I am now writing exclusively over at the Christians In Context blog. Click on this banner to be taken there!

Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
Looking for a church in the Omaha area? Come check out ours on Sunday mornings at 11!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Defending Christianity and the Bible

In an attempt to get involved in public discourse and represent a biblical Christian worldview, here's yet another installment from the Omaha World-Herald's Public Pulse:

Good and bad in Bible

In regard to Mike Goonan's Aug. 16 letter, "Evidence is in Bible," I question how he, like most Christians, chooses his faith and what to believe from the Bible. Most people admit that their faith is not of choice but stems from their upbringing.

Muslims are told in the Koran that any belief other than Islam will condemn them to a life in eternal hell (5:71-75). So either many Muslims or many Christians will be suffering for eternity due to where they had the fortune or misfortune of being born.

As for the Bible, which parts should we choose to believe? Do we kill our children for talking back to us (Exodus 21:5 and Leviticus 20:9)? Do we believe it is OK to sell daughters into slavery or own slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46)?

I don't believe there is anything wrong with wanting stronger evidence than the Bible. To me, parts of it are not that good.

Daryle LaFleur, Omaha

Read to understand

In response to Daryle LaFleur's Aug. 21 letter, "Good and Bad in Bible," it is unfortunate when a Christian leaves their faith unexamined and adheres simply because of upbringing. However, this is not an argument against Christianity itself, nor does it undermine the tried and tested convictions of many Christians.

As I noticed that you only quoted from the Old Testament when finding the "bad" in the Bible, let me offer a suggestion in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). You should read the Bible with the precision you think the writer intended.

All of us read the newspaper in this fashion with no trouble; reading the front page, the sports page, and the comics page with varying degrees of literal interpretation and personal application. A headline like "Bears Devour Lions" may not be intended literally. A letter to the editor may not be intended for you.

Let me suggest you consider the life of Jesus before digging into obscure Old Testament passages intended for theocratic Israel. He claimed to be God and is the linchpin of Christianity. Muslims claim he was not God but merely a prophet and good teacher. Everyone should consider the historical and biblical accounts and decide for themselves.

Jared Totten, Omaha

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tolerance is a buzzword

"Politically incorrect" used to be the card to play in a losing discussion to color one's opponent as the bad guy. Today "intolerant" has become the catchall missile levelled at anyone dumb enough to disagree with a closely-held pet belief in most dialogues (especially those regarding religion and morality). Postmodernism has completely distorted what the word tolerance used to mean. What follows is, in my experience, how tolerance is defined today:

1. Everyone is free to believe what they want without fear of verbal or physical violence from the public or coercion from the government.

2. Every belief is equally valid and true (if not for you, then for someone else).

3. Every belief should be celebrated by everyone.

I certainly agree with the first assertion. I believe the first concept is one of the founding ideas that formed our country. However, tolerance has been amplified in our day to encompass the second and third tenets as well. Allow me to explain why I have a problem with these two.

Let's start with a proposition that everyone can objectively say is false: 2+2=5. Now, in the spirit of tolerance, I will permit someone to believe that 2+2=5 without directing any hatred, violence, or bigotry towards them. I may tell them they're wrong, I may try to convince them to change their minds, but I will not act harshly negative toward them. However, you will never hear me (or any teacher I want teaching my kids) say "I believe differently, but your belief that 2+2=5 is true for you and valid". And hopefully you will never hear "Furthermore, I think it's great that you believe that 2+2=5 and I support you in such thinking". In this illustration, I can be tolerant (by the old definition) of a view different from my own while still considering it wrong and in need of correction.

Now, if you plug any of the hot topics of today into the above equation (the existence of God, one's personal view of God, homosexual marriage, just war, abortion, divorce, etc.) you see how this quickly rubs against today's definition of tolerance.

Note the implication: we can think and talk objectively about certain ideas (math, science, etc. where one view is the correct one and all others are wrong), but when it comes to the bigger thoughts of religion and morality, we must stay neutral. Neutered. Non-committal. Passive. Spineless. And the only people we should not tolerate . . . are the intolerant. And we'll define that word how we like, thank you very much.

D.A. Carson wrote, "It used to be that tolerance was the virtue of the person who held strong views about something or other, but who insisted that those who disagreed had an equal right to defend their views – the sort of stance picked up in the slogan, 'I may detest your opinions, but I shall defend to the death your right to speak them.' Today, however, tolerance is the virtue of the person who holds no strong views, except for the strongly held view that it is wrong to hold strong views, or to indicate that someone else might be wrong." - Maintaining Scientific and Christian Truths in a Postmodern World

Please don't misunderstand me, this is not my endorsement to be bull-headed, unlearning, close-minded, and elitist about your beliefs. But neither can I endorse a silencing of the gospel just because it presents the solution to our malady as the only solution. If one believes that Jesus was who He said he was, we must be as exclusive in our message as Christ was in His. This broader definition of tolerance is impractical and unsustainable in the real world. I do not expect to hear any time soon a doctor tell his patient, "I know of a solution to your deadly sickness, but whatever you believe will heal you is a valid belief as well and I celebrate it". I do not expect to hear this from Christians either.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's wrong with religion?

Recently I've noticed a pendulum swing in culture (Both Christian and secular) away from "religion". This is, to some extent, an outworking of the impact postmodern thinking has made on us all. Spirituality through the lens of postmodernism becomes very personalized, a kind of buffet of ideas. Just walk down the line and pick what you want.

In the Christian realm, this pendulum swing sometimes works itself out in the form of the Emergent Church. Distancing itself from what's perceived as the traditional "Christian religion", the Emergent Church is focusing on the things that many Christians have admittedly dropped the ball on. Granted, these churches still have more characteristics of religion than some people would like. I have a friend that, for that very reason, has not been to church for years.

Another effect of this pendulum swing in the Christian realm is that "religion" has almost become a taboo word. If you don't believe me, consider how many times you have heard something like this from a Christian: "My faith is a relationship, not a religion". Now, this is not a terrible thing to say. It is true, to a point, but it is misleading. I wholeheartedly agree that the crux of Christianity is an individual and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, in virtue of that relationship, Jesus expects us to do certain things that will inevitably be perceived as religion. Be baptized, take communion, don't give up meeting together. There are a whole host of things the Scripture calls us to that will undoubtedly color us as a religion.

I am not saying you cannot use that "relationship, not a religion" line. We must be thinking through how we present the Gospel to such a postmodern culture, changing the method without changing the message. What I have seen that worries me more are the serious Christians who take that next step and begin having a genuine distaste for religion. Though it has been mishandled at times, I stand with James that there exists (and we should strive for) a "religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father".

So how do we respond to this? I am sorry to say it's not as easy as just distancing ourselves from the word "religion". We can try to redefine, soft-pedal, or side-step the word but eventually an obedient Christ-follower will be called to do something "religious". Jesus instituted practices like baptism and communion in his followers, both which connote an ongoing gathering of the community of believers.

Rather, we must begin pin-pointing what drove the pendulum away from religion in the first place and begin the difficult work of correcting it piece by piece. Was it the bigotry toward the homosexual community? Was it the judgmentalism directed towards a world we are called not to judge? Was it the greed seen in our ranks? What ever it is you have seen, it begins with a grassroots effort where you are, redeeming the word and the idea of religion from where it is now. Perhaps we begin with James' characteristic of pure and undefiled religion, that we "visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself unstained from the world".