Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jesus and His “Errant” Prophecies

On several occasions, Jesus seemed to prophesy His speedy return. When He sent His disciples out on their first evangelistic outing, He promised them:

  • “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23)
Regarding this perplexing prophecy, Albert Schweitzer claimed that Jesus had wrongly believed that He would return and set up His everlasting kingdom prior to the return of His disciples:

  • He tells them in plain words…that He does not expect to see them back in the present age.
However, was this really what Jesus had communicated? It seems highly unlikely. The preceding verses reveal that His return would be preceded by many global events:

  • "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:17-22)
Instead, it seems that Jesus was preparing His disciples for both a long wait and possibly their martyrdom. What them did Jesus intend to convey when He stated that “you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23)?

I think that Jesus, so thoroughly imbued as He was with the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, spoke in a way that mimicked them. Often, these prophecies would begin with the immediate in view but would then jump years into the future in the same breath. Here’s a familiar example – the prophecy to Abraham:

  • "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-3)
Although this prophecy had some immediate applications, the blessing to “all the peoples of the earth” would come much later.

Similarly, it seems that Jesus’ prophecy to His disciple would also be realized by later generations.

He delivered a similar prophecy to the high priest:

  • But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63-64)
This shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that the high priest himself would see this take place. However, in harmony with the character of Hebrew prophecy, He was probably suggesting that the Jewish people would observe His return.

It is interesting to note that the liberal skeptics claim that the Gospels were written by the early church (70-100 AD) to justify their evolved understanding of Jesus as God. In other words, instead of the Gospels containing the very words of Jesus, spoken 27-30 AD, they largely represent the “pious” invention of the early church.

For an extreme example, New Testament critic Bart Ehrman claims:
  • The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention, one found, among our Gospels, only in John. (Jesus Interrupted, 249)
Ehrman believes that the last Gospel, John’s, would have the most to say about the deity of Christ, because, at this point, the church had fully evolved into this belief. Meanwhile, Ehrman claims that the earliest Gospel, Mark’s Gospel according to him, had the least to say about Christ’s deity, because the church had not yet evolved to the point of worshiping Jesus as God. In this regard, Ehrman makes an extravagantly erroneous claim:
  • There is not one word in this Gospel about Jesus actually being God. (247) 
However, if the Gospels were a later Christian invention, it would be impossible to explain why the early church would have invented prophecies that seemed to indicate that Jesus had been mistaken! By 70-100 AD, Jesus hadn’t yet returned, and an early return was no longer possible. Why then invent or include prophecies that would make Jesus appear wrong! These clearly are not prophecies that the early church would invent 70-100 AD.

Perhaps the most fought-over prophecy about Jesus’ return comes from Matthew 24:34, after Jesus had described the signs preceding His return:

  • “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:34; also Mark 13:30-31 and Luke 21:32-33)
“This generation” seems to take away any ambiguity about His return. Specifically, it would be during “this generation!” However, there is some controversy what “this generation” really refers to. As we found in Matthew 10, here too we find that Jesus clearly doesn’t believe that the end is near:

  • You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death [Evidently, the Apostles will not be living at the time of His return!], and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:6-14)
Many things must first take place – martyrdom, apostasy, and worldwide evangelism - prior to Jesus’ return. Therefore, “this generation” shouldn’t be interpreted literally.

It is therefore more likely that “this generation” should be understood as “this Jewish people.” In other words, Jesus seems to be saying that the Jewish people will still exist when He returns.

However, while the Greek word for “generation” (“genea”) can be understood in certain verses in this sense (Luke 11:50-51; Mat. 12:39), only in the Hebrew Scriptures can we find the corresponding term (“dor”), usually rendered at “generation,” used unequivocally in this manner:

  • There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company [“dor”] of the righteous. (Psalm 14:5)
  • By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants [“dor”]? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. (Isaiah 53:8) 
In both of these cases, “dor” cannot be understood as “generation” – a typical human lifespan. In Isaiah, “dor” can only be understood as the many generations, “descendents,” or people who didn’t come forth from the Messiah, because He died for the sins of the people.

Therefore, was Jesus mistaken about the time of His return? Well, if we choose to understand His words as indicating an early return, then it does seem that He was mistaken. However, if we don’t dismiss entire context of His remarks, then it is not possible to construe His words as prophesying an early return.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our “Heroes”: How the Bible is God’s Word

The Scriptures are counter-cultural, even counter-human. They cut right across the human grain, and violate our most personal feelings, aspirations and celebrations.

When Saul was initially inaugurated as Israel’s first king, it wasn’t exactly a celebratory event. Israel had sinned in demanding a king in favor of Samuel, the Judge of Israel. Many opposed Saul, and Saul himself tried to duck out of his own installation.

Anti-climatically, Saul even returned to his ox and plow after being “crowned,” but this would soon change. The terrified Israelites of Jabesh-Gilead, besieged by the powerful king of the Ammonites, Nahash, agreed to submit. However, this was not good enough for Nahash:

  • Nahash the Ammonite replied, "I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel." (1 Samuel 11:2)
Surprisingly, the Gileadites agreed to this if only Nahash would give them a week to see if anyone would come to their rescue. They sent tearful messengers to the plowman Saul, imploring him to come. Upon hearing this request, the Holy Spirit came upon Saul. He was deeply moved, hastily raised an army and smashed the Ammonites.

Jubilation followed. There was such excitement about the new King of Israel that they determined to re-inaugurate Saul, but this time with all the fanfare that he now had earned.

Finally, it was the man of God’s turn of to speak at this glorious event. Samuel, in one of the greatest shows of insensitivity, especially in light of Israel’s plight and joyous celebration, threw a wet towel on the entire ceremony. Without a word of congratulations to King Saul or recognition of the great deliverance that he had just wrought by the hand of the Lord, Samuel chastened Israel for their sins and warned against any future rebellion:

  • “But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call upon the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king." Then Samuel called upon the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. (1 Samuel 12:15-18)
Samuel’s timing, at least from a human perspective, couldn’t have been worse. In the midst of Israel’s jubilation, he called upon the Lord to destroy their wheat crop.

Israel’s God (and His Scriptures) has always proved counter-cultural. King Saul disobeyed God on one account, and, consequently, he would soon be history. Samuel was late, and the sacrifice to the Lord, imploring Him to bless their engagement against the Philistines, was imperative. Meanwhile, Saul’s army was wondering off. Therefore, Saul made the sacrifice. But man’s ways, however justifiable they might seem, aren’t God’s ways. Indeed, the Scriptures show little respect for our inclinations – our way of doing things.

Long before this episode, after Joshua led the children of Israel through the Jordan River into the Promised Land and just prior to their conquest of Jericho, Joshua had a divine encounter. A divine Being holding a sword stood before Joshua. At this fearsome sight, Joshua understandably inquired, “Are you for us or for our enemies?" (Joshua 5:13).

Instead of answering that He was there to help Joshua, he answered: "Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."

However, He clearly was there to give Israel victory, but not according to Joshua’s understanding. While Joshua saw himself as the “commander of the army of the Lord,” he was no more than the junior partner. Nor was it a matter of this mysterious Person  being “for us.” Instead, it was a matter of whether or not Joshua was for God!

While we have a tendency to expect God to be either for or against us, the more important question – and this question is consistently at the heart of Scripture – is whether or not we are for God. Becoming a true man of God is not a matter of whether we can get God to endorse our plans but rather our readiness to endorse His plans.

Jesus presented a model prayer to His disciples. In line with the rest of the Scriptures, it was completely God-centered:

  • "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10)
It is God’s plans and Person that must be honored, not ours; it is His will that must prevail, and not our will. How contrary to our human religions containing their human heroes! Joshua got the right message from his divine Visitor:

  • Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
Enigmatically, His only message was that He had to honor the profound distinction between man and His God:

  • The commander of the Lord's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:15)
We tend to choose our religion according to how well it fits into our tastes, agendas, and lifestyles. I had been “seeking God” for years. However, He had to conform to my specifications. Consequently, I was finding nothing more than my own aloneness in this universe.

There are no heroes in the Bible – just men and woman who either trusted God or didn’t. Our Patriarchs of the Faith – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – were anything but heroes in their own right. Rather, in many ways, they were losers! However, their God was “able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4)!

In contrast, human religions make their Patriarchs into heroes. The Jewish Talmud sanitizes the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to explain away anything that might appear to be a moral blemish.

We demand heroes, but Scripture gives us only One Hero. In this, Scripture is so different from human religions, which celebrate the achievements of their heroes. Consequently, in Scripture we find no prescribed holidays that celebrate human achievement. There is no “Victory over Jericho Day,” no “Victory over the Philistines Day,” and there is no “Victory over Nahash Day!” Only God’s achievements are to be celebrated! How utterly counter-human of the Scriptures! How utterly uncharacteristic of what we humans would write! Scripture could only be the invention of a divine mind.

However, it is this divine perspective that we so desperately need. Samuel might not have been the quintessence of political correctness. However, Israel acknowledged the needfulness of his words:

  • The people all said to Samuel, "Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king." (1 Samuel 12:19)
The God of Scripture has fallen into great disdain in the West. He fails to coincide with our culture. However, He is the only God available. We cannot expect Him to conform to our agenda. We must, as little children, conform to His and pray, “hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cosmic Fairy Tales: Who are the True Believers?

Several times a week, I am accused of believing in fairy tales, because I believe in a God who created the entire universe. In contrast, my detractors believe that everything came about naturally, even before there was even “natural” laws - natural causation. In other words, given enough time – and where did that come from? - the universe will jump into existence uncaused. And it must be uncaused, since there was nothing prior to the universe to cause it.

Well, which is the fairy tale – Intelligent Design (ID) or a non-existent naturalism? Perhaps I seem to unfairly be stacking the deck against naturalism, even from the get-go, but I really don’t want to do that. I’d prefer that rationality carry-the-day rather than an alleged misrepresentation of naturalism.

So let’s do this – Let’s look at different features in our universe and see if we can determine which belief system better accounts for them. However, I won’t cite those features that IDers always cite – the fine-tuning of the universe, the elegance and immutability of our laws of science, and the origins of life, the cell, and DNA - to slam-dunk the ID case. Instead, let’s set our sites on something much closer – on the human being.

While many of our characteristics enable us to survive and pass on our genes, we have many other characteristics that seem to transcend this narrow struggle for survival. There are characteristics that seem to merely enrich life and to not aid in procreation. These, therefore, would be difficult to account for from an evolutionary/naturalistic perspective:

Music Appreciation: We not only enjoy music but are often elevated by it. Although a naturalistic explanation can be forced to account for such a trait, it could just as easily be argued that music might take the human being away from his more primary task of survival.

In addition to this, it is often noted that our appreciation of music is strongly associated with precise and elegant mathematical relationships between the notes and chords, suggesting a transcendent design. It is almost as if God had been saying, “I want to share with you something that delights Me!”

Visual Aesthetics Appreciation: How can naturalism explain our appreciation of the visual world? As with our enjoyment of music, this seems to be a gratuitous add-on, a survival non-essential, something that might simply take our attention away from killing a monkey to feed our family. From a Biblical point of view, we were created, not only to survive, but to partake in something higher – God Himself.

Sense of Humor: This sense delights in the paradoxes of life - the things that don’t fit neatly together and perhaps should. This too seems like a distraction from the all-important struggle to survive and procreation. However, it clearly is another gracious add-on – a survival non-essential.

Contemplation and Consciousness: This allows us to become self-aware. While many regard our higher thinking as a bane, something that can render us inactive and morbidly self-conscious in a world where we need to be very active to survive and to pass on our genes, there is also little doubt that contemplation enriches and deepens our lives. It offers us the potential to be truly human.

Nor does this mental work simply concern catching more food. It pursues moral, legal, and epistemological questions.

Moral Sensitivity: Also consistent with the ID paradigm of being created in the image of God, all humanity has sexual taboos. We do not (or should not) sex mother and father, brother and sister, son and daughter. The evolutionist might argue that these taboos served to preserve the genetic integrity of the tribe by limiting the spread of genetic defects. However, a stronger case could be made that inbreeding, such as we find among animals, can maximize the linkage among beneficial genes – a possible aid to evolution.

Also, from an evolutionary point of view, taboos minimize the availability of reproductive partners.

Monogamy: Instead, we find monogamy deeply entrenched in human society. This is an institution that minimizes the ability of the “fittest” from passing on their genes, thereby slowing the engine of evolution.

Similarly, we restrict the “fittest” from passing on their “desirable” genes through our human taboo against rape and the dominant, fittest male controlling all of the females. Besides, why should evolution implant within us a sense of guilt regarding those behaviors – rape and selfishly creating a harem for ones exclusive pleasures – which promote evolution!

Instead, sexual faithfulness is extolled, and this is consistent with the nature of our moral God and the fact that we alone are created in His image.

Altruism: Our God is altruistic. He sacrificed Himself for us, and we are like Him in this sense. Consequently, those who are most admired are not those who pass on their seed with greater frequency but those who think of others first. However, altruism seems to run counter to the evolutionary paradigm. It puts others’ needs before our own to pass on our “superior” seed. It puts sharing above controlling.

Meaning and Purpose: An animal’s purpose is to control scarce resources, whether sexual or material. However, it is a well-accepted fact that humans require a higher moral purpose in life, something that transcends reproductive pursuits. Such an esoteric concern will necessarily detract from attention to survival and reproduction. How then can we explain the basic human need if it not only lacks survival value but actually militates against reproductive fecundity?

However, the Bible provides a perfect explanation for this trait. We have been so designed so that we will not be totally consumed with the material cares of life and will seek after ultimate truth.

Lack of Ultimate Fulfillment: As successful as we might become in our corner of the world, we never find ultimate satisfaction here. We always have a longing for something else – the property of the Transcendent. Why this oddity, this distraction, this restless longing? This trait often leads people into the contemplative life – into the monk’s life – and away from maximizing genetic exchange. Of what procreative value could this reality possibly contain?

Instead, this trait is easily explained from a Biblical perspective. We are simply not meant to be fulfilled here. Our hope is to be invested in the return of our Savior and in His future kingdom.

Deterioration of the Human Genome: If we were ideally created, as the Bible maintains, ID would predict de-evolution - the increasing accumulation of genetic defects, and this is just what we find.

I think that all of these human considerations/realities are better explained by ID than by a naturalistic hypothesis. And which human traits cannot be explained by ID? Which aren’t congruent with the ID hypothesis? I don’t see any.

If these considerations are so, then who is it that believes in fairy tales?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Beautiful Face of Evil and Jim Jones

On November 18, 1978, 909 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple killed themselves in the Guyanese jungle. They had established themselves there to pursue Jones’ communist-socialist dream, which became a nightmare.

The People’s Temple started out as the People’s Christian Temple. However, the “Christian” facade was soon laid aside as the Temple grew to thousands. Slowly, Jones revealed his true self-identity:

  • What you need to believe in is what you can see…If you need me to be your God, I’ll be your God.”
However, evil often comes in the form of the good and moral. Jones boasted that he had created four state-of-the-art senior homes. He had adopted inter-racial children, and the first black child in Indiana. He received everyone as an equal. He repeatedly proclaimed that all were one big family. Members would sell everything they had and the People’s Temple would take care of all their needs.

There was much good, but, not far from the surface, the evil lurked. Jones declared that many of the Temple members were:

  • Hung up on the Bible…[It has] held Black people down for centuries.
At this, he threw the Bible down to the ground.

Temple members would work 20 hours a day. Some stayed up for days. Others felt guilty if they attempted to sleep through the night. Sleep-deprivation became the norm. Reports of Jones’ sexual appetite for both men and women became know. He even prevented members from speaking to one another.

Nevertheless, these inconsistencies were overlooked. Members would say:

  • He really understood [the Black plight].
  • Every person felt they had a purpose there…Something bigger than themselves.
  • They had life; they had soul; they had power. We were alive in those services.
The footage of the members celebrating and worshipping testifies in favor of their “alive-ness.” Thousands were attracted, even as the focus began to shift to a Jones-worship. About him, people would say, “He has power!” In the midst of healing services, he’d tell his multi-racial “family” to look towards him. Many regarded him as a miracle-worker and a healer.

Nevertheless, some began to sense that there was something wrong but felt that it was too late to escape. The Temple had become their home, their family. Sometimes, it was the threats and intimidation that kept members from leaving, until they finally found their “liberation” through mass suicide.

Evil is alluring. It dresses itself in the clothing of righteousness. It must do so, or no one would be seduced by it. Paul had warned the Corinthian church:

  • Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor. 11:14-15) 
How then can anyone tell the difference between true goodness and its copy? One Facebook blogger responded:

  • I guess I better stay away from beautiful, ethical stuff.
I responded that we must be careful and discerning. Jesus taught:

  • "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-17) 
Jones’ inconsistencies had been apparent from almost the start. However, he and his Temple family were very attractive and inviting. When we are so in need of friendship, family, and moral involvement, we are willing to overlook the shadows.

However, this should not only be a lesson for seekers. It must also be a lesson for the church. What Jones had done with racial reconciliation had been radical, while we had been neglectful and sometimes even worse. Instead, we are supposed to be the example for the world, as Jesus proclaimed:

  • "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-15)
However, we have largely failed in this. No wonder people have left our churches for cults and defective off-shoots like the Emergent Church! Lord have mercy!

Jesus left us with this mandate. (It also served as His prayer – John 17:21):

  • "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
How can people know that Jesus is the Way when we remain divided – racially and interpersonally? How can we stop the rupturing of the church if we fail to humble ourselves before our Lord’s instructions?

Oh Lord, come to our aid. We have failed to love as we ought. We have failed to forgive as we ought. We haven’t poured ourselves out for others as You have done for us. Empower us Lord. Pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us that others might know the truth about You. You alone are our hope!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Inclusiveness, Brian McLaren, the Emergent Church and Hypocrisy

 When I go shopping, I go with a shopping-list. It enables me to do the shopping quickly without thinking about every item I see in the store. When we go shopping for a religion, we also have a shopping-list. On most modern religion-shopping-lists is the requirement that religion unites people and not divides them. It must embrace all worldviews, lifestyles and orientations. It must affirm everyone and not cause anyone to feel marginalized, judged, or degraded. It must provide a safe and nurturing place. In short, true religion must be inclusive and not exclusive.

This is the religion on the shopping-list of Emergent Church guru, Brian D. McLaren. He argues that Christianity is characterized by "hostility to the other”:

  • Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good. (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03)
I’m not against “working for the common good.” My wife and I do this all the time, even though we continue to disagree about certain things. Differences need not equate with “hostility.” If they do, then McLaren and his Emergent Church must lead the hostility list.

In support of his indictment, McLaren cites two students:

  • “People don't want to have to side with the church and against their friends who are Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or agnostic."
  • “We can't find a church that doesn't load a bunch of extra baggage on us. We tried, but they all had this long list of people we had to be against. It's just not worth it."
However, now they are against the Christian church! McLaren argues for a new Christian identity – one that is defined by what is positive and not by what is negative. At first, this sounds wonderful – an item that should be included on every religion-shopping-list. However, it seems as if McLaren fails to see that he too is negative and critical.

In fact, to be in favor of something means that we must also be against its negation. To be in favor of justice means that we are also against injustice. To be in favor of truth means that we must oppose what is not true. To love the truth means to hate the lie. I don’t think that there can be any way around this conclusion. Nor did Jesus!

Meanwhile, I can sympathize with students who are reluctant to stand “against their friends” who are of a different persuasion. I certainly wouldn’t! However, if I really care about them, I would have to ask myself, “What is the most important thing that I can give them?”

If a friend tells me that he intends to join the Klu Klux Klan, what should I tell him? – “Well, you’ve got to do what feels right for you!” No! Instead, I must somehow tell my friend that everything that seems right might not be right. There are certain things that are right and certain things that are not. I must become critical and negative. Okay, I can merely talk about the positive things that he has in Christ. However, he might agree and insist that he can also join the Klan. At that point, I am left with little recourse but to show him how the Klan and Jesus cannot be combined. I must become critical!

No one can be completely inclusive. One church in my neighborhood flies a banner reading something like this: “An Inclusive, Loving and non-Judgmental Community.” However, from their pulpit, they pleaded for volunteer teachers for their education program, from 4th grade all the way through adult ed. I therefore emailed the pastor and the education director as instructed:

  • I will gladly teach any class or grade. However, I need to be transparent about the fact that I am Christian (this is a Unitarian church) and this would influence my teaching. However, I am willing to be amenable to your oversight and feedback.
The education director responded with a flat-out “No!” There was not a hint of, “Well, let’s sit down and talk.” I then wrote to the pastor to point out the gross discrepancy between the message on their banner and the message I had received. No response!

I don’t blame this church for not being entirely inclusive. No church is nor can be. However, I do blame this church and McLaren for their hypocrisy. While claiming to be all inclusive, they are not! There are many who are excluded from such “communities,” but they are not honest about this fact. Meanwhile, they flaunt their inclusiveness while they bash those non-inclusive, judgmental evangelicals.

McLaren does his share of bashing:

  • Religious communities often take a short-cut to building a strong group identity -- by defining themselves in opposition to others. Muslims, atheists and gays are high-profile "others" which can be scapegoated to build a strong "Christian" identity.
Admittedly, we all have the sinful tendency to bond at the expense of others. However, some struggle against this sin of “scapegoating,” and some don’t. Evidently, even as McLaren issues his indictments, he regards himself far above this struggle.

We need to have our shopping-lists, but we need to re-check them every so often to see if they contain items that are truly rational and even needful.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Creationism, Child Abuse, and the Hubris of Modernity

The present age always thinks that it is the most enlightened. If you lived in the 17th century, you would think that the people of the 16th century were merely uneducated heathens. It is no different for us in the 21th century, who regard the ideas of former centuries as asinine, whether we have solid evidence for this judgment or not. Our 21st century pundits conveniently overlook our current ills – the proliferation of crime, abortion, pornography, sex trafficking, drug and alcohol addiction, STDs, economic exploitation and collapse and environmental problems. Nevertheless, we are the greatest generation, and therefore, we know best and can tell, even coerce, others to live according to our philosophy!

Theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss, is convinced that he knows better than the best. On a talk show, he declared that the teaching of creationism is a form of child abuse (and, of course, child abuse must be addressed as a criminal matter).

Needless to say, in order for such a judgment to stand, Krauss has to redefine “child abuse” as “putting children at a disadvantage compared to others.” He explains that by teaching children creationism, they will “go through life believing a myth and not learning those things that are really crucial.”

Interestingly, this definition of child abuse can be applied to anyone who teaches anything incorrect to children. Consequently, every teacher is guilty of child abuse! And any textbook author should be found guilty of child abuse, whenever it is found that the textbook requires correction.

However, is creationism – the idea that the universe was created by a superior intelligence – really a myth? On the contrary, many reputable scientists have gone on record that creationism is the most logical understanding.

Creationism has only one competitor – naturalism. According to naturalism, the universe sprang “naturally” into existence, uncaused out of nothing. However, research has yet to show how the world of matter and energy can originate uncaused and how it can come out of nothing. Perhaps equally damning is the resort to “natural causation.” This raises many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable questions. How can natural laws provide any explanation, when they too didn’t exist prior to the universe? Is such a concept even coherent?

Our laws operate uniformly and immutably throughout the universe. How can this be possible if they are bound up with a universe which is always moving and always changing – molecules in motion? And how could they have originated in an explosion – the big Bang? From a scientific perspective, explosions don’t create order; they destroy it! And why are the formulas that describe the operation of these laws so darn elegant?

These observations should lead us to at least consider the possibility that instead of being natural (embedded in mature), they are transcendent and the product of intelligence. However, any rational consideration of these questions has been banned from the university, where, even raising these questions, can ruin careers.

In light of this, perhaps Krauss and the vast majority of the university community are guilty of child abuse through teaching the myth of naturalism? I wouldn’t suggest such a thing. Instead, science will do best when it isn’t encumbered by a politically correct straight-jacket. If we are convinced of the superiority of our theory, them we should open the windows to serious scrutiny and the free exchange of ideas. However, this is precisely the thing that is now forbidden. Instead of the free and honest exchange of ideas, Western society increasingly criminalizes unpopular theories and views with such charges as “child abuse.”

Are children who are taught creationism missing out, as Krauss maintains? Was there a flowering of science and scholarship under communism, the quintessential anti-creationist states? Hardly! Instead we find that science experienced its modern renaissance through creationists. British scientist Robert Clark sums it up this way:

  • “However we may interpret the fact, scientific development has only occurred in Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations—Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on—science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that, perhaps, science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non-Christian world believed that there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire-bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven, thus incurring the wrath of the gods.” (Christian Belief and Science, Henry F. Schaefer, 14)
I can hardly imagine Isaac Newton charging his parents with “child abuse” for teaching him creationism! However, Krauss likens parents who teach creationism to the Taliban who teach violence and repression. Perhaps instead, the censorious, repressive Krauss bears a greater kinship to the Taliban than the creationist.

The interviewer subsequently asked Krauss, “Who gets to determine what is good for children?” Krauss seemed to be discomforted by this question. It uncovered another dilemma for him. If he answered, “The parents must ultimately determine,” this undermines everything he had been saying. However, if he answered, “The State,” his whole enterprise begins to look quite sinister. He therefore answered:

  • We need to educate people…Society has an obligation…
In other words, “The State must reign supreme in these matters.” Indeed, there have been addictive or sexually abusive parents, and society has had to intervene. However, ordinarily, the West has recognized that children were the provenance of their parents, and they thrived maximally when in the hands of those who loved them and would die to protect them.

In contrast, the State doesn’t have a good track record as the ultimate care-giver. When the State took ultimate authority – think Hitler Youth or Stalin Youth - it never benefited the children.

Krauss charges that allowing children to be removed from the public school system in favor of home-schooling is not being fair to the child. In other words, he wants to see home-schooling banned in favor of a uniform system of compulsory, centralized, monopolistic education.

Krauss’ views would be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that many others agree with him. For example, Germany has banned home-schooling:

  • The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to "counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies." (LifeSiteNews, 2/14/13)
After all, the State knows best – better than the parents. However, has the State been able to demonstrate that they can do better than the parents? Not at all! It has been repeatedly shown that home-schooled children do far better than the average on standardized testing. Instead, as Germany admits, the real issue is philosophical conformity – control!

In lieu of prison, one German home-schooling family has fled to the USA, where they are seeking asylum. However, it seems that they have sought asylum in the wrong place:

  • The Attorney General of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties.
Sadly, this seems to be a harbinger of what we can expect here – an increasingly totalitarian State that has little interest in maintaining diversity of opinion and religion.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Spirituality and Spiritual Techniques

 It is one thing to have the knowledge of God – and this is something we all have – it is another to retain and embrace that knowledge. Scripture warns us that when we reject this innate knowledge there are consequences:

  • Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
We get what we want! Mysteriously, we evolve into those things that we esteem. If we reject reality, we will invent a substitute reality, which we find more agreeable to our culture and lifestyle.

Psychologist and professed Christian, David Benner, rejects the truths of God in favor of an alternative spirituality. He writes:

  • Equating faith with beliefs truncates and trivializes spirituality by reducing it to a mental process. Thoughts are, quite simply, a poor substitute for relationship. Some Christians speak much of a personal relationship with God but assume that this is based on holding right beliefs. Is it any wonder that this attempt to reduce Ultimate Mystery to theological propositions so often results in the principle personal relationship being between a person and his or her own thoughts? Cherishing thoughts about God replaces cherishing God; knowing about the Divine replaces knowing the Divine. Whenever the Wholly Other is thought to be contained in one’s beliefs and opinions, divine transcendence is seriously compromised and personal relationship with the Spirit minimized. (Soulful Spirituality, 6)
Benner needlessly denigrates thinking and believing. It is because I know that God loves and forgives me that I can love Him and feel intimate with Him. I know that I am beloved, and this helps me to love others. Our beliefs affect our entire lives – how we feel about ourselves, our attitudes towards others, and how we behave towards them. Meanwhile, as Paul wrote, not having certain beliefs about reality reflects the fact that we have sinfully hardened our heart against Reality.

How are we to attain Benner’s spirituality? Through awareness:

  • The spiritual life starts with awareness. Limited awareness equates to a shallow spiritual life. No one can ever be more awake of the self-transcendent than they are aware of things going on within and around themselves. The spiritual journey starts, therefore, with awakening – and with being prepared to awake again and again as we realize that we have once again drifted into sleep. (96)
Awareness is certainly part of the Christian program. We are transformed through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). Jesus equated spiritual freedom with growth in understanding the truth (John 8:31-32). However, is this what Benner is alluding to? Not at all:

  • It is a state of active receptivity that opens us up to the sacred. This is exactly how the contemporary Quaker author Douglas Steere understand prayer, describing it as “awakeness, attention, intense inward openness.” Sin, in his view, is anything that destroys this attentiveness. The greatest threat to attention is thought. (97-98)
Well, if awareness is not a matter of thought, what then is it? Contemplative methods:

  • Careful attention paid to anything [any object] is a doorway to the self-transcendent. Regardless of how insignificant the object may seem, being truly aware of it has enormous potential for growth of spirit and soul. (98)
Benner then lays out a worshipful description of how to attain awareness, “a doorway to the self-transcendent”:

  • Feel it, smell it, look at it from as many angles as possible.  Notice how heavy or light it is, how hard or soft. Don’t analyze it as a scientist. Just allow it to capture your interest and hold your attention. Gaze at it in wonder and curiosity, and allow yourself to see it as if for the very first time. (99)
Benner is not asking us to “Gaze at [God] in wonder and curiosity,” but rather a mere object as “a doorway to the self-transcendent.” Strangely, this sounds like an updated form of idolatry.

Benner might argue that this is not a matter of believing that an object is God but rather using an object to reach the “self-transcendent.” However, this is the very thing that an idolater will explain.

On numerous occasions, I have visited the Hare Krishna temple, where they have many idols which are worshipped. However, the monks and swamis have often assured me that they don’t regard the idol as God, but rather an authorized object through which they worship Krishna.

Well, aren’t they still idols? I suspect that the Canaanites idolaters would have told us the same thing. They were intelligent people. I’m sure that they understood that as soon as they finished carving a piece of wood, it didn’t suddenly become a god. I would imagine that they too had regarded their handiwork as no more than a sacred object through which to contact their gods, like a telephone of sorts.

However, this form of worship is beneath the dignity of our God. Paul warns that it is corrupted:

  • They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. (Romans 1:23-26)
Scripture’s point is that God wants to be worshipped through the vehicle of truth and not image. When the Samaritan woman gave her exposition on religion to Jesus, she reduced it to a matter of location or physicality. However, Jesus elevated it to a matter of spirit – I think He had sincere commitment in mind – and truth:

  • You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)
Jesus equated worshipping God in truth – something that the Samaritans weren’t doing - with “salvation.” Consequently, spirituality is not a matter of location, objects or even meditating on objects but meditating on God in truth alone (Psalm 1), uncluttered by objects or icons.

Jeremiah declared that this understanding of God is more precious than anything else we might boast in:

  • This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.
I have found such joy and comfort in the Word of God. One example out of thousands should suffice. John assures us that:

  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
This little truth of God, alone, has made the difference between joy and depression, confidence and self-contempt, even life and death. Alone, this little truth has produced gratitude, thanksgiving, the salvation of the broken-hearted, and a determination to follow our Lord joyfully, even until the end.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jesus: My Surrogate Mother

Jesus is the mother I never had. Yes, I did have a mother, but she wasn’t a nurturing mother. She just didn’t like children and didn’t like to hold them. I’ve watched her in my later years. She became irritable around children. They were not a source of delight for her.

I don’t blame her. I love her and miss her. She tried to be a good mother, in her own way, but she just didn’t have it in her. I knew her parents and could see why.

Nevertheless, I’ve suffered greatly from the deprivations. She confessed to me that she didn’t hold me, but propped me up with pillows and my bottle. I got the milk I needed but not the love and intimacy.

I always knew I was different from other children. Something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was. However, there was something else that filled the gap – anxiety, depression, and alienation.

I never felt worthy of love or even of someone’s attentions. It therefore made sense to me that if I was tops at everything, I’d make myself worthy of love. I’d then be able to feel comfortable within my own skin. However, this strategy didn’t work for long, and it came with great costs. Any failure would undermine my entire personhood. It would confirm the established fact that I was a looser.

This identity had become so deeply entrenched that all my highly recommended psychologists were unable to touch it. It didn’t matter how many positive messages they fed me, I was convinced that I was a looser. My feelings of self-loathing were so powerful that they now scorned any affirmations or even successes. They were no more than unconvincing whispers in a roaring tsunami.

Despairing of all therapies and human interventions, I was left with only one option – a God who promised:

  • "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
However, for years, this God was highly objectionable to me. While some reject Jesus because of His objectionable teachings, I rejected Him because He simply was Jesus – a traitor and an enemy of the Jews, my people. At least, that’s how I understood Him.

I, therefore, tried out many other religions, each leaving me disappointed. Meditation didn’t work. It just left me more focused on myself – something that gave me little encouragement.

I tried to live in harmony with the land as a subsistence, organic farmer. I assured myself that if I lived in harmony with the land I would experience the peace of the land. However, this was not to be. Instead, I experienced a horrible chainsaw injury that left me bleeding to death in a pool of my own blood. I was sure that any second I would pass out from loss of blood and “Goodbye world!”

At that very moment, I knew that I wasn’t alone. I knew that God was with me, although I didn’t know who He was. I was filled with ecstacy. Nothing mattered anymore. Even if I died, I knew that I would still be surrounded by His love and protection. Covered with blood, but assured of His love, I cried out, “God, I will gladly give you everything just to know who You are!”

This cry became my life script. It also led me to my Savior and surrogate Mother. However, this isn’t a romp-in-the-rose-garden story. There was much I had to learn and re-learn; there was much that had to first be stripped away.

Despite my miraculous encounter and rescue, faith didn’t come easily to me. It required years before I could receive His assurances like a little child. Feelings of self-loathing continued, but slowly the counter-assurances of Scripture took hold. He assured me that:

  • I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Gradually, through His promptings, I began to understand that my life was no longer about me, my successes, or my popularity, but about Him alone – the God who loves me and has rescued me for all eternity. I no longer had to perform well to have value. He loves and forgives me, and that is all that really matters at the end of the day.

When I fear that I am not good enough for Him, He assures me through His Word that:

  • Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
I am His and He is mine. Although I don’t feel His arms around me, I know that He is there, and that is enough.

I still experience some of my insecurities – my childhood inheritance – but these only serve to make my Savior – my Surrogate - all the more precious to me.

An 8th Grader’s Reaction to the Teaching of Apologetics

 Apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). While Theology answers the question, “What we believe,” Apologetics answers the question, “Why we believe.”

Below, I’ve reprinted an essay written by one of the 120 8th graders I taught last week for four days. I was thrilled with his very articulate embrace of Apologetics, even if it seems that he has a higher estimation of it that I have:

          I believe that apologetics is one of the most important topics for any Christian to learn. If you are unable to defend your faith, then it will be weakened by insults and mockery. I’ve always had an interest in apologetics. Apologetics is important in our society today because of many skeptics that surround us. If we cannot give them good explanations for our beliefs, why should they believe us? I think that the church generally ignores apologetics and instead promotes what could be defined as ‘blind faith.’ Blind faith is NOT something that the Bible holds as valid. I think it is important that we utilize apologetics to not only strengthen others faith, but also to strengthen our own.
When Mr. Mann started giving verses that had to do with apologetics, I was genuinely surprised. I had never imagined that the Bible said anything about apologetics. In 1 Peter 3:15, for example, it says, “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” I find this verse incredibly surprising because the ancient Christians had such a different culture than us. We are in a rationalistic society where religion is generally looked down upon, whereas the newly established church already had something to work with; an extremely religious society, be it Greeks or Romans, who already believed in gods and who already considered it feasible that a deity exists. I find it interesting that God prepared for a rationalistic culture such as ours two thousand years ago.

Apologetics has always been important in the Christian faith, but I think it is even more important where we are now. A few decades ago, Christianity was considered the main religion of America and was accepted throughout the country. In this recent generation, however, Christianity has been trodden on because of its exclusivity and what might first appear to be irrationalism. Christianity has gradually started to lose its powerful foothold over Western civilization; once Christianity totally loses its grasp on America, I am afraid that it will never gain it back. To find out how to remedy this problem, we need to find out how it all began.

I think the problem started with the parents of our current generation. Since they had never been taught apologetics and had never questioned their own faith, they could never be able to strengthen their offspring’s faith. In a society where rationalism is promoted over faith, some preachers and other Christians are left aghast as people continue to deny Christianity because of what appears to be ‘blind faith’. Now that we know how the problem started, I think it is even better to look at how it can be cured.

In order to fix our current problem with the Christian body as a whole, I think that we need to shift our focus from faith to rationalism. I do not mean that faith is detrimental; it is necessary to Christianity. However, in our current society, atheists and skeptics will respond more intensely to objective evidence. Since the Bible can be and has been proven historically, scientifically, and philosophically, I know that the evidence is there; we just need to utilize it. Instead of saying, “God exists and is the Lord of all things,” we should be saying, “God exists and is the Lord of all things because…” If we explain our faith to others rationally, then we can really prove to them that Christianity is valid.

Although I have gone off on a tangent, I can say one thing about Mr. Mann’s lessons this week; my faith in Christ has strengthened. I know now that the Bible really does support apologetics, and that God really was preparing for our current situation before it even happened. I think I can be useful to the Christian faith because of what I have learned. I know that apologetics is important, and I can show others that it is important too. I think that if we really utilize apologetics to the best of our abilities, then we can really make a positive impact on the body of Christ as we know it.