God And Culture


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God’s Word, A Lamp – A Reprise


When I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

This post first appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Satan, The Imaginary, And Halloween


Every year around this time Christians begin a discussion about celebrating Halloween, but perhaps speculative writers, more so. The conversation is justifiable, especially in light of the fact that Halloween has become a highly commercial, and therefore, visible, holiday in the US. As a result, television programs, movies, and certainly commercials have some tie in to the weird, the supernatural.

For Christians, there seems to be a great divide when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Are we taking up the cause of the enemy if we carve a pumpkin and hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters? Should we offer alternatives—a harvest festival instead of a haunted mansion—for our church activities? Should we seize the moment and build good will in our community by joining in wholeheartedly, or should we refuse to recognized the holiday, turn off the porch lights, and decline to answer the door when masquerading children arrive?

Satan

As I see it, there are two critical issues that dictate our response to Halloween. The first is our attitude toward Satan and demons. Is he (and are they) real? How big a threat is he? How are we to respond/react to him?

Scripture gives clear answers to these questions. Satan is a real being, one referred to as the father of lies (see John 8:44) and as a being masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14).

In response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. Here, in part, is that comment:

Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.

In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.

On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:

      They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
      To gods whom they have not known,
      New gods who came lately,
      Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deut. 32:17)

I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship—and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people—were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.

Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:

      But they mingled with the nations
      And learned their practices,
      And served their idols,
      Which became a snare to them.
      They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:35-37)

Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.

The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.

Scripture is also clear that Satan is a threat. He is described as an adversary and as a lion seeking to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the tempter (Mark 1:13), the one who snatches away the Word of God (Mark 4:15), the one who can bind (Luke 13:16) and destroy (1 Cor. 5:5) and torment the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7), who comes against us with schemes 2 Cor. 2:11), who demands to sift some (Luke 22:31) and possess others (John 13:27), who hinders believers in their ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan is real and he is a threat, but he is not greater than God. In fact his doom is sure. Scripture instructs us to be on the alert against him, to stand against him, to resist him, but Satan is a defeated foe (Col 2:15 and Rom. 16:20). We are never told to fear him.

The Imaginary

The second critical issue when it comes to deciding how we are to deal with Halloween is our understanding of the imaginary. Dragons, vampires, cyclops, werewolves, zombies, goblins, orcs, trolls, and such are imaginary creatures from the pages of literature. Witches and wizards that wave magic wands and/or fly around on brooms are imaginary. Ghosts that float about like bed sheets and are friendly or who pop in and out of sight at will or move things about with a word are imaginary.

Are Christians ever instructed in Scripture to stand against the imaginary?

On the other hand, most of us recognize that these various creatures are or have been representative of evil. The question then becomes, are we handling evil correctly by giving attention to the things that have been used to represent it?

Along that line of thinking, I believe it’s fair to ask if we should avoid representations of snakes, because Satan entered one, lions because Scripture said he is one, and angels because he appears as one.

The greater question, it seems to me, is whether or not dressing up in costumes of creatures that have an association with evil might trivialized evil. For instance, the “red devil with horns and a pitch fork” image of Satan trivialized him so that fewer and fewer people believe he is a real being—not a good thing at all if we are to stand against him.

Halloween

These two issues—what we believe about Satan and what we believe about the imaginary—collide in this one holiday. But there’s another element that must enter into the discussion because ultimately, what we do on Halloween is done in front of the watching world. We need to ask, what does our culture believe about Halloween?

As other comments to Stephen’s post reveal, some studying the holiday see its historical underpinnings—either pagan Celtic practices or early Church traditions. But what do ordinary people today see? Are our neighbors celebrating evil? Or are they having fun dressing up as something spooky? Are they going to haunted houses because they want to invoke the dead or because they want a shot of roller-coaster-ride-like adrenaline?

While we can’t deny that a fringe element—perhaps even a growing fringe element—see Halloween as a celebration of evil, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the majority of people in the US view it as nothing more than a reason to party. The activities are consistent with the day but have little or no meaning, much the way most people celebrate Christmas.

How we as Christians celebrate Halloween, then, hinges on these three factors—our view of Satan, our understanding of the imaginary, and what we want to say to our culture.

Is there one right way of doing Halloween? I don’t believe so. I do believe we should avoid pointing the finger at other Christians and saying that they’re doing it wrong. Paul speaks to this issue in Colossians 2: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath Day” (v. 16). Those who choose to celebrate are just as clearly not to point the finger at those who choose not to celebrate.

The only way we can insure that Satan has his day is by our disunity, our unloving attitude, our angry arguments over whether or not we celebrate Halloween.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared at Spec Faith in October 2011.

Christmas And Our Culture: A Reprise


I wrote the following article four years ago. I don’t think the changes in our society have done anything to change the illustration I used or the point I made. Rather, what has happened in the US and western society in general in the four years, sort of prove the truth that’s there.

One of the latest “firestorms” that you may have heard about centers around something that happened at Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois and, as it happens, the “sister school” of my alma mater, Westmont College.

A recent e-newsletter from RZIM (apologist Ravi Zacharias’s ministry) summarized the situation:

On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College, a flagship of evangelical educational institutions, placed one of its professors on administrative leave for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with [their] doctrinal convictions.” Five days prior, donning a hijab and staking her position on a variety of controversial matters, Larycia Hawkins had stated on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” (“Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” by Nabeel Qureshi)

The controversy has begun.

In light of this topic, the racial unrest in parts of the country, the reaction to Syrian refugees coming to the US and Europe, lawsuits and legal moves connected with the liberal direction the current Presidential administration has guided the US toward, this article seems more relevant than ever. So, without further introduction, the reprise.

– – – – – –

Should Christians be dismayed at the way our culture treats Christmas? For example, when the high school down the block from my place was about to let out for vacation, they held a party. The music playing over the school loud speakers, which would suggest it was sanctioned by the administration, wasn’t related to Christmas in any way, let alone focused on or pointing to Christ.

Of course there’s the whole “Happy Holidays” thing—a catch-all phrase that used to mean Christmas and New Year but in many people’s minds now encompasses Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (an entirely made up holiday, not related to any African commemoration of any thing). And we’re all aware that “religious expression,” including nativity scenes, has been curtailed in many public places funded by public moneys because of the new interpretation of “separation of church and state.”

Are these fires Christians should be rushing around to put out?

As I wrote that last line, I couldn’t help but think about a devastating fire here in Southern California a few years ago. Unlike many of the fires we contend with, this one started in an urban center and the chief fuel was people’s homes. The thing was, it could not be contained because embers — not nice little ones as you see coming up from a camp fire, but huge chunks of burning matter — driven by hurricane-force winds, ignited new hot spots miles apart. Essentially the fire department looked like a dog chasing its tail, only less organized. There was no way to get ahead of the fire line for the simple reason that there was no fire line. There was a massive outbreak of fire all over. It was devastating and terrifying.

So I ask again, should we Christians play the part of the over-matched firefighters and chase each new outburst, trying to contain the damage and minimize the spread of the flames? Or is there a better way for us to handle this cultural collapse — because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

The older generation—the baby boomers—were raised in a religious environment. Characters on TV dramas and comedies prayed, for example, and this was normal. Their children grew up in religious ignorance. Today’s children are growing up in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity and some Christian values.

Do we try to fix the culture? Make it less hostile? Force it to accommodate our values as well as the ones in opposition?

Sadly, or perhaps happily, we’re losing the culture wars as surely as those firefighters years ago were losing the battle against the wind-whipped fire.

The thing about fire—it purges, purifies, refines. Could it be that the religious trappings of our culture that made us look Christian-y on the outside, needed to burn up so we could see what is at the heart of people, even people in a Christian nation?

Now true believers in Jesus Christ have a much clearer choice. Do we play the part of firemen, running hither and thither, to stop the spreading flames? Or do we evacuate to our safe corner of the world, stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes?

Or do we get on our knees and start praying for a change in the wind? Do we set up rescue centers to help those who are losing everything? And do we think long-term about setting up wind breaks that will prevent future firestorms?

So I wonder, what would happen if a group of Christians started praying weekly for our culture—not that we could have more manger scenes or the Ten Commandments would be allowed to return to public land or even that the Marriage Act might finally become law. Instead, what if we prayed for two people to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the year 2012? Just two (knowing that God does far more than we ask or think 😉 ) for starters. I mean, sometimes we don’t begin a project because it seems too overwhelming. We don’t feel we can pray for God to save everyone in Los Angeles, so we pray for revival—a good request and nebulous enough so that we have no idea if He is answering our prayer. Why not start with something we believe is reasonable, and if we pray for two specific people we know, something we can actually see God answer.

Paul told the people in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, and in so doing to pray for him and Timothy too so that God would open up for them a door for the Word. And at the time, Paul was in prison.

He didn’t see his cultural situation as the problem (and pray for me that I get out of prison). Instead what he wanted was opportunity to speak forth the mystery of Christ, making “it clear in the way [he] ought to speak.”

Perhaps we should start by devoting ourselves to prayer.

Published in: on December 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reprise: Traditions Of Men


Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingPaul said to the church in Colossae that they should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8). In thinking recently about celebrity Christians, I admit to some question about how we believers are to conduct ourselves in the world.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference some years ago, anchors her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, we need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, which is considerably different than regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men. I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes. He did that with Abraham, with Jacob when he worked for Laban, in Joseph’s day there in Egypt, and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense — the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king — their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement — “See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

Two Sides To Every Argument


football line of scrimmageArguments have two sides (possibly more), or they wouldn’t be arguments. The thing about two sides (unless you’re talking about two sides to a coin or something analogous) is that they can’t both be right.

We understand this in competition. Two football teams battle it out in the Super Bowl, and only one will be crowned champion at the end of the game. Two speed skaters compete in the Olympics, and they won’t both win the gold medal. (In that instance, with numerous competitors, not all who made the finals will even end up on the medal stand).

Why, then, with the love of sports so high, seemingly worldwide, is it so hard to grasp the concept that competing philosophies can’t both be right?

I look at my life, for example, and marvel at God’s goodness and grace that brought me to a place of belief in Jesus and His work at the cross that reconciled me to my Creator. An atheist undoubtedly would look at my life and say that cultural influences have convinced me of a theist myth, and I’m merely showing my ignorance to hold to it despite the void of scientific proof for God’s existence.

Two sides—God is good and gracious; or culture is determinative, and I am ignorant.

The two are mutually exclusive. Did God choose my cultural influences as part of His plan for me, or did my culture superstitiously manufacture God to explain the unknown, and I am refusing to graduate to the modern (or post-modern) era?

I see the truth and the atheist is blind, or the atheist sees the truth and I am in the dark.

I see the light and the atheist is a fool (the fool has said in his heart, there is no God); or the atheist is insightful, and I am unenlightened.

Who’s to say?

I submit there is only One who knows for sure. God, who transcends the universe, is the only one in position to reveal Himself to Mankind. So did He?

The Bible says so. He chose a people group to show the nations what He was like, sent prophets with messages about His purpose and plans, sent His Son to the earth in the form of a Man, gave His inspired written revelation, put His Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are reconciled to Him. Does any other religion present such an unrelenting God, willing to go to such extents to reveal Himself to Mankind?

Despite all God has done, however, people today still demand a sign. If God would only make it clearer, if He’d only show Himself.

I wonder why these people think they would believe a new sign if they haven’t believed the ones they already have.

But here’s the point. Western society has adopted a postmodern outlook that elevates tolerance and praises the absence of absolutes—except, of course, for the absolute that says, you must tolerate all and exclude none.

Consequently, Kim Davis, Rowan’s County Clerk, is viewed, not as a person who wants to exercise her religious freedom but as a person who hates. She doesn’t actually have a belief that is contrary to the belief of those who applaud same-sex marriage. Rather, she is intolerant because she wants to exclude a group of people. Such a desire to exclude can’t possibly come from any other reason than hate because in the narrative spun by postmodern philosophy, there are only two positions: tolerance and hate.

Yes, the tolerance-rules faction of society still views arguments as having two sides, though of course they frame the two sides according to their value system.

Some, of course, try to get around this logical conclusion: two opposing ideas can’t both be right.

A seminary professor at a nearby school of theology, who will not be receiving tenure and is therefore leaving, is disappointed that his statements about Jesus “as an idealized human figure” are not sufficient for the school which wants him to articulate that He is also divine.

This professor also came up against another fundamental contrasting position. It seems the school felt “One had to like the idea that we define Christianity by what we believe.”

The topic which brought the differences between the school and this professor to a head was none other than same-sex marriage. He goes on to say that the point of divide was the way he and the school defined integrity:

Integrity is crucial for both of us. I define integrity as being true to the historical critical scholarship and bringing that into theological dialogue with the church. They define integrity as being true to the “Grand Tradition of the Church” and allowing that to guide what we see in and say about history.

You might wonder where the Bible is in all this. The professor makes it clear that from the beginning of his time at the school, the idea of inerrancy was nothing but a shibboleth, a long-standing belief regarded as outmoded and no longer important.

So without an authoritative guide, he concludes, “These are different ways of measuring integrity. Neither is right or wrong. . . Most of all, I am disappointed that we cannot hold these differences in creative tension.”

A truly postmodern view—we should be able to disagree, one thinking same-sex marriage is not consistent with Christianity and the other thinking it is consistent with Christianity, but by holding our views in creative tension, we should continue teaching theology together.

It’s like saying, we’ll hold black and white in creative tension. We’ll hold life and death in creative tension. We’ll hold wet and dry in creative tension.

Because, horrors, we can’t actually say one position is right and the other wrong. To do so would be to express an intolerance, to frame truth as exclusive. I have to say, the man is consistent.

But he ignores the fact that God exists or does not exist, that the Bible is true or is not true, that Jesus Christ came in the flesh or did not come, that He saves sinners or does not save sinners. Diametrically opposed positions really don’t have any creative tension that can hold them together. Two contradictory positions can’t both be right.

Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner And Media Manipulation


Adam_and_Eve019The Jenner media campaign has been quite impressive. Having signed a contract with the Creative Arts Agency (CAA), Jenner has been in the public eye almost non-stop since the beginning of April.

For several weeks we heard of a coming, groundbreaking Diane Sawyer interview with Jenner—a tell-all to end all tell-alls. The promotion was unparalleled for a two-hour network TV special that didn’t involve war, politics, national security, an election, a sports figure, or a celebrity currently touring, performing, or producing (although his involvement with the Kardashians has kept him in a spotlight of sorts).

At least two and a half weeks before the interview, promo spots turned up all over the place. News anchors discussed the coming show. Speculation abounded regarding the big secret Jenner would reveal.

At last the day came, and to few people’s surprise, the “secret” Bruce revealed was that he believes himself to be a woman.

So that was done.

Or was it?

Not really.

Next was the a two-part special titled Keeping Up with the Kardashians: About Bruce which aired in May and received network news coverage. Then in June, Bruce revealed his female identity, choosing the name Caitlyn and changing to the use of female pronouns in relation to herself.

A scant two days later came the Vanity Fair cover revealing sixty-five year-old Caitlyn Jenner posed in a woman’s undergarment (and looking like anything but a sixty-five year old). Of course the nightly news led with the story. The next night there was more Jenner news—she revealed the first trailer of her highly-anticipated docu-series I Am Cait. Somewhere in there the news also came out that she’s been announced as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient for this year’s ESPYS and which will be presented in July.

Last night, I believe it was, the news broke that perhaps Caitlyn Jenner would not receive the same treatment in her country club now that she’s a woman, implying that men are given perks women don’t enjoy. So apparently, the transgender cause is going to be hooked to the feminist cause.

Don’t expect the Jenner news to simmer down any time soon. Expect a book deal soon, and watch for product endorsements.

Before all the hoopla started, and while still answering to Bruce, she made it clear, through a source that she “wants this to be taken seriously so that [his situation] can have the most positive impact on society’s perception of the transgender community.”

As one pop culture site reported

The 65-year-old has been very open about how she hopes exposing her journey to the public will help other transgender people feel less alone, and to lower the high rate of suicide attempts within the population.

In other words, selling Caitlyn Jenner to the public is by design—a very good design, apparently, since newscasters on all the network shows I’ve seen have only positive things to say about “such courage.”

So many thoughts go through my head in regard to this on-going story. I’d even call it a tragedy. Jenner has suffered, apparently for decades, with gender identity disorder (GID) or gender dysphoria. According to Wikipedia this is

the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. (emphasis mine)

In one of the clips for the docu-series, I believe, someone says to Caitlyn, “I miss Bruce,” and she answers, “Bruce hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Apparently not, since reportedly the outward changes have not included “sex reassignment surgery.” Caitlyn has benefited from hormones that Bruce took as far back as the 1980s, as well as facial plastic surgery (and breast implants?), but not an actual reconstruction of genitalia.

But she feels like a woman.

So which is true—the physiology that is the kind of stuff science usually requires (male genitalia, a Y chromosome, male muscular structure, and so on) or how she feels? Why is the biology wrong and the emotions right?

Are emotions oh-so-reliable that we can’t question a person’s choice when they announce they feel this way or that? At one point Bruce felt enough like a man to play football on a men’s team, compete for a spot on the men’s Olympic team, win a gold medal in the men’s decathlon, marry a woman—well, actually three different women—and father children.

To this day, Caitlyn says she’s never been attracted to a man (which doesn’t sound like the women I know), and considers herself asexual.

In truth, our culture, with the kinds of media orchestrated focus on gender issues, is redefining, not just marriage, but what it means to be a man or a woman. How can a man act as God intends him to act or how can a woman act as God intends her to act, when we’re scrambling to figure out whether we agree with the gender “we were assigned” at birth?

In contrast, God was not ambiguous about gender:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:27-28a)

Something else this whole spectacle has made me think: this transgender movement seems to depend on having money. What would Caitlyn be without her hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery? How many transgender people live in developing countries where they don’t have the luxury to reconsider the gender “assigned to them” at birth? Where they can’t afford to get drugs that change their chemical make up? Where there is no subsequent “evidence” that suggests GID has physical and not merely psychological causes? If this were true, where are the transgender people in the poorer countries of the world? Where are the transgender Huaorani or the transgender K’iche’? Maybe they exist but simply don’t have the spotlight Catilyn Jenner has.

But I suspect our western culture has a greater percentage of discontented people when it comes to gender. If you think about it, how would Bruce Jenner have known what it feels like to be a woman—so much so that he believes he actually is a woman inside? He has no basis of comparison. He knows what it feels like to be a man, but he only knew what it felt like to be a cross-dresser, not an actual woman. He still doesn’t know since he has kept that part of his anatomy that women don’t share with men.

Is there any more evidence we need to validate the truth claims of the Bible regarding our increasing propensity to call right, wrong; up, down; good, evil? God made men and women and called them good. Our sinful society says, the “assigned gender” might not be the real one. On whose authority? Who gets to say? Well, apparently Bruce/Caitlyn—or any other person who wants to say what God made isn’t good, and they’d like to remake it as they see fit.

Living For The Weekend


night_clubLiving for the Weekend or the summer or vacation or the next holiday… I’ve been there, even lived there you might say. 😉

But I’ve been thinking about the culture in America that can’t wait to be away from work, that can’t wait to do the Next Great Fun Thing. For it seems that the race to leisure time actually means a race to fast-paced, adrenaline-rushing, heart-pounding Entertainment of some sort.

Not too many people talk about looking forward to the weekend so they can have a nice chat with their spouse or so they can clean out the garage as they promised last week. Not too many kids talk about looking forward to the weekend so they can play board games as a family or read the novel they checked out from the library.

And does anyone talk about looking forward to the weekend, the summer, an upcoming holiday so they can have a longer, more relaxed, uninterrupted quiet time alone with God?

Somehow, this cycle of enduring the workweek in order to get to the Fun Times seems off to me. It strikes me that moms don’t live by this cycle. Their families still need to eat, still need clean cloths, still need the hurt of bumped elbows and skinned knees kissed away.

The difference seems to be that moms don’t live for themselves. But what about everyone else? Is selfishness what drives people to live for the weekend?

I don’t think it’s that simple. From my own experience, I can say, living for the weekend has more to do with medication than it does exhilaration.

So much of our American culture finds normal life wanting. Work isn’t satisfying, problems exist at home, the news is always bad, and the government is a mess. What good thing can we look forward to on a Monday morning?

Better to grit my teeth and survive until I can get to the weekend when I’ll be able to immerse myself in sports or shopping or movies or parties or … something, anything mind-numbing.

Except, that worldview is the world’s, not the Christian’s. God gives us plenty to look forward to on Monday and every day. He Himself is new every morning. He gives us purpose and joy in fulfilling it. He puts a song in our hearts and invites us to “offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.”

Christians, of all people, have life to celebrate, because we’ve been born and reborn. Even if we sit in the doctor’s waiting room or at the bedside of a dying loved one, we still have available to us the peace that passes understanding, the fruit of the Spirit, and His comfort. We have forgiveness in Jesus and the hope of Heaven. We have a Savior who will never leave us nor forsake us. We have His unending love.

Yet we find Monday too wearying? Too mundane? Too tedious?

Perhaps the problem has more to do with where I’m fixing my eyes which reveals my true worldview, no matter what I say my perspective is.

Here’s what Scripture says:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory …

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3:1-4, 15-17 (emphasis mine)

Nothing in there about a separate focus for Monday through Friday.
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This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in June 2010.

Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on Living For The Weekend  
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The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide


    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.