Incoherence: Not God’s Problem

April 8, 2019 § Leave a comment

There are two reasons a person might say something is incoherent. One reason is that the thing being considered is incomprehensible. The other is that the person, for whatever reason, is unable to comprehend it. While both may be true, what one professor of philosophy calls “A God Problem” in a recent New York Times opinion piece reveals a problem with his own ontology. It’s a short read here.

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Peter Atterton takes us though a short series of “problems’ about the existence of God that philosophers have pondered for centuries. Interestingly, he offers the first two, and then offers the solutions for us.

THE OMNIPOTENCE PARADOX & THE LAW OF NON-CONTRADICTION

“…the paradox of the stone… Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? … The way out of this dilemma is usually to argue, as Saint Thomas Aquinas did, that God cannot do self-contradictory things. … Not all philosophers agree with Aquinas. René Descartes, for example, believed that God could do absolutely anything, even the logically impossible, such as draw a round square.”

Well, sure. Philosophers and other humans disagree on all kinds of things—some are right and some are wrong. Aquinas was right; logic extends from God’s nature, so logical absurdities (such as a round square, or a rock too heavy for God to lift), and sin itself, are impossibilities for Him. God is a God of logic and therefore cannot do illogical things. God is good and therefore can do no evil. René Descartes was wrong because there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that God can do anything that contradicts His own nature.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL & FREE-WILL DEFENSE

Secondly, Atterton asks, “Can God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible. … Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why he wouldn’t have created such a world… The standard defense is that evil is necessary for free will.” He then cites Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “To create creatures capable of moral good, [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”

Plantinga was also right; man’s free will necessitates the eventual probability of his choosing to sin, so it’s actually not logically possible for God to create human beings and not give his creatures freedom to make either choice. Adam and Eve did not know evil and the effects it would have on the world. However, in a glorified state in heaven, our clear and perfected view of God’s goodness may simply preclude the possibility of a free-will choice to sin. But we are talking about the world we are in now. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12)

NATURAL EVIL & GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

The author then presents two problems that he claims make God particularly incoherent because he can’t answer them. But, like God, coherent answers do exist. Seeming to allow Plantinga’s argument that human free-will necessitates evil choices, Atterton contends that “this does not explain so-called physical evil (suffering) caused by nonhuman causes (famines, earthquakes, etc.). Nor does it explain, as Charles Darwin noticed, why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom.”

The problem of “physical evil” of “natural evil” included in Genesis 3’s curse of creation is not philosophically insurmountable either. As J. Warner Wallace proposes at ColdCaseChristianity.com, a world created to accommodate free will agency will also perceive both benefit and detriment from certain natural conditions. Some natural disasters are the result of man building and venturing in the wrong places at the wrong time. Some natural disasters may be God’s prompting us to consider Him, and others, to bring out the best in people using various trials (James 1:2-4). Whatever the reasons God may have to allow natural evil, the question of “why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom”, or among people for that matter, is problematic. In a world where a small fraction of the current pain and suffering would likely still bring complaint and rejection of a benevolent God, what would the acceptable amount be? And why assume God’s hand has not restrained a great deal more? (Related post)

GOD’S THOUGHTS & OUR THOUGHTS

On to Atterton’s final reason he finds the concept of God incoherent: “If God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know. … There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner… like lust and envy. …one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them. But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.”

His logic here is super flawed, and the philosophers he cites to support his argument made the same mistake. God’s omniscience does not require Him to “know” sin in the same sense that a sinner knows it by experience (I write about this distinction in this post). That’s an unnecessary conflation along the lines of suggesting a God who can’t create logical absurdities is not omnipotent.

Critically, Atterton notes a motto French theologian Blaise Pascal had stitched into a jacket: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob — not of the philosophers and scholars,” and concludes with the notion that “Pascal considered there was more ‘wisdom’ in biblical revelation than in any philosophical demonstration of God’s existence and nature — or plain lack thereof.” I think we have to be open to the idea that Pascal chose not an incoherent God, but a God whose coherence he understood and the secular philosophers and scholars of his day did not. What yet another secular philosopher has managed to highlight in his challenge to the classic Ontological Argument is the failing of the mind of man, not the coherence of God.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

Lauren Daigle Said What? (Why You Can’t Judge a Singer by Her Lyrics)

December 3, 2018 § 2 Comments

You can feel the frustration in these words by the writer of Hebrews: “By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (5:12) “Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” (6:1)

lauren-daigle

The latest Christian artist to disappoint a lot of fans in a similar fashion is Lauren Daigle. The popular 27 year old singer from Louisiana with cross-over appeal recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show,(1) which many critics thought was a faith-compromising move since Ellen is a lesbian. Yet others saw justification in the opportunity to show love and offer a God-honoring anthem on such a high profile show. That made sense to me. But then, Lauren appeared on iHeartRadio’s The Domenick Nati Show(2) and was asked if she thought homosexuality was a sin. Her “answer”:

“I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals. I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too.’”

Now, of course a Bible-believing Christian can and should answer on that. Having “too many people” in your life who are gay does not absolve you from the question, but rather makes the need to answer truthfully and gracefully even more urgent.

Of course we are not God—but God gave us His answer in the Bible (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:9-10). What you “find out for yourself” when you read Scripture should not be a different answer than what God’s word clearly reveals about homosexuality and sin, because truth is not relative.

Of course people can and already are letting Lauren know what the Bible says(3) in response to her perhaps rhetorical invitation: “When you find out let me know because I’m learning too.” The thing is, if her appeal for this knowledge is sincere, she is asking for something that, by the stage of her faith portrayed in her music, she should already know by now.

But that might be the reason we are so often surprised by a Christian musician who says something that seems to indicate a theological shift (or trajectories completely off the rails like the coming out of Jennifer Knapp, or the likes of Michael Gungor and former Newsboys frontman George Perdikis confessing Atheism). We gauge a musician’s theology and the maturity of their faith not by notes and chords but by lyrics. This makes sense, because we judge a Christian author by the words he writes. The difference is, so many—if not most—musicians do not write every word they sing. There are artists who write most or all of their own lyrics, but Lauren Daigle is not one of them.

This is not a big secret, but from Sinatra to Elvis to Elton John, a surprising (to me) lot of music legends had virtually nothing at all do with the words they sang. The majority co-wrote songs with one or more composers/lyricists. I’m honestly not sure what that looks like in the creative process. I’m sure it happens in a variety of ways (Is it, “You write verse one, I’ll write verse two, and she can work on the chorus…”? Or does Writer 1 do a first draft before passing it on to Writer 2 for development?). But in any case, artists who have the look, talent and voice have always used other writers’ material and not their own personal journals. They can’t be good at everything.

I browsed Lauren Daigle’s debut album at azlyrics.com(4). For the dozen songs on “How Can It Be” released in 2015, 14 unique writers are credited (notables include Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio). Lauren co-wrote only 8 of the songs, and each song has 2 to 5 people credited for lyrical content. Her latest (as of 2018) “Look Up Child” has 13 songs. Lauren’s name is listed alongside at least two other names on every song, most of which were co-written with Jason Ingram (her producer and songwriter for Bebo Norman, Point of Grace and others), Paul Mabury (Lauren’s drummer/producer), and sometimes Paul Duncan (songwriter for a number of Christian and Country musicians). None of Lauren Daigle’s songs are solely by Lauren Daigle. In “Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”(5), the song that launched her career, Lauren tells how Paul Mabury brought her the song he co-wrote with Jason Ingram and Jeff Johnson 9 months earlier(6).

I’m not saying Lauren Daigle isn’t talented or original, that her music isn’t amazing, or that it doesn’t lift up the name of Jesus just because others have heavily contributed to the lyrical content of her songs. But what this means is when we hear Lauren Daigle sing, we are not necessarily hearing her heart. And that’s likely true of most musicians.

No doubt Lauren approves of and likely agrees with the words that are published and sung by her. Her testimony about “How Can It Be” affirms that she deserved the worst (because all have sinned) and “God just completely ransomed me… In my sin and in my shame, He fought for me.” She appears zealously behind the grace and truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don’t doubt Lauren Daigle is a Christian. But by her statements in that iHeartRadio interview, I doubt that she is as mature in her faith as suggested by the words she sings, which are, by normal industry practice, largely the work of others. During that interview, and faced with a pointed question about one of the most contentious social issues today, it was Lauren without a team of writers, composers or producers. It’s in that studio that we get her heart—and the surprises, because Christian singers really aren’t the sum of the words they sing. This talented artist, gifted with a beautiful and very public voice (and the accompanying responsibility) was put in a hard position. Sadly, she chose the easy answer—the non-answer—and that sings louder than song lyrics.

“Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know…” (Sung by Lauren Daigle; written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Lauren Daigle)

Here’s a “so what?”-type question to finish with: When a Christian artist starts to “evolve”/move away from Biblical beliefs, at what point, if any point, does their past, non-heretical music become unedifying or unusable for worship or personal enjoyment? (I wrote this post a while ago thinking along the same lines about preachers).

1) Straeter, Kelsey (2018, Nov. 2) Christians Slam Lauren Daigle for Singing on Ellen Since She’s Gay—Singer Claps Back With Pure Class. Retrieved from  http://www.faithit.com/christians-slam-lauren-daigle-singing-ellen-gay-responds-pure-class
2) Domenick Nati Show (2018, Nov. 30). Lauren Daigle Doesn’t Know If Homosexuality Is A Sin. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/rXKHm_KPw6o
3) Dunn, Seth (2018, Dec. 2) To: Lauren Daigle Re: Sin/Homosexuality. Retrieved from https://pulpitandpen.org/2018/12/02/to-lauren-daigle-re-sin-homosexuality
4) AZ Lyrics. Lauren Daigle lyrics. https://www.azlyrics.com/l/laurendaigle.html
5) Daigle, Lauren (2014, Aug. 7) Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W1_02y3XMY
6) PraiseCharts (2016, Feb. 29) How Can It Be Song Story with Jason Ingram, Lauren Daigle and Paul Mabury. Retrieved from https://www.praisecharts.com/blog/how-can-it-be-song-story-with-jason-ingram-lauren-daigle-and-paul-mabury

Basic (Biblical) Human Rights

February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

Rights handsIf you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.

Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.

Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:

1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.

We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.

HOW WE ARE CREATED

“…among these are Life…” 

God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.

“…Liberty…” 

God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.

“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….

God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.

HOW WE ARE COMMANDED TO TREAT OTHERS

Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.

As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.

The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.

“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.

“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.

“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.

The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.

I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).

So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.

This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.

• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.

And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.

Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.

HUMAN RIGHTS THAT ARE SO NOT

Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.

Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.

The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.

The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.

There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.

CONCLUSION

From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.

Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.

1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
http://www.undergroundthomist.org/book/what-we-cant-not-know-a-guide
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/RuleOfLaw/Pages/RightToTheTruth.aspx
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-a-grimes/united-nations-committee-affirms-abortion-as-a-human-right_b_9020806.html
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights
goo.gl/JSgPgg

An Open Bible is a Living and Active One

January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

Note that the Bible in the photo chosen for this story(1) is in a glass case. In secular academia, Scripture rarely gets opened outside of a display. Even in the church, it’s opened far too seldom.

To a culture largely suffering from Biblical illiteracy, The Des Moines Register reports that a new “bill would add ‘Bible literacy’ class to Iowa public schools”. This would be an elective course that gives “students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture,” and not a Bible study designed to preach or proselytize. Even so, the opponents are predicable, including the ACLU and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, which calls the bill “an extreme piece of legislation.”

Honestly, any Christian should be excited for the possibility that even in an academic course on the Bible and its influence on the world, truth-seeking students might just find themselves among the influenced. We can play by the rules of American Pluralism and still have confidence that God can speak through any opportunity His Word is opened.

The Lord reminded His prophet of this long ago: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10,11)

1) https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2018/01/18/bill-would-add-bible-literacy-class-iowa-public-schools/1044057001/

Find God, Find Yourself

March 16, 2017 § 1 Comment

gender-cover-final

From TIME Magazine: “This week’s TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.”

What this article (‘Behind the TIME Cover Story: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She”)(1) shows is that a generation is struggling to ground itself in any kind of firm identity, many opting instead to go wherever their feelings take them to search out an identity. Often we don’t like who we are, but I think the issue is more that we don’t know who we are. And we can’t truly know who we are unless we know who God is.

Objective truth can be grounded in the nature of God, but without belief in God or truth that is objective, absolute, or universal, we would have no reason to believe in something like the immutability of gender or sexuality. In fact, if truth were relative, what would it mean to finally decide who we are on our own? Any future conviction we may have about our identity would be just as subject to change as our current convictions. Facebook’s 60 options for a user’s gender are not nearly enough.

God’s word reveals that “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) While God has no gender, it’s noteworthy that the completeness of the male and female complementarity came right along with forming mankind in His own likeness.

If nothing else, this tells us that male and female “binaries” are not merely “notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.” This is our Creator telling us who we actually are and have always been.

The truth that we are God’s image-bearers, that He made us and loves us, justifies any notion of value or self-worth. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then we are likely accidental collisions of molecules. Do we matter then? Or are we just matter?

I met a high school student who had written YOU MATTER on both his own forearms with a pen. When I asked him about it, he said he’s not sure if he really believes he really matters, but seeing it there helps him through his depression. We only matter if God made us on purpose. This already depressed young man is in particular danger if he follows his atheism to its logical end.

Given the high degree of depression among the LGBTQ community, especially teens, and those with gender dysphoria, there is an accelerated danger in rejecting our Creator, His pattern for sex and gender, and trying to redefine both for ourselves.

We will never be fully satisfied in remaking ourselves in our own image because then we have idolized autonomy, choosing to live in “my reality” vs biological, historical, or spiritual reality. We’re told we can be whoever we want to be, but we need to start with who we actually are. A confused culture “in the throes of self-discovery” will not find its true identity until it finds God.

1) Steinmetz, Katy “Behind the TIME Cover Story-Gender and Sexuality: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’.” TIME Magazine 16 Mar. 2017. TIME.com Web. (Link: http://time.com/4703058/time-cover-story-beyond-he-or-she/)

Jesus’ “Original” Teachings

January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

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The New York Times ran a story about Bart Campolo, son of evangelical icon Tony Campolo, headlined The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing(1). Sadly, both men have gone off the theological rails, to different degrees. But noted in this article focused on Bart’s journey away from faith, both father and son preached an emphasis on what they considered the teachings of Jesus over the rest of God’s word. Bart preaches atheism these days, but back when he claimed to be a believer, his ministry had this in common with his dad’s. From the article:

“Bart’s father, Tony Campolo… founder of the ‘red-letter Christians’ movement, an effort to refocus evangelicals away from politics and back to the teachings (about poverty, love, charity) of Jesus, whose words are printed in red in many Bibles.”

“(Bart Campolo) was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings.” 

There’s an increasingly popular idea that Christians engaging in culture wars, particularly about the issues mentioned above, have strayed from true Christian teaching. Theological liberals have suggested lesser credence be assigned to the Old Testament and the pastoral epistles, and a higher authority given to the words of Jesus in the four gospels. In essence, this invalidates the vast majority of scripture. If Jesus didnt say it, it doesn’t matter what the rest of scripture says about issues of homosexuality or the unborn.

So how should Christians think about contemporary issues in light of Scripture? First, are the words of Jesus in the Bible the most important parts of Scripture? Second, were “Jesus’ original teachings” unconcerned with issues like abortion or homosexuality?

Considering that Jesus often quoted many parts of the Old Testamant, and that “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), there is no cause to give the recorded dialog of Jesus greater authority than the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t, so we shouldn’t either. God didn’t put Jesus’ words in red; Louis Klopsch did in 1899 with the first printed red letter edition New Testament. To be clear, we haven’t actually printed the exact words spoken by Jesus. We have the gospel-writers’ inspired accounts of what Jesus said, which, in accordance with the practice of paraphrasing in the ancient world, vary in exact wording (yet are unified in the truth being spoken). So what red-letter Bibles are highlighting are not the exact words of Jesus anyway.

Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament scriptures and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 helps to answer the 2nd question: Are we right to think that Jesus didn’t condemn same-sex relationships or abortion, but His teachings were somehow different than the rest of the Bible?

In the first place, abortion and homosexuality were not in the cultural spotlight when Jesus engaged in ministry, so we shouldn’t expect to find Jesus dealing directly with those issues that Christians find themselves having to respond to today. But we know what Jesus thought about the value of human life and God’s plan for marriage because of what He affirmed from other scriptures.

In Matthew 19:4, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 to affirm “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus’ affirmation of how God’s design for human sexual relationships (one man and one women given in marriage) simply leaves no room for other types of sexual relationships.

Jesus didn’t speak specifically of abortion either—or at least we don’t have a record of it. But we know His position on it. If asked, Jesus might have again referred back to Genesis, perhaps 1:27-28, words that would have carried as much authority as His own: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…'” Other scriptures that teach of the value and personhood of the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23; Psalm 127:3,139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5) would also have been regarded by Jesus as authoritative.

But don’t miss that we see from Scripture that God’s plan was for children to be born, not killed in the womb. God’s plan for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 included the bearing and raising of children by a mother and father. God created us and He also created our fruitfulness, and neither should be destroyed. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality and parenting, then abortion should be a moot point. And God does desire us to follow that plan, which Jesus affirmed by continually doing His Father’s will (John 6:38).

There is no rational distinction or contradiction between “the original teachings of Jesus” and the rest of the Bible, whether printed in red or in black, because Jesus Himself stood firm on the scriptures written before Him.

1) Caserez, Damon. “The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Dec, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html)

Tim Kaine’s missing Bible pages: Redemption—not celebration—of a lost world.

September 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

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How many pages does your Bible have? Tim Kaine’s is apparently missing a few, specifically everything after the first chapter. From CBS News:

“Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine touted the importance of LGBTQ equality as a campaign issue and recounted his own struggle to reconcile his support for gay rights with his Catholic faith. … The Virginia senator said that while Catholic doctrine is at odds with marriage equality, his interpretation of the Bible celebrates diversity. ‘My church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world, including mankind, and said it is very good,’ said Kaine. … ‘Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.’”(1)

In Genesis 1:31, God does indeed survey His creation and call it “very good.” In chapter 2, however, we find the clear distinction of male and female and God defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In chapter 3, the “very good” creation from chapter 1 is corrupted by sin’s entrance into the world through man’s disobedience to God. We no longer live in the “very good” world that God created, but a world deviated from God’s very good plan for, among many things, marriage and human relationships, a world that seeks sexual autonomy above just about everything else. As Genesis 2 might have revealed to Tim Kaine if he’d gotten that far, God’s “very good” creation was never intended to include homosexuality and gay marriage. A short-sighted view of Genesis 1 and our current reality of a sinful Genesis 3 world is what Tim Kaine is actually seeking to celebrate in LGBTQ “diversity”.

“Did God REALLY say…?” (Satan, Genesis 3:1)

But thank God there’s more to the story. The chapters that follow Genesis 3, in fact the rest of the Bible, lay out God’s plan to redeem the world from sin, culminating in the sending if His one and only Son to buy us back from our slavery to sin. What we know from considering the whole of Scripture, not just the first chapter, is that He will one day restore all things to “very good.” Until then, we should be a part of redeeming a lost world, not celebrating it.

1) Brown, Erica. “Tim Kaine opens up on reconciling LGBTQ equality, religious faith.” CBS News, 11 Sep. 2016. Web 14 Sep. 2016 (Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tim-kaine-opens-up-on-reconciling-lgbtq-equality-catholic-faith-campaign-2016/)

 

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