Category Archives: Culture

Did Jesus really mean that we’re supposed to pray for our enemies? Really?!

fanatics
Patriotic crowds gathered outside the White House to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden.
Last night, the White House announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in an air strike in Pakistan about a week ago. Facebook, Twitter, and—I’m sure—the blogosphere immediately erupted with celebration. In fact, large crowds gathered in front of the White House and in several major cities to celebrate. Just from checking my Facebook News Feed, you would’ve thought it meant we had won the global war on terror and that now a new age of global peace and prosperity can finally begin because we killed the one man who was standing in the way!
I had—and still have—some very mixed feelings about this whole deal, especially after reading how people are responding to the announcement of Osama’s death. I’ll admit, my first response was actually shocked disbelief:  I thought Osama was long dead and that we were just on a wild goose chase. Then I started to get a little excited. That us, until I looked at Facebook and realized all those un-Christian responses were really just saying what I was feeling deep inside… For example, I’ve read statuses that say, “rot in hell,” “gotcha b*tch,” and “really glad hells population increased with osama bin ladin. Really wish we could have tortured him a little first. Oh well burn in hell.” Oh, I forgot to mention that these posts are all from people who claim to be Christians. On the last one, someone commented, “This is the best news Ive heard in so long, that I don’t remember any better.Maybe he was tortured. We can hope!!Hopefully the devil is a very happy tonight.”
So, in light of Osama’s death how do we interpret Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5:43-44 to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? In The Message of Matthew : The Kingdom of Heaven, Michael Green writes,

The Great Lover has poured his love upon us unworthy rebels. He has purified us, has adopted us into his kingdom, and wants us to be his ambassadors in the human kingdoms. How is it to be done, and how is our allegiance to be shown? Supremely, by love. Love is the mark which, above all else, should distinguish those who know themselves to have been found by a loving God (97).

Apparently, our interpretation is to simply ignore Jesus’ command, right? “Who cares. Let’s all just gloat over the fact that a man is dead and—we all presume—burning in hell.” But suddenly, I don’t see a difference between Evangelical Christians and the terrorists that we’re fighting against. Suddenly, the lines are beginning to blur. Consider the words of Ezekiel 18:23:  “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
What are your thoughts about this supposed victory? Is it ever okay for Christians to gloat over the death of someone? Does it matter how wicked we think they are? Should we ever be glad that someone is burning in hell? What’s a safe balance of patriotism and love? Or, in this case, is there a safe balance? Is this a case of either/or?
I am very obviously still sorting through all this, but I encourage you to leave your comments and let me know what you think is a good Christian response to this current event?

Bunnies: The true meaning of Easter?

Connie and I went to Target this evening and I noticed they had some Easter stuff out…

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“Bunnylicious”

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It’s good to see that we haven’t lost sight of what Easter is meant to symbolize!

Consider the source

Recently a friend sent me a link to a blog written by a famous comedian. It was about why he was an atheist. My friend is a Christian and was simply sharing this article because they found it interesting. I read the article in its entirety and, to be honest, it troubled me deeply. Not because I agreed with the author or because he had challenged my beliefs; I was troubled because of his tone of authority.
After making what I considered a flimsy argument about how science can’t prove the existence of a God, so we shouldn’t believe in one, the author proceeds to explain that the burden of proof lies with believers, then he shares his anti-testimony explaining how he lost faith in Jesus at a young age. He then concludes his post by explaining why we should all be good to one another regardless of what we believe. I agreed with his last point, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he thinks human life has intrinsic value (unless still subscribes to some of his Christian beliefs, of course).
I could refute all his main arguments here, but that’s not why I’m writing this. There are two main things that troubled me about his post.

1). He appeals to the lack of scientific evidence for the existence of God as a sufficient reason not to believe. I’ve always thought this argument was insufficient. Let me ask you this, is the existence of God a scientific question? By definition, at least by Christian definitions, God exists outside of time and space. Doesn’t science specialize in the measurement of time and space? So is the existence of God a scientific question? I would say no. Or, to phrase it slightly differently; science measures the natural world; but God is a supernatural being. Can science prove or disprove God? Not likely; in fact I’d say it’s likely impossible. This is why faith is a part of the deal; but that faith is born from a lack of thinking. In fact, Pastor Timothy Keller would argue that a lack of faith results from a lack of thinking!
The existence of God is a philosophical question. It’s like me walking up to a mathematician and demanding he prove to me the existence of the ancient Mayan civilization. The mathematician doesn’t specialize in archeology or history; why am I asking him? So why do we appeal to a discipline that specializes in measuring time and space to determine the existence of an Individual that exists outside of time and space? I believe we ask far too much of science and fail to see that, as far reaching as this discipline is, it does have limitations.
That being said, please don’t label me as one of those “dumb, close-minded fundamentalists” who thinks that science is evil and can’t be trusted. Science fascinates me and I love reading about it. I can’t wait to see what’s next! But I know better than to ask questions science cannot answer.
2). The thing that troubles me the most is that the article was actually written! To be fair, the author stated that he gets asked why he’s an atheist often and this was a place for him to publicly explain why he doesn’t believe in God and why he thinks science is a better option (as though the two are mutually exclusive). But just like we’re asking the wrong questions of science, is it possible that we need to learn to be more discerning when we seek advice? Shouldn’t we learn to consider the source? Should I ask a car mechanic for health advice or a heart surgeon for car advice? For example, when pop stars start singing about politics I can’t help but roll my eyes; especially when they got famous by singing songs about crude topics that they wrote while they were on drugs (I realize that’s not a universal description, but it certainly applies to the band I’m thinking of at the moment).
So why do we suddenly listen to these voices? Why do we give them so much credibility? Am I going to put my eternal destiny in the hands of a comedian? Should we base our national policy off songs by punk bands?
I’m not saying that those people aren’t entitled to their opinions; they are. I’m not saying that anyone who disagrees with me is an ignorant fool; they aren’t. I’m not even “hating on” anyone, which is why I didn’t mention anyone by name in this entire post. I’m simply cautioning you to consider the source.
This equally applies when you go inside the church. You must make sure your pastor, elder, Sunday school teacher, deacon, or anyone else is teaching accurately. Read your Bible to make sure their message fits in with the broader context of the Bible. Buy a good systematic theology book and do some reading of your own. You’ll be amazed at all the incredible things you can learn. My theology classes have stretched my understanding time and time again; they’ve been a rich blessing.
1 Peter 3:18 tell us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” In this verse, Peter is urging us to grow in grace but he’s also challenging us to grow in knowledge.
I pray that we as a generation would grow to become more discerning in all areas of life, but especially in areas of faith.

The Atheist Creed by Steve Turner – 1980

To celebrate the completion of my series through the Apostles’ Creed, I thought I would share the Atheist Creed by Steve Turner.”This is the creed I have written on behalf of all us.We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in
horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same–
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

“Chance” a post-script

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.”

– Steve Turner, Creed, 1980

My two cents on the Rob Bell controversy

Please read this post in its entirety before writing me off as a “hater.” :-) The first half is about how people are responding to this whole debacle; the second half is my analysis of his video.

On February 22nd, Pastor Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Drops Like Stars, posted a video preview for his upcoming book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived published by HarperCollins. Here’s the video:

A few days later, Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition posted a blog in response questioning the content of the video and the publisher’s description with fears that Bell may be teaching universalism. This criticism received a lot of attention and a follow-up blog post by Kevin DeYoung, also of the Gospel Coalition. In his post, Kevin DeYoung points out that no one was criticizing Rob Bell as a person and no one was guessing what the book might say. Instead, Justin Taylor’s post was criticizing what Rob Bell has already said in his video. Some pastors, like John Piper have decided to completely write off Rob Bell; in his Twitter post he simply said “Farewell Rob Bell.” Other pastors, like Mark Driscoll, have opted to wait until the book comes out to comment. However, all of the blog posts I read specifically mentioned praying for Rob Bell as a person while disagreeing with what he has said in his video.

Soon after, several secular news agencies had written stories or blog posts about the sudden flurry of attention and criticism Rob Bell’s video received.

There are a couple factors at play here though that I can’t help but notice.

1. The first thing that bothered me was all the people, Christian and non-Christian, who were commenting that Justin Taylor was being judgmental and hateful. How is it hateful to disagree with someone’s teaching? (If you want to see hateful, look at what people were saying in the comments of this article about Christina Aguilera when she messed up on the national anthem, they attack her as a person; that’s hateful.)

To say “Rob Bell’s teaching is wrong; please pray for him” is not hateful. Since when are the teachings of Christian leaders not subject to critique? Aren’t Christians supposed to make sure their pastor’s teaching is accurate? Look at Acts 17:11; the Bereans were considered noble for doing so. And when teachers are wrong, aren’t we supposed to confront them? Look at Galatians 2:11 and tell me what you see there. The fact is, it is not hateful to disagree with someone’s teaching; especially if they are wrong. I think it’s safe to take hard stands with regards to doctrine, but we must always be loving and graceful towards people.

In fact, I’d say it’s unloving to allow fallacious teaching to run rampant in the Church. If you disagree, look into the background of most of the New Testament Epistles; they were written to combat heresy and to correct established churches. In 2 Corinthians 5:11-13 Paul clearly states that we’re supposed to judge those inside the church; not their merit as a person or their salvation, but we are supposed to judge each other’s conduct to hold one another accountable. It is not judgmental or hateful to critique someone’s teachings and identify where they are wrong, period.

2. I can’t help but wonder about those who are not Christians yet feel compelled to tell us how we’re supposed to respond to Rob Bell’s video… What dog do you have in this fight? Are you somehow involved in this debate? Isn’t this a Christian issue? Are you suddenly a theological expert with insights into orthodox Christianity? If an influential Muslim teacher published a video that denounced orthodox Muslim views, I shouldn’t care if other Muslim teachers disagree with him/her because it honestly has nothing to do with me. I should simply let them sort it out.

Oddly enough, conservative Christian leaders who are opposed to what Bell is saying in his video are being called intolerant. For example, Fark.com changed the CNN headline to: “Evangelicals brand fellow Christian as a “heretic” for daring to say that people aren’t all going to hell.” Although I understand that Fark specializes in satirical renditions of headlines, I feel as though it reflects a general attitude towards Conservative Christians: it’s intolerant to take hard stands on central theological issues. But isn’t that at least a little bit hypocritical? Aren’t you the one who’s being intolerant for suggesting we cannot believe what we want?

3. While we can’t judge a book by its cover, we can judge a video by its content; and that’s exactly what Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung have been doing. They’ve been critiquing Bell’s video.

That being said, I’d like to take a moment to look at what I find to be some of the errors in Bell’s video and hopefully gain a better understanding into how he arrived at these conclusions. I don’t do this in order to sling more mud at Bell personally; instead I do this with the hopes that someone reading it will see the errors in Bell’s theology and gain a better understanding of what’s at stake here.

One thing I’ve learned from this whole issue is to be careful what you wish for. For a long time now, I’ve wished that Rob Bell would be more specific in his teaching. Sadly, it seems as though he has laid out all his cards and, judging by the video alone, it doesn’t look like he holds to an orthodox Christian world view.

He starts by recalling an art show a few years ago with one piece in particular that featured a quote from Ghandi. One of my favorite quotes is a Ghandi quote, so I’m not here to bash him. Sadly, someone felt compelled to add a handwritten note that said “Reality check: he’s in hell.” There’s a lot that I could say about how harmful actions like that are to the Church’s credibility, but that’s not what we’re looking at here. At this point, Bell suggests through a line of rhetorical questions that, although Ghandi never accepted Christ, Ghandi is in Heaven. I don’t know if Ghandi is in heaven or hell, so we’ll leave it at that. It’s what Bell says next that troubles me:

Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or baptized or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

Here’s the fundamental flaw behind all of Bell’s logic: He assumes that we do something to earn, initiate, or complete our salvation. Look at the questions he asks in the block quote above. His entire line of reasoning hinges upon us; not on God. In Romans 9, Paul is discussing the God’s apparent rejection of Israel, and in Romans 9:16, Paul says that salvation depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Bell makes it sound as though it is a difficult thing to be saved. Oswald Chambers disagreed when he wrote, “There is nothing easier than getting saved, because it is solely God’s sovereign work.” Do you see the problem with Bell’s rhetorical line of questions? He’s starting from the wrong premise. Bell is suggesting that we have to do something to be saved. The truth is, our salvation is given to us by God, it’s not something we earn. That’s why Romans 6:23 refers to it as a gift.

Further in his video, Bell says:

Then there is the question behind the questions. The real question: “What is God like?” Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.

Bell says that “God is going to send you to hell…” but the truth is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We all chose hell the instant we rebelled against God. Some people might argue that they’re a good person, but no one argues that they’re a perfect person. The standard is perfection and at some point we have all chosen to go astray. Therefore, we send ourselves to hell. Here’s what C. S. Lewis has to say about it:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

Next Bell states that “what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.” In some ways, I do agree with Bell here; in some ways the Church has not always done a good job of explaining the Gospel.  We oftentimes teach that God the Father is the bad cop, and God the Son is the good cop; truthfully Jesus is both Savior and Judge. As all encompassing as the grace of Jesus is, He is also the one to whom we will appear and He is the one who will judge the living and the dead. Justice is not solely the job of the Father and grace solely the job of the Son; Jesus administers them both.

The problem is that many people start with the same assumption that Bell’s argument seems to start with: that we are basically good people. Most people assume that they’re good and do not deserve hell. In a day when people do not believe in human depravity, the idea of human sinfulness is repulsive! But, like I said earlier, the standard is perfection, and I don’t know anyone who would claim to be perfect. Thus, we have all fallen short. Additionally, we have a far too unholy view of God. We fail to understand our depravity and His holiness. The truth is, Jesus doesn’t rescue us from God; Jesus rescues us from ourselves!

Bell continues by saying:

See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.

He’s totally right at this point! What we believe about Heaven and hell does reveal what we believe about God. If we believe that we’re not so bad and God isn’t that holy, then of course we all deserve to go to Heaven if we try our best. But if we believe that God is infinitely holy and we are tainted and sinful, we will realize that it is through His gracious mercy that we can be saved. If we believe that we initiate and complete our salvation, then of course we’ll want to know what we need to do become one of the few. If we believe that salvation is a work of God and that Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) then we’ll know that it doesn’t depend upon us at all.

Bell starts to close the video by saying:

What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, beautiful, that whatever we have been told and been taught, the good news is actually better than that, better than we could ever imagine.

Once again he’s right: the Gospel is that even though we chose to rebel against God, Jesus rescues us from ourselves.

Bell closes by saying “The good news is that love wins.” In this video, Bell’s message is, “love wins, justice loses.” The truth of the Gospel is that love wins, but so does justice. When we discard the justness of God we wind up with a twisted image of Him; we wind up misunderstanding that sin must be punished. We wind up missing the fact that we deserved that punishment through complete moral failure. We miss the fact that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath for us. We miss the fact that, at the cross Love and Justice both won. The Good News is that we didn’t do anything to earn our salvation but that God chose to love us instead. The Good News is that there is a Hell and that, through Christ, God can save us from what we deserve. The Good News is that, through the finished work of Christ on the cross, love wins…and so does justice.

In summary, Bell does have two valid points: the Church has done a poor job explaining the fact that Jesus rescues us from our own sins; and our image of Heaven and Hell does reveal a lot about what we think of God. The problem with Bell’s message in the video is that his questions are based off of several faulty assumptions. First, Bell mistakenly suggests that we are responsible for our own salvation; if that were true then salvation would not be a gift based on the grace of God but would be something we earn through our own efforts. Second, Bell suggests that we can be good enough to deserve Heaven, which would make God evil for sending “good people” to hell. The truth is that no one is good; no one deserves Heaven. We have all sinned and failed to meet the perfect moral standard of God (Rom 3:23). We fail to see the heights of His holiness and the depths of our depravity. Third, Bell seems to discard the justness of God in exchange for the love of God as though the two are mutually exclusive. There is no competition between love and justice; they are reconciled at the cross. Therefore, claiming that “love wins” is to completely ignore the justness and holiness of God. One last thing I’d like to note is that in his video Bell does not quote a single verse of Scripture; his argument is philosophical and not Biblical. He is not arguing from a Biblical world view, but from a pluralistic, post-modern world view.

Perhaps Bell’s book will contain a message faithful to the Bible, but the content of his video is the focus of this post and it alarms me that he seems to have largely disregarded huge chunks of Jesus’ teaching. I’d like to close by urging everyone to pray for Rob Bell and those who follow his teachings.

Imaginary Jesus and the Christology of Ricky Bobby

In Talledega Nights, when Ricky Bobby Prays to his “8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus” with “golden fleece diapers” we all laughed…admit it, you laughed, too. And then when his buddy pipes up and talks about how his Jesus wears a tuxedo t-shirt, we all laughed some more.

But is your Jesus any less ridiculous? This is the premise behind the book Imaginary Jesus (which is currently FREE as an e-book right now). Matt Mikalatos starts the story at a coffee shop in Portland, OR where he’s hanging out with Jesus, meets the Apostle Peter, then witnesses a fist-fight between the two! And it just gets better from there.

But for me the book raises an interesting question: From where do you draw your christological theology? In other words, how do you answer Jesus’ question in Luke 9:20 where He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Is your Jesus as blatantly ridiculous as one from Talledaga Nights: a figure skater who does interpretive ice dances of your life? Or is your Jesus only subtly foolish:  a really nice guy who will give you whatever you want if you pray the right prayers and show up at the right building every Sunday? Most of us would never admit to it, but isn’t that true to some degree? Is that honestly the image that comes to mind when you hear that name Jesus?

There are two problems with this view of Jesus. First, this image does not inspire worship. No one worships an ATM machine. No one worships a vending machine. No one worships Amazon.com where you can buy anything you want. So why would we worship a sky fairy whose ultimate purpose is to give us what we want? Why would we be moved to awe by an invisible ATM, vending machine, or Amazon.com? We wouldn’t! That imaginary Jesus would actually follow us and his purpose would be to fulfill our needs. I don’t know about you but I refuse to worship something or someone that is not greater than me.

Second and more importantly, this is not the God of the Bible. Jesus is God in flesh; the God-man. He is eternal. He is God. The God of the Bible is infinite; He is powerful; He is in charge, He is the central character of all human history; and He does not bow down to anyone. This is God; this is Jesus. This is someone I can worship.

So ask yourself, “What does Jesus really look like? Who does Jesus reveal Himself to be in the Bible?” I promise you, the real answer to that question will move you to worship. And if it doesn’t, then it’s not the real Jesus.

My Advent Experience

Last Monday, Connie’s alarm went off at 4:30 A.M. so she could go to the gym before it gets crowded. Great! I love the fact that my wife works out and that she has the discipline to get out of bed so early; I support her wholeheartedly. She also does this so she can get an early start on the day; once again, a great thing. My alarm goes off an hour later, at 5:30 so that I can go to the gym an hour before unit PT and get some extra time at the gym. Usually I fall back asleep almost instantly. However every now and then I have trouble falling back asleep.

That was me last Monday.

I tossed and turned for an hour. My mind had already initiated and now I was thinking about the day/week ahead, going to the gym, all the things I needed to get done that week. I had this sense of expectation that my alarm was about to go off any second. I was just waiting for it so I could get my day started. So I just laid there waiting. Pretty soon sleep was impossible and all I wanted was for my alarm to go off.

I think this is a lot like Advent.

The word “advent” comes from a Latin word, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” According to Wikipedia: “The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.”

The other day I just knew that at any second my alarm was about to go off. I was certain of it and I think we are called to feel the same way about Jesus’ return. Many Jews had this feeling about the coming of the Messiah; they waited on it, they prayed for it, and they prepared for it. We’re supposed to be the same.

Advent is a season that celebrates that which has already been fulfilled and looks forward to that which will one day be fulfilled. It celebrates the birth of Christ as Savior in this world. It looks forward to the return of Christ as Judge to this world.