Tag Archives: Philosophy of Religion

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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The Limits of Science

I was talking with some new friends who are ardent atheists and believers in Darwinian evolutionary theory.  They continuously call my position (I’m a Christian) a faith-based proposition.  Yet, when I pressed them and noted that their very belief in science as a legitimate means to finding truth (can’t be proved in a lab), their assumption that the universe is rational, their assumption that the universe is governed by laws, and the fact that we assume that our minds correspond to reality…are all necessary to even begin to do science—they overwhelmingly accused me of playing tricks and word games. No.  Word games is when I say, “If you like your plan you can keep your plan.”  We all know the truth there.

When I talked with them about evolution and the problems with it, they seemd like I was speaking from some manual of holy dogma.  For example, I asked them:

“Suppose a group of French Cistercian monks began to copy Don Quixote from Spanish to French…keep in mind that they don’t speak Spanish, but only French.  Would it be plausible than in their accidents while copying the manuscript, and through a process of a certain amount of time, that the manuscript would randomly change and become War and Peace?”

I followed that up with this question:

“We know that to turn a Buick into a submarine would be an extraordinarily complex engineering problem.  At my most basic estimates, I would say that such a project would require at least 50,000 changes.  How many intermediate forms of the car/sub would we expect to see?  If i told you that we had in the record, 49,999, that would lead you to one conclusion.  What If I told you we had seven?  What would that do to the theory?  What if instead of a car, we had a cow, and instead of a submarine, we had a whale?  What would have to change?  Well, you would have to add a diving apparatus, a breathing mechanism, change the skin to make it watertight, change the intestinal tract to make it conducive to the sea–and these are just estimates on the surface.  How many changes would you expect?  How many intermediate forms?  49,999?  Maybe so.  Do you know how many intermediate forms we have between the primitive cow-like creature and the whale?  Seven.”

Further, when I asked them how on an evolutionary paradigm, they could believe that truth was worthwhile—they looked confused.  I told them that on an evolutionary view, survival is more important than truth; therefore, one must reject truth outright if it means it will give them a better chance at survival (keep in mind these Darwinists don’t typically believe in absolute truths–well except that one).  Perhaps the most articulate atheist of our time, John Gray (professor emeritus at the London School of Economics) says in his book Straw Dogs, that all that matters is survival.  He goes on to say that morality is only something to be used in times of comfort, and when it comes down to it, morality is a means to being exterminated.

Now—What about the truth of what would happen if I jumped out of a building?  If I were in a 20 story hotel room, and I looked out the window, the truth is—jumping out the window will hurt or kill me.  On the other hand, if a nerve agent were released in my room, or if a man with a gun came in and started shooting—or if by some chance occurrence, the entire building became engulfed in flame; I would have no choice but to go against what I know to be true and jump out of my window in the name of survival.  Survival is more important than truth to the Darwinist—and this is true even if our actions will only ensure a few more moments of survival.  On a Darwinian view, this must happen.  Survival is the predominant ethic.  It just is, and as Dawkins says: “we dance to its music.”

The final straw was when I asked them if they came to believe their views on Darwinian evolutionary theory because they weighed the pros and cons and listened to arguments—or if they were determined to hold these views.  I asked them, “Based on the evidence and the pros and cons, would you say that you hold to smooth evolutionary process or punctuated equilibrium theory?”  One of them replied, “I haven’t looked into Punctuated Eq yet…I have no opinion.”  Wow!  This is stunning.  They are actually asserting that there might be a choice!  When I pressed that point,  they again said that I was engaging in asking trick questions and resorting to metaphysics.

Are their objections true?  Notice that in their replies, they never took my arguments on.  Instead, my arguments are rendered as faith based or illegitimate.  They aren’t interested in debate, they want to remove the possibility of debate.   And I’m the narrow minded one they tell me.

Let’s talk about the belief that science is a legitimate endeavor at finding truth.  If we only take things to be true based on evidence and proof, what proof is there that the statement, “Science is a legitimate endeavor at finding truth” true?  How can this be demonstrated in a laboratory?  It can’t.  It is presumed before science can begin.  What about the assumption that the universe is rational?  Why is it that our universe is governed by an extremely accurate and fine-tuned set of numerical constants?  Why is it that if we changed the expansion rate of the universe by one part in a hundred thousand million million, we would have no universe and no life?  Why?  We assume these things to be true, but can’t even begin to answer the question why.  The truth is, there is no reason for these things to be.  They just are.  We have to assume them to engage in science.

What about proof itself?  Why is it that people who call themselves ‘scientific’ often ask for proof of God?  My dear friends, proof is only found in pure mathematics.  In science we can give explanations.  The problem is, science is not the only means of explanation, and in many ways it falls short.  If I were to ask you to explain the boiling kettle on the stove, science would say:  A heat source warms the container with water to a point where the molecules become agitated and turn to steam.  Another answer would be, “I wanted a cup of tea.”  Both are correct.  Neither is a better explanation.  What explains a Ford car?  Internal combustion, chemistry, and engineering…or Henry Ford?  You tell me.

What about the presumption that the universe is governed by laws?  Joel Primack asked an interesting question. He asked what compels the electron to follows the laws of nature.  What compels it to stay in its orbit? Good question. I don’t know. But Heinrich Himmler, who had presided over the destruction of churches and synagogues throughout Europe and was the mastermind behind the extermination of the Jewish people, asked a very similar question in 1944. When confronted with the onerous treaty obligations the German state had adopted with respect to its own satraps, he asked insouciantly but pregnantly, “After all, what compels us to keep our promises?” Moral relativism is very often derided as an unhappy consequence of atheism. I don’t think moral relativism is a particularly deep issue, but I do think the issue of what compels us to keep our promises is very relevant.  But, in the universe what compels anything to follow laws?  This cannot be demonstrated in the laboratory.  We don’t even know what gravity is.  We don’t know what energy is.  Try this experiment—ask a quantum physicist what energy is.  Then correct them:  “Sir, I didn’t ask you to describe the effect of energy, I asked you to tell me what it is.”  Just because we don’t know what something is doesn’t mean it ceases to exist.  We should be more humble.  The universe abides by laws, and we assume them to be there.

What about the existence of the mind and its ability to adjudicate the world as reality?  How can this be proven?  Many will tell you that our minds are merely grey matter that includes the random firing of neurons and so forth.  Really?  They will tell you that the brain is a product of time plus matter plus chance—and that what we think is hardwired in.  Ok—if I told you that the airplane you were flying on—that the onboard computers were the products of time matter and chance—would you trust the plane enough to fly on it?  Obviously not—survival remember?  Then why would you trust the pilots who have a brain that comes from the same process?  Further, if our brains are really randomly evolved things, why should we trust anything we think is true?  I mean, if I am predetermined to think the things I do (as is the view among Dawkins, Dennett, and their ilk), it follows that I don’t come to know things based on evidence or pros and cons.  I believe it because I am determined to believe it.  But the question is deeper yet.  This view of determinism, and that the brain is hardwired—have I come to know that based on evidence and pros and cons?  Or have I come to believe it because it is hardwired in?  How can one trust this?

Finally, what about the fact that words and semiotics carry meaning?  If matter is all there is, how can ink on a typed page carry information?  Why is it when we go into a cave and see a 30,000 year old marking on the wall, we instantly assume it is an ancient Chinese character rather that the product of time plus matter plus chance?  Further, why is it when we see the letters, “ILOVEYOU” written on the beach, we assume an intelligence?  Why don’t we assume intelligence when we look at the longest word in the world, namely, the human genome?

I love science, but one must have just as much faith to believe in a purely naturalistic view of the universe as the theist does to believe in an all-powerful God.  The conflict isn’t between religion and science; on the contrary.  It is between theism and naturalism.

I am reminded what the Nobel Laureate Peter Medwar said in his book, The Limits of Science:

 “The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike questions having to do with first and last things—questions such as: ‘How did everything begin?’; ‘What are we all here for?’; ‘What is the point of living?’”

Science leaves too many things unanswered.  If matter and science were all that existed, we might as well tear down the literature, music, art, and history departments.  They can tell us nothing.  As John Gray says, “A purely naturalistic view of the universe leaves no room for secular hope.”  I fully agree.  We can make the moral case for science, but we cannot make the scientific case for morality.

Consider a story:

I have in front of me a rather remarkable button. If you should press it, yours would be untold riches, everlasting life, all the wishes you want, and whatever else you desire. The only consequence to pressing it beyond your happiness is the death of an anonymous Chinese peasant. Who among us would you trust with this button?

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Do Christians really claim victimhood in order to gain sympathy? Is Candida Moss right?: Martyrdom and its relationship to Witness.

I saw a post on Al Jazeera that reads: “The Bitter Tears of the American Christian Supermajority.”

In the article, the author says—you (secularists) may think that the most persecuted group is the Muslims, or the African Americans, or perhaps the immigrants. On the other hand Christians think they are the most persecuted and oppressed. He gives three anecdotal accounts of how the Christian people have pushed forth their message of undue persecution. In the first he says,

“On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.”

In his second piece of evidence he cites the controversial Arizona “anti gay” bill:

“On Feb. 26, Arizona’s conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to people who violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — for example, gays and lesbians. Fox News pundit Todd Starnes tweeted that Christians have been demoted to second-class citizenship in Arizona, an opinion widely shared on the right-wing Christian blogosphere, which sees Brewer’s veto as a harbinger of even greater persecution to come.”

Finally, he gives this:

“And the feature film “Persecuted,” a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism, is due out in May. Featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the movie received a rapturous reception at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 10 and is of a piece with other Christian films such as “God’s Not Dead,” about a freshman believer bullied into proving the existence of god by an atheist professor.”

 

He goes on to dispute that these anecdotes indicate any real persecution. He says unequivocally that

“More than 75 percent of the United States identifies as Christian; 57 percent believe in the devil, and nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the Bible to be either the “inspired word” or literal word of God. Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, the government began under President George W. Bush to outsource social welfare programs to faith-based organizations (more than 98 percent, according to one 2006 study, of them Christian churches), and schools with religious ties (mostly Christian) in several states are now well fed by direct public subsidies. But then, American places of worship (again, most of them Christian) have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions. Last month President Barack Obama himself held forth at National Prayer Breakfast about the importance of Jesus in his life.”

He is basically saying, this persecution of Christians is a myth. It doesn’t exist! There may be some persecution of Christians in Egypt or perhaps Nigeria—but in America they are coddled.

The writer tries to get at the orgins of this “orgy of self pity.” He cites Candida Moss in saying that self-pity is “hard wired into Christianity.” In her book, “The Myth of Christian Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” Moss pontificates on this theme. Moss says that claiming that Christians have suffered persecution is an admittance of amnesia.  According to Moss,

“Early Christians were persecuted by Rome only sporadically, less for religious heterodoxy than for political insubordination in an empire that was draconian across the board. Early Christian writers Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian chronicled such incidents as proof of the faith’s righteousness, laying a scriptural basis for a self-image of eternal persecution.”

She goes on to say that it was Eusebius who “encoded the understanding of the church as persecuted into the history of Christianity itself.”  She goes on to point out that his martyrdom stories were conjured up in an effort to motivate the base. Moss goes on to say, “These tales of persecution — full of blood, cruelty and dodgy “facts” — were enjoyed at the time, much in the way that modern audiences take in horror movies, and the lowbrow gore has long been justified by embarrassed exegetes as a response to the strain of persecution.” Then the dagger—Moss argues, “the textual evidence indicates all these tales of persecution were composed after, not before, Christianity had become the favored religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. In short, they belong to an invented tradition of victimization.” What scholarly evidence does she give to support this claim? None.  She says that for Christian historians, “martyrdom is easily adapted by the powerful to cast themselves as victims and justifying their polemical and vitriolic attacks on others.”

Then the author of the article praises Moss’ study, and goes on to point out that the book

“Has earned favorable reviews for its scrupulous scholarship; it has also aroused much nastiness from Christian critics. Even before the book was released, she told me via email, it was denounced by conservative Christian commentators and she has since received hundreds of angry messages, letters and phone calls.”

Here is what Moss said about the criticism of her book. She wrote:

“Most of these people appear not to have actually read the book but, rather, have heard about it and see it as a further example of persecution. Many of them write to the university and ask it to fire me. An alarming number think that I deserve to be beaten, raped or killed (although blessedly very few of them threaten me directly). Many of the comments are about my character and appearance, but I hear that’s very common for female writers. I’ve been called a “female Judas Iscariot”, a “demon,” possessed by Satan, evil, the Antichrist and a Holocaust denier. “

 

Does this anecdotal account confirm that Christians are belligerent and acerbic in their confrontation of dissent?

 

A first argument would be that for every “ignorant Christian” who claims to be the victim of unwarranted persecution, I can draw attention to the very same thing on the side of the secularist. I do wonder—why is it if I were to propose the positioning of a monument to honor Voltaire in Washington DC, this would go through a proper debate process and would be judged by its merits as an idea. Yet, if I suggested a statue of Moses or Jesus—it would instantly be struck down as an idea that violates the separation of Church and state? Arguably, Jesus and Moses have done much more to shape the understanding we have of freedom and individual liberty in this country than has Voltaire. Even through another perspective we see the bias. Why is it that among faculty members on the secular campus, which is made up of let’s say, 12% homosexuals—is the homosexual faculty member more likely to outwardly portray his/her sexuality in the tenure process than is the 2% of the faculty made up by Evangelical Christians? What about this minority group? It as if we are allowed to have our beliefs in private, but they must be stricken from the public square. If we put up a statue of Moses, is that the same thing as the government endorsing Moses as the only way?  Political Scientiest Dinesh D’Souza asserts,

“But you have no problem with government removing all religious symbols from the public square and you don’t see that as government endorsing atheism or secularism?…I want the public square open to both Moses and the 10 Commandments and to Voltaire.”

I agree with Dinesh D’Souza, when asked by Bill Ayers to give a “full-throated support for queer rights,” asserts:

“I believe in the United States we are all a minority of one and we are each entitled to the full rights made available to us in the Bill of Rights.”

I wonder if many on the left would give a full throated support for the rights of evangelical Christians to be recognized, and to be protected from “derogatory comments from other citizens.”

I also agree with D’Souza who says,

“I submit that if you were a professor here (Dartmouth) before the tenure committee, the defender of queer theory would have every reason to expect to be promoted, while the evangelical Christian would have to hide his true views.”

We are a minority of one. Persecution is inevitable at some point for all people.

I don’t know that I would agree at all with the author’s (Mrs. Moss) premise (and I have read her book). I think she has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about—as do many people.  Are Christians persecuted? Yes. Should we expect it? Yes. Consider:

 

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”—1 Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Love is costly by definition. Do you think that even though something may be offered to someone for nothing—that means that it didn’t cost the giver anything? It may indeed cost all. The trouble is that I think many in the church—when it comes to the issue of witnessing to people of other worldviews seem to be looking for methods and means that will cost nothing. I think that the only way this could be achieved would be to separate love from our method. Perhaps this is why some of Christianity comes across as abrasive or crude. If one only employs methodology, they will have no love in their action. If the only employ love, they will have no method. They must be coexistent.

Do you not think it is interesting that nearly every action by Jesus in the New Testament is an example of a “costly demonstration of unexpected love?”  Consider, the father leaving the house to run to the prodigal, the Samaritan carrying the man into the Jewish village, the Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one–or the woman who must get down on her hands and knees to search for one coin.  It doesn’t stop there!  What about Jesus who has no time for the crowd in Jericho (the oppressed), but has time for Zacchaeus (the oppressor)? You notice in that story, the moment that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus, the anger of the crowed moves from Zacchaeus to Jesus.  A costly demonstration of unexpected love.

Now, we must understand—Rejected love is painful—without question. In fact, Jesus Christ expressed pain and hurt in the face of rejection. There is a mandate for us to give our lives to the lost in the same way that he reached to us through the incarnation and the Cross. Wasn’t it E.M Bounds who remarked,

“The world is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.”

I think that as Christians we should concentrate more on changing hearts than changing our methods.

Well, what about persecution more specifically?

Do you know what Jesus said about persecution? He said it was part of the job. You can understand that as—“expect it.” Jesus, in preparing his disciples for the trials of this world, told them that difficulty would come. They might have thought that, with God on their side, no suffering would ever befall them. Jesus however told them:

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God…”

Right before he said that—he said this,

“And you also will bear witness…”

More than mere persecution—What do you know about the word witness? It comes from the Greek word “martys.” Do you know what that means? “Martys” was translated to Latin as “martir,” and it developed through history to become the word “martyr.” If you are interested in this, Michael Jensen from Oxford has a wonderfully erudite dissertation on the matter. He says that without question, our word martyr can be traced without any question—to the word that we read in the Bible as “witness.” Don’t take Michael or my word for it though. Even in the New Testament—there is a clear connection between being a witness and suffering. We are told that being called to be a witness means that suffering will come for Christians. Christ said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He goes on to say, “The world hated me.” Should we be surprised at the hatred we attract because of His name?

Take the earlier Hebrews passage: Faith and faithfulness to God lead to great victories in His name. What happened? Well—kingdoms were conquered, justice enforced, promises were obtained, the moths of lions were frozen, fire was quenched, people escaped the sword, enemy armies were put to retreat, and women received back their dead! It also shows that this came at great cost! Some were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and impaled and killed with the sword. I would say that they were the ones whom the world was not worthy.

Any thought about witnessing without cost is fraudulent. There were miracles and there were martyrdoms. This is no contradiction—but rather, the knowledge that we are called to serve—and to give our lives in His name—and one day we will be called home.

We must remember that we follow in the footsteps of “martyrs,” or the witnesses who went before us. These were not spectators who watched what went on. They have come before us and finished the race. The Bible doesn’t say they were a small group—in fact, it calls them, “A cloud of witnesses.” They are now spectators seated in stands that are not lightly filled. The stands are packed—with many who gave their lives for Him. Christians shouldn’t lose heart, or their way—but rather fix their eyes on Christ. We should run after Him—who was despised with the shame of the Cross—and is now seated at the right hand of God!

Now to deal directly with what she says in the book. This is actually not a unique time in history. There has always been a cost to reaching people with the Gospel. Many Christians are unwilling to pay it, however. The truth is though; this is the context in which the Gospel took root in the world and spread. To preach a sermon of repentance and faith has and will always be a challenge. A good friend of mine shares the gospel in Islamic countries. He noted to me that,

“I have had the privilege of speaking in some parts of the world in which personal safety cannot be guaranteed. It is always disappointing to hear some people’s concerns that maybe I shouldn’t go to a particular place because the risks are too great. “

 

Our goal as Christians isn’t to conserve our lives, but rather to give it. We are not called to ignore risk or employ reckless abandon. We believe in prayerful consideration. But my friend is right when he says, “But to refuse God’s call to go because of hardship is to demand something that the first Apostles would struggle to recognize as genuine Christian obedience.”

I am struck that the Hebrews passage contains numerous inferences to the hope of the resurrection. We don’t follow the3 dead—but rather those who have new life in Christ—this is a resurrected life that Christ has already won. We don’t fear death—for if we lose our life for Him, we end up keeping it!

This passage in Hebrews is riddled through from beginning to end with the hope of the resurrection. We follow in the footsteps, not of the dead, but of those who have the hope of new life in Christ, a resurrected life that Christ has already won for us. Let us not fear death; if we lose our life for Christ we end up keeping it.

Here are two final thoughts. In the early church, everyone was by definition “of another faith.” We learn a great deal just by looking at the NT. Have you seen what A.A. Trites has written on the Gospel of John? He says,

“The Fourth Gospel provides the setting for the most sustained controversy in the NT. Here Jesus has a lawsuit with the world. His witnesses include John the Baptist, the Scriptures, the words and works of Christ, and later the witness of the apostles and the Holy Spirit. [I would add that we too are being called as witnesses.] They are opposed by the world… John has a case to present, and for this reason he advances arguments, ask juridical questions and presents witnesses after the fashion of the OT assembly. The same observation is true of the Book of Acts, though Luke develops his case somewhat differently from John.  All of this material is suggestive for twentieth-century apologists. The person and place of Jesus… is still very much a contested issue. The claims of Christ as the Son of God are currently widely disputed. In such an environment a brief must be presented, arguments advanced and defending witnesses brought forward, if the Christian case is to be given a proper hearing. To fail to present the evidence for the Christian position would be tantamount to conceding defeat to its opponents. That is to say, the controversy theme, so evident in the NT, appears to be highly pertinent to the missionary task of the Church today… it is noteworthy that faithful witness often entails suffering and persecution.”

 

There are three marks of these Biblical witnesses.

 

1.  They are passionately involved in the material they present.  They have been apprehended by it, and they have a compulsory drive to share it with others.  We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

 

3.  We must be true to the bare facts of the Gospel, but also be responsible for sharing their meaning.  Thirdly, witnesses must be faithful not only to the bare facts of the Christ-event, but also to their meaning. As John Piper quips,

“If we cannot explain the good news of the gospel, it is neither news nor is it good.”

 

 

We must also give thought to our credibility. If a person is an eye-witness to something, but there are a known drunk—their credibility will be in question. We are told to be known by our fruit (singular fruit with plural taste). Titus says that the, “purpose of Christ’s death was to purify for himself a people enthusiastic for good works.” This is not the foundation of our salvation, but it is the evidence of it. By our evidence, the Gospel message is, “adorned and commended to others.”

 

 

Where I would focus my polemic on the church is not that they incessantly whine about being persecuted, but rather that they have wrestled perpetually with the balance between good works, having people eager to do good works, and the preached word of the Gospel. The Gospel and evidence must go together. Even the writers of the Lausanne Covenant said it this way: “The church may evangelize (preach the Gospel); but will the world hear and heed its message? Not unless the church retains its own integrity. If we hope to be listened to, we must practice what we preach… In particular, the Cross must be as central to our lives as it is to our message. Do we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23)? Then let us remember that a church which preaches the Cross must itself be marked by the Cross.”

 

 There must be evidence of the Cross in our lives. If not, we will only be seen as giving theories. The world doesn’t want theories, it wants real people who have truly been transformed.  Without being willing to accept being willing to lay down our lives, we have all theory and no action. On the flip side, to spring into action with no Gospel would be just as absurd. I wonder if we as Christians are prepared for the cost.

 

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