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.

What Would Daniel And His Three Friends Do Today?

Daniel003I’ve always loved the story of Daniel and the lions’ den, in which Daniel gets set up by a bunch of nefarious government officials, sticks to his religious principles, is found guilty of breaking Babylonian law, and thrown into the den of lions, only to have the angel of God shut the mouths of the beasts.

Perhaps the only other story I love as well is that of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They weren’t so much set up but ratted out because they also stuck to their religious principles, refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian king. His Highness was so enraged he doubled the penalty—they were thrown into a furnace of fire, heated twice as hot as normal. But as the king looked on, he saw four men walking about, none tied up as the three offenders had been, and none burnt up. Eventually he had Daniel’s friends released, and their clothes weren’t even singed and there was no smell of smoke on them.

I love these stories of godly people who held to their beliefs without wavering. But then, I know the end of the story. I know they escaped.

Stephen’s story of martyrdom isn’t quite as much of a favorite. I know the way that one ended too. While I admire his fervor and his unwillingness to deny Jesus Christ or to stop preaching the truth, I don’t like the fact that it cost him his life or that his death ushered in a period of persecution the young Church had to endure.

So you could say I favor the victorious endings, the ones that have the king declare,

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” (Dan. 3:28b-29)

Well, OK, maybe the tearing from limb to limb and houses reduced to rubbish is a bit over the top. I’d rather see some sort of rehabilitation or sensitivity training, perhaps, but I suppose that’s just me being a part of the culture in which I find myself.

But there’s the issue. I’m struggling to figure out how I fit into this culture that allows for and approves the killing of infants in their mother’s womb, that redefines the Biblical understanding of marriage, that uses the protection clause of the First Amendment against religion instead of for it, that supports the suppression of free speech on college campuses.

As to the latter, perhaps this video will show you where I’m coming from:

On one hand, I’d like to be Daniel. I admire Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, who is in prison for contempt of court because she wouldn’t go back on the religious principles of her new-found faith. (For those who think she should just have quit, perhaps this Washington Post article, “When does your religion legally excuse you from doing part of your job?” will show that our Constitution provides protection from forcing people out of their jobs because of their religious views.)

At the same time, I’m afraid of being Stephen. I don’t know if I have the passion for Christ that he had or the love for his persecutors that enabled him to ask for their forgiveness as he was dying. (See Acts 7:58-60)

Of course, I’m sure others will think I’m jumping to dire conclusions from the case of one County Clerk, and making a mountain out of a series of Planned Parenthood videos. We’re not living in Nazi Germany, many will say. How dare anyone compare Kim Davis to Rosa Parks, others will say.

But I wonder about this. Who knew that Rosa Parks would become Rosa Parks that day in 1955 when she was arrested for disobeying the law that required her to go to the back of the bus. Of course, her situation offered a rallying point for those who were already being oppressed by an unjust law.

Jews in Hitler’s Germany were oppressed by a change in the culture—an out-of-the-closet prejudice against them that first made it harder for them to get jobs or do business. Who was the Jew that was first arrested for being a Jew or for complaining against his unfair treatment? There had to be a first.

Was there a County Clerk who refused to register Jews and consequently went to prison? It wouldn’t be surprising if there were.

But we don’t think of Germany in its transformation from the Wiemar Republic to Hitler’s Nazi rule. We see the extremes of the Third Reich and say, Horrific, never considering how they got there. What rights were first trampled upon? What compromises did good citizens first make? What injustice did people not speak against?

Of course, we have no record of Daniel speaking against the Babylonian law that sent him to the lions den. We have no record of his friends trying to persuade others not to bow to the kings idol. On the other hand, those governments were not democracies, either.

When we the people are the power behind the government, are we not responsible for what that government does? I’d love to know what Daniel would do in Kim Davis’s place. I’d love to know what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego would do if they saw those Planned Parenthood videos.

I’m pretty sure none of them would be concerned for their image or for negative press. Would they simply go about their business until the day the authorities came to arrest them? I wonder.

What People Are Saying About The Bible

Chaplain_Lt._Jason_Gregory_reads_bibleI heard a small portion of a radio talk show yesterday covering County Clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses in her Kentucky jurisdiction. The hosts of the show had great fun mocking, not Kim or Christians, but the Bible. After all, they said, it isn’t God’s word. She thinks it’s God’s word, but it isn’t.

If I had a better sense of humor, I’d have laughed at that one. I mean, they were so categorical, as if they had inside information. But sadly, that’s the kind of thing that gets repeated as fact: Yea, I heard it on the radio. The Bible isn’t God’s word. What’s wrong with that crazy lady for believing such a thing?

The hosts went on to say the Bible was written by old men so long ago, it has nothing to do with our lives today. Then there was some line about these old men sitting around in their long robes chiseling out the text in stone.

I guess they think the whole Bible was written the way the Ten Commandments were. Interesting.

And old men. Well, I suppose some of them were old, but some of them, such as David and various prophets like Isaiah, started writing when they were young.

All this makes me realize how Biblically illiterate our culture has become. Even Christians, I fear, are woefully ignorant of what the Bible says. I wonder if this fact might explain why younger generations supposedly don’t want to sing hymns—they don’t understand the Biblical allusions that underpin so many hymns. But put that issue aside.

There are any number of false ideas about the Bible that have surfaced because one county clerk has determined to apply what the Bible says to her life and her circumstances. I’ve spent time at different venues in the last two days countering the equivalent of “The Bible doesn’t say homosexuality is wrong.”

One person said the New Testament, which was the only part of the Bible Christians needed to be concerned about, didn’t say anything about homosexuality being wrong. Someone else thought that if the passage didn’t use the word homosexual, it was not speaking against it. Another person made it clear that the Bible was complex and no one could actually be sure what it meant and different people would likely have different interpretations.

So, 1) not the word of God; 2) only part of it speaks to Christians; 3) silent on the subject of homosexuality; 4) too difficult to be of practical use; 5) meaning different things to different people.

I could be wrong, but I think the radio hosts also called it a myth.

And of course, all these claims are false.

Along with these varied comments, a number of other Christians are debating what the Bible says about obeying our government. Which principle is at play here—render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and obey those in authority over you, or we ought to obey God rather than men? Various people have cited Daniel as an example of civil disobedience along with the apostles who would not stop spreading the gospel.

These people are taking the Bible seriously and are making a genuine effort to determine what we as believers ought to do, according to its principles, in such a circumstance as Ms. Davis’s.

I’m glad for the wrestling and struggling and the sincere desire to know what God has to say on this subject, even when people don’t reach the same conclusion. The point is, the Bible is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. People who read it with the intend to find out what God thinks are way ahead of those who look at it as a myth or too confusing to guide our lives today.

I couldn’t get those radio hosts out of my mind. It was obvious they were totally ignorant about the Bible. Why, then, were they mocking it and dismissing it so readily?

My only thought was that they had already dismissed God, so they had no interest in finding out if the Bible might actually be His word. Because if there is no God, or no personal God who would want to communicate with the people He made, then of course the Bible is a myth or made up by humans. What other choice could there be?

Hating on the Bible, then, is actually an expression of their rejection of God, just as surely as the rejection of those who ignore His commandments.

So people who toss out parts of the Bible because they don’t like what it says—about homosexuality, the way wives and husbands are to treat one another, the role of women in the Church, the place of suffering in the life of a Christian, and more—are also turning their backs on God.

The truth is, God didn’t inspire some of the Bible, He inspired all of it, and how we handle it reveals our heart toward Him.

Published in: on September 4, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments (8)  
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Lessons From Leviticus

Healing_the_Sick029The book of Law often seems remote and outdated even to Christians, but God says that all Scripture is inspired, that it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. When I started looking at Leviticus from that perspective, I found so much that in pertinent to and valuable for us today.

The first lesson is one I hadn’t planned on including, but I learned this afternoon that Kim Davis, Kentucky’s Rowan County Clerk, who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, has been arrested for violating a federal judge’s ruling. So here’s what Leviticus teaches me that’s related to this matter.

Through Moses God handed down a number of laws about all kinds of things, recorded for us in the book of Leviticus. In Chapter 18 He told Israel,

You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.(v 3)

He then proceeds to forbid incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. He concluded by saying,

Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); so that the land will not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. (vv 24-28)

While some might argue that God was addressing Israel and that has nothing to do with us today, I would point out that He specifically said the nations who occupied the land previously were “spewed out” because they defiled the land by doing the things God told Israel not to do. Clearly this was not an Israel-only law. These standards reflect the holiness of God.

I can only think that, should the US continue in the direction we’re headed, we can expect that, when our sin has ripened, “our land will also spew us out.” I don’t know what that will look like, but it is clearly the judgment of God. Will we suffer the severe effects of global warming as the environmentalists predict? We we have earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes? Will we experience war, even nuclear war, as Iran obtains the capacity to deliver such a bomb to our shores?

Whatever spin others might put on it, such catastrophes are linked to the sin we are tolerating that defiles our land.

On a happier note, lesson two demonstrates God’s grace. In chapter 21 He issues laws that govern the conduct of the High Priest. One such pronouncement says,

He shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his people, so that he will not profane his offspring among his people; for I am the LORD who sanctifies him. (13-15)

The writer to the Hebrews refers to Jesus as the Great High Priest, and yet in His ancestral line is a prostitute, an incestuous couple, an adulterous couple, and a widow. Two of these were even foreigners. As in, not Jews. And yet, Jesus, the offspring of all this lawbreaking, was not profaned.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Lesson three brings God’s grace to the front and center. Part of the rules for the high priest were that no one with a physical deformity could serve in that capacity:

‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles.

Contrast this with what Jesus did when He was on earth: He healed the man with the withered hand, made the blind to see, raised the lame so they could walk, cleansed the lepers. In other words, when those disqualified by the Levitic law to serve in the temple came to Jesus, He, in his perfection, elevated them, as He elevates us, so that we can approach the throne of grace instead of the altar of sacrifice.

Published in: on September 3, 2015 at 5:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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