Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ten Good Reasons Not to be a Christian?

I inadvertently came across the following in a discussion forum on Amazon. Interestingly enough it was related to the new John MacArthur book that's coming out (Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong). I've also seen this same posting tied to numerous other Christian books on Amazon, so obviously the writer (who calls him/herself Celsus) has an agenda and wants everyone to know it. So here's their list of ten "good" reasons not to be a Christian. Enjoy, and then we'll discuss.

1) Numerous Biblical errors and contradictions (a list provided on request)
2) Biblical absurdities such as talking animals; magic trees; houses that suffer from leprosy and can be cured by potions of birds blood; one man killing 1000 with a jaw bone of a donkey; a man who lived in a whale; a woman who was turned into salt; Noah's flood, etc.
3) Bible prophecies, which all suffer from at least one of the following:
a) Taken out of context
b) Extremely nebulous - could apply to many events
c) Made to mean something other than what they say
d) Based on miss-translations of the original text (as with the Septuagint)
e) Based on non-existent text (Nazareth prophecy; Judas prophecy).
f) Made after the fact (Prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel)
4) A picture of God that is obscene. In the Old Testament He condones or is responsible for: wholesale murder, slavery, cannibalism, lying, deceit, discrimination against disabled people, discrimination against women, issuing bad laws, adultery, irrational killing of innocent people, rape, drunkenness.
5) There is no historical record of a man named Jesus Christ outside the Bible, where such a record SHOULD be found if in fact he existed.
6) Christianity has nothing that is unique. Its teachings and doctrines are largely borrowed from pre-existing Pagan beliefs - Zoroasterism, Mithraism, Osiris, Dionysis, Attis etc. This is confirmed by the early Church fathers, who tried to explain such parallels as Satan's attempt to counterfeit Gods plan in advance.
7) The NT scriptures were produced in a time and place where forging of scriptures was a common pastime among those who were literate, as evidenced by the numerous apocryphal works.
8) The 4 Gospels were written by unknown authors, in a language foreign to the one spoken by Christ and his disciples, based on hearsay from unknown sources, 40 to 80 years after Jesus death.
9) The doctrine of eternal Hell (borrowed from Zoroasterism and ancient Egypt) is morally corrupt.
10) The fruit of Christianity shows it to be the most violent and corrupt of religions, responsible for millions of deaths. It set back science 1500 years and issued in the Dark Ages.
Now, I've seen some much more off-the-wall objections to Biblical Christianity before. These are at least somewhat rational, mostly focused on the veracity and historical accuracy of the Bible. And mostly mistaken, easily answerable and having been shown to be false many times over. But obviously this person doesn't want to be confused with the facts. His or her mind is made up. No room for evidence to the contrary.

But then, they're just like the rest of us, aren't they? Apart from the sovereign grace of God, quickening us to life and enabling us to see the truth of the Gospel of Christ and respond to Him in faith, we are no different. We can't help it. Spiritual truth can't be discerned by those who are spiritually dead. It's foolishness. So we respond in our unbelief just like Celsus here. Oh, maybe not so antagonistically, or so systematically, but in our own way we do the same. We can't do otherwise.

This is what is so amazing about God's grace. That He is able, and willing, to take such a person who opposes Him so strongly like Celsus here, or the Apostle Paul, or me - and in an instant change us from persecutors of Christ to embracers of the cross and the Gospel. From being antagonizers to being true worshippers of the One True God. Not because He is obligated to, but because He wants to.

Amazing. Soli Deo Gloria...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Do It Again"

The other day I was listening to some old records (yes, remember vinyl?) and came across my Best of Steely Dan album. Started playing it and one of my old favorite songs was on it. Remember that classic "Do It Again" from 1974? A haunting melody to be sure, but the lyrics always puzzled me. Here they are:

In the mornin' you go gunnin' For the man who stole your water
And you fire till he is done in But they catch you at the border
And the mourners are all singin' As they drag you by your feet
But the hangman isn't hangin' And they put you on the street

You go back Jack do it again
Wheel turnin' round and round
You go back Jack do it again

When you know shes no high climber Then you find your only friend
In a room with your two timer And you're sure you're near the end
Then you love a little wild one And she brings you only sorrow
All the time you know shes smilin' You'll be on your knees tomorrow

Now you swear and kick and beg us That you're not a gamblin' man
Then you find you're back in Vegas With a handle in your hand
Your black cards can make you money So you hide them when you're able
In the land of milk and honey You must put them on the table

Listening to this song again, it seemed that the words actually do make sense - at least from a Biblical standpoint. Look at the gist of the story line of the song. A man engaging in a series of sins - first vengeful murder, then sexual lust, and finally addictive gambling. And what is the result from each of these encounters with temptation and sin? As the chorus says, he goes back and does it again. The wheel of human depravity and sinful bondage keeps on turning. The cycle of sin goes around and around. And "Jack" is powerless to break the chain. He just keeps on going back to do it again. Sounds a lot like Proverbs 26:11, "Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly."

Now, I'm not saying that Steely Dan is a source of good theology. But I am saying that even in the most mundane of cultural expressions we can see the truth of God's word and the Gospel of Christ represented. We can see and testify to the utter depravity of man and the bondage to sin that all of us, like Jack, are subject to. And we can glorify God that He is the only means by which that bondage can be broken, that we can be set free from slavery to the endless downward spiral of sin. For His glory.

Living for God's Glory

I just received a pdf of a new book from Reformation Trust by Joel Beeke. Living for God's Glory - An Introduction to Calvinism is the title. It looks to be a great explanation of not just the Doctrines of Grace from a theological point of view, but also of the implications of Calvinist doctrines for the life of the church, for evangelism, for personal holiness and for practice in all areas of the life of the Christian. The book also includes contributions by others such as Sinclair Ferguson, Michael Haykin and Derek W. H. Thomas. Looking forward to digging in to this book, but it may take some time as it's a little more than 400 pages, and reading that much on a computer may get tedious. At any rate, I plan to post a review here when finished. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, live for God's glory.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Emergent Clarity?

In a rare show of clarity in stating a position on an issue of belief, Emergent leader Tony Jones says this:

I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.
(In case you need translation, GLBTQ = gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual/transgendered, and queer people).

Read the whole thing here. Seems to kind of go against Brian McLaren's call for a "five year moratorium" on making judgments regarding homosexuality. Tony seems to be going against the grain of the emerging/emergent postmodern vagueness and stating a belief. Of course, with no basis (Biblical or otherwise) for it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Sharing My Faith" - Is It Biblical?

One of my personal irritants (e.g. pet peeves) is the use of buzzwords and buzz-phrases in contemporary Christian culture. Those things we say without thinking clearly and Biblically about what it is we're saying. One of these phrases tha's been on my mind lately as I've been doing some studying on the subject of Christian apologetics is "sharing my faith." This phrase is used often and casually by so many of us. There are even books and classes about "how to share your faith." But I've always felt a little uneasy about the phrase. And so I thought about it for a while and did a little deconstruction to discover if the phrase stands up to Biblical scrutiny. And my conclusion is - no, it doesn't.

Now before you accuse me of semantic snobbery, let me say that I have used this phrase myself and bear no ill will or ground axe against anyone who continues to use it. But I am becoming more and more convinced that far too many of us who name the name of Christ do not like to engage our minds very much, and too easily fall into the habit of using these kind of terms without clear thought.

So what does someone normally mean when they speak of "sharing their faith"? Well, mainly they are saying that they are witnessing to someone. That they are presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving person, as an exercise in evangelism. That they are in fact proclaiming the good news, the "evangel" that we are all dead in our sin and justly headed for eternal punishment, but God has acted to send His Son to fulfill the righteous and just requirements we could not, substitutionarily dying in our place as a sacrifice for our sin, and by trusting in Him and His finished work we can receive eternal life.

But is this "sharing"? Is the Gospel of Christ a message to be "shared"? I can share my lunch with someone, I can share a taxi, I can even share my feelings with them. But the Scriptures picture the Gospel not primarily as something to be shared, but rather something to be proclaimed. To be heralded as an announcement, to be presented as a propositional truth statement that demands a response. A message of eternal life to be communicated boldly, clearly, and repeatedly to as many as possible. My concern is that when we reduce the communication of the Gospel to an interpersonal "sharing", it can become simply another "this is what I think" message, rather than a "this is what God says to be true" message. A sharing of "this is what works for me" rather than "you must be born again." A me-centered sharing of my experiences, rather than the command and plea of God to be reconciled to Him. Regardless of how we communicate the Gospel, it is not our message - we are simply the herald of the King, called to proclaim His message of eternal life.

And this brings me to the second part of the buzz-phrase: "sharing my faith." Just what is it that we are communicating? Is it my personal belief in this Gospel, my personal faith? Now that is something that I most definitely cannot share with another person. Indeed, the Gospel is not mine, it is God's. My faith is simply my personal trust in the message and the Christ. Everyone has to exercise their own faith in that message and Person. They can't share mine.

The best sense I can make of using the term "faith" when describing evangelism is in saying that we are communicating the faith. As it is described in Jude v. 3, it is "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." The faith, the definite article. The Gospel of Christ as contained in the body of apostolic teaching that we as believers are commanded to defend and earnestly contend for. This is what we are communicating, sharing, proclaiming to unbelievers. In reality, we have nothing else to share or proclaim. We are not commanded to communicate our own personal experience of faith in Christ - although that can often be a God-glorifying testimony to His grace. But it's not by admiring or trusting in what God has done for me that gains eternal life for another person - it is by trusting in "the faith", the truth of the Gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ. If my evangelism amounts to nothing more than sharing what God has done for me, I have not really communicated the truth of the Gospel. I have simply shared my experience. Again, not a bad thing. But not sufficient to fulfill the Great Commission.

In place of "sharing my faith", I propose a new buzz-phrase. How about "proclaiming the faith." Or there's always that old saw, "preaching the Gospel." Seems that was the way Paul liked to express it. Can't go too far wrong there, can we?

Thank you for letting me share that with you...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Religon or Theology - Same Thing?

Started reading R. C. Sproul's What is Reformed Theology?, and came across some insightful words in the introduction regarding our tendency to consider theology and religion as interchangeable terms. Sproul says this:

...there is a profound difference between the study of theology and the study of religion. Historically the study of religion has been subsumed under the headings of anthropology, sociology or even psychology. The academic investigation of religion has sought to be grounded in a scientific-empirical method. The reason for this is quite simple. Human activity is part of the phenomenal world. It is activity that is visible, subject to empirical analysis. Psychology may not be as concrete as biology, but human behavior in accordance with beliefs, urges, opinions and so forth can be studied in accordance with the scientific method.

To state it more simply, the study of religion is chiefly the study of a certain kind of human behavior, be it under the rubric of anthropology, sociology or psychology. The study of theology, on the other hand, is the study of God. Religion is anthropocentric; theology is theocentric. The difference between religion and theology is the difference between God and man - hardly a small difference.

Again, it is a difference of subject matter. The subject matter of theology proper is God; the subject matter of religion is man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Legislating Morality?

While reading Dr. Mohler's excellent blog article this morning looking at the results of the voting on the various initiatives defending the traditional definition of marriage (one man, one woman), it occurred to me that this is a perfect example of the classic argument that you can't "legislate morality." Mohler makes the point that while ballot initiatives defining traditional marriage passed strongly in California, Florida and Arizona last week, this hardly means that the issue is settled, or even agreed upon.

For example, consider the demonstrations in California last week protesting the vote there. Consider the legal challenges already filed in that state claiming unconstitutionality because the initiative "revised" the state constitution rather than "amended" it. Consider the statements made by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger encouraging homosexual activists to continue to fight the issue, and hoping that the courts will overturn the initiative once again. Consider the statements of liberal clergy who assert they will continue to bless and perform same-sex unions regardless of the law. Consider the statements of Nancy Pelosi, who essentially seems to think that her constituents in California were too dumb to understand what they were really voting on.

Now all these things have huge political implications. When elected leaders express their desire for courts to overturn the will of the people, that is a serious thing. When religious leaders consider their moral authority above the rule of law, that's a serious thing. When the will of the majority has been voiced clearly but yet is summarily dismissed by the political leadership, that is a serious thing. While the voice of the people has spoken, and the law has been set, the very people who are tasked with establishing and enforcing this law are opposed to doing so on moral grounds.

And herein is why you cannot legislate morality. Because morality, the making and holding of moral judgements and the conformance to those judgments, is a personal issue, not primarily a political issue. Moral standards are held individually, based on the condition of one's worldview and one's heart. And no law can change the worldview, will or heart of man. Only the Gospel of Christ can do this.

Does this mean that we should never strive to ensure that the laws of our land are based on the righteous moral standards of God's Word? Absolutely not. In a real sense, we in fact do legislate morality in many areas. That's why we have laws against murder, theft, and a host of other immoral acts. Since God created the world with a moral order, a society whose laws most closely reflect that moral order will be the most in tune with the way God intended the universe to operate. The entire nation is blessed when its laws are aligned with the moral precepts of God's law. But, we must never cross the line into thinking that this is the final answer. Indeed, this is the problem in much of today's evangelical movement. Substituting political action and influence for proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And expecting the nation to be transformed. The only transformer of a nation is the transformer of individuals - God Himself, as He purposes through His Son. When we forget this truth, we start down the path to forgetting to be the Church.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Reflections

I've had a few days now for thoughts about the presidential election to float around and lump together in my head, so it's time share a few of them.

  • First and foremost, I agree that as a Christian I am commanded by God to pray for the leaders that He Himself has sovereignly appointed for us. The Biblical commands to do so are perfectly clear, and I don't get a pass even when I don't like or agree with God's choice. There's no room for the "he's not my president" mentality. God may indeed have placed Obama in the presidency to demonstrate His ability to change and redeem. We must pray to that end.
  • However, that said - that does not mean that Christians are to take a deterministic "whatever, God's in control" attitude and not hold our new president accountable to governing righteously. Just as I don't get a pass in praying for Obama, he doesn't get a pass from me in being criticized where it's due. That's the freedom, even the responsibility we have as followers of Christ in a democratic republic.
  • Much has been and is being made of the election of the first African-American president. I have to agree that this in and of itself is a significant event. While it's hard for me to identify with the full importance of it to the Black and minority community, I recognize the historical impact. But it seems that all the talk about this event being a nail in the coffin of racism in America, a moment that puts us in "post-racial" times, seems to be making just the opposite point. So many references to Martin Luther King's dream being fulfilled. But was it? Remember King's words, looking for the day when a man was "not judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character." But to listen to so many before and now after Obama's election, that is indeed not the case. There's been an underlying assumption all through the campaign that any questioning of Obama's policies, positions, experience or past was somehow a racial attack. Is this really "post-racial"? Seems to me to be just the opposite. A point well made by Diana West in a recent article, where she begins "if we really inhabited a "post-racial" world, the news of the week would be that a Democrat has won the White House." Exactly.
  • I don't think anyone can plausibly deny the Obama-ward tilt of the media in this election cycle. The lack of depth in coverage of issues like Obama's background and relationships with the likes of Ayers, Wright and Rezko, the complete pass given someone like Biden, and in return the nit-picky and intrusive attack journalism agaisnt Palin were all clear signs that any illusion of an objective, watch-dog mainstream media in America is long gone. It remains to be seen whether Obama and Pelosi/Reid will pursue a return to the "fairness doctrine" to further quash any dissenting media outlets.
  • And the really interesting - and telling - events have been Obama's actions since being elected. As he begins to show his real colors, which were so well hidden by his media lap-dog during the campaign. First pick for chief of staff - Rahm Emanuel. One of the most partisan and abrasive personalities on the Dem side of Washington. So this is unity? Hmm. I think it's clear that Obama's brand of unity only comes by agreeing with him.
  • On the other side, though, is the fact that the Democrats received nowhere near the "mandate for change" that was predicted. Obama's narrow win in the popular vote (52-48) and the less-than-expected adds to both houses of Congress show that even though the election leaned Dem, the country is not firmly behind the people and policies espoused by the left end of the political party. And reality is that due to the current state of economic stress, Obama and company will have precious little ability to expand government revenues and reach. The Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of timing of the economic problems and dissatisfaction with Bush. They would do well to keep this in mind as they plan their first steps.
Challenging, interesting times lie ahead. And for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, yet more fresh opportunities to proclaim His Gospel and glorify Him as we continue to trust not in our government, but in our King.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Results...

Yes, it's that fateful date when the American people exercise their right to respond to all the lies and hype and emotionalism of the presidential campaigns and vote their conscience, or their pocketbook, or their ideological agenda, or their worldview, or their ignorance or whatever. And when millions of people will be glued to their TV sets all evening and probably late into the night to get the results of the election. So much at stake, and even at this late date the outcome is still far from sure, regardless of what the polling pundits tell us. Because elections really aren't about voting, are they? They're really all about the results. Who, at the end of the day, gets elected? Who gets chosen?

Well there's another kind of election that I am happy to say is not dependent at all on the vagaries and fickleness of human campaigns and hype. An election which has results that are absolutely sure and certain. And an election with stakes that are infinitely high, a matter of eternal life and death. Of course, that is God's gracious election of those to whom He will grant eternal life in Jesus Christ. I am thankful that there is only one vote needed in this election, and that vote is His. I am grateful that there is no need to campaign for His election, since I would have nothing to claim as a reason He should elect me. In fact, I have nothing to claim at all other than my slavery to sin and my utter rejection of Him. Yet God purposed to elect me, and all who will believe in Christ, to the position of eternal life. To the position of being justified before Him, adopted as His child, free from condemnation, a dwelling place of His Spirit, a member of His body. Not on the basis of any qualifications we possess for that position, but only on the basis of His gracious choice. And He elects His people to that position, not for a 2-year or 4-year term, but for eternity. And He Himself insures that we will remain in that position all the way, never to be impeached or removed from office, even when we fail to fulfill our duties at times. And He does so, not with some superficial knowledge of us like political candidates, but will complete and full and intimate knowledge of who we are. We are foreknown by Him from eternity past.

So as we await the results of the elections, let's not forget the one election that really counts. Let's not lose perspective as followers of Christ. If you are in Christ, it is because God has sovereignly and graciously elected you to be His, He has placed you into that position, one that supersedes all the earthly presidents and nations that may come and go. He has elected you to a Kingdom that is not of this world. Let's be sure that we live like that kind of Kingdom citizen. For the honor and glory of the One who elected us.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The End of Democracy as We Know It?

Read these words from Scottish jurist and historian Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler, penned over 200 years ago. And consider them in relation to the 'promises' being made by Barack Obama.

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again into bondage."

A vote for Obama is a vote based in complacency, a vote for moving toward apathy and dependence. Make no mistake - this is the "change" that he has in view. And millions of Americans are buying the package like sheep. Never thinking about what the long-term direction is, only focused on what's in it for me in the short term. "Spreading the wealth around," as B. Hussein Obama puts it.

One of the worst aspects of a democratic form of government is that we get the leaders we deserve. I'm reminded of God's response to the Israelites when they wanted a king like the other nations around them. God indeed gave them what they asked for - Saul, a king who led God's chosen people astray. And they continued to select similar kings for generations. Just read 1 Kings and 2 Kings for a refresher. Could He be doing the same thing now?