Monthly Archives: February 2010

Plainspoken Reality

Stuart Smalley knew a thing or two.  My favorite line of his was, “Denial is not only a river in Egypt, you know.”

The other week , that little gem popped into my head as I engaged in a discussion on Facebook.  My friend Ken had written a status update insinuating that Barack Obama is not a Christian.  As Ken’s status updates oftentimes do (he has a knack–some would even call it a gift–others a curse–for this), it sparked quite a response.

A few Obama supporters jumped into the fray almost immediately, calling Ken’s ability to see accurately into question.  After reading their statements and cleverly worded questions (I gotta give props, honestly), I decided to jump right in.  My comments were generally ignored  (Perhaps that’s my “gift.”  Or maybe folks think I’m on crack and it’s best to leave me alone.  I can’t tell which.), but they generated a wee bit of conversation here and there.

My first comment was:

“You shall know them by their fruits.”

We harp on the importance of actions all the time. If ever there were an instance to put stress on one’s actions, this would be it.

Though one can no doubt find many relevant actions, I had his actions on one issue primarily in mind.  Anyone care to take a guess?

I don’t care what euphemisms he uses to describe the act.  Thinking it’s ok for doctors to crush and dismember an unborn child is incompatible with the Holy Spirit.  When folks suggest that someone with his kind of record on abortion and his apathy toward the carnage can know Jesus, they jump the shark.

My friend replied:

We don’t know him well enough to be a proper judge of his fruit. We may wish that he uses his platform differently, but none of us are close enough to the President to be able to make that judgement.

I dunno ’bout that.  When a politician works to defeat legislation that would protect children who are born alive after a failed abortion attempts (read the above link), I don’t need to sit down and have a beer with him to evaluate the fruit.  He has pledged his life and resources to defending the “right” for parents to kill their unborn children. He is part of the 40 million legacy. That is a rotten fruit of an enormous magnitude. This is something more than being merely wrong or misguided.

Here’s where the conversation got real interesting.  Or frustrating…you decide.  He replied:

So the test if someone is a believer in Christ or not is their stance on Roe v Wade?

Me:

You make it sound merely intellectual, like I’m saying that someone’s mere opinion on a mere court case determines salvation. That is a straw man. You know better.

It is really not that complicated. Giving oneself towards the cause of killing babies (that they are in utero makes no difference…they’re still babies. In Obama’s case, it’s even worse than that–he’s defended killing babies that are 90% out of the womb) is really hard to square with claiming to know Jesus.

Watch an abortion or see pictures of what it does to the unborn, and you will no longer be able to ask that question with a straight face.

I’ve reflected since then, and I’m convinced I should have spoken even more plainly.  As Princeton Professor Robert George quips, “One does not treat an interlocutor with respect if one refuses to speak plainly. Candor, far from being the enemy of civility, is one of its preconditions.”  The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Paul, and the apostles all lived by that principle.  Some might balk at the harshness of the reflections that follow, but they are needed; this is no mere intellectual matter. My friend and I disagree deeply about a very important issue.  Sometimes “making nice” is not the best policy.  My hope is that if you call yourself pro-life but think that Roe, for some reason, should remain the law, my words make you think twice.

My friend made other comments: that Republicans vocally say they are against Roe but do nothing about it (not true), and that Obama wants to lower abortion rates by teaching about contraception (disingenuous, given his record, and his comments at Notre Dame.  What’s more, the goings on of a “common ground” meeting at the White House two days before his Notre Dame speech showed his intent even more clearly.).  These are claims I wanted to respond to, but they did not represent what concerned me most about the discussion.  Really, the question that kicked off dicussion–is Obama Christian?–wasn’t my main focus at this point.

Two things concerned me most: 1) The clever euphemisms surrounding abortion that my friend continued to employ, and 2) his failure to see or acknowledge a heinous evil entrenched in current law.

He tried to make it sound like I was claiming that just someone’s thoughts on a court case determines his/her salvation. In doing so, he attempted to suck the meaning out of the word “abortion.” A moment’s thought at what abortion actually is will show that question to be a strawman. This is no esoteric court case. Roe entrenched discrimination into our law. From 1973 onward, the notion that some human beings are more worthy of protection than others has been a part of our legal fabric. Not just that, but Roe made dismembering unborn human beings limb-by-limb an ok thing to do.

How could someone who is pro-life, who supposedly believes in the equal fundamental value of all and that every member of the human family possesses certain rights (including the right to life) just in virtue of being human, really think that Roe should remain intact?  Roe cemented into our culture the exact opposite of that bedrock pro-life value.  Ever since 1973, our law has declared that some human beings are more deserving of protection than others; that some human beings can be killed solely due to their parents’ whim; that the most vulnerable human beings–the unborn, who have no voice–are less worthy and valuable.

How can someone be pro-life but not be for doing away with that law?  Even though overturning Roe won’t bring the number of abortions to 0, it is an absolutely disgusting and vile law, just like laws allowing slavery, and just like segregation laws.  It should not just be done away with; it should be trashed.

Public Correction

Have you ever read/heard something that seemed fair at first, but the more you thought about it, the more it began to smell foul?  At first you gave it a hearty “amen!” but after a few days, you figured out you’d been had.

This happened to me the other week on Facebook.  The context of the discussion was Rob Bell’s teaching.  Some called his teaching heretical.  Others quickly rushed to rescue their favorite Bible teacher.  This latter group didn’t so much debate the claims about the truth of his teaching; what they did instead was claim the others were being mean/harsh, and that they were misunderstanding the purpose of Bell’s Nooma videos.

All that isn’t what caught my eye, though, and it isn’t the focus of this post.  I’m no fan of Rob Bell’s teaching, that’s all I have to say about that.

What did catch my eye was that one person chimed in by chiding the public nature of the critics’ comments.  He said, “Heresy is intentional.  Misspeaking is always possible.  But standing in judgement is a dangerous and prideful position.” and later: “Who want to follow God alongside people that can’t even love each other through their differences.  Bless people in public and correct them in private.”

At first, despite my misgivings about Bell’s teaching, I said, “hmm.  Right.  Perhaps I’d better not say anything.”  Then later, I thought, “waaaaaaiiiit a second.  This ain’t quite straight.”  If I’m not supposed to correct someone in public, then why was this guy correcting people on Facebook–about as public a place as it gets?  He was critical of people he disagreed with.  Though he wasn’t being harsh about it or calling names (which, for the record, those who were critical of Rob Bell weren’t calling names either), he definitely wasn’t blessing them.  This seemed like a passive-aggressive play to me, designed to shut up those whom he disagreed with.

Secondly, about his “who would want to follow God” comment about divisiveness: disagreement and critique can be a healthy thing.  It shows the outside community that truth matters.  Ideas have consequences…even the ideas of a nice, cool, hip, and tech-savvy guy like Rob Bell.  Like with any other teacher, his ideas need to be evaluated and sifted for truth, not glossed over in the name of getting along–especially when the ideas presented harm people. 

Thirdly, teaching that is given in public needs a public response.  Just “correcting in private” is oftentimes not all that is needed.  When it comes to personal offences, sins against others, and such, taking care of it in private is the way to go.  But teaching and preaching reaches numerous ears.  If I were to just email Rob Bell and share my thoughts with him, what good would that do?  Would that change his mind?  Likely not.  What’s more, if a person is preaching and teaching falsehood, countless people are impacted by it.  If I merely “correct in private,” how does that help them understand the consequences of those false ideas?  They blithely go on their way, continuing to accept things that ultimately hurt them, and they continue to spread the fungus to others.  All this calls for a public response.

Lastly, the people who were critical of Rob Bell weren’t attacking the man.  They were critiquing his teaching.  I therefore find the comment that “standing in judgement is a dangerous and prideful position” off-kilter.  He pretended the folks were sitting in judgement of the man, when in fact they were judging his teaching, which is unavoidable (he was doing it), and we are called to do by the Bible.  Yes, calling his teaching “heretical” as some did might (or might not!) miss the mark, and perhaps Facebook has certain limitations to it that prevent such discussions from being fruitful, but there should be no beef whatsoever with publically correcting publically-given teaching.

Persecution in Morocco

Christian persecution in Morocco.

From the article:

Approximately 60 officers from the Moroccan security services on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 4) raided the home of a Christian in Amizmiz, a picturesque city of 10,000 mainly Berber people 56 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of Marrakech. A church Bible study was in progress at the home with visitors from western and southern Morocco, the leaders said.

Five of the 18 people held for 14 hours were small children, two of them infants no more than 6 months old. The other small children ranged from 20 months to 4 years old, and also detained was the visiting 16-year-old nephew of one of the participants.

The Christian leaders said authorities interrogated participants in the Bible study for 14 hours. The authorities filmed the interrogations with digital video cameras and cell phones.

The leader of the Christian group, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said the raiding party was unusually large. It included an accompaniment of 15 vehicles led by a colonel and two captains.

Quoting a statement by the Interior Ministry, the state-run Maghreb Arabe Presse news agency reported that a “foreign missionary” had been arrested for trying to “spread evangelist creed in the Kingdom and locate new Moroccan nationals for recruitment.”

The statement added that the raid took place “following information on the organization of a secret meeting to initiate people into Christianity, which would shake Muslims’ faith and undermine the Kingdom’s religious values.”

And later in the article:

“The authorities reportedly pressured the women to return to Islam, mocked their Christian faith, questioned why they left Islam to become Christians, and asked if there were other Christians in their families,” the report states.

Hm.  Guess proselytizing is ok if an Islamic government does it aggressively with intimidation, mockery, and threats.  If a regular citizen does it through literature and persuasion, that’s verboten, of course.  Evil Christians.

I wonder how relativists would react to this.  Would their reaction be any different if, say, the persecuted faith was Hinduism or Buddhism?  What if the person was a devotee of Richard Dawkins, and he was holding a discussion on The God Delusion with some Muslims (in other words, he’d be making an evangelistic effort)?

Please pray for the Christians in Morocco, and for the government officials to come to their senses.

Announcements!

New website for youth and youth leaders: str place.
Go there.  It’s worth your while.

More videos and resources will be uploaded frequently.  I especially appreciate the “truth matters” and “are you homophobic?” videos.

Powerless Pulpits

Preach it:

Becoming a Three Thirds Disciple

My friend Brett Kunkle, who works for apologetics organization Stand to Reason, recently sent me his newsletter.  I’m going to quote some of it to you, for it highlights something about the role of apologetics in disicpleship that people often miss.

A bit of background: oftentimes when Brett speaks to Christians in high school and to youth pastors, he first poses as an atheist to the crowd.  They don’t know he’s really a Christian, so he engages them and slowly picks apart their faith.  He “comes out” later and walks them through the challenges, but his main goal in doing the posing is to wake the audience up to their need to learn how to defend their faith.  Most can’t do it very well.  Most can’t do it at all.

On to the letter:

It was eighty against one.  Not good odds, but when I role-play an atheist with the typical Christian students, I like my chances.  But these weren’t students.  They were adults.  And not just any adults, but Christian leaders on the East Coast.  Pastors, youth pastors, parachurch leaders, school teachers, and administrators.

I launched in to my “Why I’m not a Christian” arguments.  Debate quickly followed.  From the start, a number of adults appealed to their experience of the Holy Spirit–“I know God is real because I’ve experienced His Spirit.”  I quickly shot back, “How do you know that’s really God?  Mormons say the same thing.  Do you think they’re experiencing God as well?”

One man in particular was emphatic.  “I just know it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to me.”  He tried to bolster the argument, declaring God had spoken to him through the Bible as well.  I responded with a typical atheist challenge.  “The Bible tells us that God spoke to Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his son.”  Then I looked him in the eye and questioned him, “If God asked you to kill your son, would you do it?”  He joked about his son sitting there next to him, but he could not answer the challenge.

In fact, there were only two leaders out of those 80 who gave me real trouble during the exchange.  The first, a youth pastor, launched into the moral argument for God’s existence.  I tried to take the “morals are determined by society” route, but he calmly pinned me down.  The second, a deacon and Sunday school teacher, offered a design argument, articulating Michale Behe’s argument from irriducible complexity.  I quickly changed topics.

 

Brett goes on in the letter to reveal that both men had included thinking skills training in their discipleship to Christ: both made extensive use of the training materials from Stand to Reason.

Then, Brett continues:

Later, the man who claimed he just knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking to him approached me.  He wanted my help.  “My son, sitting next to me, is doubting everything.”  Then he burst into tears.  Embarrassed, he grabbed my arm and pulled me around the corner.  As he wept bitterly, his son’s story emerged.  A bright kid, grew up in a Christian home, led friends to the Lord, on fire for Christ, even preached in their church.  But now, he questioned it all.  He begged me, “Will you talk to him?  Please, will you talk to him today?”

After my final teaching session, the son approached me, quickly launching into a laundry list of objections to Christianity.  A lenghty conversation ensued, covering topics like objective moral truths, utilitarian ethical theory, Kant’s categorical imperative, retributive justice, divine hiddenness, intelligent design, and the experience of the Holy Spirit.  From the conversation, I guessed he was a graduate student in philosophy.  Wrong.  He was a high school senior.

His objections boiled down to this:  “I’ve been taught that Christianity’s truthfulness is confirmed by my experience.  I am no longer having powerful Christian experiences.  In addition, I’m reading arguments against Christianity.  I now wonder if it’s rational for me to remain a Christian.”  He had just rehearsed his father’s argument for Christianity…and its shortcomings.

I listened, offered thoughts to reframe his view of Christianity’s truthfulness, put personal experience in its proper place, and introduced him to apologetics.  He thanked me and we parted ways.

He ends by making a request to pray for the young man.

Brett’s letter underscores a few important things.  First, the Christian worldview has the resources to answer the objections and questions that are posed to it, but few believers are actually even partially equipped to grasp and communicate those resources.  Brett’s experience of the majority in the Church that he recounts in this letter is pretty standard for him. Just think: these were not youth group kids, but adult leaders.  When pressed, the only resource all but two of them fell back on boils down to a certain felt experience.  That is a biblical part of the life of the Christ follower, but it is of little help when doubts from within and challenges from without come…and both of those will come.

Secondly and relatedly, when we as the Church fail to value the life of the mind, we leave our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ naked and defenseless against the harsh winters of doubt, and we leave non-believers (those who are not easily persuaded by an appeal to a felt experience–which is most non-believers, I’d think) with nothing to grasp onto but “I know because I know because I know.”  Brett’s conversation with the high school senior bears this out.  Seriously, how is that valuing and loving them?  There are lots of smart folks outside the church.  When we have nothing to appeal to but the experience of the Holy Spirit, does that take their intellect seriously?  If we truly love them, the least we can do is prepare ourselves to be able to walk them through the answers to some of their nagging questions and doubts.

All this reminds me of a friendship I had with a colleague at my former school.  We talked about questions and objections to Christianity often (he was an agnostic) in the same manner that Brett talked with the young man.  After a few years, one day my friend remarked to me how satisfying it was to be able to talk to me intelligently about such things.  I was the only Christian in his life he could do that with.  Though the compliment meant a lot to me, I had a certain sadness in my heart: I was the only one?

Thirdly, I know many shy away from training their minds because they think that it’s somehow unChristlike and they view it as combative.  Visions of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly quickly pop into their heads, and they say, “no thanks.”** 

But apologetics need not be like that.  Used properly, it is conversational and relational.  The conversation Brett engaged in was natural.  I know the guy: he doesn’t walk around with a Evidence that Demands  a Verdict holster, and he doesn’t have a belt of William Lane Craig bullets strung across his chest.  He’s normal.  Furthermore, because he has trained his intellect, he can confidently converse with any non-believer, whether he be seeker or skeptic, full-time professor or full-time mom.

If you have nothing but an experience to stand upon, consider devoting your intellect to Christ too.  You need not get a phd in philosophy, though that’d be nice.  All you gotta do is…do something.  You can begin here.

**That’s not to put down either man; it’s just that many would rather not be so aggressively combative, and the two men fit the stereotype.

Book of Eli

I just watched Book of Eli.

Violent?  Very.

Slight pluralistic message at the end.
Kinda funky definition of faith (then again, his faith drove him to action, he was certain of the hope he had, and he’s clear of what God has called him to do even though he doesn’t have it all figured out…so I guess there’s something to it).

Yet thought provoking all the same.  I guess you can’t win ‘em all.  Given that Book of Eli came from Hollywood, I’ll give it an “A” for effort.

The man who read the Bible was the righteous one, the one who had never read it was power-hungry, violent, and wanted to abuse the Bible.

I even liked it when Eli said, “some people thought that this book [the Bible] caused the war.”  He put a tiny emphasis on “some” and “thought,” enough of an emphasis to make a difference.

There were very interesting and genioius symbols strewn throughout the movie.  For example, when Carnegie’s main henchman, Redridge, dies, he dies on his knees, head bowed (prayer, anyone?).  Immediately before his death he has a repentance of sorts–he could kill Solara, but he simply steps out of the vehicle and dies peacefully.  Another example is the destination toward which Eli is headed to take the Bible: Alcatraz prison.  That made me recall the fact that Jesus came to save the sinners, the outcasts, and those with no hope.  Jesus takes the untouchables and uses them to spread the Kingdom.

Some would balk at what Carnegie says about the Bible: that it is an instrument of power, and those that wield it can control people like “sheep” by giving them a false hope.  That message makes me cringe too, but consider the source.  In the end, the movie itself was not endorsing that message.  If Eli had championed it, that would be different, but he stood for a completely different take on the Bible, and it is clear it’s his voice we’re supposed to pay heed to.

I don’t think any of those involved would profess Book of Eli to be a Christian movie, and it’s certainly not for everyone.  It does have many, many deep and thought provoking themes though.

Any of those who have seen it care to comment on it?