Posts tagged ‘Spirituality’

Believing and Acting

bible-and-praying

Last week in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof penned a column calling on his readers to rethink Christianity.  His thoughts are based on a new book by famed former Evangelical, professional provocateur, and author Brian McLaren.  Mr. Kristof summarizes the thrust of Mr. McLaren’s book by quoting a few lines:

“What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?” McLaren asks in “The Great Spiritual Migration.” “Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”[1]

What is being argued for here is a wresting away of Christianity from a prescribed set of beliefs and a reinventing or a recapturing (depending on your perspective) of Christianity as a call to action.

Except, that’s not what’s really being argued for at all.

The reader is clued into this fact by the way in which Mr. McLaren describes traditional Christian beliefs.  He asks, “What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs?”  It turns out that the trouble with traditional Christianity is not that it espouses beliefs, but that it espouses beliefs that are, in Mr. McLaren’s words, “problematic.”  Mr. Kristof notes a couple of these “problematic” beliefs in the opening of his column:

Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays.

This is only the second sentence of his article, but Christian beliefs concerning human sexuality and abortion have already made an appearance.  I should note that it is indisputably a problem – both theologically and humanitarianly – to, as Mr. Kristof puts it, “demonize gays.”  But I can’t help but wonder what he means by “demonizing gays.”  Does he mean treating a whole group of people as sub-human?  Or does he mean calling sexual activity outside of a marriage between a husband and a wife sin?  To do the first is to be vicious and wrong.  The do the second is to tell the truth.

Ultimately, any attempt to portray Christianity as a series of actions as opposed to a set of beliefs is bound to fail because such an attempt simply does not reflect the way of Jesus.  Jesus was committed both to doing and to doctrine. This is why Jesus taught on a whole host of doctrinal issues such as moneyworshipthe nature and character of Scripturethe end times, His divinity, and yes, even human sexuality.

There is an old phrase, coined by Prosper of Aquitaine in the fifth century, that has long been used to describe much of the worship life of the Church: Lex orandi, lex credendi.  “The law of praying is the law of believing.”  The idea behind this phrase is that a person learns how and what to believe in worship.  In other words, the worship life of the Church is meant to form and inform the faith life of Christians.

But there is a second part to this slogan: Lex credendi, lex vivendi.  “The law of believing is the law of living.”  That is, what a person believes necessarily forms and informs what a person does.  This is why the apostle Paul can exhort a young pastor named Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16).  Paul knows that doctrine and doing go hand in hand.

Mr. Kristof and Mr. McLaren know that doctrine and doing are, in reality, inseparable. This is why, even as they issue a call to action while wryly downplaying the value of doctrinal standards, they cannot help but point to and act on their own theological commitments.  Their beef, even if it is presented otherwise, is not with the fact that Christians believe, but with what Christians believe.  I would simply remind them that, eventually, if we act on what we believe as Christians, people will want to know why we do what we do.  And we should have an answer to give to them even as Scripture has given an answer to us.  And for that, doctrine still matters.

_______________________________

[1] Nicholas Kristof, “What Religion Would Jesus Belong To?The New York Times (9.3.2016).

September 12, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

2015: It’s Going To Be A Great Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As we begin a new year, it is useful to take a moment to reflect on our lives – where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.  Reflecting is important not only for the realms of finances, family, or fitness, but also for the realm of faith.  For above all, we must realize and recognize who we are in relationship to our Creator.  The British theologian N.T. Wright has written a set of five questions every Christian must answer – or, perhaps more accurately, simply remember the answer already given – in order to appropriately and insightfully take stock of his or her life.  I relay these questions – and their answers – so that you may remember who you are in God’s sight.[1]

Who are we?

We must never forget that, as the apostle Paul writes, we are “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  This means our identity and purpose must always and only be founded and grounded not in the things, titles, or accolades of this world, but in the cross of our crucified Savior. This is certainly where the apostle’s identity is found: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).   If we find our identities in anyone or anything else other than Christ and His cross, we are called to repent and turn back to Him.

Where are we?

N.T. Wright reminds us that we are “in the good creation of the good God.”  Sometimes we can forget, especially when life becomes dark and difficult, that when God created the world, He created it “good” (Genesis 1:25).  Yes, not all is right with creation.  Yes, there is pain, suffering, and tragedy – none of which were part of God’s dream and design.  But try as it might, evil cannot utterly destroy the goodness of God’s creation.   Indeed, God promises to restore the complete goodness of His creation on the Last Day: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  For all of its brokenness, we are still in a good place.  Thus, we ought to celebrate and appreciate the home in which God has given us in His creation.

What’s wrong?

In a word, sin is what’s wrong.  Indeed, this is why God’s good world appears so marred and messed up.  Each of us is born into sin generally.  Because of Adam and Eve, the effects of sin plague us all.  This is called “original sin.”  But each of us also commits sins individually and personally.  We transgress God’s laws and do not do what we are commanded to do.  This is called “actual sin.”  Another answer to the question of what is wrong, then, is that we are what’s wrong.  We are the ones who make God’s good world a mess through our injustice and iniquity.

What’s the solution?

In a word, Jesus is the solution.  Jesus is God’s remedy to sin and redemption from sin.  The apostle Peter writes, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  It is important to note that not only is Jesus God’s solution to sin, Jesus is God’s only solution to sin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This means that all other attempts to deal with sin – be they moralistic or legalistic or liberalistic or relativistic – will ultimately fail.  If Christ is not your Forgiver and Redeemer, your sin has not been solved.  Period.

What time is it?

In the Scriptural view, time is not marked by the days on a calendar, but by the acts of our God.  In other words, what matters about the new year is not that we have transitioned from 2014 to 2015, but what God has done for us in the past and will continue to do for us into the future.  N.T. Wright explains cogently the time in which we live:  “We live between resurrection and resurrection, that of Jesus and that of ourselves; between the victory over death at Easter and the final victory when Jesus ‘appears’ again.”  What ultimately makes 2015 so special, then, is that we are another year closer to the coming of Christ and the salvation of our souls.  And that sure and certain hope makes this year a year worth celebrating!

_______________________

[1] The questions and quotes in this blog can be found in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 275.

December 29, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall…

Treadmill 1A couple of weeks ago in Adult Bible Class, I talked about our society’s obsession with physical beauty. Though such obsession is often stereotyped as a female concern, males are increasingly sharing in our culture’s fixation on the physical. Take, for instance, this alarming report by Jeff Beckham for WIRED Magazine:

In a recent survey of 3,705 kids, 11 percent of teens in grades 9 through 12 reported having used synthetic human growth hormone without a prescription. That means that at any high school football game, it’s likely that at least two players on the field will have tried human growth hormone.[1]

In a world where playing well in high school football can mean “a financial scholarship to go to college … the pressures that are put on them to win by any means necessary” are enormous, says Travis Tygart, the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, whom Beckham cites in his article.

But it’s not just success in sports that drives young men to use HGH. Beckham continues:

[A] survey, carried out by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and funded by a grant from the MetLife Foundation, found no statistically significant difference in the athletic involvement between synthetic HGH users and non-users …

Even for non-athletes, the spike in the reported use of HGH can be tied to societal pressure. A study in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics found that nearly 18 percent of adolescent boys were highly concerned about their weight and physique. And boys were as likely to feel pressure to gain weight and muscle as to lose weight.

In other words, high school guys, just like their female counterparts, are becoming increasingly obsessed with their physical beauty. The study Beckham cites in JAMA Pediatrics also notes that at least 7.6% of young men are willing to engage in unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to attain what they perceive to be an ideal physique.[2] There is not much, it seems, that is too risky for young men when it comes to their attempts to look good.

Of course, something has to change. Our incessant obsession with how we look is not only an affront to the biblical and scientific reality that “beauty is fleeting,” (Proverbs 31:30), it also takes things that, at their best, can contribute to the health of our bodies – e.g., eating carefully and exercising – and twists them toward sadly unhealthy ends.

Who do you hold up as a standard of beauty for yourself? Who does your spouse hold up as his or her standard? How about your kids? If your standard is someone on the cover of a magazine or someone who takes the field for the NFL on a Sunday afternoon, it’s time to switch your standard. Your standard should be Scripture, which says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Beauty involves much more than how you look. It goes all the way down to who you are. So don’t just look good, be good. After all, being good will bless a lot more lives than just looking good. And, as a bonus, you’ll even be able to eat a cookie every once in a while without worrying about the calories. That sounds like a win-win to me.

___________________

[1] Jeff Beckham, “Growth Hormone Usage Rises Among Teens,” WIRED (12.4.2014).

[2] Alexis Conason, “Eating Disorders in Boys and Young Men,” Psychology Today (12.4.2014).

December 8, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why “No” and “Yes” Won’t Cut It: Turning the Tide of Sexual Assault

College CampusIn the wake of a horrifying barrage of sexual assaults on college campuses, university administrators – and now whole state governments – are scrambling to turn the tide. The California legislature passed a law at the end of August requiring what is referred to as “affirmative consent.” The measure requires not only that a person not say “no” to a sexual encounter, but also that he or she offer “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”[1] In other words, a person must say “yes” to a sexual encounter. Interestingly, according to the legislation, this “yes” need not be verbal. It can also be communicated through actions. Or, if you prefer, it can even be communicated electronically.  Just like everything else in our high tech world, if you want to make sure you’re having consensual sex, there’s an app for that.  Of course, trying to discern what constitutes affirmative consent, even when you have an app, is no easy task. Emma Goldberg, a member Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale, admits: “It’s obviously quite difficult for administrators to adjudicate affirmative consent, and there is always room for improvement in enforcement of these policies.”[2]

Ultimately, the problem with affirmative consent laws such as the one California lawmakers have passed is not that it is too strong, but too weak. Feeble legislative attempts that require mere consent will not and cannot address the deep moral realities of human sexuality.

Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, recently published a book dealing with modern sexual ethics. In the introduction, he insightfully notes that differing views on sex are rooted in different conceptions of reality:

There are two fundamental views of reality. One is that things have a Nature that is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are. In other words, things have inbuilt purposes. The other is that things do not have a Nature with ends: things are nothing in themselves, but are only what we make them to be according to our wills and desires. Therefore, we can make everything, including ourselves, anything that we wish and that we have the power to do.[3]

This is a stunning analysis of the worldview that permeates and shapes our sexual ethics. In a myriad of ways, we have worked to separate sex from its natural – what Reilly would call “real” – ends. We defy sex’s procreative reality with abortion. We fight against sex’s emotionally intimate reality with our hookup culture. We have placed sex and its moral entailments squarely in the confines our wills. If we want to have sex, sex is moral. If we don’t want to have sex, sex is immoral.

The fact of the matter is this: our wills cannot provide an adequate moral framework and reality for human sexuality. The contrail of shattered families, wrecked finances, and broken hearts that our sexual wills have left strewn in our societal sky is proof positive of this. Furthermore, teleological reality has a funny way of continually smacking us squarely in the face, no matter how stridently we may try to escape it. Through sex, babies will continue to be conceived. Because of fleeting trysts, people will continue to be riddled by regret. Sex will continue to impress its reality on us, whether or not we want it to. Perhaps we ought to start living in that reality rather than seeking to escape it.

In a society where we pretend that our mere wills can determine the morality of sexuality, states and universities can do no better than to legislate a “yes” before sex, no matter how insufficient, impotent, and fraught with adjudicative hair splitting such legislation may be. But as Christians, we can affirm that God had purposes in mind when He created sex. Therefore, as the Church, we can call for sexual ethics to be in line with these purposes and not just with our desires. So for those on college campuses, I ask, for the sake of God’s will and your wellbeing, to consider waiting not just for someone to say “yes” before you have sex, but to say “I do.”

It’ll work out a lot better.

_____________________________

[1] Aaron Mendelson, “California passes ‘yes-means-yes’ campus sexual assault bill,” Reuters (8.29.2014).

[2] Richard Pérez-Peña and Ian Lovett, “California Law on Sexual Consent Pleases Many but Leaves Some Doubters,” The New York Times (9.29.2014).

[3] Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), xi-xii.

October 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Act Like Men: Sobering Lessons From Ray Rice and Janay Palmer

Ray Rice, Janay PalmerWe’ve known about it since last February. But last Monday, when TMZ released video of former Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then fiancée and now wife Janay Palmer in an elevator, knocking her unconscious, the flames of public outrage instantly erupted. The video was so shocking and the violence so brutal that, hours after the video was released, the Ravens terminated Rice and the NFL banned him indefinitely.

Much of the discussion surrounding the assault and the release of this video has centered on the NFL’s inept handling of this terrible tragedy. People want to know: Why was the NFL’s initial reaction to this domestic violence story so weak? Originally, Rice received only a paltry two-game suspension. Why did the NFL change its response once the video was released, considering the video gave us no new information? It just confirms what we already knew.  New information indicates that the NFL did, in fact, have a copy of this video in their possession as early as last April.  Why didn’t the NFL take swift and decisive action against Rice then?

These are important questions. But for the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on Rice himself. His brutal actions serve as clear cautions and teach us important lessons. Here are three of those lessons.

Lesson 1: Humans deserve dignity.

Time and time again, Scripture upholds the dignity every human being. The Psalmist writes:

What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:4-8)

The Psalmist extols man as the crown of God’s creation. Though on earth, he is just a little lower than heavenly beings and is called to steward and rule God’s creation. Man has preeminent dignity in God’s created order.

Part of the reason what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer is so appalling is because it robbed her of this dignity. To knock out your soon-to-be spouse and then to drag her out of an elevator is to treat her with contempt rather than, as Solomon says, a “crown” (Proverbs 12:4). Rice treated Palmer as someone less than human. And this is unacceptable.

Lesson 2: Humans need patience.

Though we do not know the specific circumstances that led to this incident, it is not a stretch to surmise that Rice punched Palmer because he was angry with her. Something had been said or done that sent him reeling.

What Rice needed was patience.

The apostle Paul famously extols patience as part of the fruit of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Greek word Paul uses for “patience” is makrothymia. This word is made up of two parts. Makros means “long” and thymos means “hot.” To be patient, then, means to take a long time to get hot. It means to keep your cool when everyone else is losing theirs.

Everyone gets frustrated. Everyone has disagreements. Everyone endures a pricked pride from time to time. What makes the difference in how these troubles turn out is how we react. Do we react in anger? Or do we take a long time to get hot?

Patience can protect your job and sustain your reputation. But most importantly, it can save your relationships. This is why, when Paul discusses how to love another person well, the very first thing he says is “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Lesson 3: Humans value trust.

I have counseled with far too many battered women. Some have been hit many times. Others have been hit only once. Regardless of the number of times these women have been abused, one refrain remains consistent: “I don’t know if I can trust him anymore. I’m afraid he’ll do it again.”

Violence breaks trust. It breaks trusting communication because you never know if something you say will set the other off. It breaks trusting intimacy because the same hands that reach out to hold you once hit you. Violence cannot be quarantined and contained as merely “one problem” in an otherwise healthy relationship because it breaks trust in every area of a relationship. So men, let me say this as clearly as I can: Raising your hand at a lady, even just one time, is one time too many. Don’t even think about it. Go for a walk to cool off. Call a trusted friend or your pastor for counsel. Pray for strength to keep your cool. But do not raise your hand. Ever. No exceptions. No excuses.

Is there forgiveness from God for men who break this rule? Of course there is. Can breaking this rule end a man’s marriage and irreparably harm a precious daughter of God? You bet it can. So just don’t do it.

Coming to Dallas this November, and then to Chicago next May, is a Christian conference called “Act Like Men.” It’s based on Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). A man who hits a woman rejects Paul’s admonition. He does not act like a man. He acts like a brute.

So what does it mean to act like a man? It means simply this: to act like Christ. So whether you’re a famed NFL running back, an affluent businessman, or an unknown factory worker, it’s time to put down your hand and take up your cross.

September 15, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Decidophobia

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.

___________________________

[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s Not About The Supreme Court Ruling

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

There was the ruling.  And then there was the reaction to the ruling.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, saying it did not have to pay for certain types of birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because it considered them abortifacients which violated the theological beliefs of the company’s owners, the reaction was swift and fierce – from both sides.  Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, announced:

Here is what the decision means:  People have First Amendment rights, and even if the corporations themselves are not entitled to Free Exercise exemptions, the people behind the corporate veil, the business owners themselves, certainly are.

On the other side, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, lamented:

We think it’s a bitter pill to swallow for women, and that the decision is saying that bosses know best and their religious beliefs can trump very basic health-care coverage.  It’s especially harmful to women, but beyond this, down the line, there will be other cases, other challenges, that could have an even broader effect.[1]

Of course, along with these measured responses, there were also the less measured responses of the Twitterverse, like one post advocating arson: “#HobbyLobby are scum of the earth.  Burn every single one down, build a homeless shelter there instead.”[2]  Then, there was another very humble post from a person who agreed with SCOTUS’s ruling:  “Ha. Ha. It’s The. Law.”[3]

What fascinates me about all these responses – whether they be sophisticated or sleazy – is how little they have to do with the actual legal ins and outs of this case and how much they reflect the radically disparate worldviews of our society.  I have found no better synopsis of the clash of worldviews in this case than this from Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[4]

This is exactly right.  Different people value different things.  For some, their faith is their defining characteristic.  Thus, they have a strong desire to practice their faith in every area and aspect of their lives, including their business dealings.  For others, some other thing – like their sexuality – is their defining characteristic.  And anything perceived as an affront to their sexual identity is worthy of unrestrained caustic choler.

As a Christian, I really have no choice when it comes to how I will define myself:  my life must be defined by Christ.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So what does this mean for my interactions with those who define themselves by other things?  A few things come to mind.

First, I must love those with differing worldviews.  As Ed Stetzer so pointedly says in his article on the Hobby Lobby ruling, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”[5]  People who live outside a Christian worldview are not to be destroyed or oppressed in a political or judicial power grab, but loved through a winsome witness.

Second, I must realize that my worldview is no longer a privileged majority worldview in our society.  Indeed, many people are not at all concerned that a Christian may be legislatively or legally forced to do something that goes against his conscience.  Again, Ed Stetzer writes, “Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics.”  Trevin Wax reveals that “a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment [which grants religious liberty] goes too far in the freedom it promises.”  This is just a reality.

Third, I must make the case – through both a rigorous intellectual defense and a gentle, quiet lifestyle – why my worldview should be seriously considered and why it does indeed lead to true human flourishing.  It is important to note that this case cannot be made quickly.  Indeed, it cannot even be made by just my life or in just my lifetime.  No, this is a case the whole Church must make.  And blessedly, the Church has been making it for millennia.  For instance, the Church made its case here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  This is why I doubt any Supreme Court ruling – be it in favor of or against religious liberty – will kill the Church’s case.  For this is the case and cause of Christ.

Let’s keep making it.

______________________________

[1] Ashby Jones, “Legal Experts, Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling,” The Wall Street Journal (6.30.2014).

[2] Costa Koutsoutis, @costa_kout, 6.30.2014

[3] Harriet Baldwin, @HarrietBaldwin, 6.30.2014

[4] Trevin Wax, The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[5] Ed Stetzer, “Hobby Lobby Wins: Where Do We Go from Here?The Exchange (6.30.2014).

July 7, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Wisdom That’s Not So Wise

Credit:  wired.com

Credit: wired.com

It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”[1]  There just seems to be something about one’s own age the dupes those living in it into thinking they are living in the best age – they are living at the pinnacle of human achievement, intelligence, and insight, unsurpassed by anything that has come before it, or, for that matter, anything that will come after it.

Case in point:  Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work The Quest of the Historical Jesus, opens by touting his credentials:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic though, critical acumen, historical insight, and religious feeling – without which no deep philosophy is possible.[2]

At least Schweitzer doesn’t have a confidence problem.

The ironic thing about Schweitzer’s opening paragraph is that on the back of this very book is this review:  “Schweitzer’s … proposals no longer command endorsement.”  In other words, Schweitzer, who thought his age was so wise that the people, and specifically the Germans, in it could in no way be mistaken, were, in fact, mistaken.  Perhaps his German pedigree wasn’t as intellectually impenetrable as he thought it was.

Whether or not we are as unabashedly arrogant as Schweitzer, we all, to one extent or another, use our age as the measuring rod for all ages.  We project the sensibilities of our age back onto the past and even forward into the future.

Greg Miller of Wired Science recently published a pithy little post, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today.”[3]  Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, shared with Miller a fascinating cache of vintage European postcards that offer a glimpse of how the people of yesteryear thought we would be living in our years.  For instance, there is one postcard featuring a prop plane with a spotlight and luggage attached to the top of the cabin ushering a group of tourists to the moon for “just another weekend trip.”  The year, according to the postcard, is 2012.  Are any rockets needed?  No.  And the people on the aircraft seem to be blissfully unconcerned with the fact that their cabin is not pressurized.  Another postcard features a videophone, projecting its picture onto a wall, just like the movies of the early 1900’s did.  Apparently, those at the turn of the 20th century simply could not envision the hand-held screens we enjoy today.  Perhaps most comically, the people in all of these postcards are decked out in their early 1900’s wears.  As Miller wryly notes, though everything else underwent radical evolutions, “fashion stayed frozen in time.”

For all the fanciful things these postcards envision, they are embarrassingly transparent products of their time.  No one would mistake these as accurate or modern depictions of our age.  The people of the early 1900’s, it seems, were stuck in the early 1900’s.

We would do well to remember that just like the people of the early 1900’s were stuck in the early 1900’s, the people of the early 2000’s are, well, stuck in the early 2000’s.  We too are products of our time.  Not that this is all bad.  Our age has much too offer.  But our age cannot lead us to disparage other ages – especially past ages.  For the wisdom of the past that we discount as foolishness in the present may just be the wisdom of our present that will be discounted as foolishness in the future.  In other words, we should take the wisdom of our age with a grain of salt.

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it self-consciously bucks the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whatever zeitgeist happens to be popular at any given moment.  Indeed, it sees past learning as key to present wisdom.    As the apostle Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  This is why, according to one count, the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament some 263 times.[4]  Wisdom, according to Scripture, cannot be confined to just one age.  It needs many ages.

When you look at your present, then, don’t assume that your day is the greatest day and your generation the greatest generation.  Or, to use the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Wisdom is not just when you are.  It was before you.  And it will continue after you.  Wise, therefore, is the person whose memory and vision is long.

______________________

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), 1.

[3] Greg Miller, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today,” wired.com (5.28.2014).

[4]New Testament Citations of the Old Testament,” crossway.org (3.17.2006).

June 2, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

#Blessed

Credit:  socialmediaexaminer.com

Credit: socialmediaexaminer.com

I don’t know how many times I’ve received the prayer request.  But it’s definitely more times than I can remember.  “Pray that God will bless my…” and then fill in the blank.  “Finances.”  “Job Search.”  “Move.”  “Golf Game.”  “Baby Shower.”  And the list could go on and on.

Now, on the one hand, I have no particular problem with these kinds of prayer requests per se.  Indeed, when people come to me with these kinds of prayers, I gladly oblige.  But on the other hand, even though we pray to be blessed, I’m not so sure we always understand what it truly entails to be blessed, at least not biblically.

The other day, I came across an article by Jessica Bennett of The New York Times chronicling all the blessings she has stumbled across on social media.  She opens:

Here are a few of the ways that God has touched my social network over the past few months:

S(he) helped a friend get accepted into graduate school. (She was “blessed” to be there.)

S(he) made it possible for a yoga instructor’s Caribbean spa retreat. (“Blessed to be teaching in paradise,” she wrote.)

S(he) helped a new mom outfit her infant in a tiny designer frock. (“A year of patiently waiting and it finally fits! Feeling blessed.”)

S(he) graced a colleague with at least 57 Facebook wall postings about her birthday. (“So blessed for all the love,” she wrote, to approximately 900 of her closest friends.)

God has, in fact, recently blessed my network with dazzling job promotions, coveted speaking gigs, the most wonderful fiancés ever, front row seats at Fashion Week, and nominations for many a “30 under 30” list. And, blessings aren’t limited to the little people, either. S(he) blessed Macklemore with a wardrobe designer (thanks for the heads up, Instagram!) and Jamie Lynn Spears with an engagement ring (“#blessed #blessed #blessed!” she wrote on Twitter). S(he)’s been known to bless Kanye West and Kim Kardashian with exotic getaways and expensive bottles of Champagne, overlooking sunsets of biblical proportion (naturally).[1]

Apparently, Bennett has a lot of extraordinarily “blessed” friends.  She even tells the story of a girl who posted a picture of her posterior on Facebook with the caption, “Blessed.”  Really?

The theology behind the kind of blessing Bennett outlines is shallow at best and likely heretical in actuality.  The so-called “god” who bestows these social media blessings is ill-defined and vacuous, as Bennett intimates with her references to “god” as “s(he),” and the blessings from this divine turn out to be quite petty.  Frocks that fit, birthday wishes on Facebook, and financial windfalls all qualify to be part of the “blessed” life.

All this leads Bennett to suspect that these “blessings” are really nothing more than people cynically

… invoking holiness as a way to brag about [their] life … Calling something “blessed,” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy.

That sounds about right.  “Blessed” is just a word people use to thinly disguise a brag.

True biblical blessing, of course, is quite different – and much messier.  Jesus’ list of blessings sounds quite different from what you’ll find on Facebook:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:20-22)

Poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution all qualify to be part of the blessed life.  Why?  Because true blessing involves much more than what happens to you in this life.  It involves God’s promises for the next.

All this is not to say that the good gifts we receive in this life are not blessings.  But such blessings must be received with a proper perspective – that they are blessings not just because we happen to like them, but because it is God who gives them.  Indeed, one of the most interesting features of the Hebrew word for “blessing,” barak, is that it can be translated either as “bless” (e.g., Numbers 6:24) or as “curse” (e.g., Psalm 10:3), depending on context.  What makes the difference between whether something is a blessing or a curse?  Faith – a confidence that a blessing is defined not in terms of what something is, but in terms of who gives it.  This is why when we are poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted, we can still be blessed.  Because we can still have the Lord.  And there is no better blessing than Him.

Put that on Instagram.

__________________________

[1] Jessica Bennett, “They Feel ‘Blessed,’” The New York Times (5.2.2014).

May 19, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

1500-Year-Old Bible Discovered! Christianity Debunked! Not Exactly.

Turkish BibleHere we go again.

I’ve been seeing it all over Facebook.  The headline reads, “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe.”  It seems startling.  The only problem is, it’s not true.  And, it’s nothing new.  These kinds of articles that seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible have been being published for years now.  Indeed, the discovery of this 1,500-year-old Bible is news that’s now better than two years old.  But it’s just now hitting Facebook.  And because many people are being confused by it, it’s worth a look.

The article opens:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara.  Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was He the Son of God, but a prophet.  The book also calls apostle Paul “The Impostor.”  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.[1]

Let’s separate some fact from fiction here.

“Much to the dismay of the Vatican…”  The Vatican did, according to The Christian Post, make an “official request”[2] to see and study the Bible, but it was not out of dismay.  Like any theological artifact, it piqued their curiosity.  Many people desired to study this book.

“…an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible…”  Maybe.  But probably not.  There are reasons to believe this book is a forgery, probably written around AD 1500, which is, coincidentally enough, about a century after many scholars believe the Gospel of Barnabas itself was written.[3]  Timothy Michael Law, a Junior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, has a nice blog on the antiquity of this Bible here.

“…the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas…”  Again, maybe.  But possibly not.  We actually don’t know what the book contains because it has not been widely studied.  The Christian Post quotes theology professor Ömer Faruk Harman who notes that people may be “disappointed to see that this copy … might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas.”

“…which shows that Jesus was not crucified … and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.”  The Gospel of Barnabas does indeed purport that Judas Iscariot was crucified in Jesus’ place.  But this is because this Gospel was written as an apologetic for Islam.  Indeed, it prophesies the arrival of Muhammad, but, if the 15th century dating of this Gospel is correct, it does so about 800 years after Muhammad!  In other words, its prophecies are really no prophecies at all, but polemical forgeries.

The line from this Facebook article that made me sigh the loudest is this one:

It is believed that, during the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the Gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ever since Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code, this has been a canard that just won’t die.  At no time during the Council of Nicaea did the Catholic Church hand-pick any Gospels.  The four Gospels we have today were already widely accepted by the Church by the time of this council.  If you want to read the canons issued by the Council of Nicaea for yourself, you can check them out here.  None say anything about the Gospels.  Indeed, none say anything about the canon of Scripture at all.

Ultimately, even if this Turkish Bible is indeed 1,500 years old and even if it does contain the Gospel of Barnabas, the Council of Nicaea was held in AD 325, which is still before the time of this Bible.  Thus, part of the reason the Council of Nicaea never considered the Gospel of Barnabas during its meetings is because there was not yet a Gospel of Barnabas to consider!

It was David Hannum, criticizing P.T. Barnum, who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Don’t be suckered by this Facebook article.  The Bible as we have it still stands.  And on it, your faith can still stand.

___________________________

[1] “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe,” Moorish Harem:  Man’s Greatest Accomplishments (4.28.2014).

[2] Clara Morris, “Turkey’s 1500-Year-Old, $28M Bible Linked to Gospel of Barnabas?The Christian Post (2.23.2012).

[3] See Jan Joosten, “The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron,” Harvard Theological Review 95, no. 1 (2002).

May 12, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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