Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Possible Allusions to the Deuterocanonical books in the Synoptic Gospels

These are some possible allusions to the Deuterocanonical books that can be found in the Gospels. Notice, I am not saying this is an exhaustive list. Also, I'm saying these are possible allusions, not definite. I may write again about the possible implications of this at some point.

Matt. 6:19-20 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in ehaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal."
Tobit 29:11 "Lay up your treasures according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold."

Matt 7:12 "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
Tobit 4:15 "And what you hate, do not do to anyone."

Matt 9:36 "When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Judith 11:19 "Then I will lead you through Judea, until you come to Jerusalem; there I will set your throne. You will drive them like sheep that have no shepherd..."

Matt 16:18 "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."
Wisdom 16:13 "For you have power over life and death; you lead mortals down to the gates of Hades and back again.

Matt. 22:25 (see also Mark 12:20; Luke 20:29) "Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother..."
Tobit 3:8 "For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives..."
Tobit 7:11 "I have given her to seven men of our kinsmen, and all died on the night when they went in to her..."

Matt 24:15 "So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),"
1 Macc. 1:54 "Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the alter of burnt-offering..."
2 Macc. 8:17 "keeping before their eyes the lawless outrage that the Gentiles had committed against the holy place, and the torture of the derided city, and besides, the overthrow of their ancestral way of life."

Matt 24:16 "then those in Judea must flee to the mountains"
1 Macc. 2:28 "Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town."

Matt 27:43 "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's son.'"
Wisdom 2:18 "for if the righteous man is God's child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries."

Mark 4:5,16-17 "Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately recieve it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away."
Sirach 40:15 "The children of the ungodly put out few branches; they are unhealthy roots on sheer rock."

Mark 9:48 "[hell] where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched."
Judith 16:17 "Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; he will send fire and worm into their flesh; they shall weep in pain for ever."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Paradox of "Creation Science" Evangelism

Recently, I met a person who really loves the Lord. They love Jesus so much they want to be an evangelist to tell more people about Him. This is, I believe, a great thing to do. Evangelism can be a very necessary and wonderful activity. The Christian should always be evangelistic. As St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words." 

What troubled me about the conversation was that this person insisted on being a "Creation Science" evangelist. For those of you who may not be aware, "Creation Science" evangelism is in the same vein as the "ministries" of Ken Ham, Kent Hovind (although to be fair, he's a whacko to pretty much everyone on all sides of this issue), etc. 

What's so bad about being a "Creation Science" evangelist?

First let me clarify, I don't have anything against Christians who insist on reading Genesis 1 literally. My intention isn't to bring them down. However, I think there are a few logistical problems here.

Again, my goal is not to say a literalist understanding of Genesis 1 needs to be demonized. However, it should be noted that over the history of the Church, lots of Christians have had different views on Genesis 1-3 and this was often in a pre-scientific world. 

The "Creation Science" evangelists tend to almost beat people into believing that Gen. 1 must be literal or else they can't really believe the Bible as the Word of God.

Check out this quote from Answers in Genesis: "If Adam was not a literal, historical person who literally rebelled against God by eating a literal fruit, thus bringing in the Curse upon this world, then why did Jesus (a descendant of the literal Adam) come to die on the Cross? We do not teach that one must be a young-earth creationist to be saved, but we do express how important it is to take God at His Word in all areas, particularly in Genesis, which is foundational to the gospel message itself. If we say the account in Genesis 1–11 is not true, then that opens the door for others to deny the rest of Scripture." 

The thing I want to point out about this statement is that it is historically ignorant of Christian theological developments (as well as a slippery slope fallacy). According to former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, "[For] most of the history of Christianity there's been an awareness that a belief that everything depends on the creative act of God, is quite compatible with a degree of uncertainty or latitude about how precisely that unfolds in creative time." To say that doubting the literality of these accounts opens the doors to denying the rest of the Scripture ignores the fact that there were divisions amongst Early Christians as to whether or not the days were literal. St. Augustine is a great example of a Church Father who is adored by both Protestants and Catholics and he flat out rejected literal readings and even proposed a theory similar to evolution. In a more contemporary setting theologians like C.S. Lewis and Timothy Keller (among many others) reject a literalist reading while maintaining a high view of Scripture. 

It is very possible to take the Bible seriously while reading Genesis 1 other than literally (I could even argue that a "literal" reading means not reading the text literally but that's out of the scope of what I'm talking about here). No one does anyone else any favors when they make this a huge issue. It's not a hill to die on. 

If a non-Christian I was speaking with about the Gospel brought up a periphery issue such as YEC, instead of demanding that they convert to it, I would lay out some of the different Christian views because evangelism is not ultimately about this issue whatsoever. It should never be a stumbling block to a non-believer. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the tactics of "Creation Science" evangelsim do. 

My hope is that we can get past this issue when we're reaching out to non-believers. The Gospel message (of which "Creation Science" is not a part) is a stumbling block enough. There's no need to complicate the issue further by forcing a particular, extra-biblical opinion on people. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Back for the Future: On Ecumenical Relations in the Church

Anyone who knows me knows that over the past year and a half, I've been pursuing the Anglican church. We were looking for a more liturgical form of worship and something more grounded in the robust history of Christianity. As a result of the Anglican church, my wife and I have experienced more stability as far as practicing the spiritual disciplines than we had at any other church we'd visited before. The Anglican church is very supportive of missions work and focuses on a global Christianity instead of exclusively American. The Anglican Communion features different Anglican branches from all over the world who are in fellowship with one another. It is a wonderful picture of both the unity and diversity that should make up the Christian church.

I've been thinking a lot about how we, as new Anglicans, should be interacting with other denominations. As someone who is in seminary and was a Biblical Studies major during my undergrad, I can easily get sucked in to nuanced and minute theological debates that aren't incredibly significant to the life of the church. For me, it can be easy to be theological but it's harder to be pastoral and eccumenical, which is unfortunate. To be clear, I'm not saying that what we think about God and our various theological stances don't matter--knowing who God is and being able to articulate that is of premium importance. We just shouldn't take our eye of the ball as a result of our theological "testosterone." I remain firmly in what I would call orthodox Anglo-catholicism where my beliefs can essentially be summarized by the phrase: "what has been believed always and by all." 

I recently came across some articles by Peter Liethart which frustrated me because he seemed like someone who should be Anglican because he's very critical of some of the mainline Protestant attitudes but can't theologically justify becoming a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I actually wrote a blog about how this frustrated me because I think he'd be a good Anglican. As my frustration culminated, I actually sent him an e-mail asking him why he wouldn't just convert to Anglicanism and be done with it (I phrased it more politely than that, I think...). His response was actually very challenging to me because his argument is that we should be developing a sort of eccumenical catholicity but that requiring people to leave their denominations where they've been rooted for a very long time isn't necessarily going to fix the disunification of the church. 

After thinking about it more and more, I can't really disagree with him. If the mainline denominations pursued a more catholic faith, over time, I think there would be no significant need for denominational differences, creating a real, true, and organic catholicity. This of course, raises a plethora of logistical questions about how that's done. I certainly don't have definitive answers but I would like to offer three suggestions. 

1) Denominations should emphasize what they have in common.
I can list about 10 reasons why I'm not Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal (I could list a lot more than 10 for that one), Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. off the top of my head if someone asked me about it. In a way, that's probably a good thing because I like to think I know what I believe and why I believe it but it's definitely missing the point. Instead of listing why I'm not __________ (insert denomination here), I should be explaining what I have in common with others from those groups. This can be harder to do than list the differences but I think just the way we frame our answer can absolutely impact eccumenical relations in a positive way because when I'm remembering what I have in common with my Presbyterian friends, I'm not looking at them like they're theological enemies who could collapse the entire church if they are allowed to express their views (I guess the Reformation kind of proved it didn't so their off the hook for now). 

2) Denominations should be aware of their historical situation.
I was raised in mostly Baptist or non-denomational churches growing up. As such, church history wasn't the most talked about subject. What I knew was that Jesus came and taught the Apostles, then Calvin and Luther had to reform the place because of the Catholics and here we are today worshipping in jeans and t-shirts with coffee in hand and a smoke machine. Once I began being immersed in the story of Christian history, I realized things weren't so simple. There is a richness to historical Christianity that I had been missing out on because I wasn't interested in reading what the eccumenical patristic fathers had to say because I was waiting for the next Rob Bell or Greg Boyd book (not that those books are bad but they're definitely no Athanasius or Gregory of Nyssa). If members were more aware of how their denominations were formed, it would be harder to be partisan. If we were aware of the different fractures that caused us to end up as whatever group we are affiliated with, we would realize our denomination has about as many flaws as any other. If Nietzche taught Christians one thing, it's that the genealogies of ideas are important. I think Christians can appropriate that idea in a reconciliatory and catholic way. It's about tracing the historical narrative of Christianity and finding the furcations so we can begin to fix them. 

3) Denominations should go backwards before they go forwards.  
The reason furcations are so detrimental to the church is because the longer we allow them to exist, the harder it is to fix them. The Reformation has absolutely proven that point. While Calvin and Luther were successful at a huge paradigmatic shift in the Church, I don't think they would be pleased at all with the fracturing that has resulted to Christ's Body as a consequence. As time goes on, denominations get more and more theologically distant from each other because they are on an isolated progression guided by their own ideological niches instead of being in unity with the entire Body. I propose that denominations should throw on the brakes when it comes to their individual progressions and put it in reverse so we can all go back to a common starting point.

I can hear the skeptics already asking, "Who gets to decide what the common starting point will be?" Well, I think we can take a lesson from the ecumenical, primitive catholic church before any of the major schisms. There were eccumenical councils that occured early in Christianity where the essential keys to the faith were hammered out. I suggest that we go back to these statements of faith and then begin working out from there. Here are the two creeds things I think we should use:

The Apostles Creed (390 A.D.):
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead. 
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, 
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The second creed is a little more explanatory which is why I think it should included. It is the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.):

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty, 
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. 
For us and for our salvation 
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, 
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son. (Dear Eastern Orthodox, I am okay with getting rid of "and the Son" just FYI)
With the Father and Son he is worshiped and glorified. He was spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wise Worship

My wife and I have recently found a new church home here in Lynchburg. This church has a lot of Bible study and prayer times throughout the week, definitely an advantage of going to a church that has its own facility (our previous church did not). On Wednesday nights, we have an evening prayer service. It's not very long, the church isn't very far away from us but last week we didn't feel like going. It's not that I think our salvation was in jeopardy for failing to attend a service or anything but the reason we didn't feel like attending was because we were really into an intense few episodes of Lost and we wanted to stay and finish them (I know, we are arriving at the party a little bit late--no spoilers please). The question which came to my mind as a bit of conviction later on was: "Was that a wise decision?" You see, there's nothing wrong with not attending church on a Wednesday evening if we didn't feel like it and there's nothing wrong with watching Lost but I think we can all agree that choosing Lost over church may in fact be an unwise decision. Not necessarily sinful but definitely unwise. 

If you read this blog with any regularity at all, or even know me personally, you are probably aware that I am a bit of a critic of what I call the Church Industrial Complex (more on that here and here and here and here) and I advocate returning to more catholic forms of the faith. A lot of times, when I discuss these ideas with those who would call themselves "mainline Evangelicals" (what that means these days is beyond me), they usually ask me what is wrong about different aspects I identify with the Church Industrial Complex (concert-like rock music, fancy light shows, casual atmosphere, mood lighting, celebrity pastors, etc.). Generally, they want some biblical evidence--as if a verse exists in the Bible that says "Thou shalt not worship with smoke machines." It is true, I will admit that I have no explicit Scriptural argument (although implicitly, I could use the liturgical nature of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Early Church and their participation and adaptaion of Jewish liturgies). So the question is what do I base my critique on?
I should go ahead and make a few framework remarks. First of all, by asking the question where in the Bible a particular kind of worship is condemned, the asker is implying if it's not forbidden in the Bible, it is necessarily permissable or even good (modern Christians do enjoy revelling in their freedom...sometimes a bit too much--a symptom of a larger problem I think). Check out Emery's album cover which says "We do what we want" written on the cover of what I would assume is a Bible as a way of saying this. 

Second, I have adopted a 3-tiered theological paradigm which comes from the Anglican church: Scripture, tradition, and logic. I believe I have previously laid a foundation for tradition in my critiques of the Church Industrial Complex so today I want to mainly focus on logical arguments (which are based on some Scripture). 

In Phil. 4.8 (NASB), St. Paul states, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." 

Elsewhere, the Apostle tells us, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10.23). 

In the context of this discussion, what we can learn from these verses is some things are of more vlue to us as Christians than others. It isn't that playing board games with my friends is bad but is it wise or edible for us to only play them at the expense of doing something more valuable like a Bible study? No, it's definitely not! It's okay to say no to one thing in favor of something better (good is the enemy of the best is an appropriate cliche here). 

So how does all this apply to worship forms--afer all, people look at outward appearances but God looks at the heart? To preface, there is no form of worship that makes you better or more holy. Worship is only effective when you pour yourself into it and commit self-sacrifice so that you can die to yourself and live in Christ (Rom. 6.5). However, it is true that certain kinds of worship can be more helpful, more beneficial, more edible, wiser than others. 

Shane Hipps, former pastor at Mars Hill Community Church, wrote a fantastic book called Flickering Pixels. In it, he points out: "..'the medium is the message'...whenever our methods change, the message automatically changes along with them. You can't change methods without changing your message--they're inseparable" (25). 

This made me think of a passage I recently read in Pastoral Ministry (edited by John MacArthur) in a chapter by Richard L. Mayhue: 

"Having arrived at the proverbial 'fork in the road,' evangelicals must decide between two       alternatives. The first is an approach to ministry that is characteristically, but not necessarily exclusive, need-based, man-centered, consumer-driven, and culturally defined...The second option feautres a redemptively centered, God-focused biblically defined, and scripturally prioritized ministry...If we carry the consumer paradigm to its logical conclusion, it will be brilliantly consistent with prevailing contemporary theories but sadly unscriptural" (4, 10). 

Do I say all this to look down on churches and people who make up the Church Industrial Complex? Absolutely not.

I say these things hopefully to make people think by asking them: Is this the wisest way to worship?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Christianity: Pt. 3-Picking Piper (A Case for Synergistic Divine Election)

The night my wife and I got Piper was a wonderful evening. We had been searching for a dog for a few weeks. After going to a bunch of pet stores and weeding through countless Craigslist ads and e-mailing tons of dog sellers, we finally found a plausible opportunity.

After finalizing with the people, my wife and I drove to North Carolina one evening after school and work. We met the people in a Wal-Mart Express parking lot where they pulled up in a truck with a pile of puppies in the back. That's right, it was a pile of cute, shivering puppies (it was November and a bit cold). It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

We weren't sure which of the pups to choose so the people opened the crate and I stuck my hand inside. Only one of the puppies reacted to that. She came forward and licked my fingers a few times. We took her out and held her for a few minutes and we just knew she was the one for us. It was Piper's response to us that told us we wanted to choose her. 

This, I think, is a good picture of how we are saved. What do I mean by that? First, we have to talk about some theological backgrounds to understand better.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to God and people's roles in salvation. The first is called Monergism and the second is called Synergism. 

Monergistic theology believes that people do absolutely nothing in the process of justification. The act is only a divine one. If God does not initiate the salvific process with a person, then it is not attainable for them. Monergism is the main school of thought within Reformed communities. Theologians like RC Sproul, Tullian Tchividjian, etc. are Monergists. It is generally associated with being a Calvinist or having Calvinistic tendencies. 

The opposite of the Monergistic paradigm is Synergism. This views holds that people's responses are at least in some way responsible for their salvation. Of course, a common critique launched against those who are open synergists are that they believe in a works salvation. "Works" have a bad name in the Protestant church ever since Martin Luther tried to cut the book of James out of the Bible by calling it "a book of straw." 

This critique is unfortune because it demonstrates a relinquishing of personal responsibility. Synergists don't believe you are saved by doing certain rituals or what have you. However, you are saved through Christ Jesus and His sacrifice but it can only be effectual through your belief. It's something you have to choose, choosing being an action or a work. 

Now that we have this background, let's go back to the Piper iillustration. The way Piper reacted to my hand made me choose her. I think it's the same way with God. He gives us all an opportunity to be his puppies, it's a question of how we react to Him sticking His hand in the crate. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Christianity: Pt. 2-The Adventures of Piper and Cooper (The Relational View of Imago Dei and the Need for Community)

Last week, we had the pleasure of puppysitting another dog for one of my wife's work friend. His name was Cooper, a year old Cocker Spaniel.

When Cooper and Piper first met, Piper overwhelmed him so they didn't really get along that well. After a few hours, he got used to her obnoxious way of doing things and they became great friends.

By the end of the week, Cooper and Piper were inseperable. Literally, wherever one of them went, the other followed.

When Cooper's parents came to pick him up at the end of our time together, he was sad to leave and Piper sulked around the house for hours.

What this made me realize is that humans are meant to be in community. Existing in alienation can be dangerous. There are two ways in which God has intricately desiged us to experience relationships.

First is what is called Trinitarian theology. As the Nicene Creed states, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. In that framework, the Holy Spirit is produced by the "dance" between the Father and the Son. It is a beautiful relationship. If humanity was created  in the Image of God, it is reasonable to assume that the reflection of the Divine Trinity is imprinted on to each of us. We must exist in relationship with God and one another.

Second is what is called Incarnational theology. The Incarnation is commonly viewed as a singular event in Evangelical Protestantism-the life of Christ. That's not wrong, Christ's life was perhaps the clearest mode of Incarnation but God is still with us. Not in a vague, pantheistic way. In a very personal way. In fact, this happens in two ways that our Priest explained on Sunday. First, through the Eucharist, Jesus is present with us. This is an oft debated issue (Catholics see the elements as physically and scientifically becoming Christ's literal body and blood; Protestants see the whole meal as a "memorial" that has no effectual value whatsoever) but in Anglicanism, we recognize that the Eucharist is a mysterious relationship. I know that the day before God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, that bush was a normal, average bush. Somehow, when God appeared to Moses, that bush was holy and set apart. This is true during the Eucharist. Those elements are set apart and show that God is with us. The second area this happens is in the Church. We are all members of Christ's body which means all of us reflect Him with our actions all the time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Christianity: Pt. 1-Sometimes We Pee on the Couch (Total Depravtiy)

I've decided to try something a little bit different. My wife and I have owned a dog for around 6 months now and she is teaching us a lot about Christianity. I actually got this idea from my mother-in-law who has always insisted that dogs can teach us about faith.

This is Piper. She is an 8 month old Feist, a breed not recognized by the AKC. They're basically the product of American Colonialism because they're descended from English Terriers who bred with Indigenous hunting dogs. If you've ever seen a Jack Russell Terrier or a Rat Terrier, Feists are very closely related to them.

Unfortuantely, Feist also describes Piper's personality. She is extremely fiesty, belligerant, and rebellious. Not only does she do things she knows she's not supposed to do, but she does them while defiantly glaring at us in the eyes.

This brings us to an incident that just happened a few days ago. We allow Piper to sit on the couch with us (unfortunately). Generally, it makes for some good cuddle time that leads to lots of "awwwws" from my wife and I. The other night, Piper was in a bit of a rebellious mood. Her way of telling us that was by standing up on the couch, staring at us, and peeing on our couch.

Needless to say, we were furious. In fact, it took a while to make the smell go away and clean up. However, the whole incident did get me thinking about our relationship with God. How often do I knowingly violate God's commands in the same way? If we think about it like that, I've peed on a lot of couches. Still do. Always will. This kind of reaffirmed the doctrine of Total Depravity in my mind. Total Depravity states that we are so broken inside, it is impossible for us to fix ourselves (now, this can lead to a Calvinistic view, as it is technically a Reformed opinion, but I think it's okay to misapproriate the term to describe our general sinfulness).

Fortunately, God is a much kinder and more patient owner than I am. I love Piper, even though she occasionally pees on the couch. God loves me infinitely more than I love Piper and I pee on the couch every day. What an unrelenting love!

As Brennan Manning says, "...the outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, neither the drunk in the doorway, the pandhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception. Again, the love of God is folly!"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The "Christian" Movie Industry, God's not Dead, and What's Bothering Me about It

So I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus (schoolwork, you understand) so I haven’t been able to post as frequently as I would like to. However, something has provoked me to appear from my hermitage.

That thing is the movie industry. Specifically, the “Christian” movie industry (Christian and industry in the same sentence seem to be a bit oxymoronic to me, but that’s okay, we won’t go there today).

As anyone who has a Facebook or goes to church or pays attention to the news has probably heard of the movie God’s Not Dead (currently rotten at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes ) about a young Christian who heads off to a secular college only to be brutally singled out and persecuted by his philosophy professor who forces him to write a paper and debate him in front of the class about the existence of God.

There are a few things about this movie and the reaction of the Christian community that I want to talk about today.

Stereotyping non-Christians and Christian Securitization
The movie God’s not Dead is based on a false, overused stereotype of how nonbelievers (particularly those in academia) treat Christians. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was a movie version of a chain e-mail/anecdotal Facebook meme about the visceral college professor who points out a singular student who believes in Christianity and tries to tear them to shreds. There are a few reasons this depiction is wrong and annoying:

     1.      It’s just not true for most people. Sure, can you find a professor who is radically opposed to Christianity who isn’t above this kind of behavior somewhere? Of course! I can also find you Christians who say the Crusades, colonization of indigenous people, subjugation of women, etc. were good things. Dealing in pure anecdotes doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, I think these representations are incredibly counter-productive because they just reinforce the stereotype that most Evangelical Christians live in their own fantasy world. I was a part of a very liberal and diverse community in college (the collegiate debate community) where there were all kinds of worldviews, religions, etc. represented. People didn’t mind that I was a Christian for the most part. I actually had many conversations with people who were genuinely curious about my faith and what it means to be a Christian. Now, I know, arguing from experience doesn’t really justify me but if a student was called out in the manner that Christians pretend happen on a regular basis, don’t you think FOX News would be all over that? I would like to ask the makers of the God's not Dead movie if they have actually ever met an atheist. 
     To effectively minister to a culture that is not your own, one should be as respectful as possible. I think that principle is true and the way the Christian community portrays atheists would be like making fun of a Muslim before trying to lead them to Christ. It makes no sense.
      2.      It feeds the Martyrdom Complex. Obviously, being a martyr is, for a Christian, a very high calling. To be able to completely give your life for God is an honor. However, in modern day America, Christians believe they are constantly under attack. The amount of griping that happens when Phil Robertson makes some pretty sketchy comments and gets punished for it or when the government decides not to officially endorse a religion would make you think that we live in a country where people regularly get shot merely for being a Christian. This does happen in the world but certainly not in the United States. In fact, I would argue that Christians may be one of the most privileged demographics in the western part of the world. Movies like God’s not Dead portray the young Christian boy who heads off to college only to be challenged by a hateful professor as a martyr. Then, the entire Christian community that sees that film believes they also are martyrs being regularly attacked just for believing in Jesus. Now, again, I’m not saying this never happens. I’m saying this just doesn’t happen on a mass scale. How to you think a Coptic Christian in Egypt who doesn’t have equal rights as their Muslim counterparts and who is worried about whether or not they will be alive tomorrow feels about the American Christian securitization complex? Just because we can’t go out and buy whatever automatic weapon we want or we are challenged by atheists in philosophy debates does not mean we, in America, are a persecuted people. To say so is a way to merely re-entrench the privilege of being an American Christian in the first place.

The Christian Niche Market
My final issue with God’s not Dead is the niche market that is the Christian community. No matter how you feel about some of his later writings, Rob Bell made an astute observation in Velvet Elvis when he said that, “’Christian’ makes a poor adjective.”

The Christian community gets used by companies who are seeking to make a profit. What do they get in return? Generally, sub-par music, movies, etc. It’s a very strange historical development too. If you read a book on Art History, there was very religious art but you wouldn’t find the artists calling themselves “Christian artists.” This kind of sectioning off of art makes it more difficult to get the message of Christianity out into the world.

The point is this: we can be Christians who are in the arts but there is no such thing as “Christian art.” 

What do you think? Did you enjoy God's not Dead? Do you think I'm right? Do you think I'm wrong? Comments are always welcome. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Troubling Trends: Steven Furtick, the Church Industrial Complex, and the Future of Christianity

There has always been conflict in the Church since the day it was born. The Early Church had to protect itself from Gnostic heresies and other serious doctrinal flaws among diffent sects. The 1500’s was a time where the Church needed to undergo serious change since they had gotten away from the traditions of the Fathers, intent on selling salvation to the highest bidder (side note: I still don’t believe the Reformation was a net positive because it ended up fracturing the Church and promoting some other seriously disturbing doctrines). In more modern times, you have an increase in atheism/agnosticism, the rise of cultural Christianity etc. Today, I think we’re facing an even tougher challenge.

Steven Furtick is the “Lead Pastor” of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC and Taylor Laughtner look-a-like. For those of you who don’t know, his church has recently released a “How-To Guide” on how to do “mass baptisms” by planting volunteers to come forward at the call to “pressure” other people in the audience to come forward. This is just another controversy in a long line for Furtick who is currently building a home bigger than the wealthiest family’shome in North Carolina, among other things. Furtick is at best a very polarizing figure. There are some people who will defend him and his work at Elevation Church while others are quick to criticize him.

I, unfortunately am one of those who is very critical of the things that go on at Elevation Church. Not only do I think these things are dangerous to the people at Elevation specifically, but also because I think Furtick and people like him are dangerous to the catholic (universal) church as a whole. 

Furtick is the poster boy for a new kind of church. Some have called this process the “Disneyfication” effect due to the absolute prioritizing of numbers through processes that micromanage every aspect of the service, and the emotional manipulation of those who are in the audience. While I think the Dineyfication effect is certainly an applicable term, I think I would call this the Church-Industrial Complex. This mentality is so prevalent in Protestant churches and institutions today. For example, I have taken some ministry classes at my school and this is the mentality they teach from.This is cause for concern. We have a generation of students who are going to be the next generation of leaders in the church being taught that not only is this a valid form of worship but that we should actively promote it.  Even if not every student that goes through the doors of these institutions becomes a mega-church one day, this “style” of church is becoming normalized in Protestant America.To me, this is very, very troubling and something that needs to be spoken out against. 

Now I know that not everyone who is reading this will agree with me. In fact, there are multiple supporters of Furtick who think he’s doing great things. “Look at all the people being saved!” They say before citing Phillipians 1:15-18 (NASB): “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”

This is all well and good. I agree with the principle behind these verses but I don’t think criticizing pastors like Furtick. You see, this verse is strictly talking about motives, not practice. I do think there are multiple times when Paul calls people out for bad religious practice (The Judaizers would be one example). Not only do we have a precedent to do so, I think we have complete obligation to because bad practice breeds bad theology (for more on this, I recommend Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps). 
Furtick is a false prophet who needs to be stopped. It’s very important that this kind of Christianity be called out and confronted. Here’s hoping that people will begin to see the errors so prevalent in the modern churches like Elevation.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The "R" Word

Dear fellow Christians,

I think it’s time we had a talk about the infamous “r” word. What word am I talking about? Religion. You see, apparently in Christian circles, this word is considered bad. So why do we think that?

Let’s go ahead and define the word religion. I think a good way to understand the idea of religion would be a set of metaphysical beliefs and the set of outward practices which embodies those beliefs.

This mindset that Christianity isn’t a religion—generally because it’s a relationship—has a few troubling presuppositions.

The first is that somehow, Jesus is opposed to religion. Now, a simple Bible reading will show that God related to His people religiously throughout the Old Testament (The book of Leviticus more than proves my point). Now, some people insist on only ever focusing on the New Testament at the expense of the Old because Jesus somehow caused a massive paradigm shift that changed the way God relates to us. While that is partially true, Jesus words in Matthew 5:17 (NASB) ring true: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” So, at least the precepts of the Law still remain. That doesn’t mean some things never change. Even the Israelite religious traditions weren’t always static, especially when you factor in their thoughts about open revelation (the idea that it was up to those in spiritual authority to contextualize the Law of Moses to their historical settings). However, the principles behind the Law that was given to Moses stayed the same. Christ wasn’t about changing that. In fact, He even warns people against this mindset later on in the Matthew passage: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

A second myth that is perpetuated among Christians is that our outward actions don’t matter. Now, please note that I’m not arguing that our actions are what save us. Unfortunately, the Christian community often overlooks the idea that is advocated in the book of St. James—our faith and our actions are inseparable. No doubt, this comes from the segmentation brought about by the way our society thinks. However, we must remember: “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). We don’t do our actions because we are desperately striving to get God to love us. We love God, therefore we do actions which are pleasing to Him. Sometimes, I think it is possible that doing the outward actions can help awaken our inward faith. Some days, you might not feel like you love your spouse but doing things for them and really serving them can help revive and catalyze that love that objevtively exists in the context of your covenant relationship. We should always remember, both in our internal thoughts and our external actions, that the God of the universe who created us is present at all times and when we ignore Him through our actions, we are functionally rejecting Him.

The third presupposition that gets spread in Christian circles is that we should only have a “personal relationship” with God. Now I don’t think that we shouldn’t emphasize the personal aspects of Christianity. God is obviously a God who has a deep love for all people and there’s no doubt in my mind that the crucified Christ signifies a God who is desperately chasing humanity that has gone astray. On that level, the Gospel is very personal. However, sometimes our emphasis on the personal trades off with reverential interactions with the divine. It’s a shame when the Creator of the universe doesn’t get the same respect we might give to a professor or a politician.

The last mindset that gets pushed against the idea of religion is that the Pharisees embody religion. After all, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hyporites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27). Of course, this is an attitude that can even be found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 1:11, 13-15 says:
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burn offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”
I think the point is that both of these passages reflect God’s judgment against outward religious practice when the inward heart of the people were off. If the people in Isaiah’s time or Jesus’ time had the right hearts, they would have worshipped in a very liturgical, very religious system because our outward should match our inward.

So what?

Let’s stop treating the word “religion” like it’s a curse word. It’s not a bad thing! It can be used just like everything else—positively or negatively. It’s all about the heart but that doesn’t mean is should stay inside because it’s important to externalize those things.