A Response to Dave Barnhart, Part 3 – Proselytizing hateful attitudes

Let’s keep moving here.  So, Pastor Barnhart continues living in Matthew 23 here with the following point:

3. Proselytizing hateful attitudes.

“For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). Franklin Graham is probably the highest-profile Christian leader connected with promoting anti-gay legislation in other countries (like Russia and Uganda), but he shares the spotlight with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and pastor Scott Lively. I am reluctant to imitate the rhetoric of anti-gay activists who gleefully declare that LGBTQ persons and their allies are hell-bound. But in the context of Jesus’ angry speech in Matthew 23, I suspect drafting laws that impose the death penalty or jail time on gay people, using the Gospel of Christ as a pretext, is the devil’s own work. How much homophobia is native and how much is imported by Christian missionaries could be debatable—but “crossing sea and land” to make new hate-filled converts is certainly part of the anti-gay agenda.

All of these three themes are applicable to anti-gay attitudes themselves. Religious exculsivism and hypocrisy are something all of the prophets rail against:

“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus echoes:

“…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7)

and Paul affirms:

“…as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’” (Romans 2:24).

All of these scriptures highlight the theme that religious leaders, in their pursuit of religious zealotry (often supported by the Bible), alienated people from God.

 

Let’s start with finding out more about me, shall we?  I’m a pretty hefty guy.  Like, not QUITE offensive lineman size, but not far off.  And I’m not particularly “muscular” in any way, shape or fashion, though I have what a friend of mine and I call “grown man strength.”  It’s like where you can lift things that are seemingly ridiculously heavy but you just know how to do it.  My dad had it before me, his father had it before him, etc.

So here’s our funny story to illustrate my point here.  My wife and I were doing a membership class at our old church in Monroe, and the pastor was discussing the meaning of membership.  He asked us “who among you has a gym membership?”  I proceeded to raise my hand.  I HAD a gym membership.  I had used it maybe once, but I had it.  The look on his face was priceless, as I was the sole congregant with my hand raised in this meeting.  He looked at me, and in the most proper British accent he could still maintain, he said “Don? Really?  You have a gym membership? I mean like, really, you have a gym membership?” Were I someone of today’s society that became offended at the drop of a hat, Pastor Bareham and I would have gone at it.  Instead I laughed until I was crying because I had made this British gentleman, who I had never really seen get ruffled, be almost unable to continue our meeting.

Now, what’s my point in all of this?  If I were to ask you if exercise were important, you would say “of course it is!  It’s the way to a healthy body!”  If I asked if you exercise all of the time, you might say “Yes!  I go on 5 mile runs daily and do PX90 on the weekends!”  Or maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you say “yes, exercise is absolutely important” but then your actions say “but not quite as important as eating bacon covered in nutella (sounds gross, but it truly is mindblowing).” My point is that whether you exercise furiously like a mad man hoping to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of your body, or whether your version of exercise is lifting pound cakes and doing 12 oz curls, there is a verifiable truth that exercise is beneficial to your body.

What Pastor Barnhart is doing here is nothing short of utterly confusing both Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, and then determining that Orthodoxy stems from HIS perception of Orthopraxy.  Let me further illustrate.  For Pastor Barnhart’s mental association here to work, we have to actually decide that the Bible can’t possibly say that homosexual behavior is wrong because of Franklin Graham’s behavior.  My question would be this… Even IF Franklin Graham were “gleefully” declaring that LGBTQ people are hellbound… Even IF Franklin Graham took supreme pleasure in seeing these people afflicted by God (for the record, I don’t think he does and I’m amazed that Dave Barnhart actually has the power to know beyond certainty what a person is thinking and feeling.  I guess I was mistaken in believing that only God could do that), what does that CHANGE about the words of scripture?  What does that do to affect God’s word?

You can see the silliness about this, right?  I’m no Franklin Graham fan by any means, but his actions no more change the truth of scripture than my actions make exercise a bad idea.  This kind of sophomoric argument against the non LGBTQ-affirming Christian is garbage because it asserts nothing truthful in the matter and only argues from the standpoint of “what you’re doing is mean in my eyes so it can’t be right.”

For the record, if someone is truly “gleeful” in seeing the fate of someone who is walking away from God, that person obviously doesn’t have God’s heart in mind, because we know from scripture that God is grieved by His children turning away His love and kindness.  So those who are able to be “gleeful” at the idea of His children’s destruction is not of God to begin with.

That being said, twisting scripture isn’t a big win in God’s eyes either.  Let’s look at where Pastor Barnhart engages in “scriptorture.”

“I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6)

Sounds like, when used by itself, really that God doesn’t care about following His law (being represented of course by the sacrifice) that what He really wants is for us to just “love one another.”  To be fair, I have no doubt that God wants us to “love one another.”  I also have no doubt that in this day and age, we have no idea HOW to love one another.  But let’s take a look at the passage in its entirety:

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ( Hosea 6:1-6 ESV)

God’s anger with the people burns because their love is fleeting, it goes like the morning dew.  He has tried to reach them with prophets, He has continuously proclaimed judgment on them.  In the end, His desire is love and the knowledge of Him.  The point Jesus was trying to make in quoting this verse again was a far different point than Pastor Barnhart is trying to make.  Jesus and His disciples were eating grain they had picked on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees were chastising Him for “working on the Sabbath.”  Now of course, not spoken of in the story is that they had their own “versions” of working on the Sabbath.  For example… healing a person?  WORKING ON THE SABBATH! Pulling your OWN donkey out of a well it fell into on Sunday? Not working on the sabbath.  So these guys had gamed the system so that anything they needed to do was ok, but anything done for the benefit of someone else was not.  And so the point Jesus is trying to make here is not “we don’t really have any laws, just love, like a Lenny Kravitz song,” but “you guys don’t really care about the underlying reason the law is here, which is to help us be loving towards one another, you game the system and toss any actual love out of the equation.”

So in summation, the problem with Pastor Barnhart’s premise is that he is using the actions of one person in Christendom to deny the word of God.  While you can think what you want of Franklin Graham, and while you can think what you want of scripture, our thoughts and actions no more change the word of the text than we can make water come out of a stone. So while Pastor Barnhart may think Franklin Graham is not a nice guy, Franklin Graham’s “not nice guyness” doesn’t change the truth of scripture in that homosexual behaviors are displeasing to God.

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A response to Dave Barnhart, part 2

So, continuing our discussion from last week, started here.

Let’s look at Pastor Barnhart’s second assertion:

Jesus continues to rail against religious leaders, saying: “For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matthew 23:13). There are a lot of ways to interpret what it means to “lock someone out of the kingdom,” but telling people they are abominations has got to be high on the list. Taken with the “heavy burden” line a few verses earlier, it seems overly strict interpretations of scripture may be what Jesus is talking about here. People want to enter and participate in the kingdom, but they are made to feel unwelcome.

So his assertion, in a nutshell, is that in Jesus’s “seven woes” lecture from Matthew 23, in this particular statement, he is making the point that people are being locked out of the kingdom and that combined with the heavy burden from the earlier passage, it then should be obvious that in reality, what Jesus is saying is that people want to know God, but they are made to feel unwelcome.

There are a couple of problems with this view.  First and foremost, is this assertion:

There are a lot of ways to interpret what it means to “lock someone out of the kingdom,” but telling people they are abominations has got to be high on the list.

For the record, I will offer a shiny, brand new, 24 Karat gold plated Maserati to the first person who can give me a scripture passage that says “homosexuals and the sexually immoral are abominations.”  The reason why is most obviously because it isn’t to be found anywhere in scripture.  What is being called an “abomination” is the act of a man lying with a man as they would a woman.  Here’s the verse for everyone playing at home:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22

There it is.  Not “they are an abomination” or “those who practice this are an abomination”.  Just “It is an abomination.”  So let’s start here.  Identifying someone’s behavior as out of line with what God wants is NOT calling someone an abomination.  This kind of purple language with no actual basis in scripture is what I like to call “rhetoric.”  What rhetoric does is it muddies the water and doesn’t allow for fact.  It is great for winning someone’s personal opinion, but it leaves much to be desired if you are actually discussing fact.  Factually, Pastor Barnhart’s assertion couldn’t be any further from the truth.  God is not calling ANYONE an abomination, and neither should we.

This is kind of an ongoing problem in the debate in a nutshell.  There is apparently a dichotomous view of sexual sin that either you have to be accepting of it and celebrating of it, or you need to be screaming and raining damnation down on people.  It’s really sad, because we seem to have lost view of Jesus’ response to sin:

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11

So, Jesus has just stared down a pack of angry men wanting to condemn this woman for adultery.  Jesus pulls, well, a JESUS, and shuts them all down and sends them packing. And so, as this woman’s life passes just before her eyes, Jesus does something that we don’t seem to be able to do.  He grants mercy and still upholds the law.

Go and sin no more.

Not “I am sinless and I CAN judge you.  Be gone from me.”

Go and sin no more.

Not “Hey, don’t worry, God’s a big God, and it’s more important that you feel welcomed and like you can participate, you know?”

Go and sin no more.

There is no mistaking what He’s saying to her.  He absolutely points out that she was committing a sin.  He absolutely was merciful to her.  THIS.  THIS is what a relationship with God looks like!  Of course we fail Him every day.  Of course we sin like crazy.  That’s not the point.  The point of the story is Him, not us.

So then, ask the question.  I know it’s coming.

But if God is graceful and merciful, what does it matter if we call something sin?  Aren’t we just being mean?  Isn’t Pastor Barnhart making a great point here?

No.  He isn’t.  Let me illustrate from scripture:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50

WOW.  There.  The gospel.  The reason why it’s important we talk about what sin is and what sin isn’t.  Those words… “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  Here’s an illustration from real life.  If you are stepping out into a street with no cars coming, and I grab your arm and say “You have to wait until you can go!!!! I just saved your life!!!”  You’re probably going to look at me like I’m a few fries short of a happy meal.  Do the same thing on a street full of cars racing at lunchtime, and I’m your hero and maybe you’re buying me a happy meal!  It’s the same thing here.  If we don’t know what we’re being saved from, how do we even know how much God loves us?  If we make sin something trivial, we make God’s love trivial.

The point in all of this is God, not us. Regardless of what we think, it’s important that we know God’s law as it is, NOT as it is recreated by the Pharisees (the true point behind the passage, by the way), nor as it is recreated by a society bent on handing out participation awards to everyone.  Without loving God’s law, how do you love God’s salvation?  How do you love God even?  Has anyone noticed that the longest chapter of scripture is Psalm 119, which is a celebration of the law?  It’s not just about making people feel welcomed.  In reality, we should love and make people feel welcomed without accepting their sins as ok.  It’s about loving God. Believers should know better than that.

A Response to Dave Barnhart, Part 1

I haven’t posted in a while.  Again.  It seems like it takes a lot of time to write these things out, which when you have a family of 7, that seems like a luxury.  Alas, I’ll try to do better here.

I’d like to preface this with the fact that I’m not a trained pastor.  I was a volunteer pastor long long ago in a galaxy (and a time zone) far away, but no more.  That being said, I love my God and I love studying His word and seeking after His will.  I’m not always great at applying said will once I figure it out for myself, but I love that He is forgiving and loving to the nth degree.

It seems a particularly poignant topic in the church today is homosexuality.  Particularly, how do we look at homosexuality in the context of Hamartiological/Soteriological notions?  A growing contingent of Christians view the LGBTQ+ lifestyle as being within the biblical confines of acceptability. A recent blog post that I came across at Reconciling Ministries Network stood out to me as being a great place to start.  Understand, I’m not looking to “bludgeon” or “clobber”, as the post’s author may say that those who do not agree with their view are in the habit of doing, but I do think it necessary for us to rightly divide scripture.  Here is the blog post in its entirety.

Let’s start with the fact that I don’t know who Dave Barnhart is, and certainly do not believe him to be saying anything he says with the clear intent to not love the Lord our God.  I like to believe the best in people, and I feel like I need to believe that everyone on either side (or any side, since I don’t feel like this is a two-sided discussion) is doing and thinking what they feel to be true.  Additionally, this particular issue, in my opinion, is no more a question of salvific debate, as I feel like the ultimate answer as to one’s salvation lies in whether or not they love the Lord and accept His gift of salvation and are producing fruits in keeping with salvation.  Outside of that, this is PURELY a debate in regards to Hamartiological concerns in reference to the LGBTQ+ lifestyle.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at Pastor Barnhart’s 10 assertions, and see what to make of them from a scriptural standpoint.

1. Tying up heavy burdens for others.

This is from Matthew 23:4, part of Jesus’ chapter-long polemical rant against the religious leaders: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” The language of burden and yoke was a common metaphor for how religious leaders interpreted scripture. A “heavy burden” was a burdensome interpretation. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus contrasted himself with legalistic religious leaders. For their part, they accused Jesus of misreading the Bible or of “abolishing the law” (Matthew 5:17)—exactly the same arguments made against LGBTQ persons and their allies.

Anti-gay Christianity claims that “acting on” gay or lesbian attraction is a sin, and that they should abstain from sexual pleasure or intimacy with another human being for their entire lives. This is a “heavy burden” that most straight Christians do not shoulder themselves, but one which anti-gay Christians lay upon the shoulders of others. While celibacy may be a lifestyle choice, requiring it of others is certainly putting a burden on their shoulders.

Though they have accepted the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity may be something we’re born with, some of my colleagues describe LGBTQ identity as a genetic disorder, a product of our fallen world, like alcoholism or genetic obesity. The difference between being LGBTQ and being an alcoholic is empirical: “treatment” for addiction or obesity leads to lower mortality, depression, suicide, and other risk factors. But “treatment” to “cure” being LGBTQ leads to more depressions, suicide, and other risk factors. This burden isn’t heavy—it is crushing, even fatal.

(See also Acts 15:10: “Now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?”)

So Pastor Barnhart’s first scriptural theme that he feels is avoided by “Anti-Gay” Christians (while I’m not REALLY wanting to be dragged into minutiae, I don’t think people who are not in favor of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle being recognized as compatible with scripture are against LGBTQ+ people anymore than someone saying that “Turkey sandwiches are gross” are against people who eat turkey sandwiches. …additional aside, I LOVE turkey sandwiches.) is the putting of heavy burdens upon others without being willing to lift them themselves. And while on the surface, this is a cogent argument, let’s dive further here.

Let’s begin by looking at the passage outside of simply pulling a single verse out of the scripture and then writing a response to that.  Doing so is a recipe for eisegesis, which is a no no in regards to discerning scripture.  So let’s look at the passage:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:1-12 ESV

So, let’s set the scene.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and specifically He is speaking in regards to the teaching and work of the Pharisees.  He tells His disciples from the very beginning “the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat”, which is a nice way of saying they are rightfully understanding the commandments, but not applying them. In place of God’s original commands to obedience for Israel, they had supplied an amended set of commandments that was, for all intents and purposes, NUTS.  For example… question for you… is a cheeseburger kosher?  I would say yes, most Orthodox rabbis would say no.  The reason stems from this:

The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. Exodus 23:19 ESV

Looks pretty simple, right?  Don’t cook a goat in its mother’s milk.  So, if you have a goat, don’t kill it, milk the mother, and then cook it in said milk.  Pretty standard fare.  The reason was never really discussed in the Talmud, but later commentaries by Maimonides and others pointed to an origin in idolatry and Canaanite fertility rituals.  Regardless, though, pretty simple stuff?

BUT… Not so.

Because people became so concerned with not breaking that law, the law expanded.  Now maybe it’s not JUST cooking the meat in the milk, but what if it’s preparing meat and milk together?  We should probably get rid of that too.  What if it’s like maybe you shouldn’t eat meat and milk together?  Nix it.  Before you know it, good old friend cheeseburger is now food non grata.  But to make matters worse, after everyone had argued these laws to death and had expanded them to just RIDICULOUS proportions (check out the Talmud if you’re having problems sleeping, it’s full of this kind of commentary).

So this was just the very TIP of the iceberg.  Tithing went so far out as to also include tithes based on one’s herbs, such as mint, cumin, dill, etc.  The command to not work on the Sabbath was FAMOUSLY blown to pieces.  For example, it was not lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees, but it was ok to go out and save your donkey if it fell into a well.  And of course, one can see the difficulties here.  It’s fine and necessary to protect your own personal wealth, but not fine and ok to save and heal a fellow human being.  The issue here is that the commands are being distorted beyond belief.

The problem I have with Pastor Barnhart’s view is that it is simply not applicable.  This is not a matter of someone adding a new commandment that is more than the original.  This is nothing more than an application of scripture to a lifestyle question.  It would be different if God had said “so yeah, as long as two adults are consenting, go knock yourselves out and have a ball!” and then the “Christian Right” (or whatever you want to call traditional students of scripture) comes out and says “but NO!  God says only heterosexual unions are ok.”  So you can kind of see the difficulties here in applying Matthew 23:4 to the homosexual debate.  The two aren’t even in the same ballpark.  So next post we’ll look at Pastor Barnhart’s second issue with the Traditionalist perspective.

I like memes and all, but…

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I like memes.  Seriously, they are kind of fun.  I like seeing people being witty and often wish that I myself were witty. But alas, I’m not witty.  So, I like memes.

The meme beside me here was one my son showed me on Facebook.  It was posted by one of his pastors.  I don’t personally know the pastor, and if he came up to me on the street I’d have NO idea who he was.  I tried to limit my comments to the Facebook post, but not being a social connection of his, I wasn’t able to.  Then I thought hey, I haven’t blogged in a while.  Let’s use this there!  And so… here we are 😀

get why this supposed to be entertaining.  Or funny.  Or maybe illicit deep conversation amongst fellow believers.  I get that this is a way to make people think about their convictions, and so I thought to myself, sure, I’ll play along.

If I asked you “Hey reader of my blog whom I have never met, what does the color blue taste like?”, chances are, the reaction would not be a pleasant one.  You might think I’m crazy.  You might wonder if I had too much medication.  But, you aren’t going to think “Oh wow, you are ONE BRILLIANT THINKER GUY!”  And see, my problem with this is that I’m having the same reaction to this meme.

You see, I get that to the creator of this over-used Maury Povich meme, this is supposed to make people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ think about the “odd juxtaposition of their protectiveness of the unborn with their desire to see the wicked be destroyed.”  In the pastor’s comments, he said something to the affect of “Well, Jesus didn’t resist arrest or fight back when He was being arrested and killed, so why should we?  Now, don’t you feel bad about supporting war and capital punishment?”

No.  I don’t.  In. The. Least.

Here’s why.

You are morally and ethically asking what the color blue tastes like.  This entire meme, and the line of thought betrayed by it, equates our government with our own personage.  I SHOULD find the death of the unborn morally repugnant.  It SHOULD bother me that we can discuss idolatry as though it is a foreign concept to today’s society and is a relic of the days of “Molech and Chemosh” when the reality is, we sacrifice children every day to the god of self.  Over 80% of abortions are because of reasons other than “necessity.”  According to the CDC, over 25% of abortions are purely out of “this is a hindrance to my career.”  So no, we don’t NEED Molech or Chemosh to sacrifice our children to.  We have our own ambitions.  Pathetic.  50 million children have been sacrificed to OUR idols over 40 years time.  I can ASSURE you, those numbers dwarf any number you can imagine in biblical times.
On the flipside of this, I SHOULDN’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And indeed, I DON’T revel in the death of the guilty.  And I don’t think any Christian who loves and follows Christ WOULD.  But there is a dividing line between what we feel is our own personal obligation and the obligations of our governments.  What I find odd is that the pastor seems to forget Genesis 9:6:

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
    by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”

Now, before we get carried away into “But that’s the Old Testament and doesn’t apply to us as believers (this is a nice way to make vomit well up in my throat, by the way), let’s realize that God’s decrees also, in a  way, lay His feelings and thoughts bare for us all.  God is clearly, in this instance, declaring that it is an imperative to shed the blood of those who shed the blood of others.  So if this is a COMMANDMENT, which it is (it’s revisited with the Israelites in Exodus, so it’s obviously a command), then at the very least, it reveals a God whose heart is for justice.  Certainly not for wanton bloodshed, but for justice.  And so while He is not commanding Noah or his family to enjoy the capital punishment of the murderer, He is most definitely commanding it from a governance standpoint.

And so just in case we like to still try to escape from the burden of governance, we still have this to contend with:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

That’s from Paul.  It’s Romans 13, for those of you playing at home.  Just in CASE you missed Genesis 9 and the responsibilities of government to protect the sanctity of life, here is a little passage from Paul to remind us that the government’s responsibility is, in fact, to protect the innocent and to be an extension of God’s wrath.  In seeing both this and the Genesis passage, it should be pretty simple to understand that force is, in fact, the prescriptive response to the endangerment of innocent life.  So it’s sad, in fact, that a pastor would try to equate the protection of the innocent with the just application of God’s wrath on the guilty.

One of the arguments that the pastor used for his position was that Jesus did not fight back when He was being arrested.  That sounds great, but there are two problems with that response.  First and foremost, Jesus was MEANT to go to the cross to die, it was His MISSION, and He did so… WILLINGLY.  I’m not sure that Pastor Oblivious thought this through, considering that Jesus, being an omniscient, omnipotent being, would necessarily HAVE to allow Himself to be killed.  It’s like playing your five year old in a game of horse.  You can lose, sure, but you have to put the effort into losing.  So, quite simply put, if Jesus WERE to accomplish His unique MISSION on earth, it was, in fact, necessary for Him to not resist, and that was the point He was trying to get Peter to understand.  Secondly, there is a big difference in defending YOURSELF versus defending someone who is NOT you.  One is self preservation, one is not.  In the case of abortion, Christians disagree with it because it is the taking of an innocent life.  In the case of capital punishment, it is protection of OTHER innocent lives combined with an expression of the value of the life already lost.  In the event of a Just War, it is for the protection of those innocent lives who are being oppressed by a far superior force.  But in NONE of these situations are the combatants protecting themselves.  So Pastor, maybe rethink that meme.

Now, my son responded to this pastor’s meme, and his response could be paraphrased as this “I wanted to take a serious situation and kind of make it a joke so that people could laugh at themselves and think their way through their positions.”  You know, I’m all for people thinking.  I have a good feeling that if this pastor had done the same, then perhaps this meme would not exist.  But alas, that was not to be.

Here’s my take on that.  You are a pastor.  You are held to a higher standard than John Q. Public in regards to the body.  The image of a pastor consistently presented in scripture is one who is willing to protect his sheep.  Using your meme wizardry skills to thoughtless provoke your flock into a poorly thought through moral conundrum doesn’t count for that.  Also, a pastor is held to a higher standard because they are a teacher:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

I didn’t come up with that.  James, the brother of our Lord, did.  It’s in his letter in the Bible, in the third chapter.  Look, you can be offended all you want as a pastor by the expectation that you should be held to a higher standard.  My advice is that if you don’t like, or feel that it should be some other way, find another line of work.  By being irresponsible with your flock, demonstrating a lack of biblical thinking and insight, and then passing it off as “fun,” you are demonstrating to me that, while you may WANT to be a pastor, you might be in the wrong line of work.  Maybe it’s a maturity issue, I don’t know, but that is certainly inappropriate for a pastor.  It’s your job as a pastor to lead with dignity, and to teach the word of God in a way consistent with biblical application, not entertain the masses with your ability to copy an already overplayed Maury Povich meme.

The Caricatured Christian

Ned-Flanders-003Hi there.  That’s Ned Flanders sitting beside this paragraph.  He’s Homer Simpson’s neighbor, and he hides a dark secret, though not necessarily very well. His secret?

He’s an absolute caricature of the Christian faith.

He’s what Hollywood and the mass media (and quite possibly some of your non-Christian friends) like to think of Christians as when they are being their most charitable.  This is the non-threatening version of Christianity.  It says funny things like “Okilly-dokilly!” or “Hey-Diddly-Ho!”  This version of Christianity suppresses anger, is timid, easy to push around, enjoyed for its charity, vilified for its strict morality, and ultimately used for comic relief.  It clings to the minutiae of Christianity, is ultimately toothless in nature, and can best be admired for it’s love of sweaters and cats.  Think “little old lady” Christianity.

This is the best you can be thought of as a Christian by a large majority of non-believers or adherents to other faith, and sometimes even within your own faith community by those who have been enlightened as to the reality hiding behind life, that Christianity can not be the religion of the lion-hearted, but it’s a crutch for the timid and well-meaning that can at best be seen as innocuous, at worst as simple minded, feeble, and dangerous in spite of its best intentions.

Fred_Phelps_10-29-2002And this guy?  This is Fred Phelps.  you may know him as the late hate-mongering, sign carrying, funeral protesting pastor of the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church, who for whatever reason, felt it better to spew hate even within their domain name.  I won’t print it here because it’s fairly detestable, but google it for yourself and make your own decisions.

See, if Ned-diddlely Flanderino up there is the best Hollywood/media/pop culture view Christianity as, this is the worst we’re viewed as.  We’re viewed as sharing in Phelp’s anti-gay, anti-islam, anti-darn-near-everything-ever inflammatory hatred.  When he did something stupid, or said something stupid, we’re viewed by everyone around as as at least equally culpable in the stupid.  So much the case that, people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins go so far to say that religions are dangerous and should be banned.  People say things like that partly because of the bad ole’ folks like Fred Phelps here who strangle out truth beneath an oppressive brand of hatred that causes everyone to see them, and you, and me, as Right Wing NutJobs.

 

Sam_Harris_01Speaking of Sam Harris, that’s this guy here.  See the smirk?  It’s permanently attached.  It comes because he is, in his own disturbing little opinion, far more intelligent than religious people.  He’s kind of your average militant atheist.  They like to do things like argue minutiae, the same kind of stuff that the Ned Flanders style Christians described above freak out over because they don’t have any answers to questions like the ones posted in this debate here: Sam Harris Vs. Bill Craig.  Watch it for the fun of watching Bill Craig semantically draw and quarter Sam Harris, but linger over it for the full effect of Christianity at it’s least Ned Flanders/Fred Phelps caricaturistic goofiness.  It’s pretty awesome to watch.

Why bring up Sam the Sneer?  Well, he’s one of the guys spearheading the new view of Christianity.  He’s one of the guys that takes guys like the late Pastor (using the term VERY loosely) Phelps and redraws each and every Christian in some shade of cruelty and heartlessness, and then makes the Ned Flanders Christians cower in horror because they can’t answer his questions.  And if you look very closely at his questions, they really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for a believer to answer.  But we don’t, for the most part, and ya know why?  Cause… you know… Christians.

For every Sam Harris, there are 1000 Sam Jrs who like to say things without any knowledge or wisdom whatsoever, who like to paint pictures of Christians that are dangerous, foolish, uninformed, and ultimately far too insipid or stupid or BOTH to occupy any useful space in the dialog. And for every 1000 Sam Jrs, there happen to be probably 10,000 Christians who are either too timid, too asleep, or too preoccupied with not providing an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love to actually be able to… well… provide an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love.

isis-army-700x430This is ISIS.  They’re just crazy.  But a lot of people like Sam Harris use their craziness as an analogy for Christians.  It doesn’t work really well because we’re not pyscho.

 

 

 

jesuskingofkings

See this guy?  Yeah, it’s an artist’s rendering, but this is Jesus.  He’s the King of Kings.  Ultimately, no matter what any of these other people think, see, or do, He’s the guy that’s in charge.  You can disagree all you want.  You can do whatever you want.  But, at some point, you’re going to be accountable to Him whether you find that pleasing or not.  So, really, if you’re a Christian, the Hollywood stereotypes aren’t really what applies to you.  Because you follow this guy.  And part of following this guy is being able to and willing to stand for truth, although the cost can be your life:

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Did you catch that?  It’s not our job to be timid.  We’re supposed to be unashamed of the gospel.  We’re supposed to be willing to give our lives and our hearts.  Being a Christ follower doesn’t make you a pushover.  It makes you an obedient servant to the King of this universe.  The hard part for us to grasp is that that lies somewhere in between.  We can’t be pushovers and Ned Flanders, but we can’t spew hate and BE hateful to those who disagree with us like Fred Phelps. Because our fight is not with the Sam Harris’s and the Kathy Griffins and Bill Mahers of the world, but our fight is with powers and principalities outside of our realm.  Our job in that fight is to prepare ourselves to share truth, share our hearts and our compassion, and prepare for the imminent return of Jesus Christ!

So hey!  Don’t be THAT guy.  Don’t be Ned Flanders.  You can be offensive to others just by doing your job as a Christian because hey, the Gospel is offensive!  You can go find the answers to those hard questions, and you can be quick to share them without fear!  It’s more than just a right, it’s your duty!

And also.  Don’t be that OTHER guy.  You were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not your own merit.  Jesus didn’t save you because you’re a special little snowflake.  He saved you because of His own love and grace.  So don’t assume that your salvation comes with the ability to spew hate.  It doesn’t.  It comes with the ability to marvel at your Maker, love others, be forthright in truth, and let your own life be a guidepost for others, that they might see the redemptive work being done in you.

Eliminating the heart strings from the same-sex marriage debate

marriage_spaceshipThe Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Same Sex Marriage must be legalized in all 50 states across America, thus bringing to a close the country’s debate on the legality of Same Sex Marriage in America.

While many celebrated the ruling, others were less celebratory.  Several Christian leaders came forth to declare that they will engage in civil disobedience if necessary.  Mike Huckabee went so far as to say that he doesn’t see Christian leaders having much of a choice if they are going to be obedient to God.

While it would be easy to turn this into a religious forum, or tug at heart strings, which is typically what happens (if anyone would like to see this in action one need only read this statement from Justice Kennedy:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Awwww.  Pass the kleenex here, I’ve sprung a leak.

Ok, so I’m being sarcastic.  But there is a reason for my sarcasm.  It is essentially rooted in the nature of public policy and the welfare of the public versus the desires of the few.  And while this may sound particularly callous, it’s not coming from a place of callousness, but rather a deep concern for the future of our country.

Let me start with a few things about my own personal opinion.  I do not agree that homosexuality is congruent with a biblical worldview.  And while I say that openly and candidly, I also say that knowing that so are many other behaviors that people engage in frequently, such as adultery, bribery, theft, murder, slander, gossip, etc. and etc.  Since I don’t hold a special measure of condemnation for those people who engage in those behaviors, neither do I hold a special measure of condemnation for people who engage in homosexuality.  Instead I love them just like I would anyone else.  So this isn’t coming from a position of condemnation (If anyone is curious, I DO hold a special measure of condemnation in my heart for University of South Carolina fans, and it’s very real.  I don’t believe they actually have souls.  Kidding.  Mostly.)

That being said, I don’t believe there should even be a measure of religious view necessary in evaluating the Same Sex Marriage debate, because ultimately, we live in an environment that fosters the separation of church and state.  So while I have my own views as to why homosexuality is wrong, for the intents and purposes of the Same Sex Marriage debate, I don’t even want to lay them out as argument.  However, I do believe that the equality of Same Sex Marriage is a dangerous step towards destabilizing our country, and while I do believe those engaging in homosexuality should have access to certain marital benefits, I believe that extending all of the same rights to homosexual couples is simply a bad choice.  Here’s why.

Public policy is not meant to be rooted in our emotions.  It’s meant to be what’s rooted in the best for society.  For example, we have policies against drug use and the sale of drugs precisely because it’s not rooted in what’s best for society.  We have policies against drunk driving because it’s dangerous to society.  That being said, when we make decisions, especially unilaterally comprised decisions that eliminate the people’s right to autonomously decide, we trust our Supreme Court to make those decisions with what’s best in mind for society.  If it can reasonably be proven that Same Sex Marriage is best for society, then so be it.  I’m fine with it.  And while we have been given studies previously that would seem to support this concept, it’s been sufficiently called into question such that in my opinion, it is academically dishonest to claim that there are no substantive differences between homosexual and heterosexual couples for the purposes of child-rearing.  In fact, quite the opposite has been shown, that there are very substantive differences between the two.  It would be ridiculous to re-state what has already been stated, but here is the study for anyone interested that casts doubt on these aspersions of  “no differences” .

Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that, in declaring Same Sex Marriage as valid as Heterosexual Marriage, we have necessarily said that they can be equally successful in all facets of married life, including child-rearing.  As such, there is now no legitimate reason to exclude gay couples from the adoption process even though studies have shown a large and verifiable body of work that says that Same Sex couple situations do, in fact produce drastically inferior outcomes in parenting.  The very fact that children in lesbian couples were 11 TIMES more likely to experience sexual abuse should have given pause to our otherwise inexorable march towards same sex legalization.  The fact that both gay and lesbian couples produced children who were more likely to be involved in crime should have been enough to give us pause.  If those weren’t enough, surely the finding that the children of lesbian couples were 4 times more likely to have been forced to be involved in sex against their will should be a giant red light.  I’m ultimately not going to quote every statistic from the study because it’s pretty sobering and rather bludgeoning in its findings, but continuously, children of gay and lesbian children showed that they fared worse in society and in terms of being productive parts of society than children of their biological parents.

I do understand the same feelings that Justice Kennedy referred to in his speech.  But while those words tug suffocatingly at the heart strings, they do precious little to insure that the best outcome of society was on the minds of the five justices who desired to approve of Same Sex Marriage.  Rather, they reflect a disturbing trend in society where public policy is fueled by a public opinion that is far too concerned with our own narcissistic desires for life to be “our” way rather than how we integrate into society.  In this maelstrom of public policy fueled by “feelings,” we are slowly watching as the desires of the few now significantly outweigh the well-being of the many.  And while I do agree that homosexuals have every right to legitimize their relationship in a way that offers some relational benefits (the ability to share insurance, the ability to have access to health information, etc and etc) legalizing and normalizing Same Sex Marriage was a step in the wrong direction that now allows for the very real possibility that we are going to create a generation of adults who will never experience life in the fullest as it comes with being raised by a mother and a father.

Racism, Gun Control, and Depravity

Once again, I’ve had my usual sabbatical from writing.  Kids… work… kids… it all adds up, especially with a non-sleeping two year old in the mix.

That being said, I wouldn’t write now were it not for the disturbing events in Charleston.  It’s inconceivable in this day and age, that there are still fools like Dylann Roof floating around.  To try to wrap my head around his ignorance and foolishness, it just befuddles me.  Perhaps that speaks to a great part of the problem in dealing with racism, is that those of us who don’t swim in the murk and muck of the insipidly preposterous and stupid world of racism fail to notice that there is a problem until it careens onto our doorstep via the morning newspaper when someone commits some heinous, stupidity-fueled act.  Until then, we’re all blissfully unaware that there is a problem.

Well there is a problem.  There is a big problem, and we could call it racism.  But that wouldn’t really convey the real issue here, and until we stop pointing that finger, we are going to continue to run into the same issues and prove John Stewart right.  Because we like to treat symptoms in America.  We like playing doctor.  I would be absolutely unsurprised to one day find out we have a cure for cancer that is stunningly simple that no one knows about because there is no money in the cure.  And just like cancer has symptoms, the bigger problem here has symptoms.  Racism is one of them.

We could call the problem “gun control” or lack thereof.  We all know the statistics… the US has 30,000 gun related deaths yearly.  The US placed 103rd out of 195 countries in terms of gun deaths per capita, so at least we’re middle of the pack.  But we rank well below other countries like Canada or Italy.  And we could point the finger at guns all day long, and many people would argue that the finger was accurate and well-deserved, that guns, indeed, are the problem.  Of course, when you look at the UK, which has very strict anti-gun laws, doctors are trying to ban long-pointed kitchen knives because long-pointed kitchen knives have now become the weapon of choice among criminals.  And when that ban is enacted, perhaps Duran Duran CDs will be used to kill people, which will result in a ban on Duran Duran CDs (I’m just wishing, hoping, and praying here, folks). But you get my drift, hopefully.  Because yeah, we can point the finger at guns all day long, but we miss the point.  And enacting stronger gun legislation will eventually show itself to be a pyrrhic victory at best when the blood of so many has been spilled, only to enact a solution that saves so few.

So what’s really the problem?  You know, what’s the real issue here?  When Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Lindsey Graham, or any other talking sound bite machine from Washington or civic leaders such as Jessie Jackson, or Al Sharpton, or Mike Huckabee or insert name of commentator here, speak on the issue, what should they really say if they really want to get to the heart of the problem and enact real change and healing?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

There.  God said it best.  We can look at this as a gun control debate, or we can look at it as proof of how racism is still alive and well, and even though both may be correct, until you deal with that one issue, nothing else is really going to affect change.  The human heart is deceitful and sick.  The KJV denounces the human heart as “desperately wicked.”  And you know what?  If anyone is going to be an expert on human behavior and solutions to human behavior, it’s probably going to be God.  So you see, fill the newspapers with pro gun and anti gun rhetoric.  Fill the airwaves with discussions on how to eliminate racism.  Until you deal with that one issue, the one of the human heart, neither of these problems will go away.

Why is that one so hard?  It’s really simple when you get down to it.  We’re depraved!!!!  The second recorded sin was murder.  The first was pride.  Seriously, did we not learn from that?  And yet, here we are, millennia later, and STILL we haven’t learned.  If I had to guess the reason why, it’s because that one truth hurts the most.  Because then, this isn’t something that some fool like Dylann Roof does, while the rest of us, both black and white, are simply better than that.  Then we have to realize that the roots of evil that took hold in Dylann Roof are not so different from the evil and depravity we find in ourselves.  The fight against racism, the fight against senseless murder, is less about the Dylann Roofs of the world, then it is the fight in our own daily life against the chains that continue to bind all of us to our depravity.  Then we would all have to swallow the bitter pill that is the fact that we all are capable of great evil.  Then, in that fearful moment when we have to realize that the dividing line between us and a deranged neo-nazi wannabe is dental floss thin, we finally realize that the answer to all of this senseless violence, murder, and foolishness can be found at the foot of the cross.

The families and loved ones of the victims in Charleston realized this.  Notice that the one city that probably should have erupted into racial violence and hatred instead fanned the fires of the Holy Spirit in their city.  This didn’t happen anywhere else in the face of such tragedy.  The reason it happened here is that the members of Emmanuel, the citizens of Charleston, the families and loved ones of the fallen realized that the answer to this problem is not found in legislation, but in prayer and supplication.  I have never been more amazed and more proud of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ than I am right now in the believers in Charleston, the believers in Emmanuel church.  So fitting it is that the very name of that church means “God with us,” for He most certainly has been, teaching us all that far separated from the rhetoric and dead end solutions is the solution of His gift of salvation and His love for His children.  Maybe if we all paid a little more attention, the problems of racism and gun control would be seen for what they are… a symptom of a terribly depraved heart.

On Sam Harris’ “New Atheist” Diatribe in a Can Part 2… The Exclusivity of Christianity

So in moving forward, we see from last time that first difficulty with Harris’ rejection of Christianity based on suffering is a fundamental misunderstanding of suffering being necessarily a function of evil.  So, moving forward, let’s speak to Sam’s rejection of the exclusivity of Christianity.

The argument is a common one.  The point of the argument essentially boils down to this:  It is absurd for Christians (or any other religion for that matter) to assume or interject that they, and they alone, are correct.  It’s the height of arrogance, in fact, to make such a claim based off of the scant evidence for any religion.  The attitudes of many can be summed up like this…

I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another.  I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism.  It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred.

~ Rabbi Schmuley Boteach

toleranceReligious racism.  That’s an emotionally charged accusation that is somewhat akin to throwing red meat to a pit bull.  How should one address the exclusivity of Christianity?  Is it foolish?  Evil even?  Rabbi Boteach, Sam Harris, and many others would agree.  The folks driving around with “coexist” and “tolerance” bumper stickers would absolutely agree.  President Obama would agree.  So, what is the right answer here? And how would you deliver the right answer in such a way as to not incur the wrath of the “Tolerant Coexisters?”

The problem is a fundamental misunderstanding between the cornerstones of truth, opinion, and evidence.  What am I saying here exactly?  Well, let’s start at the nature of truth.

Think back to when you were in school.  Imagine you have just been given a chemistry exam (I hated chemistry, so it seemed the perfect choice), and imagine, given a multiple choice question with the correct answer of ‘D’, you choose ‘A.’  Do you, at any point, feel that you should have been given credit for giving the correct answer?  Of course not!  That would be foolish.  Did you accuse your teacher of being “bigoted towards those students who chose the letter ‘A’?  NO?  Why is that?  Because in this particular instance, you have a distinct grasp of one of the fundamental tenets of truth, which is this:

Truth is necessarily exclusive.

The nature of truth and its exclusivity precisely mean that answer D is not equal to answer A.  In no possible world will answer A equal answer D.  So, it is unreasonable and irrational then to assume that if I answer ‘A’, I should get the same credit as thought I had answered ‘D’.  The two are in fact exclusive of one another.  Consider these two statements:

“I am sick.”

“I am healthy.”

It would be a logical fallacy to equate these two sentences.  I could not declare both at the same time and not be contradictory.  There is of course the possibility of that if we were to assume that the two were not speaking in the same context, such as if I was saying I am mentally “sick” and physically “well,” but if the two are located in the same domain, they can’t both be true.  That is to say, I can’t say “I am not currently suffering from a disease brought on by microbes”, and then in the next sentence say “I am currently suffering from a disease brought on by microbes.”  The two are contradictory and can’t possibly both be true.

So where am I going with that?  Well, first, I hope we are okay with saying that truth is exclusive.  Otherwise, everyone should get 100 on their multiple choice tests since every answer is just as good as another (Oh if ONLY that were the case).  The reality is that in the realm of truth, there is a right answer and a bunch of wrong ones.  What does this have to do with religion?  One’s faith is in essence a truth statement.  Of course you believe what you believe to be true IS true.  Otherwise, why believe it?  So, if we are discussing religion as a truth statement (I don’t really believe it can be looked at in any other way), then it is not only acceptable to evaluate one’s truth claims as exclusive, it is reasonable and rational and IRRATIONAL to do otherwise.  So, making a truth claim on what you believe to be true is not religious racism, or foolish, but the proper thing to do.

Where the debate turns askew is of course on the value of these truth statements, or “why does Christianity claim to be true?”  This of course is an argument in the context of evidence for Christianity being equal to the evidence of all other religions.  So, the crux of the question is not “is it reasonable to be exclusivistic in regards to religion,” but rather, “does Christianity have a right to claim exclusivity based on its evidence.”  I will therefore spend the rest of this post arguing why Christianity is a superior revelation of truth compared to all other religions.

First, let’s consider the reliability of the Bible in regards to history.  In doing so, I think it is important to deal with the Bible in light of its attempt to root itself within the confines of human history.  Put another way, “is the Bible long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away or is it meant to fit itself within archaeological verifiable confines?”  Secondly, I think it best to examine the Bible in light of the reliability of its manuscripts, which is to say, “Does it say exactly what it’s supposed to say, or has it been hopelessly botched by years upon years of scribal error.”

One contention leveled against the Bible is that it is, for all intents and purposes, mythology.  A telling admission comes from Iron & Wine singer Sam Beam when, in an interview, he says in reference to Christianity…

That was my mythology as a kid. Those were the stories that we learned how to live life (from). I didn’t have Zeus and Athena. We had Jesus and Job.1 

But is that really all that Christianity is?  Is it just a cleverly crafted set of mythology that we have transitioned from Mount Olympus to Jerusalem?  I would wholeheartedly disagree.  First and foremost, mythology has consistently been, throughout history, a metaphysical attempt to explain heretofore inexplicable physical events.  For example, “Why does it rain?”  “Baal, the storm god, brings rain.”  Or “Jupiter, the god of thunder and weather, has brought us rain.”  In either instance, the desire is to explain natural phenomena.  The aim of Judeo-Christianity is not, in fact, to explain inexplicable natural phenomena.  Rather, it’s purpose is to explain and reveal God’s relationship to man and vice versa.  For example, concepts in Judaism and Christianity exist that are absolutely foreign to mythology.  Concepts like salvation and damnation have no real counterpart in mythology, because again, the primary aims of the two are entirely different.  Yes, mythology does have a certain “afterlife concept,” such as the Elysian Fields and Hades.  However, the similarities stop there, because the afterlife in mythology (and any other religion outside of Christianity that I can think of) is only attainable by one’s merit.  Christianity and Christianity alone invite the practitioner to participate in a meaningful personal relationship with a God who has created them and brings them to leave in everlasting peace based not in personal merit but in a right relationship with that God (incidentally, I think this is a major stumbling block to a lot of atheists, because the concept of a rewarding afterlife that you don’t EARN is anathema.  God’s grace is that we don’t get what we earn.)  So, hopefully we can agree that mythology and Christianity are separated from one another by CONTENT and INTENT.

Now, to fully answer the question of the Bible’s pragmatic relevance in regards to being verifiable and testable within real world conditions, the Bible consistently tries (and succeeds) to root itself within human history.  We have real, existing humans (Pontius Pilate, Tiberius, Darius, Cyrus, Xerxes, David, Jehu, and the list goes on) who have appeared in human history both within the timeframe and within the context that they were represented biblically.  That is to say, Tiberius was accurately portrayed as the Roman emperor at the time in which he was acting as emperor.  Additionally, places and events were described accurately.  For example, the Pool of Siloam, mentioned in the Gospel of John, has been found and matched the biblical description.  The city of Jericho has been found and studied.  The Hittites, who were previously thought to not exist, have been verified and studied.  The historical veracity of the Bible has been so persuasive an argument that many an atheist has set out to prove the Bible hopelessly inaccurate only to leave the endeavor as a believer in Jesus Christ.  So, unlike other world religions such as Hinduism, the Bible tries to firmly root itself in history and offers itself as a historical document to get the reader to test its words for truth.

The second point is the relative health of the text.  There are, again, two factors I consider in the “health” of scripture.  One, has it been accurately passed down to us?  Bart Ehrman, a textual critic of the Bible, says that it has NOT been accurately passed down to us.  Ehrman likes to claim that there are more errors in the New Testament than there are WORDS in the New Testament, and he is right.  What he doesn’t admit, however, is that none of the errors affect a single major doctrine of Christianity, and they only slightly affect some minor doctrines.  Ultimately, all of the errors end up being scribal in nature and are totally inconsequential in nature to the essential doctrine and faith of Christianity.  In the same way, the Dead Sea Scrolls find allows us to be much more confident in the reliability of the Old Testament since it contains copies of nearly every book of the OT (except for Esther) and the differences are minimal between them and already existing manuscripts.

Another portion of the argument for the veracity of the text is the number of manuscripts and the length of time passed between when the events occurred and when they were written down.  We have over 5600 manuscripts of the New Testament.  In fact, if all of our existing NT manuscripts were stacked upon each other, the stack would be over a mile in height!  That equates to a very strong witness.  In addition, the earliest writings of the New Testament can be reliably dated due to existing manuscripts to about 90 AD.  It is even within the realm of possibility that the entire NT was completed before AD 70 (seeing as how no one mentioned the destruction of the temple, which surely would have necessitated some kind of mention seeing as how the temple was the very symbol of Jewish sacrifice, which served as the typology for a thorough understanding of Jesus and His sacrifice.).  As such, the entirety of the NT witness could have been compiled within 40 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This would be the equivalent of a push notification in the ancient world!  When we consider that the earliest existing copies of writers such as Plato and Homer date from up to 1000 years after the author would have written them, why do we assume that what we have from them is what they meant for us to have?  In addition, this kind of manuscript evidence simply isn’t available in other religions, and especially in cultic offshoots such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who have both continuously revised their holy books.

So, sure, if the witness for Christianity were no better than for Hinduism, or Sikhism, or Islam, then absolutely it would be absurd religiously for anyone to declare Christianity superior revelation of truth over the others.  However, that simply isn’t the case.  Christianity has every right to declare that it has an exclusive grasp on truth based on the reliability of its manuscripts combined with its compatibility with archaeological study.  No holy book can even come close in terms of exposing itself for open dissection and study.

 

1.  The Mythology of Iron & Wine, http://iamdeclan.blogspot.com/2010/05/mythology-of-iron-wine.html

On Sam Harris’ “New Atheist” Diatribe in a Can

So a friend of my wife’s on Facebook posted this to his wall and invited Christians and non Christians alike to discuss and ruminate on Sam Harris’ soundbite from his debate with William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame.  The fundamental argument of said debate was the question “Is Good from God?,” meaning of course, is God the foundation of our objective moral framework or is there some other entity that could possibly be the bedrock of our moral underpinnings.  I find it interesting that Dr. Harris did not feel the need to include anything else from the debate, such as his inability to answer Dr. Craig’s questions in regard to the false synchronicity Harris tries to create between the “moral landscape” and the “continuum of well-being,” or any of Harris’ other failings to address the arguments that Dr. Craig posed, while feeling that it would be best to add this particular diatribe to his soundcloud page.  I say that because this argument is ripped directly from the typical “New Atheist” playbook circulated between such “luminaries” as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and others.  So while I applaud Dr. Craig for not following the “red herrings” being laid out by Dr. Harris, I am intellectually “slumming it” today and decided I would take a shot at Dr. Harris’ angry “Atheist rant.”

First and foremost, let me be real about the first premise.  We, as Christians, don’t really spend enough time ruminating over this first objection to Christianity and the God of the Bible.

If there is a God who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving, why does He allow suffering to happen?

It’s a valid question.  I think about it at almost every funeral I go to.  I think about it when stories like the tsunami of 2004 appear in front of me, or the devastation in Haiti from several years ago.  I think about it when dealing with the implications of child slavery in the chocolate trade, or the idea of clothing being made for consumption by americans being made by children in another country who are often totally devoid of the creature comforts I give my children.  Dr. Harris does a good job of pulling our focus to the question of suffering and addressing it with a huge question mark and furrowed brow.

I guess the first place to start in this is to dissect a few premises here.  Dr. Harris used the argument of these things that “ought not to be” as an argument against God.  The general premise here is that

“If there is a God, and this bad stuff happens, then He can’t really be real or good or all powerful because of seeing the bad stuff.”  

The problem with this argument of the denial of God via the presence of evil is multidimensional.  For one, the very ability to understand an “oughtness” or “should be” is to express that there is some standard by which we understand that which is good and that which is evil.  We become outraged at the problem, and rightfully so, because we understand these things to be “not right.”  But, in the absence of some objective standard, how would you know this?  I would posit that the reason why we even have these kind of debates in the first place is because our Western, First World mentality has given us the luxury of riding on the coattails of God’s goodness without actually thinking through the origins of our understanding of good and evil.  So, we are essentially spoiled children.  But, I digress.  Back to the original argument, as Dr. Craig put it, if a police officer tells you to stop your car, you are, by law, obligated to stop.  Why?  The police officer has a grounded position of authority that is upheld by the law.  So, there is an authority to what he says.  If I tell you to stop your car, there is no reason to.  In the same way, the absence of an objective moral standard that is put in place by a higher authority would leave no grounds for moral authority to begin with, much less questions regarding the dichotomy between good and evil.  What one man would consider good could possibly be considered then evil, the same way pointing with your first finger is considered inconsequential by Americans, yet offensive by Chinese (or so my wife says.  I’m not sure myself.)  Objective moralism, just as objective good and objective evil, would be impossible without some standard upon which to base it.  Outside of God (or insert higher being of choice here for the current premise of the argument), there is NO standard of good and evil.  So, I would begin with the fact that the very conversation Dr. Harris is having about what we consider “good” and “evil” is a very poignant argument for the existence of God and against his own premise.

Secondly, it is a fool’s errand to sum up the problem of human suffering with a simple pat answer that covers everything.  Dr. Harris’ argument is based around natural disasters specifically, so we can stick there if necessary.  There is a fundamental problem with Dr. Harris’ argument, and it’s this:

While we view volcanos, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters as just that, disasters, we also need to understand that we are, in essence, riding a giant spaceship that requires maintenance and upkeep that tends to happen.  So, to put this into perspective a little better, let’s think of it this way…

I have a car.  That car has lots of moving parts.  Some of them present the possibility of laceration injuries, such as the radiator fan.  Others present the possibility of thermal injury, such as a nice hot exhaust manifold.  Still others present the opportunity for puncture wounds and the like, and we haven’t even discussed the possibility of grave injury from a car accident.  Now, I could look at my car and complain that there are so many things that could hurt or injure me and demand it be re-designed, or say that there could not have been a designer of the car because it was so poorly designed with obviously no thought given to how dangerous parts of it were.  But changing any of those things would drastically affect its ability to do that which it was designed to do, namely, get me from point A to point B.  Take away the engine, and suddenly I have no possibility of laceration or thermal injuries, which is great, but then the car doesn’t run.  Add an electric motor, and now I don’t have to worry about those either, and the car still runs, but I’ve introduced the possibility of being injured by electric shock.  Ultimately I have to be resigned to the fact that, in order for my car to be operational, I have to be aware that there are some precautions and possibilities that may occur.  In order to avoid injury, I don’t do some obviously stupid things, like grab the exhaust manifold when it’s hot, or allow my children to ride in the engine bay.  I obey the rules in terms of traffic (mostly) and then, at the end of the day, I still have to be aware that there is the distinct possibility of getting killed or mangled by another driver.

In the same way that my car can be dangerous, yet must necessarily be so in order to adequately function, so too is the earth.  Natural phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanos are simply part of the mechanisms that have been put into place for earth to be a habitable planet.  Plate tectonics is necessary for altering and regulating our climate and in fact contributes to the biodiversity and habitability of this planet.  So, yes, we can bemoan the tragedy of people being killed by a tsunami or an earthquake or volcano, but to use it as an argument against God would be the same as me being angry at Chrysler for the exhaust manifold burning me on my van and then saying “this thing couldn’t have been designed because I was hurt by it and that’s just EVIL.”  Of course it would be ridiculous.  So it is with using natural phenomena that happen to be dangerous as an argument against God.  Of course there is a possibility of a tsunami hitting the beach.  Of course there is the possibility of Mt. Saint Helens erupting and spewing hot ash and lava all over Washington.  But all of these things are inherently necessary for the survival of the world at large.  Could you or I envision a world that works better?  We think so, but that’s doubtful.  Limited by laws of nature, being allowed only to work within the confines of a logical and rational universe dictated by the precepts of physics and chemistry, it’s doubtful we could ever, ever, ever, ever come up with anything better.  So, we are left again, being whiny, spoiled children insinuating that we could have done far better, while never really understanding every facet of the equation.  How do we eliminate all natural phenomena and still have a world capable of supporting life?  In short, I think that’s unreasonable.  Should we mitigate the possibilities of collateral damage and loss of human life?  Absolutely.  That’s why I don’t own land near Mt. Saint Helens.  Should we be aware that, in spite of our best efforts to avoid disaster, they do still occur?  Absolutely.  But to fault God for not wrapping His creation in bubble wrap for us is to then argue against the very rational and logical properties that make our earth distinctly capable of supporting life in the first place.

We’ll take a look at Dr. Harris’ next premise, the evil behind the exclusivity of the Gospel, next post.

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