Tag Archives: faith

Theology with a 6-Year old!

Every night after dinner, my family and I read a passage of Scripture and then go through a devotion that is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Tonight, our passage was from Exodus 34 and the topic of discussion was the character of God.  Let me just say that there is nothing more fulfilling, even amidst your 2-year old son wreaking havoc and being a perpetual source of sound effects and noise, than being a part of your 6-year old daughter engaging with real theological concepts.  Each lesson ends with a series of questions.  Ava, my 6-year old looks forward to this portion.  It warms my heart.

Exodus 34 picks up with Moses getting the second copy of the 10 Commandments.  He was on the mountain for the second time, you remember, because he smashed the original copy at the sight of the idolatrous outrage that was taking place at the feet of a golden calf.

The devotion very quickly moved to its main point:  Moses prayed that God would have mercy on them.  God is fully merciful yet fully just.  We often read that with little regard for what it actually means.  This is a difficult concept to comprehend.  Imagine for a moment,  Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being found guilty of something horrific:  In Hillary’s case, exposing top secret info that was shown to have directly caused the death of 4 Americans in Benghazi.  In Trump’s case, evidence showing his willful colluding with the Russians in order to help them hack the DNC so he could win the election.  Imagine they went to court and were found guilty.  Instead of imposing a sentence, the judge says, “You are free to go.  Forget it even happened”  How would you feel about that?

When justice collapses in a society, hope collapses with it.

Total mercy comes as the expense of total justice.  Total justice comes at the expense of total mercy.  If someone was fully just they could not be fully merciful.  If one were fully merciful they could not be fully just.  Unless…well, we will get there in a moment.

Surpassingly enough, my 6-year old daughter, Ava, was able to grasp this paradox.  I believe I put to her a hypothetical situation in which she did something wrong, and rather than punishing her, I told her it was ok–that she could forget that it even happened.  Initially, she was ok with that.  Who wouldn’t be?  You could take something that isn’t yours, and then get no punishment.  But then it became more real:  I asked her, “What if someone did something very wrong to you; perhaps they stole your favorite toy, and I told their parents, ‘its ok, don’t worry about it–let your kid keep the toy?'”  She understood that my being overly kind would mean that she would not be getting a fair shake.

For her, justice would have been denied.  Complete mercy necessarily denies complete justice.

On the other hand, if I were fully just–If I called the police and reported the child for theft–what would that teach my daughter?  My lack of mercy would in the long run damage not only the kid who stole Ava’s stuff, but also Ava!  Would that be right?

No.  At times, justice must be bore by someone not involved.

This concept was strange to her.  It is strange to all of us.

One of the things we have been talking about lately in our home is the nature of sin.  Many Christians wrongly believe sin to be merely the wrong things that we do.  I remember hearing this as a child.  I was more concerned with whether I was doing the right or wrong things, that I defined sin as some sort of barometer for bad behavior.  There is perhaps nothing more absurd in all of Christendom than to believe that.  It took me a long time to be delivered from that way of thinking!  Heck, I am still being delivered from it.   While behavior is a part of sin, it is not sin in its fullest and most sordid sense.  Sin is more than just bad behavior.  Bad behavior is a symptom of something else–something more sinister.

In fact, if Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell. Yeah, read that again:

“If Jesus’ death on the cross only cured our sinful behavior, we would still go to hell.”

As I described to Ava, sin is like a perpetual cancer.  When we get the sniffles or the couch, it isn’t the sniffles or the cough that is making us sick. As Ava described it to me, “Its the germs that make us sick.”  Absolutely right.  Sin is like a disease that controls our being and dictates how we live. It is our moral compass.  Unfortunately, the byproducts of sin run the gamut from speeding to lying to rape to murder.   The New Testament refers to sin as a power that controls us.  Paul talks about knowing what he ought to do, but instead doing the opposite. If Paul had to struggle with sin, what does that say about you or me?  It is a power that influences us.  It can enslave us.

I asked Ava, “If sin separates us from God, and our sinful behavior was instantly cured, would we still go to hell?”  She thought about this for a few moments, and answered “Yes.”  I think she understood that sin is more than just bad behavior. If Jesus death on the cross was simply done in order to make us do good deeds, would that really be worth His death on the cross?  Isn’t that just some sort of moralism?

Jesus has brought us something more wonderful than just some sort of pragmatism.

I agree with Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good.  He came into the world to make dead men live.”  That, my friend, is worth shouting about.

We talked about that cosmic courtroom that is in session not because of our bad deeds, but because of our cancer–our sinful nature–the nature that caused human beings to crucify the Son of God.  The cancer that caused human beings to wonder, “Did God really say…?”

Because of our cancer–our sin–we deserve to go to hell.

Fortunately, God is fully just.  He is also fully merciful.  What is He to do with us?  We deserve death, but His character grants mercy, right?

This is where I was able to share with Ava the most incredible news of all:  Yes, we deserve hell, but instead of God banging down the gavel and sentencing us to death, Jesus entered the courtroom and volunteered to pay the price for our sin.   He intermediated on our behalf.  He had a direct influence on God’s wrath.

He went to hell in our place.

God was fully merciful:  he let us go free.  Yet, he was fully just:  Our sin was punished.  Jesus took our punishment.  He lived so that He could die.  He died so we could live.

Without Jesus Christ, none of us could escape hell.  We would all be there eventually.

God’s being fully just and fully merciful would be a paradox…unless…Jesus hadn’t come to be our propitiation.

I pray my sweet 6-year old can grasp that.  Full disclaimer:

I pray I can grasp that.

 

 

 

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Kurt Eichenwald and his presuppositions

500-Newsweek-cover

With the coming of Christmas and other Christian-observed holidays often come the obligatory Christianity-bashing articles that seem fit to be printed by publications like Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and Patheos.com.  No one should be surprised that these types of articles are written.  What should be of surprise is the lack of scholarship that is being used in writing these critiques.

I for one long for the days of Bart Ehrman’s informed criticisms (though they are far from right).  You have to hand it to folks like Ehrman who write polemical work aimed at Christianity:  At least the guy knows where the library is.

The article in question appears in the latest issue of Newsweek Magazine.  It is written by Kurt Eichenwald who is very well known inside the readership of the New York Times and the Vanity Fair publications.  He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and it is safe to say that this guy is no slouch.  His area of expertise seems to be in the areas of business or financial topics, and especially covering business scandals.

The cover story here isn’t about a scandal in a Fortune 500 company.  Instead it is titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” and unfortunately, in this particular instance Eichenwald seems to be far removed from his area of expertise.  I cannot stress that enough.  It is amateur hour at best.  He tries to establish his credibility by claiming to be standing upon the work of mainstream biblical scholarship; however, when one investigates this further, it is clear that he only cites critics of evangelical Christianity–and even in this–he fails to accurately portray some of their views.

This essay doesn’t come across as an objective piece of scholarship.  Instead, it comes across as a hit piece.  When he does cite scholars, it is only those on the critical fringe of Christianity.  I cannot locate a portion of his essay where he cites any scholar who works within the orthodox Christian tradition.  For those who say Fox News is biased, at least they have Juan Williams and Bob Beckel.  Eichenwald doesn’t want a debate.  He wants to remove the need for debate.  Eichenwald doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, either:

 “They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.”

Now, to be fair:  I do know some folks that fit perhaps most of that description.  They do exist.  I concede this without reservation.  The problem is, they are as far to the fringe of evangelical Christianity as pro-lifers are to the Democrat party.

Why only talk about the thought that is going on at the fringe?  How in the world can surveying the fringe thinking be considered objective journalism or scholarship?  Shouldn’t like Matthew Arnold said, we look at things by examining the best and brightest that has ever been said or thought?  Isn’t it a mistake to judge a worldview by looking at its worst representatives?  Why not cite those who are well respected by both critical and orthodox scholars?

When I think of the greatest thinkers in modern Christianity, I don’t think of the notorious Fred Phelps, or the guy at the breakfast joint who has a Scofield Commentary on the table, a “South Will Rise Again” t-shirt on, and a God made “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” trucker hat on.  I think of men like the late Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, John C. Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Eleanor Stump, Michael Ramsden, Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, Gary Habermas, and Stephen C. Meyer.  None of them are on the fringe, but all of them are respected.  This angry fundamentalist riff that Eichenwald gives us doesn’t seem to reflect reality.  Does Ravi Zacharias sound angry at homosexuals here?  Hardly.  Take William Lane Craig.  Does he sound like he is sympathetic to anti-science views? Not a chance.  What about Alister McGrath?  Does he sound like the fundamentalist anti-evolutionist that the author would make him out to be?  Not even close.  I mean, I can find atheists like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, or PZ Meyer who say some pretty acerbic things about Christians—does that mean I dismiss them flat out and refuse to take any of their arguments seriously?  Hardly.

What this author is attempting to do is take the whole of evangelical Christianity and lump them into a straw man at whom he can toss fiery darts.  It doesn’t work.

I do however think his criticisms are worth looking at.  Many Christians cannot interact with an essay like this and make a lucid rebuttal.  If it were up to the guy at the breakfast joint, he’d reply with—“Well, my pastor says different.”  This is not the way to “give an apologetic.”  We are commanded to be able to provide answers.  Therefore, we must already in our pre-evangelism begin to look at what the questions are.  There are no new questions, only new people who ask them.  There have been several outstanding rebuttals already made elsewhere on the internet(Michael Kruger, Al Mohler, Daniel B. Wallace), and for those reasons, rather than focus on Eichenwald’s egregious attempts at exegesis, I am only going to focus on a few of his assumptions.

One of the first of his assumptions that is almost ubiquitous in the writings of the anti-Christian worldview adherants is the univocal contention that if you believe in God, this somewhow means you believe less in science.  I am reminded of C.S. Lewis who noted, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun.  Not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  He also noted more specifically, “Man began science because he expected law in nature.  He expected law in nature because he believed in a lawgiver.

I am not going to go into a lengthy discussion about faith vs. science here, I have done it elsewhere.  What I am going to say is that the conflict doesn’t lie between faith and science.  It lies between two opposing worldviews, theism and naturalism.  Theism on the one hand says that all matter is derived from a purposeful agent; atheism on the other hand says that all matter is the end product of a mindless unguided process.  Let me ask you a question:  If you knew that the computer that aids the flight of a jumbo jet was the product of a mindless unguided process, would you trust it?

Secondly, this assertion that anyone who posits an intelligent agent as the creator of the universe is just absurd.  Let us look at it one way:  If I walk onto the beach and see giant letters that spell the name “Barack Obama,” do I suddenly deduce that this is the result of chance?  No, I posit a person.  Why?  Because words carry semiotic meaning.  Why is it then when the longest word in the history of man (the human genome) is seen, we suddenly posit chance and unguided process?

David Berlinski says it well:

I imagine this story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that “the Ulysses,” mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from “the Quixote.”

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

“The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden,” he says. “They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo.”

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

“As you know,” he continues, “the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576.”

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

“Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor’s Los Hombres d’Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza’s remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined.”

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. “Is it your understanding, then,” I ask, “that every novel in the West was created in this way?”

“Of course,” replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: “Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote.”

All kidding aside, this is where his presumptions begin:

The first is that truth cannot be known.  This is a pervasive view in the academy today.   It used to go something like this:  “Look, What is true for me is true for me, and what is true for you is true for you—let’s all have our own truths and just be happy that way.”  This fell out of fashion a while ago because quite simply its absurd.  If someone were to make that statement, they aren’t only wanting you to believe it, they are wanting you to consider it absolute truth.  What they are saying is, “You should think this way too.  This is how all enlightened people think.”  The problem is, if that is true, then it is not the case that what is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you.  If it is true for everybody, it isn’t just true for me.  This is a problem.

I am reminded of a talk I heard a guy give—he said that after engaging with a group of skeptics at a major university, a professor who was in attendance came up and challenged him to a verbal duel.  They ended up going to lunch the next day, and the professor began to tell this particular guy how he had greatly mistaken what Eastern logic is all about (the speaker happened to be from India though).  The professor had a problem with the idea that something is EITHER true OR it is false.  Something cannot be BOTH true AND false at the same time.  This is the law of the excluded middle or the law of non-contradiction.  So, this professor, in the middle of lunch began to regurgitate all his vast philosophical ideas about the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic down onto the placemats around him.

When he was finished, the professor began to cut into his food.  The man who had sat dumbfounded by all this then said, “So what you are telling me is that something cannot be EITHER true OR false?  It must be BOTH true AND false?”  The professor nodded and answered in the affirmative.  It was here that the professor was trapped.  The other man kindly said, “But if something can only be both true and false, rather than either true or false, aren’t you telling me that when looking at the world, EITHER I use the both/and view OR nothing else?”

At this point, the professor who had just put a piece of congealed halibut into his mouth uttered begrudgingly, “The EITHER/OR does seem to emerge doesn’t it?”  Something is true or it isn’t.  There is no alternative.

This is where things have begun to change in the last 20 years or so.  Now the common line is, “It isn’t that truth is relative to people; on the contrary, truth doesn’t exist.”    The view is that everyone thinks they have truth, and everyone is looking for it—but no one has it—which is good news because it is liberating.  The problem with this view is that when someone says, “There is no truth,” they are telling you that they believe the statement, “There is no truth” to be true.  Here is the rub:  It if were true that there were no such thing as truth, then what they are saying isn’t true.  But if it isn’t true that there is no such thing as truth, then what they have said is false.  But if there is no such thing as truth, then they have said absolutely nothing but in a very complicated way.  This is why British philosopher Roger Scruton says, “When someone tells you there is no such thing as truth, they are asking you not to believe them—so don’t.”

But you see, this presumption is even more sticky.  Today, the view has shifted to this idea that truth can be known, but it can only be known—but it can only be found in science.  Science alone can lay claim to truth.  The problem with this is obviously, it is a self-defeating statement.  If only science can make truth claims, it is false.  That isn’t a scientific statement, and science doesn’t say anything.  It is a method.  Hume said that all truth must be either self-evidently true or empirically verifiable—if it is neither—toss it to the flames.  Well, is his statement self-evident or empirically verifiable?  No. Toss it to the flames!  It was poor logic like this that caused ardent atheists like AJ Ayer and Antony Flew to reconsider their views.

But from this, the view has become that anyone who believes in God believes in something that cant be empirically tested—therefore they are believing in something that isn’t there.  Today, the politeness around this area of conversation has all but disappeared.  I used to hear things like, “John, I am happy that you believe what you believe.”  What they mean by that is “I can see that you are genuinely fulfilled as a Christian, and that your belief excites you, and that it has given you meaning.  I am happy that you believe this, and I wish I could believe it too, but I cant!”  I have heard that almost word for word over the years and I started to think about just what they were saying.  What they are saying is:  “Look John, I am happy that you are happy, but the reason you are happy is because of your faith (which they understand is believing in things that aren’t there). “  Now what do you call people who believe in things that aren’t there?  Crazy People!  What they are saying is, “John you are insane, but the main thing is, that you are happy and insane.  I am happy that you are happy, and I wish I could believe what you do, because I would like to be happy, too…but I simply cannot embrace such insanity and join you!”

The second assumption that Eichenwald holds is that faith is a positively bad thing.  It isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for society.  It is best demonstrated by people who go around blowing things up.  So the above politeness has turned into, “I am not happy for you.  I am against what you believe.  Faith is dangerous.”  I was reading something right after 9/11, and one of these atheist writers basically said, “Do you know what Christianity and the 9/11 hijackers have in common?  They fuel their fanaticism at the same holy gas station.”  The attack is on the idea of faith itself.  The problem is, there is a lack of understanding about what faith is that is prevalent today.

This idea that faith is blind belief in something absent of evidence, or even contrary to evidence, is a definition that goes against 2,000 years of Christian thought.  Of the hundreds of thousands of books written on the idea of faith, you will not find a definition of faith that sounds like that.  Likewise, faith is not believe in something that makes you happy, or is convenient, or fulfills your wishes.  Faith isn’t fantasy.  The word faith, when used in the bible (pistis), is always used in response to something that us true and real.  In other words, it would be like me saying, “I have faith in the President.”  By my saying this, I am acknowledging that he exists, that he is trustworthy.  It doesn’t matter whether or not I want him to exist—if he exists, he exists whether or not I wish for him to or not.  Secondly, I am acknowledging that he is dependable and keeps his promises (perhaps the current president is a bad example here).

This is the sense that the Bible speaks of faith.  It talks about knowing that he is, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  That is a statement about his truthfulness.  In Hebrews it talks about being “certain (fully persuaded) as to things that are not seen,” or talking about a full and complete assurance that something is real.  Notice, that this use of the word faith is completely different than saying, “I hope the Lakers win tonight,” because this cannot be guaranteed.  Christianity claims to be rooted in reality and truth.

The third assumption that Eichenwald holds is that many Christians are arrogant because they are certain.

Now, to set this up, we have to realize that many people find Christianity to be offensive because it claims to reveal things as they really are.  If I were to say to you that there is a book on the table—and you look and there isn’t—then my statement claims to reveal something that is wrong.  It doesn’t reflect any reality.  Either I was mistaken, or there is moral issue of deception at play.  It is the revelatory nature of truth that makes people uncomfortable.

Aristotle wrote a book titled, Politics which sheds light here.  In the book he asks for you to imagine a perfect society—and in this perfect society, a perfect person suddenly shows up.  They are so perfect that they are considered to be a god amongst men.  Aristotle asks, “What would a society do with such a person?”  He is very clear in the answer:  They would be killed.  Why?  A perfect person, if he ever did show up in our midst; his very presence would reveal our faults and all our imperfect, and even the imperfection of our society.  In other words, would you want it to be openly revealed, who you are?  Who you really are?

This is what Jesus claimed to be—a God amongst men—a being without fault.  Do you see the problem?  When Jesus himself stood before a judge, he proclaimed, “Everyone who is on the side of truth believes in me.” To this, the judge replied, “What is truth?”, and then walked away.

If you knew the moral complications that were happening inside of the man examining Jesus, you would understand—but interestingly enough, the man proclaims to the crowd that he finds no fault in Jesus—that is to say, nothing deceptive or morally wrong.

It is the idea of certainty that makes many of our contemporary friends upset.  In fact, this is what Eichenwald is driving at.  “How can you be so rude as to be so certain?”

I remember talking with a friend who happened to be a Buddhist.  She had a problem with what I was saying about Christianity.   She said to me, “Christianity is so arrogant.  It claims to be the only right way.  How can you hold to such a morally abhorrent view?”  I replied to her, “Do you follow the teachings of the Buddha?”  To this, she replied in the affirmative.  I asked her, “Didn’t the Buddha, after leaving Hinduism to start his own system, say that he rejected the Vedas?  Doesn’t this fly as an insult in the face of millions of Hindus?  How can you believe such an abhorrent view?”  To this, she said, “Uhh, John, I don’t like where this is going.”

Here is the thing, whenever you say that something is true, you are saying that any contrary statement is not true.  Further, when you say that Christianity is true, and that those who follow God are going to heaven, many people take offense to this.  It is as if they think you are saying, “I know I am going to heaven—I am better than you—you aren’t going.”  That isn’t at all what the Christian faith says.  What it says is that those who trust in God will inherit the Kingdom of God.

But this is where the idea of certainty gets uncomfortable to people.  They will say, “Surely being good is all that matters.  If I am good, and God is loving, how could he send me to hell?”  The interesting thing is that in the Bible, Jesus addresses this very question.  A guy asks him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone.” (If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?  We need help.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.

So the question persist:  “How can you be so certain, when it all seems so fuzzy?” Now, my first answer would be, “On what grounds am I certain that my wife loves me?”  If I asked this of my Dad, he would reply, “After 30 plus years of marriage, I am absolutely certain that she loves me.”  You know, I think God wants for us to be certain.  It is no mistake that in the Bible we are told, “These things are written so that you may know…”  You see, there is a basic issue with the question itself.  Here it is:  When people ask me, “How can you be so certain,” they are presuming that I am coming to believe in God because of all the reading I have done or all the high power arguments that I can give.  In truth, nothing could be further from reality.  Of course the arguments are important—but, think of my wife again.  I can’t prove to you through mathematics that she loves me.  Even the certainty we get in mathematics cannot be found in science.  We can’t get it in medicine; we can’t get it in biology.  What we can talk about is evidence.  I would say that I am an evidence based Christian.  There is no difference, except that when it comes to eternity, there is more at stake than in science.  My faith in God is based on evidence just as the doctor has faith in medicine.  Neither can be proved in the mathematical sense of proof, but evidence can be given to support the veracity of what we believe.

Many people will follow the Freudian path and say, “You know, you Christians, you have just constructed God.  You need an idea of God in order to be happy.”  The problem with that, besides the fact that if God does exist, this very argument can be turned around at atheism; is that Christianity and its veracity has nothing to do with my intellect or my desires.  Christianity isn’t about man looking for God, it is about God looking for man.  The central claim is that God became a man in Jesus and that through Jesus God was revealed to us.  Let’s supposing I wanted to get to know you.  I could submit you to a PET scan and put all kinds of microbes and wires on your head, and even monitor your heart—It might be true that I could learn a lot about you this way—but I could not know you this way.  To know you, you have to reveal yourself to me.  We have to talk.  I can begin to develop, based on our relationship a high level of confidence in you.  I have a high degree of confidence in my wife because I know her.  What gives me the confidence?  She does.  It isn’t that within myself, I have to come up with all this confidence—no.  The power of my faith lies in the object that I place my faith in.  God gives me the confidence the more I get to know him.  I am confident in Christ, but this confidence has nothing to do with myself.

In fact, only the Christian faith is set up this way.  If you look at every other belief system, you will find that it is either based in knowing, feeling, or doing.  You must master a certain set of thought, experience something specific, or follow a list of rules.  In philosophy we would call this epistemology, existentialism, or pragmatism.  The Christian faith does not rest on any of these three.  The Christian faith isn’t a system of knowing, even though there is no knowledge more important than knowing Jesus as Lord.  It isn’t an existential system where one must engage with feeling—even though, there is no feeling greater than coming to know the Lord.  Finally, it is not a system of pragmatism, even though Jesus said you will know true Christians by what “They do.”

The Christian system is a system of being.  It has to do with Christ’s being in us.  You can take every religious system and remove its founder and it will still stand.  Remove Muhammad, and Islam can still stand.  Someone else could have been the prophet.  You can remove Buddha from Buddhism and it can still stand.  In Christianity, if you remove Jesus you have nothing.  In fact, Michael Ramsden quips, “If you remove Christ from Christian, you are left with Ian and Ian cannot help you.”

When people follow these other systems, it is as if they are basing their faith on a merit system, and ultimately in their abilities.  The question, “How can you be so certain,” then has a more stinging meaning.  It is as if they are saying, “Who are you to be so confident that you will be accepted by God?  You are a human like the rest of us.”  To this I say, “absolutely—I am just like you.”  The secret is, my relationship with God isn’t set up on a merit system.  It isn’t like a university system.  In school, how you do you know you will get a degree?  Well, honestly you don’t.  If you told your professor on the first day, “I am absolutely confident I will ace this degree program,” I am sure he would reply, “Yeah?  We will see.”  You cannot be certain here.  Not only that, but the professor himself cannot guarantee you that you will get a degree.  Why?  It is a merit based system.  Either you meet the requirements or you fall short (there is that either/or again).  The problem with God is that many people think that he works in the same way.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I met my wife, what if I had decided the minute I met her, to propose marriage?  What if I brought her a cookbook, and in the cookbook it stated, “These are the laws for making Cherry Pie.”  The law says, “Thou shalt take 100 grams of flour, and 40 grams of cherries…., and so much sugar and water…and heat it up to such a temperature,” and so on and so forth.  What if I then told her, “Do you understand how to follow these laws?”  She replies in the affirmative.  Then I reply with, “Of course I wouldn’t dream of accepting you now, but if you will keep the rules in this book for the next 30 or 40 years I will think about accepting you—will you marry me?”

Unfortunately this is how many people think about God.  We wouldn’t begin to insult a human being with this type of thinking, yet we gladly subject God to it.

The last thing I want to say comes by way of Isaiah Berlin.  Berlin was a 20th century polymath who lived in the United Kingdom.  He was a brilliant thinker and he wrote on a variety of topics.   One of the things he wrote a lot about was the idea of freedom. He asked often, what does it mean to live in a free country?  He talked at length about monism—or the view that there is only one form of truth. He equated this with the despotic regimes of Hitler and Stalin.  Unfortunatly, Berlin saw tyranny first hand and they bothered him.  He began to say that if you want a free society, pluralism must be allowed to live.  Now, keep in mind, his definition of pluralism is different from the way a postmodernist would define it.  What he wanted was a free, loving, and just society.  The essence of this is pluralism.  There are multiple truths.  We are back at where this essay began.  Here is what Berlin said:

“The enemy of pluralism is monism — the ancient belief that there is a single harmony of truths into which everything, if it is genuine, in the end must fit. The consequence of this belief (which is something different from, but akin to, what Karl Popper called essentialism — to him the root of all evil) is that those who know should command those who do not. Those who know the answers to some of the great problems of mankind must be obeyed, for they alone know how society should be organized, how individual lives should be lived, how culture should be developed. This is the old Platonic belief in the philosopher-kings, who were entitled to give orders to others. There have always been thinkers who hold that if only scientists, or scientifically trained persons, could be put in charge of things, the world would be vastly improved. To this I have to say that no better excuse, or even reason, has ever been propounded for unlimited despotism on the part of an elite which robs the majority of its essential liberties.

Someone once remarked that in the old days men and women were brought as sacrifices to a variety of gods; for these, the modern age has substituted the new idols: isms. To cause pain, to kill, to torture are in general rightly condemned; but if these things are done not for my personal benefit but for an ism — socialism, nationalism, fascism, communism, fanatically held religious belief, or progress, or the fulfillment of the laws of history — then they are in order. Most revolutionaries believe, covertly or overtly, that in order to create the ideal world eggs must be broken, otherwise one cannot obtain an omelette. Eggs are certainly broken — never more violently than in our times — but the omelette is far to seek, it recedes into an infinite distance. That is one of the corollaries of unbridled monism, as I call it — some call it fanaticism, but monism is at the root of every extremism.”

This is a sobering thought. After reading this, I found myself struggling with it.  I believe that there is one truth—am I really like that?  I think the answer to this question is answered simply: Can one hold truth and at the same time extend grace?

I think what Eichenwald and Berlin and many who hold this view would say is: How can you dare to know truth—you will judge everyone else with it!  Instead, we need to love.

Here is the problem: Love discriminates, love judges, love fights.  Love does not exist in the absence of judgment, but only in the presence of it.  Have you read the brilliant treatise written by modern day philosophers, “The Black Eyed Peas?  They have a song called, “Where is the Love,” and in the song it says at one point, “If you never know truth then you never know love” I don’t know if they wrote that lyric themselves, but it is exactly right.

Peter Kreeft says it this way,

“Love fights. Love cares. Love discriminates. And therefore there is in Scripture, very clearly, a thing called the ‘wrath of God’. God hates all enemies of love as the doctor hates the cancer that’s killing his beloved patient. If you really love a human being you will hate all the dehumanizing forces that are harmful to that human being.  If on the other hand you don’t really love a human being but just tolerate a human being, then you will hate nothing, so, love and hate go together. Love of a human being, no matter who he is, and hate of a human being, no matter who he is, are exact opposites, they are black and white. But love of all humans and hate of all sins – that goes together.”

Consider for a moment—what is mercy and what is justice?  Well, for humans, we always extend mercy at the expense of justice, and we exercise judgment at the expense of mercy.  If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful and understanding of those who rape,” then where is the justice?  In Christianity alone, do we see a God who exercises mercy not at the expense of justice, but through the exercise of his justice.  This is the justice of the Cross.

A friend once asked me, “Don’t all roads lead up the mountain, to God?”  The issue is this, if you stood at the top of a mountain, could you see all the paths at once?  Where would you have to be to have such a perspective?  Answer:  In multiple places at once—omniscient.  So, when a person says that all paths lead to the top of the mountain, they are saying that they can see all the paths.  If only God has that type of view, who are they claiming to be?  I think Jesus answer to the question, “Don’t all paths lead to God” would be, “There are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.”

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Faith or Repentance? Which one should we proclaim?

I have a serious question that I want to put forth. Here goes: Can the gospel be effectively presented without any reference to repentance? What is repentance? It has been defined by one theologian in this way: “Literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God…Such a change is the fruit of Christ’s victory over death.”

I think from that definition we can see that a true and genuine salvific faith will be accompanied by genuine repentance (Acts 20:21). I don’t see how it could be consistent to proclaim a salvation that preaches faith in God without repentance. Even in other parts of the Gospel, repentance is given such importance that it is stressed over saving faith itself—“there is joy in Heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7).” Even the apostles talked about the conversion of Gentiles to Christ as God giving them “repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).” I think it is safe to say that repentance and faith in Christ are inseparable, even though a new convert may be more aware of one aspect or the other.

The question: Can you truly repent without putting faith in Christ? Can you truly put faith in Christ without repenting?

We must keep in mind that this repentance is not the same wrongheaded repentance that we see with Pharaoh in Exodus, Saul in 1 Samuel, or Judas in Matthew. Perhaps the best example of faulty repentance is found in the story of the “Prodigal Son.” You know the story; the young man goes to the far country after having demanded his inheritance. When he gets there, he spends it all and finds himself poor in the middle of a regional economic depression. He hires himself out to a pig farmer in hopes of being able to eat the pig feed. No such luck. He finds himself in quite a predicament. He is hungry. Now, what is the most basic need we must meet in life? Simply put: the quenching of thirst and hunger. It is hunger that makes the boy begin to think. He even begins to contrive a story that he decides he will tell his father—in hopes of ingratiating himself with Dad and becoming a servant so he can repay his debt. This is referred to in Luke as “coming to his senses.” Literally, this means, “he got smart.” Now—what has he gotten smart about? I submit that he hasn’t gotten smart, and realized he wronged his Dad. He is driven by the desire to have one thing: Food! He wants to cure the pain in his stomach. He knows that if he becomes a slave or servant he WILL be fed. This repentance is nothing more than his realization that he can get paid and have food if he will go home. This repentance is driven by his hunger. It is driven by what the boy wants. We don’t see REAL repentance until after the humble act of the father running to meet the boy, and giving him a kiss of reconciliation. Until then, the boy’s repentance is just driven by food.

Is this the kind of repentance we need to preach? I argue emphatically, NO! I fear it IS what we preach, however. Have you heard this before: I know there is a lot of pain in your life…come to Christ and it will be remedied? Or how about: I know life is tough, finances are low, and you have nothing…Come to Christ and be filled? What do both of these appeals rest on? Our happiness—our satisfaction—our repose. It is as if; to some people, Christ is seen as the way to get happy. I submit that Christ is not in the business of making us happy. If he was, and God is perfectly just, if we ever experienced sadness or pain as a Christian, it would be proof of his non-existence! I agree with C.S. Lewis who in his inimitable fashion proclaimed: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” If our coming to Christ is to find happiness, we will be let down. At the first sign of unhappiness, we will lose faith.

So, what should we proclaim? I think it is simple. Jesus is God, He died on the Cross for OUR sins, and he rose again on the 3rd day. Now, what do we have to do to take advantage of this provision? Well, I will tell you this: Contrary to popular opinion, Christ demands more than just our availability. He demands a metamorphous of life. He demands that we become infected by his “good infection.” He demands that our very spiritual DNA be altered. He demands a new creature with a new mind.

This concerns how we think, what we feel, and what we do. The problem is, Christ doesn’t command us to think a certain way, feel a certain thing, or do anything specifically. This is the error of many of the world religions—and many versions of the Gospel, for that matter. They focus on the epistemological, the existential, or the pragmatic. It isn’t about what we think, what we feel, or what we do.

Yet, then again, it is.

Look—our repentance isn’t an isolated act that spurs a type of predictable behavior. It isn’t like when I repent, my repentance culminates in my going to the Philippines to perform free circumcisions on poor infants. No! I don’t automatically begin reciting doctrinal statements and thinking up new philosophical proofs for God’s existence. No! And, I most certainly will not begin to stretch out with my feelings and encounter the force, as if I were a Jedi Knight. No!

While it is true that knowing Christ is the most intellectually stimulating knowledge that there is, I am not commanded to think anything. While there is no more exhilarating feeling than the feeling we experience in Christ’s presence, I am not commanded to ‘feel’ anything. And most certainly, even though Jesus said, “You will know the true Christians by what they DO,” I am not commanded to do anything.

Our repentance is a change of “stuff.” Our mind changes. Our wants change. Our actions change. Our spiritual DNA is altered. We become infected by the “good infection.” Do you get it? Whatever happens after our change is prompted by God’s work in our lives—not by us. Our change affects what we WANT to do—it affects what we think about—and if affects why we do things. It even affects our interpretation of the word “happy”—it redefines our idea of self, being, or autonomy.

An example: If someone is healthy and then all of a sudden they find out they have—AIDS. What happens? Well, to begin with, they take stock of things they have never thought of before. They think about T-Cells, White Blood Cells, pay more attention to hygiene, and become a part of a community who is infected by AIDS. Now—when a person gets AIDS, do they really become interested in epidemiology, biology, people, hygiene, or health care? No. It is the infection that changes their priorities. Their ‘want’ to live drives what they view as important. It isn’t that they just grow interested in those things. Are they any different than they were 1 minute before their diagnosis? No! It is the knowledge of their change that prompts a new life.

In the same way, when we come to Christ, we aren’t necessarily any more interested in doctrinal statements than we were before, but because we love God, some of us see a change in mind—or growth in desire in that area. Some of us begin to have a calling toward missions. Does that mean that we necessarily want to go to remote parts of the world where our life may be demanded of us any more than we used to? No. What it means is, when our mind changes, we become interested in pleasing God—no matter the area—and no matter the risk.

We are driven by love.

What does it mean to love? To love is to bind one’s self to another. What is the point of love? Well, simply put: it is to delight one’s self in the other.

Let’s supposing, I was on my way home from a long trip. When I get home, I knock on the door and my wife answers. From behind my back I produce a boquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. When my wife says, “Oh John, you shouldn’t have,” I say, “It was my duty to bring you these!” How would she respond?

Now, what if the same situation happened; and in addition to the flowers and chocolates, I have now arranged a babysitter for the night. I tell her, “I have been away, and there is nothing more that would make me happy than to see you smile. I have bought tickets to the movie you wanted to see, and secured reservations at your favorite restaurant. There is no one I would rather spend tonight with than you!” Would it or would it not be weird if she responded: “Make you happy? Why does everything always have to be about you? Why are you always thinking about yourself? Why can’t you ever think about me?” It would be weird because it is the nature of love to delight ourselves in the other. Because I love my wife, I make decisions that are driven by that love. It isn’t that I want to go to a movie, or eat out—on the contrary—it is because I love her and know she likes those things, that I like them too—because I want her to be happy.

It is the same with God.

Our repentance prompts a change in our lives that recalibrates our idea of “happiness,” what we think about, what we feel, and what we want to do. They are all driven by a desire to please God—or to delight ourselves in Him. You could call this Christian hedonism. A desire for pleasure in making God happy.

Now—here is another question: Will we look different than the rest of culture? Answer: absolutely! If we are infected by the “good infection,” would it be questionable if our lives mirrored that of the culture? If we dressed the same, talked the same, thought the same, and invested in the same things: What would this imply? It would imply that we were delighting ourselves not in God—but elsewhere. What is that elsewhere? It is the idol of self. It is humanism. If our drive to pleasure and happiness is based in ourselves, our ideas, our wants, or even in our ‘faith,’ it is faulty.
I bet I caught you off guard with ‘faith.’ Look—if I preach a gospel that says, all you have to do to gain eternal life is have faith in God—you don’t have to do anything—just believe in God. Just trust that God is there. What am I elevating? Not God. I am elevating faith itself. Does God call us to be faithians? Does he call us to give our lives to our faith? No!

Why would we be so ignorant as to have faith in our faith? It sounds silly but it happens all around us.

Consider:  “Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove.”

The truth is, many Christians think that is the definition of the word faith. For some it feels liberating. It means being able to believe in anything you want to believe. No explanation is required, indeed, no explanation can be given; it is just a matter of faith. For others, such a definition is sickening. Embracing faith means you stop thinking. As faith increases, reason and meaning eventually disappear. No explanations can be given, and none can be expected. Thus, living in faith is living in the dark.

If you look at both groups, they are experiencing the same problem. By using a wrongheaded definition of faith, they ask the wrong questions, deal with the wrong questions—and ultimately, end up with the wrong answer. Faith isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t about believing myths or untruths. It neither makes all things believable—nor does it make meaning impossible.

What is the right definition of “faith?” “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” writes the author of Hebrews. A few verses later faith is similarly defined as knowing that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Maybe the best word we can use to translate “pistis” (the greek word) is the word “trust” or “trustworthy.” Suppose you say you have faith in the government. What does that mean? It means two things. First, you are sure the government actually exists. And second, you are convinced the government is trustworthy; you can believe what it says and trust it will do right.

It is in this way that the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust in God’s promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking.

Get this straight: Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who wants to be known to us:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-6).

So, we are changed because of faith and repentance. Because of our faith, we are changed when we repent. Because we repent, and God changes us, our faith is secured. Because of our faith, we are willing to repent and then we are changed. Do you see? They are both necessary.

If we separate faith from repentance or vice versa, we are not preaching the gospel. We are in danger of what Paul talks about in Galatians: Preaching a gospel that is no gospel at all.

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