses posting “Closed for Easter” signs either, so perhaps the criticism aimed at Google was not silly but misguided. It’s all of Western civilization that is leaving Easter behind.

Was striping away non-religious Easter traditions, a bad thing? Was the Bing search engine more respectful to Christians for including Easter eggs on their site? I have to say, no, I don’t think so. They were more respectful to Easter tradition, to Western culture, but not to Christ and Christianity.

As the world has become smaller, those of us in the West have learned that the East also has a rich heritage and has made significant contributions to Humankind. We’re learning to appreciate different ways of looking at the world. However, some take this learning and appreciation a step farther and denigrate that which has formed the West.

I’ve heard, for example, slams against the “Greek mind” and against Aristotle. Too linear, the accusation is. The Eastern mind understands time to be cyclical, as we see all of life to be. Look, for example, at the water cycle or the life of a plant.

Individualism is bad too, according to a recent radio commentary. Especially here in the US we have prided ourselves on being individuals, but we live in a world of community. We need fewer Lone Rangers and more group hugs.

The ironic thing is that Christianity isn’t actually a Western religion. It’s roots, of course, are Semitic. While the New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Then, too, Christians celebrated Easter all over the world, not just in enclaves in the West.

And community is practically a Christian’s middle name. In fact Christianity provides a beautiful marriage of individualism and community. God gives each Christian a special gift, and then instructs us to “employ it in serving one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

In short, if it’s possible to wrap this weighty subject up in a sentence or two, when the West ignores Christ, we’re not expanding our worldview or becoming more cosmopolitan. We’re actually taking a step backward and denying the most unifying Power and Person imaginable. God Himself said He loves the world, not the West or the East, not Africa or North America. He loves the world. He gave His followers the commission to make disciples, not just at home but in the farthest recesses of the world.

Why else have Christians from any number of nations gone to far-away places to live and work and preach the good news? It’s not to claim that one culture is better than another. It’s to bring into the family of God people from every tribe and tongue and nation scattered throughout the world. Yes, family. I have brothers and sisters in all kinds of places, some who risk their lives to celebrate Easter.

Ironic, I think, that Western civilization seems intent on divorcing itself from the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings that influenced our worldview, while people all over the East are embracing those same truths.

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm  Comments Off on Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Influence Of Christianity


On Tuesday apparently the panel of women on ABC’s The View made some comments about Vice President Mike Pence which included one person quipping that hearing from God is “mental illness.”

What’s so sad is that the Florida Parkland school shooter is also being scrutinized for mental illness.

Now The View person has said she was just joking, but clearly she showed what she thinks of Christianity.

I think such statements show the disconnect in our society about what Christianity is and what Christians have done. Think, for example, what organization is front and center as part of any disaster relief. Yep, the Red Cross. The symbol was chosen for a reason.

Then there is the Salvation Army—another relief organization that also provides for the needs of the homeless and the poor.

Or how about the Union Rescue Mission? Here’s their basic mission statement: “We embrace people with the compassion of Christ.” And their short description on Google: “Helping men, women, and children escape the streets of Skid Row through food, shelter, education, counseling, and long-term recovery programs.”

I’m curious. Where are the atheist organizations that reach out to help the needy? Sure, the government now does some of the same work, and government programs have helped countless people suffering from disasters of one kind or another. I’m not minimizing those at all. But that’s because the government has been put in position to care for its citizens because not enough of our citizens are taking care of those in need.

I don’t want to turn this into a church versus government discussion. But I did wonder about independent atheist groups who are actively reaching out to needy people. I suspect there are individual atheists who do so, but are there any atheist-based organizations doing this?

Maybe there are, but I’m not aware of them.

For one thing, atheism doesn’t stand for something. It stands against something. So there’s no moral compass that directs atheists to band together to help needy people.

How about the institution of Thanksgiving Day or Memorial Day or Ash Wednesday? God is an integral part of our culture, whether atheists want to admit it or not. The fact that Christianity is being squeezed from the fabric of society by media disdain, sarcasm, and slurs, does not reduce the great good that churches and para-church organizations do and have done.

Or what about the YMCA, founded back in 1844.

The YMCA was very influential during the 1870s and 1930s, during which times they most successfully promoted “evangelical Christianity in weekday and Sunday services, while promoting good sportsmanship in athletic contests in gyms (where basketball and volleyball were invented) and swimming pools.” (Wikepedia)

Then there are Good News Clubs in schools and organizations like CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) involved in colleges and universities.

But here’s the salient point: all this “mental illness” that has built into the fabric of our society is based on building values and health and hope and help. Christianity wants to pass on the love of God. That’s it. To people in need.

Wouldn’t we have fewer school shootings if we ramped up programs that taught the love of God?

As I see it, the more Christianity gets ridiculed and relegated to the privacy of our own home, the more trouble our nation is in. We are recycling old problems like racism while we have added the intensified problem of lawlessness and a disregard for authority.

Setting Christianity aside doesn’t seem to be working for us. When will the country wake up and realize, the thing we’re missing is the love of God—between our races, our genders, our economic strata. God’s love works like cement to bring groups of people together. Paul said it is Scripture—Jews sitting next to Greeks, men worshiping in the same house as women, the rich land owners along side their field hands.

It’s not the church that does this. It’s God. It’s His love in the hearts and lives of believers. And that’s the influence of Christianity.

So Who Is Jesus?


Recently someone commented on Facebook that the Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God.

It sounds true. After all, the Jewish Scriptures form the bases of the Old Testament, and Muslims believe that God gave his promise to Abraham—just through Ishmael, not through Isaac. They refer to God as Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, and he, they say, is the creator, the one who is to be worshiped.

But if Christians worship the same God as do Jews and Muslims, who is Jesus?

As Muslims say, there is no one worthy anywhere in the universe who is to be praised other than Allah. I think Jews would probably say the same about the God of their Scripture. But Christians can only say this with the understanding that Jesus Himself is God.

The conclusion some could draw is that Christians believe in multiple gods—at least three. But that’s not the case. Rather, Christians believe in the mystery of the Trinity that reveals God as three persons in One. No, God is not three separate individuals. He is One. No, God does not have subordinates working for Him.

Rather He Himself manifests as Father, Son, and Spirit. All three in unit of purpose, unit of existence, unit of character. God did not create Jesus and the Spirit. They are not separate entities. One of the mysteries of our transcendent God is that He is like no other. Nothing can really illustrate His triune nature.

I’ve heard a few examples. One is water, which manifests as ice, liquid, and steam. The analogy breaks down because water is never all three simultaneously.

Another comparison is with an egg—shell, yolk, white. The problem there is that each is part of the egg, not the whole of it. Someone following this line of thinking could assume that Jesus is part of God, but not actually God Himself.

A third analogy I’ve heard is popcorn, though I don’t remember how it all works. I can see the unpopped kernel and the popped kernel, but what was the third of the trinity?

There are others. An apple came up in an internet search, for example. The sun was another. But with each of these there is some sort of problem. The fact is, God is like nothing in the created order. Not really. He’s only understood a little better by looking at these items that have some similarities.

The truth is that Jesus is God, that the Father is God, that the Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods. There’s only one God and He reveals Himself as a Triune being—having three persons, though His nature is One, His essence is One.

So, Jesus.

Why do Christians believe such a difficult doctrine as the Trinity? Well, simply, the Bible presents this truth in many places and in many ways.

For example Jesus made some bold statements about His existence, such as “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

Or there was the discussion with His disciples when He said,

“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

Then there are the times that He referred to Himself by the name which God used in His encounter with Moses: I AM.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

By the way, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day understood very well that He was claiming to be God. That’s why they accused Him of blasphemy and why they tried to stone Him.

John began his gospel by stating clearly, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Of course another book of the Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning . . .” That would be Genesis, and in the beginning was God.

Other New Testament writers understood that Jesus is God and they proclaimed it clearly. Paul said, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and earlier he explained:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him

To another church, Paul wrote, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6, emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews made a clear statement also:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (emphasis mine)

All this to say, Jesus is not merely a prophet or a teacher or a healer. He did speak words of prophecy. He was a teacher. And, yes, He healed. But those were things that were actions He took, that stemmed from His personhood as God. They do not encompass Him.

Why am I making such a point about Jesus as God? Because only God qualifies as the Perfect Substitute to pay for the sins of those who believe on His name. No human being could accomplish what Jesus accomplished. No human is capable or qualifies. Only God.

And that’s who Jesus is.

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Church And What It Has Become


I recently heard a partial quote about Christianity, but I didn’t catch the source. What’s more, I didn’t write it down—just the part I remembered of it because I thought it was pretty truthful, as far as it goes.

Christianity started in Israel and became a religion.

It went to Greece and became a philosophy.

Then it passed on to Rome where it became an institution.

From there it went to Europe where it became a culture.

Eventually it traveled to America where it became an enterprise.

Obviously it’s a statement about Christianity in America and in the West in general.

Since I live in the US, I don’t know the particular struggles the Church goes through in places like Asia and Africa. Has Christianity avoided some of the shifts and changes that have corrupted the Church here? I don’t know.

I do know that I wince when I think about Christianity as an enterprise. My mind goes to “snake-oil” preachers and TV evangelists who cared more for making a buck than for the people they were fleecing of their hard-earned money.

I think of the Christian trinkets a certain group of writers and editors and agents used to mock at the yearly International Christian Retail Show. I mean, someone figured out that they could stamp a Bible verse on a tee shirt or a mug or a plaque, and people would pay good money for them. They could make Testamints and Bible-verse bookmarks and Bible covers and pens or pencils with verses stamped on them. “Jesus junk” the critics called it, but the store owners called it “how to get out of the red.”

But the truth is, when I look around me, I see some of those same items in my home. There’s that plaque on the wall and that mug in the cupboard. I’ve bought those pencils to give out to my students. I have some of those bookmarks in my Bible. I am one of the consumers.

Beyond the trinkets themselves, I cringe at the way we have put the gospel up for sale—Christian music, Christian self-help books, Christian fiction, all sold in the Christian bookstore.

And here I am—writing what would likely be considered Christian fiction, trying, even, to make a living from it.

Should I?

Shouldn’t we be giving the gospel away for free?

Of course Scripture also teaches that the worker is worthy of his hire. And I have to say, I like seeing scripture when I look at the particular mug with it inscribed. I like the plaque and the bookmarks. I’m glad I gave the pencils as prizes.

I think there has to be a line. We live in a capitalist society. We aren’t necessarily called to life as if we lived under a different system.

Except, Christians DO live under a different system. We aren’t to be governed by greed. As consumers or as entrepreneurs.

I conclude then that money should never be an obstacle preventing someone from hearing the gospel. Money should not be the driving force behind our “ministries.” Christian schools, for example, once were an outreach of particular churches. They charged tuition to defray some of the cost but mostly staff viewed themselves as missionaries, doing the work of the LORD.

But now, Christian schools strive to compete with public schools by paying their teachers a comparable wage and offering lavish benefits. Tuition, as a result, continues to creep higher, and some schools are pricing themselves out of existence, because their middle income communities can no longer afford to send their children to such an expensive school.

Christian bookstores aren’t doing so well either. But most bookstores are in the same boat, so it’s not possible to say if Christians are doing better or worse than the norm.

The point is, or maybe the question—when did “ministry” turn into “business”? When did coffee shops go into churches? When did we decide to get rich from preaching the gospel, or quoting Scripture?

I don’t think there’s an answer for the culture. America is consumed by consuming. I don’t know if other parts of the West are too, but I don’t see it changing here any time soon. But we can make a difference in our hearts which is where all attitudes reside.

Colossians says that greed amounts to idolatry.

We Americans . . . we Christians, need to check our hearts and see if there is a love of stuff that resides right there as an idol along with our love of God. That’s the way the people of Israel lived for years. Their prophets were constantly admonishing them to destroy their idols and worship God alone. At some point, they thought they were. They built all kinds of altars on high places, never mind that God said they weren’t to do so.

Are the consumerist trappings of Christianity our high places? Are we trafficking in the stuff of Christianity without any true worship? I can only answer that question for myself, but I’m pretty sure, if the Church is to survive here in the US, we all who profess the name of Christ need to go before God and ask Him to do the work of burning the dross away from our faith.

Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm  Comments (26)  
Tags: , ,

Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

Forgiveness Is Not An Option


2017-Honda-Civic-ReviewI read a friend’s blog post today about forgiveness and I realized anew how little we talk about or understand forgiveness. Our speaker Sunday said something that also struck a nerve. Actually he was quoting Charles Spurgeon. He said the fall caused us to cling to grievances and to forget benefits.

Cling to grievances. That’s a lack of forgiveness.

Scripture has a lot to say about forgiveness. Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote on the subject, taking a look at one particular Biblical example.

– – – – –

New cars come with options. When I bought my car, it didn’t have a lot of perks. Those I could add if I chose. In most cases, I decided to go with the basics because the options cost extra.

Some time ago I heard another sermon on forgiveness, and it drove home a point I have learned and re-learned: forgiving others is not optional. It’s a product of having been forgiven. It’s not a means to forgiveness and it’s not an accessory that can be dispensed with at will. But for the Christian, it’s part of the basic package.

This is one of the areas that flies in the face of all other religions and anything the secular culture believes. As a matter of fact, it flies in the face of us Christians, too. It is not natural to forgive — but being forgiven makes it possible.

Once you’ve experienced the weight of guilt inexplicably removed through no effort of your own, two things happen. One is a sense of relief and gratitude. The second is a sense of kinship. You see someone else in the throes of justified condemnation, you see yourself and you understand, that was you once upon a time.

Interesting that the Apostle Paul, from time to time, reminded the people he wrote to of just this fact. Take his letter to the Colossians, for example, in which he wrote

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you once walked when you were living in them. (3:5-7 – emphasis mine)

It’s good that Scripture reminds us to look at what we were — exactly what people without Christ are. We were the prodigal, squandering our inheritance, we were the eldest brother, too jealous and judgmental to go inside and welcome his brother home.

But those two brothers illustrate the difference between being forgiven and not. The prodigal was a mess and knew it. He came to his father with nothing but the hope that he could serve because he had no way of making amends. When his father ran to him, hugged him (before he’d had a bath), restored him to his place as son, and set in motion a celebration, he knew he didn’t deserve any of it.

The brother coming in from the field, however, thought he deserved better than he got. He should have a celebration thrown for him, he reasoned, because he’d earned it. What’s more, he wasn’t about to join in a celebration for a wayward brother.

One son, contrite and humble, the other son, bitter and condemning. Which one had experienced the father’s forgiveness?

Jesus’s story doesn’t say that the prodigal son forgave his brother for not coming to his celebration, or anything like that. But it does tell us that the stay-at-home brother had an angry heart toward his brother and toward his father.

So who did he hurt by holding onto his anger? His brother? His father? They, I suspect, had a great time at the welcome-home feast. Only the bitter brother was left out.

So it is with us. Those who have experienced forgiveness aren’t in a position to shake our finger in anyone else’s face, reciting all their misbehaviors. Our eyes are downcast, or closed in worship, or fixed on the face of Jesus.

Those who have not experienced forgiveness feed their anger and jealousy, and end up missing out on the joy and rejoicing they could be a part of.

It’s a nasty thing, unforgivingness. It eats away at joy, contentment, gratitude. Certain names, we don’t want to hear; certain pictures, we tear up and throw away; certain places we no longer visit; certain days, we dread.

Can a forgiven person act that way? Only until the Holy Spirit comes along and says, And you once walked in those same sins when you were living in them. At that point, we realize forgiveness isn’t an option.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in February 2012.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 7:18 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,