Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

The Gospel at Work in Every Context

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Supremacy of Jesus

“Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declarees Him to be God’s eternal Son.  Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors–let them kneel at His feet and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”  A. W. Tozer

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It’s Time to Kill that “Soulmate” Myth

This post will start off sounding really cynical to some of you, but please hang out until the end, because this is an important idea to grasp if you want to succeed in romance.  First let me tell you what I’m NOT trying to say.  When I was fresh out of high-school, I experienced something very common for people fresh out of high-school: a breakup.  I had moved far away from my girlfriend and the distance was killing it.  Not only that, but all of the dramatic life changes that people experience at that stage were killing it.  Many of you have been there.

I have a dear aunt who was newly divorced at the same time.  We commiserated often.  She listened to Sarah McGlachlin and we mourned our losses.  It was foolish for me to consider that our pain was similar: she had three children and well over a dozen years from her ex-husband.  I had teenage infatuation and a few months.  But my aunt was gracious to me.

One day she commented something to this effect: “At least you still believe in true love.”  To which I responded, “I’m not sure I do believe that.”  It was a foolish thing to say, in retrospect.  I had no idea what I was talking about.  But my views on love have changed since then, and I’m glad to report that this post is NOT a polemic against romantic love or even a cynical rant against the saccharine emotion that Hollywood tries to pass off as love. Those are good things that are too-often understood in distorted ways.

Take Jerry Maguire, for instance.  In the climactic scene typical of romance movies, Jerry confesses his feelings for Dorothy with the unforgettable line, “You complete me.”  This is the downfall of popular beliefs on romance.  The pressure that was placed on Dorothy at that moment was a burden too great for any mere mortal to bear.  It is unfair.  We aren’t made to complete each other or to find completion in any human relationship, not even marriage.

That’s why the myth of the “mail-order” soulmate needs to die.  The idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match who will share all your interests, laugh at all your jokes and put up with all your baggage without any fuss is setting people up for failure.  Soulmates like that are earned over a lifetime of heartbreaking compromise, sacrifice and plain old hard work.  Not predestined in the stars.  They are cultivated intentionally, not granted automatically.

I think this is one reason that so many long-term relationships never lead to marriage and so many marriages fail: Person “A” doesn’t “complete me” a-la Jerry Maguire, therefore, he/she must not be my soulmate.  Time to look for my soulmate in Person “B”. Obviously that is a sweeping generalization, but one that I believe has real traction in our romance-infatuated culture.

There is an underlying spiritual dysfunction that is associated with the soulmate myth.    In a world that has very little use for God, the impossible pressure to “complete me” has been taken off God and placed on human relationships, especially romantic relationships.  This is idolatry, plain and simple.  So not only are we setting ourselves up for failure by placing too much pressure on our romantic counterparts, we are robbing God of the deep, soul-adoring worship that He deserves.  I may have just lost some of you who aren’t concerned with religious affection.  (Dorothy from Jerry Maguire might say, “You lost me at idolatry.”)  But I’ll stand by my claim: what human relationships can never attain in terms of emotional satisfaction, a “sacred romance” will.

That isn’t to say that romance isn’t a good thing.  That isn’t to say that there is no place for romance in healthy marriages.  To the contrary: without romance, intimacy and bedrock commitment, marriages will wither on the vine.  Every time.  But the elevation of romance to the end of all relational emotion is detrimental to our thinking.  Here’s why:  God designed the marriage relationship as an means to an end, not an end itself.  In other words, He didn’t invent marriage just so we could get married, there is a purpose to it.  Besides procreation.  Besides sexual fulfillment.  Besides companionship.

God designed the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the relationship he desires with us.  In the New Testament, the church is called the “bride” of Christ.  It’s brilliant, really.  Sheer genius.  God uses a universal human institution as a relational metaphor, so we will understand just what He is getting at.  He wants an exclusive commitment.  He wants adoration.  He wants emotional closeness.  He wants us to grow in our understanding of him over the long-term.  He wants us to work hard to not offend Him!  He wants our relationship to bear fruit.  He wants to be our soulmate.

So if we kill the soulmate myth, where does that leave marriage?  Does it lessen the emotional impact of romance?  Just the opposite.  What could be more romantic than realizing that your closest human relationship is modeled after an eternal, all-powerful being who literally died just so he could be with you?  What could have a more powerful aphrodisiac effect than knowing that the person who stretched out the heavens and laid down the foundations of the earth wants–no, COMMANDS you to make love to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7.3-5)?

The effect of killing the soulmate myth DOES take the pressure off of your significant other to be and do for you what only God can be and do.  Soulmates aren’t assembled on some conveyor belt, ready to go, right out of the box.  I’m convinced that God isn’t waiting for you to find THE ONE, but one of potentially dozens.  Although He does know which one you will choose–which poses several more questions about free will and God’s sovereignty, none of which bear addressing right now.  All of that to say, when you and your romantic interest decide that you are in it for the long-haul, be prepared to do the work and build your own soulmate.

Jesus and the Book of Eli (part 2). OR, Four reasons Jesus is Way Better Than Whatever Else You Could Worship

“Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declares Him to be God’s eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors–let them kneel at His feet and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'”

  1. A. W. Tozer

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The first installment of this post (found here: https://worldviewsworshipwineskins.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/jesus-and-the-book-of-eli-part-1/) discussed the Post-Apocalyptic film, “The Book of Eli” and explored the implied meaning of the film.  My argument is that the interpretation of the film is left to the viewer, to an extent.  However, the final scene shows a newly copied King James Bible placed on a shelf alongside the Q’uran and the Torah, which strongly suggests religious pluralism: the idea that every religion is valid.  The goal of this post is to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus, and more.  Not only is Jesus unique (aren’t we all, really?) he is superior to every person who ever lived and makes curious truth claims with serious implications.  If Jesus is who he claimed to be, what then?  How should we approach other religions with contrasting truth claims?

In what sense is Jesus unique?  Many people throughout history have laid claim to profound wisdom, insights which might lead us to the fulfillment of our ultimate spiritual purposes.  These include eastern mystics such as Gautama the Buddha, Muhammed the founder of Islam and more recently Joseph Smith, who claimed to add on to the Christian faith.  In one sense, we can learn all that we need to know about a religion, philosophy or worldview by examining the lives and values of it’s founder or founders.  Without going into detail on anyone else, I believe we can learn all we need to know about true religion by learning the Person of Jesus.

Jesus is unique.  One-of-a-kind.  A human singularity.  There was never anyone like him before, and no one will ever be like him again.  Here are four specific reasons why:  1. Jesus is sinless.  2. Jesus is Divine.  3. Jesus embodied fulfiflled prophecy. 4. Jesus is alive.

(1) Jesus is sinless. Not only does scripture tell us that Jesus never broke the moral law, (Hebrews 4.15), but the illegal court that convicted him and sentenced him to death had a contrived charge because none of the witnesses against him could describe a time when he transgressed! Can you imagine anyone else on trial for their life, against whom no charge could be brought?  Joseph Smith?  No.  Gautama?  No.  Muhammed?  No.  Mother Theresa?  No.  Jesus is the only person that ever lived who never violated the timeless moral code.

(2) Jesus is Divine. The New Testament indicates Jesus’ divine nature many times over. Here are three compelling passages that show us not only that the eyewitness authors believed he was divine, but Jesus himself believed he was divine.  In Mark 2.1-12, Jesus meets a paralyzed man in a crowded room.  Before the crowd, Jesus forgave the man’s sins.  Verses 6 through 12 speak for themselves:

But some of the scribes were sitting there thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this?  He’s blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”  Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. 

In John 8.58, Jesus reveals two important pieces of his identity: he existed before Abraham, and he applied the title that God used of Himself with Moses at the burning bush: I AM.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared many times to his disciples, giving them a deep conviction that he had literally defeated death.  On one occasion (recorded in John 20.28), he appeared to Thomas, who had previously doubted.  When Jesus showed Thomas the scars in His hands and side, Thomas responded in worship: “My Lord and my God!”  For any self-respecting Jew to utter these words to a mere human would have been blasphemy!  Yet Jesus did not correct Thomas, but accepted his worship as though it were appropriate.

Very few people in history have claimed to be God: a handful of kings and emporers, and a handful of crackpots.  None of them had the power to prove their deity and none have made the impact on history that Jesus has, in spite of their enormous political power.

(3) Jesus miraculously fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.  The following is a short list of prophecies concerning the Jewish Messiah that were written hundreds of years before his birth.  Jesus fits the bill for all of them, and more!

From the tribe of Judah: Genesis 49.10, Luke 3.23, 33.

From the family line of David: 2 Samuel 7.12, Matthew 1.1.

Born in Bethlehem: Micah 5.2, Matthew 2.1.

Preceded by a messenger: Isaiah 40.3, Matthew 3.1-2.

Rejected by His people: Psalm 118.22, 1 Peter 2.7.

His death would be roughly 483 years after 444 B.C: Daniel 9.24.

Specific details of his crucifixion predicted in Psalm 22, His resurrection predicted in Psalm 16.10.

All told, there are over 200 Messianic prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament, all of which are fulfilled in the person of Jesus!  What are the odds?  Beyond the realm of possibility.

(4) Jesus is alive! The resurrection of Jesus is the fulcrum of all history. He provided the most convincing proof of his unique, divine and perfect nature by doing what none had ever done: coming back from the dead.  The resurrection made such an impact, that the people who were best suited to evaluate its implications immediately changed the course of their entire lives to follow this man-God.  For the next century, the message of Jesus and his work at the cross, followed by his resurrection spread across the known world like wildfire.  Not only is the resurrection well attested (Biblically and extra-Biblically), it is the only logical explanation for the existence of the church.  Without the resurrection, the church is an effect without a cause.  

Think about it for a moment: if you were one of the disciples who had followed Jesus and seen him crucified, what possible incentive would you have for spreading a fabricated story about his resurrection?  The early Christians (and many still today) faced persecution and death for their witness to Jesus’ resurrection.  They had every reason in the world to NOT embrace Christianity, and no reason in the world to follow a dead Jesus.  Which leaves the early church with no motive whatsoever to fake the resurrection.  A crime with no motive?  I don’t think they exist.

Which brings us back to the newly printed King James Bible on the shelf at Alcatraz.  Perfect.  Divine.  His life prophesied for generations preceding with stunning accuracy.  Resurrected from the dead.  And we didn’t even get into the fact that he could control the weather…Could Jesus have been simply another sage with good, moral advice, to be shelved next to the works of other great religious thinkers?  Could he have been simply an itinerant preacher with commanding presence who stole the attention of the 1st Century Mediterranian world?  Was he a crackpot whose life has been obscured and embellished?  C. S. Lewis is credited with claiming that there are only three real options for what to think of Jesus: either he was a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord.  All things considered, we can rule out the first two options.  And if Jesus is who He said He is, the idea that he is one among a variety of competing options is false.

Of course, all of this is contingent on whether the documents that comprise the Bible can be taken at face value!  Which is a topic for another day.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE&sns=em

*Among others, I found Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino’s “Unshakable Foundations” a useful resource for this post, especially their list of Old Testament messianic prophecies.

Robbing God of the Worship He Deserves

The surest way to rob God of the worship He deserves is to beat yourself up over sin that is already confessed and forgiven.

Why Christians Shouldn’t Take the Bible Literally

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Maybe you’ve heard this comment or something like it before:

“The Bible is a good book, but you just can’t take it literally.”

Many Christians protest.  “We take the Bible literally!”  We say.  Then passages such as Numbers 22 with Balaam and the talking donkey, or the book of Jonah and his dramatic experience inside the fish are commonly used as ammunition to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  Can any rational person be expected to believe these tales?  Aren’t they just metaphors with moral underpinnings?

Yes.  Rational people CAN (and do) take these accounts at face value.  If we accept the existence of God (which most people do), there is no reason to reject the historical accuracy of miraculous accounts, as long as they are contained in otherwise historically accurate writings.  BUT…we shouldn’t take the Bible literally.

Before you stop reading and label me an apostate, let me explain.  Let’s dig through some basic rules of human communication and grow in our understanding of how to understand and explain the natural way to interpret the Bible.

First and foremost, no one interprets the Bible literally.  As in the WHOLE Bible.  The protestant Bible is made up of 66 books written in 3 different languages on 3 different continents over thousands of years by dozens of authors from every walk of life.  Remarkably, all of that material points to the same person who inspired it (the God of the ancient Hebrews), but it is NOT all literal!  Take, for instance, these lines that Solomon wrote about his bride:

“Your eyes are doves behind your veil.  Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young.”  

This passage is obviously poetic and contains figures of speech: metaphors and similes.  If we were to stand on our claim that the Bible should be taken literally, we would have to say that Solomon’s bride had birds for eyes!  Obviously that isn’t what he meant.  Which is what we, as readers of the Bible are looking for: what did the author mean to say?

If the author is writing historical narrative (like the gospels or the first eighteen books of the Old Testament), it’s safe to say he meant for us to interpret his material literally.  Jesus himself interpreted miraculous accounts literally: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12.40).  If the passage is poetic, it contains an overwhelming majority of figurative language.  If it is prophetic, the prophet generally lets the reader know whether he is using symbolism and figures of speech.

Here are three of rules of thumb that will never steer you wrong:

1: Context is king!  The author of the text usually gives you pretty clear indications of his intentions.  Let the text speak for itself, don’t take small passages out of their literary context. Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” in several new Testament books.  Do we believe that he was literally a juvenile farm animal?  No, that would be a pretty violent interpretive maneuver.  We understand that we shouldn’t read modern newspapers as though they were poetry.  We know that modern love ballads contain hyperbole.  Figures of speech are common tools in human communication, we have to interpret them the way they were meant to be interpreted.  If there is confusion about the author’s intended meaning in a specific passage, back up a few verses or a couple of chapters and pick up his train of thought.  The surrounding context will generally clear up the meaning of most of the individual verses in the Bible!

2. Ask yourself, “What is the author trying to convey?”  Ultimately, the author controls the meaning of the text, NOT the reader.  What would Steven Spielberg say if someone wrote a review of “Saving Private Ryan” that claimed it was an extended allegory about politics in the 1990s?  My guess is he would say something like “No, you doofus.  That’s not what the film means.”  If we let the text speak for itself, a large majority of interpretation is simple.  Yes, some passages are difficult, but even if we were to exclude them *gasp!* the Gospel message is clear.

3.  “I take the Bible at face value.  It is what it appears to be.  It means what it says.”  These phrase can be very helpful in conversations with those who toss out the “L” word (literally).  We can agree with them and say “No, you’re right.  I don’t take the Bible literally either.  At least not the whole thing.”  This is a good way to find common ground with people who might have never considered normal rules of human communication apply…even to the Bible.

Friday Night Mystics: A. W. Tozer

Tozer

Last week’s “Friday-Night Mystic” was Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection: a simple man who was madly in love with God.  Is simplicity an ideal of mysticism?  Would the one who wants to draw near to God jettison his intellect?  A. W. Tozer (among others) shows us this is not the case.  Passion for God is not the opposite of excellent scholarship and thinking.  In his writing and speaking, Pastor Tozer shows a consistent and thoughtful interatction with the world’s philosophies, arguments and pitfalls, as well as the church’s.  For example:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

“The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.  Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart concieves God to be like.  We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”  (from “Knowledge of the Holy”)

Tozer was the Pastor of Southside Alliance Church in Chicago from 1928 to 1959, but is probably best known for his devotional classic, “Pursuit of God”.  In that work, the church is called out for her apathy and God is exalted as worthy of passionate pursuit.  His indictment on the state of the church rings as true today as it did fifty years ago:

“Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies of the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.  Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb.  To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and it its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’  This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.”  (Tozer’s preface.)

This modern mystic spent much of his energy lamenting the impotence and apathy of the church of his day.  But don’t be fooled.  He wasn’t just another angry critic (after all, Jesus’ bride is an easy target.)  Tozer’s chiding was the result of a sincere burning passion for the living Christ and a desire to see Him receive the worship He deserves:

“The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leapus up in joyous recognition.  That is the heavenly birth without which we cannot see the kingdom of God.  It is, however, not an end, but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.  That is where we begin, I say, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in the awful and mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end.

Shoreless Ocean, who can sound thee?

Thine own eternity is round Thee,

Majesty divine!

“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”

Selling and Sending: Two Postures for the Church

Missional Field Notes

From Forge: Dallas:

There are two competing postures for the people of God today: a church of consumers, demanding goods and services, and a church of missionaries, sent and sending into the world. These compete for the minds of Christians. Every church functions according to one or the other. Every disciple stands on these two foundations for life, two theological bases for making decisions, two postures that shape all we do: selling or sending.

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Friday Night Mystics: Brother Lawrence

Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen

There are a handful of authors who have really influenced me by their passion for and devotion to Jesus. I want to share some of their insights with you, in single-sized portions. I plan to upload a short segment each Friday night, so keep checking in!

Tonight will feature Brother Lawrence, who was a French monk in the 1600’s. I encourage you to find his book entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God”.

This passage comes from a collection of notes taken by someone who interviewed Brother Lawrence due to his reputation as someone with a deep love for God. In the introductory paragraph, the writer states, concerning Brother Lawrence, “he told me”. Each subsequent paragraph begins with the word “That”.

“That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of GOD, which had never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for GOD, that he could not tell whether it had increased during his more than forty years he had lived since.”

“That the greatest pains or pleasures of this world, were not to be compared with what he had experienced of both kinds in a spiritual state: so that he was careful for nothing and feared nothing, desiring only one thing of GOD, viz., that he might not offend Him.”

“That all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to GOD; that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and simplicity.”

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother_Lawrence

In Praise of Negativity (Sort of)

Ok, not really.  The word “negativity” used to mean basic, street level pessimism.  No one really likes that.  It doesn’t do anyone any good.  The kind of negativity I want to praise is actually more in the center of the spectrum between pessimism and optimism.  Let’s call it…realism.

The reason this conversation even needs to be had is because of a trend in the church for people to condemn realism and call it negativity.  The prosperity gospel movement has made it a point to make positive thinking a central tenet of their teaching, to the extent that speaking anything “negative” (such as condemning sin as outlined in the Bible) is taboo.  Some people make the bold claim that our actual words have power over our situation, and say things like “words have the power of life and death.  Speak life over you situation.”  Or “Get your mind going in the right direction, and your life will go in the right direction.”  One example of the many applications of this is in overcoming addiction. I read about a person who wanted to stop smoking, and was told to claim his victory over addiction daily, by saying “I don’t like cigarrettes.  I don’t like their taste or their smell.”  According to the testimonial, several months later the person had quit!

There are a couple of problems with this spiritual teaching, the main problem being the Bible.  While there IS scripture that supports maintaining something like a “positive mental attitude”, (Philippians 4.8, for example), the mechanism for our victory is not in our mental posture or our speech, but in the blood of Jesus.  His victory is ours, and it is a victory over sin, not necessarily suffering.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the testimonial about the smoker who quit was true, and positive affirmation can certainly have a powerful affect in anyone’s life. But we are called more often to obedience than to grand declarations or positive affirmations.  We are called to persistence in prayer, not to “speak life” over our situations.  To shift the focus of our hearts away from Christ and his completed work, and to reduce the wonderful, difficult discipline of prayer to a trite formula of speaking your desired outcome is a cheap substitute for New Testament discipleship and ultimately amounts to old fashioned animism: performing spiritual rituals in order to manipulate the spiritual realm to your own advantage.

Another difficulty with the “no negativity” crowd is a wrong definition of faith, which has the ultimate effect of leaving the faithful in a state of disillusionment.

“Faith is not believing that God can, it’s knowing that he will.”  Are you familiar with this statement?  It is wrong on a number of levels.  First and foremost, it is a direct contradiction to Daniel 3.16 and 17.  The context shows us the three Hebrew transplants, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego facing the anger of King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to bow down to his golden image.  Pay close attention to their response:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, than He can rescue us from the furnace, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king.  But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”  (HCSB, emphasis mine.)

Ultimately, God rescued them, as we all remember.  However, scripture is full of examples of God’s people who were doing all the right things and God still allowed them to “go through the fire”, so to speak.  (For a great list of examples, see Hebrews 11, not to mention Jesus himself.)  What happens to those who buy into the “positivity” message when things don’t go right?  If you thought that faith meant “knowing that God will”, and He didn’t, what does that mean?  Either you misunderstood God or you misunderstood faith.  The family who prays for healing over cancer but doesn’t receive it…where are they after God takes away their loved one sooner than they wanted?  Or the parent with estranged children who seem to keep building higher walls and running further away?  The wife whose husband never stops cheating on her?  Did they have misplaced faith in God?  Doesn’t he care about their situation?  In contrast, the concept of faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego demonstrate is radically different.  Their object of faith (God) was good, powerful and worthy of their obedience no matter the outcome of their situation.  They praised God for who He is, rather than what He does.

Finally, there is an idea that’s married to this redefinition of negativity.  The idea is that we shouldn’t mention the concept of sin, since it is negative and might make us feel bad, which is the opposite of the desired outcome for this pseudo-gospel.  Look at God’s diagnosis in Jeremiah 6.14

“They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” 

When we preach the gospel as though its sole purpose were to bring us comfort, instead of to address sin and grow Christ-like worshippers for the glory of God, of course we will want to avoid sin.  Of course we will ask people not to discuss unpleasant, nasty circumstances.  But that doesn’t square with the Bible, people’s real needs or their real lives.  Avoiding negativity means that we misdiagnose the disease.  Instead of a sinful heart that loves it’s sin, we are dealing with a negative heart that needs psychological coaching to overcome it’s bad feelings.

In medical terms, this type of treatment would lead to a malpractice case on day one.  Doctors cannot avoid negative conversations, otherwise they decieve their patients.  Mechanics cannot gloss over serious mechanical issues (although they sometimes exaggerate them!) and pastors cannot afford to sugarcoat the seriousness of sin.  If that means we need to sound negative, so be it!  Jeremiah preached doom and destruction over Jerusalem for decades.  John the Baptist called his listeners a “brood of vipers.”  Jesus said in John 7.7, “The world…hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”  

Bring on the negativity.  We can’t start the healing process until we know just how deep the wound goes.

Science and Metaphysics (a reaction to “Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions”)

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Today I read an interesting article on NPR concerning conversation about science and faith.  You can read it here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/07/13/329759036/science-vs-religion-beyond-the-western-traditions?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20140713

The main idea of the article seems to be that in the U.S., these conversations mainly occur between people with a non-supernatural (or “materialistic”) framework (atheists, agnostics, skeptics etc.) and those from the Abrahamic religions.  Adam Frank, who authored the piece, correctly points out that this approach excludes eastern and mystical worldviews and religions, including Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism.  He effectively challenges the reader to broaden the scope of the discussion and exercise some contextualization and to educate oneself on the wider array of perspectives than the one we come to the table with.

I disagree with the author on one major point, however.  First and foremost, he seems to be advocating religious pluralism: “Note that none of this implies that one perspective has to be superior to the others in discussions of science and religion.”  This is a classic postmodern approach to truth: appealing to a multiplicity of perspectives and implying that none (or all) are correct.  Does that work in logical terms?  It would never work in a chemistry lab.  H2S04 is always sulfuric acid, even if there are conflicting viewpoints on the fact.  Likewise, either the materialistic-anti-religious movement is correct in saying that there is no God, or theists are correct.  One perspective or the other is superior, they can never be factual equals.  Mr. Frank is suffering under the illusion that to disagree with someone’s perspective is to disrespect their person.  As Ravi Zacharias has said, “People are equal.  Ideas are not.”

More importantly, Mr. Frank (who works in the field of theoretical physics) failed to address the inadequacy of inductive reasoning (popularly known as “science”) as a tool for assessing metaphysical truth claims.  Plain english: science isn’t able to measure non-scientific things.  Frank places all the world’s religions on one end of the table; each presenting their own metanarrative with mutually exclusive truth claims.  At the other end of the table is empiricism, strangely silent in Frank’s appeal to pluralism.

What are we to interpret by his silence?  It’s hard to speak for Mr. Frank, but many of the science vs. faith (which is a false dichotomy) conversations I have witnessed have gone much like this: 

Skeptical person: “I reject a religious metanarrative in favor of materialism.  If the scientific process can’t provide me with evidence that a particular religion is true, I reject that religion.  I’m just following the evidence.”

Then the religious person (usually a Christian) says something well-intentioned but not very helpful such as “you just have to have faith.”  Or “I don’t believe in evolution because it’s just a theory.”

The Christian metanarrative is ultimately evidence-based and not incompatible with scientific inquiry, as many people try to portray it. Christians who want to engage in those conversations need to at least get a base of knowledge beyond the youtube commandos.  Anti-theists spend copious amounts of their effort and energy learning arguments against theism.  While this doesn’t make their position correct, their vocabluary and tone can often be intimidating to Christians who don’t really have their feet under them in terms of thinking about science and faith.  (If you are a Christian and find yourself unable to answer the challenges of skeptics, don’t lose heart!  Find some good apologetics resources and get equipped!)

Probably the biggest challenge to the conversation is the oft’ uncorrected assumption that science is the appropriate tool to apply to metaphysical questions, such as “does God exist” (or “is there a transcendant reality” in the case of eastern religions).  Clearly metaphysics lies beyond the scope of the scientific process.*  Is that reasonable grounds to assume that no metaphysical reality exists?  If you build a tool for detecting “X”, and you can’t find any “Y” with your “X” detector, you would be silly to proclaim to have proven that anti-Y-ism is the best idea around!  Furthermore, (and this only applies to theistic religions) what logical grounds are there to assume that a deity would be obligated to provide evidence of his/her/its existence?

Let’s simplify the argument of many internet atheism communities:

Every premise must be supported with empirical evidence.  (Ok, that’s not too bad, except that metaphysical realities such as numbers can’t be proven with the scientific process.)

The premise “God Exists” has no empirical evidence to support it. (I happen to disagree with this also, and believe it can be shown to be false.  But I digress.)

 Therefore God does not exist. 

So, we all know that it’s impossible to prove the non-existence of a thing.  Every well-read atheist will remember Bertrand Russell’s infamous parable of the celestial tea-pot.  But there is another flaw in this argument which makes it self-defeating: it assumes that such a deity would be obligated to provide the type of empirical evidence we are asking of it.  Such a premise (God is obligated to give us scientific evidence of his existence) has zero empirical evidence.

The person who is dogmatic in his stance against the supernatural is working off of a self-defeating philosophy, and calling it science.  (This is very common in the movement known as “secular humanism”.  They have co-opted the word “science” for their own anti-religious agenda, and often stretch its meaning or change it completely to something more like materialistic naturalism, which is a philosphy, not science.  This is a logical fallacy known as “equivocation”, or “four term fallacy”.)  If they won’t follow the rules of logic in their own arguments, there isn’t much point in having a conversation.  They have decided that the scientific metanarrative (which seems to add up to nihilism) can replace any other metanarrative by default, on the basis of the merits of science in the natural world.  Unfortunately, science is not equipped to answer metaphysical questions.

So if I could have a cup of coffee with Mr. Frank, I think I would ask him why science even has a place at the table in the conversation about metanarrative.  Science is good at answering questions of physical process, not questions of meaning.  Science can give us “How?”  We look to metaphysics, religion and philosophy for “Why?”  The fact that there is a variety of conflicting answers to “Why?” does not somehow qualify the tools of science to answer.

*We can’t prove the existence of numbers using the scientific process.  Their existence, which is unchallenged, is a question of metaphysics.  One can’t place a “7” into a test tube, or determine the weight of all the prime numbers between one and a million.  In that sense, the existence of numbers is not demonstrable using the tools of modern science.  I use this illustration to show that metaphyiscs is a necessary part of everyone’s apparatus for belief.  We need metaphysics, whether we know it by that name or not.  Ultimately, to require empirical, laboratory evidence for belief in something is not consistent with the way anyone thinks about reality.  As another example, consider loyalty.  Does anyone question the existence of loyalty?  No.  Yet we can’t measure it with the tools of science.  The same is true for hatred, forgiveness and jealousy.  Simply put, science is very useful for making observations and predictions about the physical world.  That’s it.

 

 

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