Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Transgendered and Pat Robertson

 We tend to regard ourselves as “freethinkers.” What we think – our ideas and worldviews – we automatically equate with truth and reality. In doing so, we tend to disregard the influence of the culture that has nurtured our thinking.

One interesting example of this is Pat Robertson, the 83 year-old televangelist. When asked about transgendered people, he answered:

  • "I think there are men who are in a woman's body," he said. "It's very rare. But it's true -- or women that are in men's bodies -- and that they want a sex change. That is a very permanent thing, believe me, when you have certain body parts amputated and when you have shot up with various kinds of hormones. It's a radical procedure. I don't think there's any sin associated with that.”

Is it true that “there are men who are in a woman's body?" Well, if this is so, there is absolutely no evidence of this apart from the fact of the say-so of the transgendered themselves.

This reminds me of a Barbara Walters investigative report some years ago. It featured people who were convinced that, although they were born with legs, they were convinced that they weren’t meant to have legs. Consequently, they did everything they could to have their legs removed.

Of course, we regard this as pathological. But why? If we respect the say-so of the transgendered -  that even though they might have a male body, they are really a female – why do we regard those who claim that they are supposed to be without legs as pathological? Culture! The media! The steady drone of a solitary voice saying that it is a human right to be transgendered, even a source of pride! Meanwhile, those who have had their legs removed are regarded as “sick” – no basis for pride there!

Add to the steady drone are the vicious accusations that if you fail to fall in line with this thinking, you lack compassion and sensitivity. Even worse than that, you are a “bigot” and a “homophobe.” Soon, we will also be called “pedophobes!”

Instead, wisdom instructs us to be aware of the messages, influences, and the less-than-subtle messages to conform or else!

Liberal Logic: Weiner’s Sex vs. Spitzer’s

We Christians really don’t understand liberals and how they draw their moral line. However, the candidacy of former governor Elliot Spitzer and former Senator Anthony Weiner, is proving to be revealing

Although we might regard them as bedfellows, sharing common interests and a common fate, Spitzer doesn’t see things this way. He has stated that Weiner should drop out of the race, even though it was he, Spitzer, who had broken the law with his escapades. (It remains uncertain whether or not Weiner – “Carlos Danger” - had physical contact with his sexting targets.)

Meanwhile, Barbara Walters also put Weiner into another category – the “yuck” category. On TheView this Tuesday, she tried to defend Spitzer because his acts were normal. (This might simply mean that his behavior was closer to the kinds of things that Walters had done):

WALTERS: Now, I said– I don't know how to put it. I said that's sort of in the realm of normalcy.


WALTERS: Okay. Because it's not kinky. It's wrong, but it's not kinky. Weiner's is kind of "what? Why?

According to Walters, Spitzer has every right to continue his campaign for office, even though what he had done was “wrong,” but Weiner should step down because his “sex” was “kinky.” If this sounds hypocritical coming from a liberal, perhaps it is. It seems that Walters has expressed little problem with other forms of “kinky” sex – homosexuality, anal intercourse… Why is she now bringing the hatchet down on Weiner’s head? She has even casually admitted to our own adulterous fling.

Besides, she admits that what Spitzer had done was “wrong.” Someone should have asked her. “How many wrong turns does a candidate need to disqualify him from public office? How many prostitutes would it take to pull down the curtain on him?” Shouldn’t there be limits – a point of no return? When does someone disqualify himself for office? I guess the liberal doesn’t see this question as relevant. However, if his sex is “kinky,” well, that’s another matter!

Meanwhile, it was Spitzer who had broken the law. On top of that, as one commentator wrote in, Spitzer was prosecuting prostitutes while he was using them for his own fulfillment! How’s that for hypocrisy! However, according to Walters, his sex wasn’t “kinky.” He’s normal! I guess that means, “He’s one of us!”

Well, what makes for “kinky,” unpardonable sex? Clearly, Spitzer sees an unpardonable difference between his sex and Weiner’s – a difference that should eliminate Weiner from running but not him! But what makes this a difference of consequence? Perhaps to answer this question, we would need to probe the mind of the liberal – a perilous undertaking!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Christian Feminism

Feminism has hurt women more than it has helped. It has demeaned female gifting and has informed the woman that, for her to have value, she must be able to compete with a man and have a career. Raising children has been relegated to an inferior position. Consequently, women are more depressed and dissatisfied that ever. (Please read this testimony by a woman writer raised by a feminist: )

However, I also think that we must try to understand Christian women who have revolted against their biblical role, even though their response – placing feminism and its modern interpretation of freedom above the Bible – may be troubling.

One Christian feminist responded to me that God had led her to a modern feministic way of interpreting the Bible, and that this had given her a sense of freedom:

I sometimes get messages from mostly young women asking about specific bible verses pertaining to women. Always, they explain how they are trying to follow and honor God and understand these verses as somehow demonstrating God's love for them. But over and over, they keep coming back to a question they can't shake: "why does God hate me?" Sometimes they specifically say, "I wish God hadn't made me a woman" because trying to follow what they had been taught God requires of women is killing their spirit. It breaks my heart because I used to feel exactly the same way.

But as I found the courage to embrace other ways of understanding these verses, I was granted an enormous peace - the sort of peace that only God can bring to us. I started understanding that the enormous pain I and other women feel under the teaching of the unique subordination of women didn't come from my rebellion. It is actually the rebellion of the Holy Spirit in me refusing to accept a teaching that I wasn't made for. Along with peace came freedom. The freedom that Jesus came to give us. Freedom to be the person God created me to be.

Here’s my response:

Thanks for your candid response. I am grieved that, for you, the Bible's hierarchical male/female, husband/wife role distinctions provoke the question, "why does God hate me."

I'm wondering whether we must all be head-honcho in order to think that God loves me. Would this also pertain to being a pastor or an elder? Must the church rid itself of all role distinctions so that everyone might be assured that "God loves me?"

Perhaps this is the way of the world? I worked for years as a probation officer and resented the fact that I was repeatedly passed over for supervisor. Finally, I got the position and for the next six years I was absolutely miserable.

I had erroneously equated social rank with my value as a person. I also equated my rank with the degree that God loved me. The lower the rank, the less I was in the eyes of God. How tragic we see things in such unbiblical ways!

Please understand that I too regard it as tragic when Christian women lament, "I wish God hadn't made me a woman," but I wonder whether this is because of the biblical role of the woman or because of the negative appraisal society has placed on this role.

In light of the fact that the feminists have undermined the female role and gifting, it is no surprise that many now lament the fact that God had made them a woman. Rather than feeding into this demeaning of women, I think that it is our role as Christians to honor the woman for who she is – the blessing that God made her to be. This should start with husbands:  

·        Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

God will tolerate no less than this!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Questions for Non-Theists

Having a self-concept is unavoidable. We have to have a concept – think “understanding” - of anything we manage, whether a business, a car, or even our clothing. We need to know the nature of our clothing so that we can best care for them. We also need to know where to put the gas in our car and where to put the oil. Reversing them might prove catastrophic!

Likewise, we need to understand ourselves if we are going to manage our lives in a fruitful manner. I used to have a highly inflated self-esteem, and this cost me dearly. Even though I could not read music, I foolishly tried out for the lead role in a musical. How embarrassing!

We need a self-esteem based on truth. I just left this series of questions on a secular discussion group concerned about psychology and religion. Please pray that the Lord might use it to provoke some significant thinking:

How should we regard ourselves? Do we need a self-image and upon what is it to be based? For those of us who have come from loving families where the primary relationships provide our self-definition, this larger, ontological question might not seem relevant, at least until our lives get bogged down. In the long run, it is hard to avoid this question.

Along with it, is the question of handling our guilt and shame as we try to forge a positive self-identity that we can live with. Our culture teaches us that we can and should forgive ourselves and think good things about ourselves. However, can we take such self- or societally-generated messages seriously? Does it represent any more than a form of masturbation? Can they really give us the relief we crave? Or must the answer be found in the Transcendent – an ultimate and unchanging relationship?

Being Real when we Feel like Garbage

 When we are hurting, we tend to feel shame, put on a façade, and isolate ourselves. However, if we understand Christ, this shouldn’t be. Instead, we can be bold, even in the face of our repeated failures.

This had not been the case with Heather Kopp. She has described herself as a “Christian drunk.” in her new book, Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. Instead of her problem leading her to reach out to others in her church for support and encouragement, she isolated:

  • When I lost control of my drinking, I was baffled and ashamed. I prayed and repented until I was blue in the face—all to no avail. Which set up a faith crisis. I mean, wasn’t alcoholism the kind of gross moral sin that I was supposed to have been saved from? 
  • I think this is why Christians make such miserable addicts. When prayer and repentance don’t work, in order to protect our “witness” or God’s reputation, or our families—we think we’re doing every one a favor by keeping it secret or suffering in silence. That only makes us more miserable and further away from getting help.
Although Kopp’s response to her addiction is very common, our New Testament encourages us to respond in an entirely different way. For one thing, knock-down hardships are to be expected.

  • Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

We need to understand that we will experience such painful disappointments that we will think that there is something so terribly wrong with ourselves – that we are far worse off than others – that we will want to run away. However, the Apostle Paul instructs us to be prepared for such struggles:

  • For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17) 
Consequently, we all struggle, and we’ll continue to struggle as long as we remain in this body! If we really imbibe this truth, we can be honest about our failings. Not only are they normal, but everyone has them!

But are they really failings in a negative and shameful sense – things that we need to hide? God had informed Paul that He wouldn’t relieve him of a troublesome problem because Paul was better off with the problem than without it:

  • But he [God] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
We tend to regard our weaknesses and failings as ugly, shameful things. However, this isn’t the way that God regards them (Isaiah 57:15; 66:1-2). Consequently, Paul learned to revel in his weaknesses, even to boast in them. He knew that his failings would make him spiritually strong. They would teach Him how to depend on the Lord.

If we know this and also that our God fully accepts us – warts and all – we can also boast in our weaknesses, assured that, however, frustrating they may be, God is working them all for a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). This means that we can stop obsessively ruminating about our weaknesses and insecurities and say to ourselves, “Great, another failure! I can’t wait to see what God will do through this one!”

Meanwhile, we shouldn’t be surprised if our struggles are deeper and more painful than those of others (1 Peter 4:17). Paul explained that if we want to grow spiritually, we must also die:

  • We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)
This is nothing to be ashamed about. The way of life is death. The way of growth is brokenness! Paul had to learn this lesson repeatedly. He had to endure such discouragement that he felt like dying:

  • We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
To grow in the Lord means to die to self. To trust in the Lord means that we have to see ourselves the way we really are, and to understand that there is no way that we can trust in ourselves. This is terribly painful – the despairing of our self–trust and self-esteem. However, if we know that this is God’s blessed cure, we can endure it and even laugh at ourselves in the process. We submit to physical surgery, because we believe that it means health. We should also submit to God’s spiritual surgery, because we know that it means healing and Christ-like-ness.

It’s been such a relief to me to lay down the façade that I am in control and to laugh at my failures and insecurities. Rather than driving me away from others it now draws others to me. If I can accept myself despite my failings, it helps others to feel more comfortable in my presence and helps them to lay down their own façade.

Although Kopp found healing through Christ, she also found some relief through AA. In AA, everyone was able to admit that they were alcoholics, albeit recovering alcoholics.

However, we have better Resources than AA! We can admit that we’re sinners saved by grace, and that’s okay because we have a God who loves us, just the way we are, with a love that transcends all understanding (Eph. 3:16-19), and has promised to never leave us. We no longer have to justify ourselves and rationalize away our wrongs, because Jesus has blotted them away on the cross.

I would not have made it in AA! I would not have been able to confront and accept my ugliness without the assurance that I was loved and forgiven from above - that I was defined by an absolute standard higher than society’s standard and my performance. Without this assurance, I clung to my crumbling façade, even through years of secular counseling. Ironically, secular counseling just served to enable me to hold on to my rationalizations of my own okay-ness.

My classes are a bit like an AA meeting. Although we don’t go around and confess our sins, I try to show the powerful connection between God’s Word and how it enables us to be real. When we understand Him, we can boldly come into His light (John 3:19-20) with our focus, not on ourselves, but on His glory and love.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Progressives, Non-Violence and Gun Control

  Should a Christian store a gun at home for self-defense? As a probation officer, I was entitled to own a gun, but I decided against it. However, this wasn’t because I thought that it was wrong for me to have a gun. Instead, I just didn’t want the hassles associated with it.

In contrast, in a blog entry entitled What Would Jesus Say to the NRA?, progressive Christian, Shane Claiborne, argued that Jesus was against all forms of violence:

  • Everything in Jesus' world, just as in ours, contends that we must use violence to protect the innocent from violence, which is the very thing Jesus came to help us un-learn through his nonviolent life and death on the cross. Surely, we think, if God were to come to earth, he should at least come with a bodyguard -- if not an entire entourage of armed soldiers and secret service folk. But Jesus comes unarmed. Surely, we think, if God were about to be killed he would bust out a can of butt-kicking wrath; but Jesus looks into the eyes of those about to kill him and says, "Father forgive them." The Bible goes so far to say that the wisdom of God makes no sense to the logic of this world, in fact it may even seem like "foolishness" (or at least utopian idealism).  
Claiborne mistakenly interprets Jesus’ prayer, "Father, forgive them," as His rejection of any punishment. However, it can’t possibly mean that. Jesus had talked more about the consequence of hell than did anyone else in the Bible!

More to the point, Claiborne insists the Jesus’ “nonviolent life and death on the cross” represents the rejection of any use of the sword. However, this is contradicted by many NT verses (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:14).

However, it’s necessary to acknowledge that Jesus’ cross is supposed to guide our conduct:

  • To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23) 
Clearly, Jesus’ life models for us non-retaliation. However, does this say anything against  defending our families? Evidently, Claiborne thinks that it does:

  • When soldiers come to arrest and execute Jesus, one of his closest friends defensively picks up a sword to protect him. Jesus' response is stunning: He scolds his own disciple and heals the wounded persecutor. It was a tough and very counter-intuitive lesson: "The one who picks up the sword dies by the sword ... there is another way."
Claiborne seems to think that any use of violence is unacceptable. However, should we never pick up the sword? Should we never own a gun or defend the vulnerable? This brings us to the question: What does it mean to pick up the sword? Certainly, we can’t take this statement literally. There is nothing wrong with literally picking up a sword. The criminal justice system picks up the sword. Their very role requires this (Rom. 13:1-4).

Nor can we maintain that Jesus swore off of all violence. He forcefully drove money changers out of the Temple (John 2:12-16; Mat. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46).

It’s therefore hard to maintain that Jesus had taught against all force or violence. In fact, the use of force was very much a part of the revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures. God had ordained certain wars. He had also mandated capital punishment, even before the Mosaic Covenant (Gen. 9:6), and there is no reason to believe that the cross changed any of this. In fact, Jesus even reaffirmed capital punishment:

  • “For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'” (Matthew 15:4) 
But what about owning a gun for the defense of one’s home and family? While God clearly ordained certain forms of violent judgment – wars and capital punishment – does Scripture make any allowance for self-defense? There is surprisingly little written about this in the Bible. Perhaps it’s not because self- and family-defense were not acceptable, but perhaps because it was such an obvious truth that it didn’t require biblical support. Perhaps the concept of self-defense was as acceptable as drinking water.

However, there are verses that do speak to this:

  • "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2) 
Although murder was such a serious crime, defending one’s home and family took precedence!

Jesus Himself even seemed to endorse a forceful defense of one’s home. He likens the necessity for keeping watch spiritually with keeping watch over one’s home:

  • "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:42-43; Luke 12:39)
According to Jesus, the homeowner has a perfect right to forcefully resist the thief from breaking in.

I am not suggesting that we all go out and buy a gun. Sometimes, the Lord is best served when we simply rely upon Him. If we do buy a gun, we need to note the very limited circumstances where lethal force is justified.

Guns are not only powerful instruments, they can also powerfully affect our attitudes and behavior. They can wrongly teach us self-reliance as opposed to God-reliance. Power can mysteriously wean us away from our real source of power, placing our focus on the things below instead of the Transcendent. Power can cause us to forget to love and seek first His kingdom and righteousness, knowing that if we do, He will watch over us (Mat. 6:33).

What then does it mean “to live by the sword?” I think that Jesus was referring to trusting in the sword – the wrong object.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reza Aslan, a Joyous Media, and the Denial of the Biblical Jesus

The mainstream media’s hatred of Christianity has become more blatantly obvious. Pastor John Dickerson writes:

  • Reza Aslan, author of the new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has been interviewed on a host of media outlets in the last week. Riding a publicity wave, the book has surged to #2 on Amazon's list. Media reports have introduced Aslan as a “religion scholar” but have failed to mention that he is a devout Muslim. 
Why are these media outlets systematically omitting any mention that Aslan is a devout Muslim? Instead, they are touting him as if he is a scholar in the area of New Testament studies. However, this is not the case:

  • His book is not a historian’s report on Jesus. It is an educated Muslim’s opinion about Jesus -- yet the book is being peddled as objective history on national TV and radio. Zealot is a fast-paced demolition of the core beliefs that Christianity has taught about Jesus for 2,000 years. Aslan is not a trained historian.

    Its conclusions are long-held Islamic claims—namely, that Jesus was a zealous prophet type who didn’t claim to be God, that Christians have misunderstood him, and that the Christian Gospels are not the actual words or life of Jesus but “myth.”
How would Aslan know “that Christians have misunderstood” Jesus? Where does he derive his evidence that Jesus “didn’t claim to be God?” Well, from the Koran, compiled about six hundred years after the New Testament!

Did Jesus claim to be God? He did in many cryptic ways! Why was He not more explicit about His identity? Well, he wasn’t explicit about many things. Not only were His disciples unable to comprehend much of what He had taught, His adversaries were all too eager to catch Him making indictable statements. Nevertheless, Jesus did say many things equating Himself with God. Here are several examples:

  • For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth…[21] For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. [22] Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. [24] I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. [25] I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. [28] "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice [29] and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:18-29)
Notice that the religious leadership correctly understood that Jesus was “making himself equal with God,” and Jesus never contradicted their impression.

In verse 21, Jesus claimed that He gives eternal life. In the Hebrew Scriptures, this is something only possible for God to do. Therefore, Jesus cryptically claimed to be God.

In verse 22, Jesus claimed that He is the judge. Once again, Scripture informs us that only
God can judge.

In verse 23, Jesus claimed that the same honor due to God was also due to Him, equating Himself with God. No human can claim anything distinctly close to this. It would be the worst blasphemy, and the Muslim knows this.

In verse 24, Jesus claimed that His word brought eternal life. Only God could say such a thing.

In verses 25-29, Jesus claimed that He would call forth the dead. This is something that only God can do. Therefore, Jesus was equating Himself with God.
Jesus also proclaimed that eternal life was a matter of trusting in Him:

  • “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24) 
  • Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29)
The Hebrew Scriptures demanded that trust be placed only in God:

  • This is what the Lord says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5)
If Jesus were a mere human, trusting in Him would make us accursed. Therefore, if Jesus isn’t God, He is a false teacher – not a position that a devout Muslim wants to take!!

Jesus equated Himself with God in many other ways. He taught that He is pre-existent, and only God is pre-existent:

  • "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:58-59)
The Jewish leadership knew that He was equating Himself with God – a blasphemy which deserved stoning. Therefore, they tried to kill Him. (I trust the Jewish understanding of Jesus’ self-revelation far more than I do the Muslim understanding, six hundred years after the fact!)  Jesus had not only indicated His pre-existence, He also applied to Himself the divine name of God – “I am.” This was how God had identified Himself to Moses (Exodus 3 and 4).

Afterwards, the leadership pressed Him to tell them explicitly if He was the Messiah. Jesus answered:

  • "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. [27] My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:25-28)
Once again, Jesus claimed for Himself powers and authority that only God can have. It is Jesus who gives “them eternal life” and is able to protect them against any adversity (verse 28). Only God can do this. Therefore, anyone else saying this would be stoned.

The leadership understood His words and wanted to stone Him to death. They explained that they were doing this because Jesus, “a mere man, claim[s] to be God” (John 10:33).

Instead of correcting their “misunderstanding,” Jesus continued to affirm what they already understood:

  • “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:37-38)
This doctrine of the Deity of the Messiah is not an invention of the Apostles. There is even a lot of evidence for this in the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6) 
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
This type of evidence is important because the Muslim, when backed into a corner, will claim that the NT has been altered, even though the Koran doesn’t support this claim. How then can he explain the fact that the OT teaches the very same theology as does the NT!

Muslim apologists also claim that Jesus never taught that He should be worshipped. However, as these verses point out, He did teach this. In fact, He never forbade people from worshipping Him (Matthew 9:18; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 15:25; Matthew 20:20; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 28:9; Matthew 28:16-17; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:6-7; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 4:41; Luke 5:8; Luke 23:42; Luke 24:52; John 5:23; John 9:38; John 12:13). Even kings worshipped Him:

  • And [the Magi] asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2, 11)
In contrast to the worship of Jesus, Paul and even an angel had strictly forbade others from worshipping them.

There are many more lines of reasoning in support of the claim that Jesus is God, especially the more explicit affirmations found in the Epistles and the wealth of OT evidence. However, I am equally impressed with the implicit New Testament evidence that Jesus is both God and Messiah. Take, for example, the way the NT applies to Jesus OT verses that refer to “Yahweh,” thereby cryptically indicating that Jesus is Yahweh!

For instance, Matthew writes of Jesus:

  • This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " (Matthew 3:3)
However, Isaiah had identified the coming “Lord” as “Yahweh.” In essence, Matthew asserted that Yahweh would come in the Person of Jesus, equating Jesus with Yahweh!

There are many such verses, and they are very significant. They answer Aslan’s charge that the Gospels do not reflect the true words of Jesus but instead represent later embellishments. However, if the NT wanted to make the case that Jesus is God, it wouldn’t have resorted to such cryptic references. Instead, it would have trumpeted, “Jesus is God,” loud and clear!

John records Jesus as saying that He is “the First and the Last”:

  • When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” (Rev. 1:17; also, 22:13)
This is a title that only God uses in regards to Himself (Isa. 44:6)! In using this title, Jesus is equating Himself with God!

The Book of Hebrews also applies OT quotations regarding God to Jesus:

  • "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." (Hebrews 1:10-12) 
Implicit references to Jesus’ deity make up the very fabric of the NT. These references are so intimately woven into everything that Jesus did and said that they couldn’t have been mere insertions, as many so glibly charge. Instead, it can be argued that virtually everything that Jesus said reflected His divinity. Here are several examples:

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16; KJV)
This phrase is derived from Psalm 2, widely regarded as Messianic in Jesus day. However, Jesus wasn’t merely equating Himself with the Messiah by referring to Himself as the “only begotten son.” He was also proclaiming His divinity, because, at the end of the Psalm, the nations must do homage before Him.

Matthew records Jesus comforting His disciples with these words:

  • For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
In order to accomplish this feat of omnipresence, He would have to be God! Even the more “mundane” things that Jesus taught pointed to His divinity. Implicit within his reference to “My Father,” was the assertion that He had always had a special relationship with God. He told His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Only God could presume to make such a promise! Then He claimed that the Spirit “would testify of Me” (15:27)! It would have been bold heresy to claim this Jesus isn’t God!

In many ways, Jesus proclaimed that He was greater than Moses and the Mosaic Covenant:

  • I tell you that one greater than the temple is here…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:6-8)
Only God could proclaim Himself greater than the Sabbath and the Temple. He was also greater than the Covenant. He initiated the New Covenant with His own blood (Mat. 26:27-29). In the end, when He commissioned and sent out His Apostles, He claimed that He had been given all authority in heaven and earth, and He commanded them to preach Him:

  • "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
Once again, Jesus claims to be omnipresent. He will remain with them always! Also, it is no longer Moses who will be taught but Jesus. Perhaps most astonishing is His command to baptize into the three Persons of the Trinity, of which He is One. He doesn’t say to baptize into the names of the Three but into the name, signifying that they each partake of the same essence.

The fabric of the NT is impregnated with a Divine Jesus. His miracles, His forgiveness, His authority, and His self-revelations all proclaim the same message. However cryptically they might have been delivered, they all partook of the same message – Jesus is God!

It is not at all surprising that the Muslim Reza Aslan would write such a book. He is merely reflecting traditional Islam. However, what is surprising is the evident media enthusiasm for anything that will denigrate the Christian faith – a hatred that is evidently so intense that they embrace and promote a Muslim’s critique of Jesus. When have you heard the media promote a Christian’s critique of Muhammad?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Should Evolution Continue to have a Monopoly over the Teaching of Science?

 Should Intelligent Design (ID) be taught in the public school science classes? A recent survey revealed that 40% of American would favor this, while 32% are opposed.

Meanwhile, several academies of school maintain that such questions shouldn’t be decided by the public but by the experts. Indeed, in many areas of our lives, we do allow the expert opinion to predominate. Isn’t this why we have experts!

However, others would respond that the evolution vs. ID debate isn’t simply a matter of expert testimony. It involves many other factors like our values and worldviews. At stake are questions that involve the meaning of life and whether natural processes are capable of explaining everything we encounter on planet earth and beyond. (Also, there are many questions about whether or not evolutionary science is capable of touching the question of origins – something that might fall more into the domain of history than science.)

Evolution is part of a worldview called naturalism that maintains that everything can be explained in terms of natural laws. However, others will point out a conundrum – Is it possible that natural laws can explain the origin of the natural laws?

Evolutionists will respond, “We are biologists! We aren’t concerned about the origins of the cosmos, as interesting as these questions might be! Evolution is only concerned about the origin of species!”

However, when we examine the science classroom – not just evolution – it seems that any discussion of ID as an explanation of any scientific phenomena has become verboten! It is simply not permitted! This means that “science” has now become defined as methodologies that attempt to identify naturalistic causation. This virtually has given naturalism a monopoly over all public education. Consequently, vast sums of money and resources are committed to finding natural explanation while none is committed to questioning this underlying worldview.

For those who represent ID, this constitutes a suffocating bias – perhaps even the establishment of the state religion of naturalism.

Although there might exist various understandings of evolution, naturalistic evolution remains the controlling orthodoxy. To deviate could mean expulsion from the university, as many instances of this have proven. ID seeks to infuse a bit of fresh air into the sciences, some healthy competition, and some needed insights, as even some atheists have conceded.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Obey a Cosmic Dictator

Some call God a “cosmic dictator.” One atheist claimed that if Scripture – God had commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanites - is foremost in our ethical decision-making, then any ethical horror can be justified. He also claimed that such a morality was just another repugnant form of “might makes right”:

  • Religious morality can actually harm society for no other reason that because it is dogmatic…If your justification [for the wars God had ordered in the OT] is "because god says so" then anything can be justified that way - literally anything. It defies all sense of common decency and it shows how religious dogma can prevent critical thinking. And you are clearly demonstrating here that your moral framework is based on authority and "might makes right"! That's a weak ethical system.
Here’s my response to him:

Admittedly, my defense has to be very nuanced. Relationships are nuanced. If God created this world, everyone and all of our notions of justice, love, fairness and morality, then he has the right to call the shots. This is even true, in a limited sense, if I come to your house. I have to obey your house rules or out I go. It’s not exactly a matter of “might makes right” but of transcendent rights. You own your house, but in a far greater sense God owns this universe. I therefore have a moral obligation to obey Him.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that once I enter your house I have to suspend all moral judgment. You might ask me to do something unethical, in which case, I will leave. I can also do this with God, and many do leave. However, I have chosen to stay! Here’s why:

If I owe any debt of gratitude to my parents, I also owe such a debt to God.

If God is God and is the source of all moral reasoning, then, logically, if have to be suspicious of my own reasoning if it conflicts with God, and sometimes it does. A wise first grader should also have such reservations if he finds himself disagreeing with his math teacher, and the teacher isn’t even the source of all mathematics! This doesn’t mean that I am perfectly comfortable with everything that the Bible teaches.

In my 36 years of following my Savior, I have found that, in many ways, I have been wrong and He has been right. Coming from my radical background, I was against all authority. However, I came to see how my opinions had been born out of my very limited experience. Without parking my mind and moral discernment at the door, I have come to find that I have been wrong in so many ways. This doesn’t mean that I give myself a mental lobotomy, but it does mean that I have come to acknowledge God for who He is. His Word therefore has the upper hand in my life, as it should!

Besides, in many areas of my life, I have come to rely on experts. This doesn’t mean that I turn my mind off, but it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that I am very limited and I need the help of others more expert than myself.

He has won my heart! I am convinced that He loves me and has died for me. I am therefore grateful and gladly follow Him! While the idea that “God says so” is utterly distasteful to you, it is sweet music to my ears. This is because I trust Him and the love He has for me. Admittedly, I’d prefer to have perfect understanding of His Word before I take a step. However, I know that He has His reasons for not explaining everything to me. I am therefore willing to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” because I know that He is with me and will never let go of me.

He has never required me to do something that I later regarded as wrong. You claim that if God had asked the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites, then anything can be justified. This just isn’t true. Regarding ethical questions, His Word is very clear. If a pastor tells me that God had told him to leave His wife and marry a younger woman, I would ask him to show me what Scriptural justification he has. Of course, there is none, nor for many other things that people want to do. Immorality cannot be justified Scripturally!

His Word is also consistent with the moral dictates He has written on our hearts. When Scripture tells us to not divorce, I have a corresponding witness in my heart to this moral truth. I know that there are things more important than my own immediate satisfaction. In other words, Scripture does not require us to do anything we know is wrong!

Not only do I delight in following my Savior, there are also so many blessings in doing this. Not only has He rescued me from myself – from depression, panic attacks, and self-loathing – He will also rescue me from the judgment to come. Meanwhile, He is working everything for good that comes into my life, however painful they might be.

Despite being a God of judgment, He is even more so the Savior of the world. He has promised all of us:

  • “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mat. 7:7-8)
If we refuse to seek Him, we have only ourselves to blame!

  • For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:12-13)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Atheists have no Defense against Genocide

Approximately 100,000,000 people – an unthinkable number - had been exterminated under atheistic communism. One atheist responded back that these genocides had nothing to do with atheism:

·         “There is nothing about atheism that says it is ok to commit genocide. Atheism is just the disbelief in god. So your tarnish of atheism is unwarranted. If people are the problem, even when they are Christians, then why is atheism the problem? [Previously, I had distinguished the horrible things done under the name of Jesus from the actual teachings of the New Testament.] You don't seem logically consistent.”

Here’s my response:

While I acknowledge that, linguistically, atheism merely means “disbelief in god,” once you have embraced this “disbelief,” you have also inherited its implicit implications:

  1. There can be no possible basis for an objective and universal moral system. Therefore, genocide can only be rejected on pragmatic, relativistic grounds. However, it might be deemed pragmatic to commit genocide. The Communists resorted to genocide on many occasions for pragmatic reasons. Without God, pragmatism can justify anything!
  1. Once you reject God, you also reject any basis for the dignity of humankind. Instead of bearing meaning and the image of God, we become no more than a sack of randomly assembled chemicals, lacking freewill and transcendent value. And, if we are merely an animalistic, pre-determined, electro-chemical robot, then there is no reason to treat one another as if we have dignity. Instead, we are a pathetic accident, ignorantly trying to find meaning on a cold, barren and totally apathetic landscape. We are therefore the red meat for the powerful, to be used and abused according to their “progressive” cause. Finally, after we have served our purpose, we are thrown on the junk heap with the rest of the robots.
  1. Without meaning and objective values, there are no adequate reasons for moral persuasion. If then unity and compliance cannot be obtained through moral reasoning, then they will be won through coercion and manipulation! It is therefore unsurprising that communist/atheist leaders justified any violence to secure their goals.
  1. By rejecting God, atheism has also rejected any basis for unalienable human rights. Once God was rejected, the atheistic communists uniformly trampled upon these rights. If our rights are merely granted by government, then government can just as easily retract those rights.
God has stacked the deck against you. You cannot reject Him without also rejecting your very self – all those things you were created to require. The atheist has rejected God in hope of becoming the master of his own life. However, in the process, he has reduced himself to the status of an animal. The Apostle Paul said it this way:
·         For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being 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 about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. (Rom. 1:21-25)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Church-Bashing and Genocide

(With thanks to David Singer for the photo!)

Genocide is not a weed that just suddenly appears. It has to be deliberately cultivated over a long period of time. The henchmen have to be prepared and convinced that they are doing the right thing. The target group has to be defamed and demonstrated that they do not have a right to exist. They are vermin that have to be eliminated in order to create a better world.

The Communists did this with the land owners. They were consistently cast as the “oppressors.” The National Socialists did the same thing with the Jews; the Hutus with the Tutsis – first vilify and then eliminate!

This is part of the reason why I object to the overwhelming torrent of criticism aimed at the church in the West. It is not that we are totally innocent; nor is it that we cannot profit from the criticism. We can! However, there is a point when criticism ceases to become constructive and instead becomes systematic defamation, and defamation opens to door to subjugation and even elimination.

It is so troubling to hear the many voices calling for the silencing of the church. And what a stark contrast to the Western acclaim for diversity and tolerance! While they wave the banner of multiculturalism and diversity, they are intent on marginalizing or even eliminating the church. As one atheistic group, I’m Proud to be an Atheist, advertised:

  • I’ll stop attacking religion when religion stops hurting people and telling lies.
According to this group, we hurt people by our very nature. We talk about eternal judgment, and that bothers people. Consequently, the attacks will not stop. But talk about calories bothers people! Another group, Atheism and World Peace, declared:

  • I have no reason and no intention to respect a religion that violates basic human rights. 
In other words, “I refuse to respect you unless you agree with my philosophy of life.” In this intolerant social climate, we are now charged with “hate speech” when we don’t agree, and therefore, we must be silenced.

However, what are even more troubling than the hypocrisy of the West are the voices within the church, especially among the evangelical break-away group calling itself the “Emergent Church!” One of their exponents, Shane Claiborne, described the traditional church this way:

  • When studying sociology, I saw a lot of disturbing things. Sociological studies show that the higher a person’s church attendance, often the more prone they are to be racist, sexist, anti-gay, pro-war, pro-death penalty, and known for a lot of things that Jesus wasn’t know for…Just a few years ago, friends of mine did a study; they asked non-Christians around the country, “What do you think when you hear ‘Christian?’” And the number one answer was “anti-homosexual.” (ALife, 7/15/13, 14)
Well, this is not surprising, given the anti-Christian animus in the West! While I will not dispute that Christians haven’t always conducted themselves as they should have, my experience runs counter to the narrative ubiquitously promoted in western media – Christian parents disown their gay children. I have never seen an instance of this. However, I know many Christian parents who have been rejected by their gay children!

It is not surprising that Claiborne has referenced  selected studies that have reflected badly on Christians. However, I have seen many studies with the opposite findings. However, Claiborne has concluded that these studies represent, proof-positive, that the church has failed to follow Jesus and that He and his Emergent Church movement are correcting all of that by simply taking Jesus literally.

Well, let’s look closer at his critique. Perhaps serious Christian are more “sexist.” It depends upon what Claiborne means by “sexist.” If he is referring to biblically ordained role distinctions, then he is right. Perhaps serious Christians are also more “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty.” However, to deny that war is ever necessary is also to deny that police are ever necessary!  Perhaps Christians are more, “anti-gay,” depending upon what he means by that. If it means that we are against this highly self-destructive lifestyle, then I guess we are anti-gay. But is this in opposition to the love of Jesus, calling everyone to repent of their sins? And is this an adequate basis to join the prevailing culture to vilify the church?

It seems that Claiborne entered into his sociology classes with a worldview already poised against the biblical church. We then have to ask, “What does he mean by Christians being more ‘racist?’” Perhaps he simply means that many churches congregate according to race. Although I wish this wasn’t the case, this is certainly a far cry from his charge of racism.

Here’s what troubles me – so many members of the Emergent Church are just as critical of the church as those on the outside. In Claiborne’s case – and his worldview is reflective of the attitudes of many young Christians – his contempt for the traditional church has led him and other Emergents to reject the church and to reinvent it in a way that it more congruent with Western tastes.

Although the Emergents do not want to see the church eliminated in the same way that atheists want to see it eliminated, their criticism of the traditional church reflects an unbiblical contempt and a willingness to misuse Scripture to support their own agenda.

Claiborne claims that the traditional church has not reflected Jesus as they ought to have. He cites, “And they will know you are Christians by your love,” to prove his point. However, he has wrongly quoted this verse:

  •  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
According to Jesus, the world will know that we belong to Him by our love for the brethren and not by some amorphous “love” that is supposed to embrace all lifestyles, no matter how sinful or destructive. Sadly, the Emergent Church has failed in Jesus’ love. Instead of loving the brethren, they have rejected us.

I have my own sins, and I am very willing to confess them. We all must confess our sins. However, according to the National Socialists, the Jews had devolved far beneath other peoples. According to Muslims, the Jews had become children of apes and swine, far beneath any Muslim! Therefore, it was fitting to eliminate them as they would any disease. This is precisely what has been building in the power structures of Western society regarding the church.

Criticism has its place, but it also must be kept in balance, the very thing that is now lacking. Once people believe that we are worse than others, they will begin to treat us as such!

What is the source of the contempt for the church? Instead of answering this question, I want younger Christians to do a little self-reflection. Are their negative attitudes about the church a product of cultural influences? Has their criticism ceased to be constructive? Is it merely serving to further marginalize the church or even to eliminate it? Is this what they want? Above all else, what should the love that our Savior taught us look like?