Thursday, October 28, 2010

John the Apologist

As I was reading over chapters 3-5 of 1 John this evening I realized that he makes some rather useful points from an apologetic standpoint. Usually when I think of this book of the Bible I think about how we are to love one another and how that love identifies us as children of God. True enough, this is a book that is laden with admonitions to love one another and abide in the love of Christ. Then there is chapter 4. In the particular edition of the Bible that I am using this chapter is sub-headed "Testing the Spirits."
First of all, John tells us flat out that if a spirit does not confess Christ then it is simply and categorically, not from God. It's as easy as that. Then he lays this bombshell in verse 5, They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world and the world listens to them. How many of those who supposedly confess Christ in our society "speak as from the world"? This may be most true of hardcore "emergent" Christians. In fact, I was just watching a seminar by Bobby Conway of Life Fellowship called "A Conversation about the Emergent Church." It seems that in an effort to be relevant, many Christians have blurred the lines between the world and Christianity to such a degree that they are unrecognizable. Postmodernism has so infiltrated some pastors, theologians, and laity that they are "speaking as from the world" and in many cases, "the world listens to them."
The next tidbit that I would like to point out comes in chapter 5. That is not to downplay the rest of chapter 4 but I want to move briskly as this is not a survey course in 1 John. Listen to verse 1, Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. Let me ask you this; have you ever heard someone say, "There are many ways to get to God," or "All paths lead to the same goal," or "I believe in God but just not this Christianity business"? Most Christians, and rightly so, will trot out John 14:6 when faced with similar statements to the ones above. This verse seems to hit with the same force and message and since it is from the same author that is fitting. The point is, if you say you love God and you don't confess that Jesus is the Christ, guess what? You don't love God. It may seem simplistic to say this but it is worth being very clear about. Christianity is the ONLY faith that confesses that Jesus is the Christ, God's Son, the Messiah. If I am wrong on this please correct me. There are plenty of other faiths that concede that Jesus lived and, at best, was a prophet but none give Him the high standing that Christianity does.
Another great thing that John does in this chapter is head off the worldly swill that says, "If you're a good person and try hard and treat people right you get to go to heaven." In verse 2 he says, By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. Some would twist this as evidence that you just "have to be a good person" to get to Heaven because God's commandments are all about us loving our neighbor. Fair enough, however look back to 1 John 3:23 which says, This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The bottom line is this, you cannot keep God's commandments or do anything that is pleasing in His eyes unless you believe in Christ. That leaves Christianity as the only viable route to eternal life with God.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rethinking American Evangelism

I had the amazing opportunity last night to go with a couple of friends to here Ravi Zacharias and Stuart MacAllister speak in Gastonia, NC. Hearing these two men of God speak on the supremacy of Christ was a real treat to say the least. In the midst of all of this a couple of things stuck out to me that pertain to the nature of evangelism or mission in the United States today. First Dr. MacAllister said that the apologetic that is needed the most in American today is, borrowing Paul's words, "Christ and Him crucified." Later Dr. Zacharias went on to tell a rather humorous story about a family who didn't know the story of Jericho's wall being brought down. These two points, along with the rest that was said, made me ponder the state and method of evangelism in America.

1. Do we need to begin approaching our home territory similar to the way we approach missions abroad?

- The reason I bring up this question is because, like most of western Europe, the US is in danger of becoming a "post-Christian" society. We are losing young people in droves as they enter into college and the workforce. Religious discourse is all but banned from the public arena and the pseudo-intellectual phenomenon called "post-modernism" is spreading like an unpleasant rash. Fewer and fewer people have any idea who Christ claimed to be and their knowledge of the name comes from it's deplorable use as an expletive. Thus, it may be unfair and unwise for us to assume that the people we come in contact with and are trying to reach have any real notion of Christ, His message or His work.

2. What role do Christian apologetics play in the evangelistic effort?

- This a particularly troubling question to me because I am in the final stages of writing a thesis explaining the importance of apologetics in evangelism. I still firmly believe that the value of apologetics cannot be overstated but if a person is obstinate and clearly immovable in their unbelief, when to we pull up our anchor and move to more friendly harbors? To me, one of the primary appeals of apologetics is that it shows the Christian message and worldview to be at home in the intellectual marketplace. That is, this is not an old superstition that is based on myth and unfounded hope. Rather the Christian worldview not only holds it's own in the world of ideas but supersedes the rest in every way. It is coherent, comprehensive and matches with reality.

3. Are the days of massive, nationwide revival over?

- I, for one, do not believe so. One of the things that was pointed out last night was the Churches ability to grow exponentially in times of persecution. Ravi made mention of a man in India who said that if you want the Christians to go away, leave them alone. Because if you persecute them (us) they will multiply. This is the unpleasant truth about Christian history. When ever the belt was tightened on the Church or taken off and used against the Church, she has grown. While we still live in a free and largely tolerant society the winds of change can be felt on that front. It is massively unpopular to be an evangelical, orthodox, conservative Christian. We may see the day when believers are truly persecuted here in our nation. If that is the case I would put my money on a massive resurgence of Christianity in America. Does it have to happen that way? No, I do not believe so. History shows us again and again that revival has swept the land even when it was amiable to Christianity. However, it may be that this time it doesn't come to us so easily.

4. When do we knock the dust off of our shoes and simply give up and move on?

- Simple, never. If God was going to give up on humanity it probably would have been when we were nailing His Son to the cross...but God didn't. That is not to say that, to use an analogy from last night, we don't move to another branch for a while if we have to but I don't think we should ever give up. Another important reason I say this is because I think about the view of the earth from space. The countries aren't different colors and there aren't lines between Canada and the US or Mexico. It is all one world and God cares about the people of the world. One objection would be that God cares especially for the Jews. Yes He does but even that nation is not defined by geography. God cares about all of His creation, it is all groaning for the day of His appearing and I don't think we should ever "give up" on a nation or country because Christ died for all. Undoubtedly God allows some to continue towards the flames and removes the unction of the Holy Spirit but that is God's business and we are not God. It would be unfair of us to assume that God has quit trying on some people only to find out we were being used by Him to try again.

Just some thoughts I had.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fruit of the Secular part 2

Previously I began to describe what I see the real fruit of the secular to be. First it is apathetic and second it is hopeless or marked by despair. Now I would like to go on and finish with a third fruit, anarchy.

Anarchy
Anarchy, as I see it, is a complete lack of control or order. It would be the result of a society without laws and mores. We often see glimpses of this after natural disasters or in the wake of wars when governments are powerless to control the people. Death, looting and general chaos are the markers of this type of situation. You may be thinking, "well, just because a society is without religion does not mean that it is without laws or morals." This is partially correct but, as I mentioned earlier, without a religious framework, of whatever sort, there are no grounds for either laws or morals. They may be transferred from a religious worldview but they are not natural for the secular.
Let us look for a moment at the idea of laws. These are imposed on a society because certain things are seen as admirable and certain things are seen as despicable. For instance, in most societies it is illegal to steal someone's property. This is an almost universal notion and one that, if someone says it is not wrong, they will likely agree to as soon as something is stolen from them. C.S Lewis speaks of this in terms of quarrels. He says that every quarrel appeals to a baseline of right or wrong because both parties feel they are "right." Otherwise there would be no disagreement.
The objection is commonly offered that laws and notions of right and wrong are foisted upon people by the society in which they find themselves. This may be partially true but it ignores an interesting consequence. If laws and morals are unfairly pushed upon the unwilling masses then it follows that these could be changed. In the United States we live with a government system that allows for laws to be changed and amended by popular vote or opinion. This is, at once, the beauty of democracy and the danger of uneducated democracy. This means that if the popular opinion was strong enough just about anything could be made legal whether or not it was the healthy or right thing to do. That is, if opinion was strong enough that murder was a moral action then it could be made so. Unfortunately, we have seen this take place in a number of other societies and in a sense our own.
Let me toss this out there for our thinking. If popular opinion said that 2 +2 = 5 then we could pass a law that says it is. Sadly, this does nothing to change the reality that 4 is the correct answer. Likewise, if popular opinion said that evolution was the means by which the universe and the species came to be they could pass laws that required that it be taught in schools, despite evidence to the contrary...oh wait...they already have. Popular opinion and societal norms are no way to determine whether or not something is actually admirable or despicable. It is merely a means of showing how far away or near to a society is to what is right. Said another way, popular opinion is only the thermometer which measures the moral climate of a people. We can see this plainly in our political system. When a person is elected to an office, such as the president, there are those who like the election and those who dislike the election. Who is right? In the secular worldview, there should be no discontent with the choice of the people because it is exactly what they subscribe to, popular opinion running society. The death nail is, even those with a secular worldview believe that they have the "right" one and that their notions of morals, laws and values are correct. How can they say this? Sadly, I don't have an answer that makes any sense.
Finally, in the secular framework there would be no basis for either creating or obeying laws. If something can be true for you and not true for me then that would apply to laws as well. How can one person tell another that it is not right to steal, murder, rape or anything else without an agreed upon standard that is true no matter the situation? "Yes officer, 85 miles an hour in this school zone may be too fast for some people but not me." Who is to say otherwise?

Conclusions
Sadly, the secular worldview does not pass the crucial test of functionality. If the Wright brothers had built a heavier-than-air craft that did not fly no one would have offered them a patent or a contract to build them. This is what has happened in our culture today. Secularists have applied for a patent on a worldview that simply doesn't work, it doesn't fly so to speak. In fact, to make their worldview pass scrutiny they must borrow from religious worldviews and extravagant conjecture. They have produced a "bigger and better" system of beliefs that must transfer religious morals and values to itself and yet claim it does so without the aide of God.
If the fruit of a tree is bad then there must be something wrong with the tree. Clearly, the fruit of the secular is poisonous but we have yet to see it for what it really is because only the deranged and pathological can carry it to it's logical outworkings. In an effort to evict God from the picture these individuals have only shoved God behind a curtain and the image that displays on the screen is their own. It is equivalent to someone stealing my car, putting a new tag and new bumper stickers on it and trying to sell it back to me as if they never stole it in the first place. It isn't going to work.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fruit of the Secular

In common terminology the so called "fruit" of something is that which it bears, or the result of it. Obviously the fruit of a tree is something like an apple or an orange and the fruit of plants are things like tomatoes and cucumbers. We also use it in a more metaphorical way such as, "the fruit of our labor." That is, if I worked hard in school the fruit of my labor would be good grades...hopefully. We also know that in the Bible Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit telling us that it is love, joy, peace and that like. Now in society today there is a move to get further and further away from things like Christianity and some would even say religion all together. Highly educated professors, scientist, authors and others want to remove religion and all of it's nasty trappings from the world. With that in mind and I would like to reckon for a few moments what the fruit of the secular would be. Now, to be clear I am not suggesting that all secular people show evidence of this fruit, in fact, as we will see I think it is somewhat the opposite. However, if taken to it's logical outcome I believe this would be the fruit of a purely secular worldview and society.

Apathy

First and foremost I believe the fruit of the secular would be apathetic or simply apathy. Webster defines apathy as "without feeling." In our common language we would probably say it is a "who cares?" attitude. It is easily seen in the younger generation of teenagers, at least from my perspective. If all is relative and there is no true right or wrong then who could possibly care what one person thinks or believes? Of course, this isn't the case because those who don't care for rules, laws and so forth always run up against those who do. Furthermore, if someone doesn't believe in God, the afterlife or anything else commonly associated with religion, why be upset with those who do? I have written about this in an earlier post as well. The fact of the matter is, people do care, some people who should be apathetic aren't. This, I believe, shows that when subscribing to a philosophy such as secularism one must borrow from other philosophies just to function in the world.
One statement that is meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek and yet is very telling is, "I don't believe in God and I don't like Him." We want to have someone to blame for all the mess in the world but saddling humanity with the problems is contrary to the idea that humanity can find the solution. What about, "If God is good and all powerful, how come bad things happen to people?" Well, if there is no God, no higher authority, how can we determine that bad things are happening to people. If God does not exist then only things happen to people and whether or not they are bad or good is a societal construct not a reality. Furthermore, when something "bad" happens to one person, in many cases it results in something good for someone else. If a mafia hitman takes out my brother that is bad for me but good for the mafia so who's to say whether it was bad or good. Typically, our notions of bad and good revolve less around the reality of it's goodness or badness and more around what suits our preferences. Who am I to say whether my brother's life was more important than the mafia maintaining power and control?

Despair
The second part of the fruit of the secular as I see it is despair. In secularism only the tangible is real and this breath of a life is all there is. Not only that but the only hope for humanity lies in either science which has been about as bad for humanity as it has been good, or transferring religious values into a secular person. Here is what I mean. First, I am not against science, scientific inquiry or scientific development. In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to science for the ability to type this "blog" on a computer using the internet. There is no doubt that science has given us many good things from health care to transportation. However, science has also given us the atomic bomb, TNT, gunpowder, harmful drugs, and a variety of other harmful things. You see, science is an amoral endeavor. It can give us a whole bunch of things but it can't tell us how we should use them. As mentioned, science gave us atomic energy but it was up to us whether or not to use it for good or for evil. Science has given us allergy medication and it is up to us whether or not to use it for allergies or the creation of crystal meth. The idea for secularist is that if we just learn more the world will be a better place. Not so. It is good and beneficial to learn more but as with anything it is up to us to decide how to use that information, for good or for evil. Sadly, science is silent on that subject.
That leaves the other option, applying values to the secular that have already been arrived at by religion. When people decide to do something good or act in an honorable way for the betterment of humanity it is not because Newton, or Darwin or Galileo has told them to. The laws of physics and chemistry and biology do not show me that I ought to go and help people that are suffering. To believe that I should use my gifts to help other people is not a secular idea. Secular people may use that idea but let us not pretend that it came from their secular philosophy. If my explanation for the origin of life and species includes survival of the fittest or "natural selection" then I am hindering further evolutionary advancement by helping those less fit than I am. In that case I am working against the laws of the universe and against progress.
Alas, the only framework that gives a person hope for the future is religious. If I am hoping that my research in some area of science will help future generations I am making two very risky assumptions. First, I am assuming that they will care (read: not be apathetic). Second, I am assuming that they will choose to do the right thing and continue the work for the betterment of humanity. Only the religious perspective, Christianity in particular, offers hope for more than just today and this life.

I will continue this explanation in part 2 of this entry with:
Anarchy and a conclusion.