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Why are there two parts to the Bible?
Is the text of the Bible historically accurate?
What source materials do we have to prove the Bible’s consistency?
Was the text edited?
Was it thrown together by a bunch of guys in the third century?
Why are there some books that didn’t make the cut?
Who decides what goes into the Bible?
What does a thousands-year old book have to do with me?
“The question is really: Christianity or
GermanismAmericanism? And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adapted
During the maddening 2016 election cycle, I felt a lot of pressure. It came from several religious and political sources. I was “encouraged” to guide the congregation into voting for “the right guy/gal.” I had a lot of unsolicited mail delivered to me asking to sign this petition or pass that one around the church. There were voting guide leaflets with the two candidates organized by the “big issues.” It called itself “bipartisan” but you only needed to read a couple of sentances to see the agenda. I didn’t pass out or sign anything, but some of the members did it for me.
As the campaign rhetoric reached fever pitch an old struggle emerged. It was, as Simon and Garfunkel sang, “…the vision that was planted in my brain” that still remained. I couldn’t stomach any more “Make America Great Again” yard signs (most of which were UUUUGE). I couldn’t look at any more “Stronger Together” bumper stickers because “
I’m Not With Her.” I couldn’t look at Facebook or Twitter without seeing people eviscerating one another. America, it seemed, was collapsing under her own patriotic rage.
I, like most of you, grew up in the greatest country ever established. I grew up educated in American exceptionalism. I watched 9/11 live from Mrs. Fairchild’s English class. I joined the anger and hatred directed at outsiders and Muslims because I was afraid. I watched Operation Shock and Awe begin live on CNN in my Community Service class. I watched the rockets red glare crush the city of Baghdad. I saw apartment towers collapse. I saw the fury of a nation scorned bringing retribution to the enemy. And I relished in it. I celebrated death. I welcomed destruction with open arms. I cheered for anger.
In 2004 I became a Christian. It was to be my first election. I was a registered democrat and then I went to Bible College. I’ll never forget the day I wore a John Kerry shirt to classes. I received stares, giggles, and a lot of pity for being so naive. The well-meaning brothers and sisters told me that true Christians had to vote for the other guy. So I did.
I learned something that year. A lot of Jesus people see little difference between how true Christianity and America differ. Since God is against abortion, you should vote for the anti-abortion nominee. Since God is against homosexuality, you should vote for the candidate who is too. I also learned a few election cycles later that folks expect a minister to tell everybody else that.
It was 2012 that I began to grow suspect of my previous convictions. I knew something gnawing at my conscience was the Holy Spirit asking me to reconsider previous viewpoints. Yet, I was apprehensive with the idea of saying anything to anyone. Ministers had lost congregations because of these kinds of ideas – at worst. At best I would be labeled unpatriotic, liberal, or someone who didn’t support our troops. Some would say I was afraid to take a stand, I had no conviction, or I was satanic. None of those things are true about me, by the way.
There are those of you reading right now who might share those same convictions. If I’m honest, the idea that some of you might still be reading this makes me happy. Like many American churchgoers this might be hard for you. The idea that an American minister refuses to use the pulpit to sway political opinion is crazy. To think that my theological convictions prevent me from doing that seems unbelievable. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be “taking America back for God?” If you want to label me liberal, flip-floppy, unpatriotic, or even a Communist, I can’t stop you. Again I say that none of those things are true about me.
You need to know that as I walk through this series of posts I do respect your convictions. I also want to challenge you to keep your mind open and to ponder the ideas I present. Nothing more engenders personal and spiritual growth more than considering another’s thoughts. Even those ideas that may be offensive and vexing. I understand that you might get offended. I expect some of you will get angry. I only ask that you give serious thought to what I write and wrestle with the thoughts I present.
So what’s main idea that I’ll be working through? What’s my hypothesis? Here it is:
A large sector of American Christians are guilty of political and nationalistic idolatry. To a horrific extent.
Many American Christians fuse the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world. It seems that we have draped Jesus in an American flag and put Him in the White House. Rather than fixating on our understanding of the Kingdom of God through the person of Jesus – who, as I recall, never let Himself get pulled in to political disputes in His day – many of us American Christians have allowed our understanding God’s Kingdom to get contaminated with political ideas, agendas, and issues.
For many Christians, as Greg Boyd notes,
“The Kingdom of God is largely about, if not centered on, ‘taking America back for God,’ voting for the Christian candidate, outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, winning the culture wars, defending political freedom at home and abroad, keeping the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, fighting for prayer in schools and public events, fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings. “
I won’t argue that these issues are either wrong or right. I’m not saying that Christians should never be involved in politics.
Because this issue is much more basic than who you should vote or take part in government.
I will argue that the above position is misguided. That trying to merge any other kingdom with the Kingdom of God is idolatrous. It is hampering the mission of the Church in America. It is hurting our witness for Christ.
Instead, I want to object to the idea that finding the right political path has anything to do with advancing the Kingdom of God. I hope that you will join me in this journey. I pray that you will test everything I say against the Scriptures for yourself. I pray that you will think about the next several posts.
We will do well to remember that there is a very fine line between patriotism and idolatry
something to think about,
note: there are three previous posts in this series. You should check them out before reading this one.
I wrapped up my last post on exclusivism in world religions and a question: Is Jesus the only way to God?
A little background. The first gospel I ever read (seriously) was The Gospel of John. I loved it…until I hit chapter fourteen. I was faced with Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper and I had to hit the pause button when I read verse six:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)
My reaction to this: how arrogant this statement is! I was at an impasse in my newly found faith. I felt that I couldn’t believe this. I felt that it couldn’t be true. I felt it was a misnomer. Maybe Jesus misspoke? Maybe John fumbled while writing and mixed up some words?
So I prayed. I asked God if He was wrong, please, let me know! I also had the audacity to ask God that if I was wrong, He’d help me understand. So I sought knowledge. Lots of it.
I took philosophy classes in college and read anything philosophical I could get my hands on. I wanted to understand thought and logic because Jesus’ statement didn’t seem all that logical to me. So I begin my research, and I looked again at the statement of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes tot he Father except through me.”
My thoughts about a verbal slip or a writing flub up were quickly dismissed when the Apostles echoed these very words in various ways and times throughout the rest of the New Testament. Peter says,
11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, ESV)
This forms what we now know as the doctrine of “Christian Particularism.” Some common objectives to this idea of an exclusivism in Christianity is that it is “arrogant,” “narrow-minded,” “unfair,” or “hateful.” I must cede that while many make some convincing pleas to counter Jesus’ claim, all of them are inadequate and fail to address the theological components present in the doctrine of “Christian Particularism” and the testimony of Scripture.
As Kevin Allen Lewis writes:
“To have another way of salvation, a person must change the goal of salvation itself. For example, if the purpose of “salvation” is to become a god, realize your godhood, or merely escape incarceration in a cosmic jailhouse, the means of accomplishing salvation will reflect those mistaken salvific ends.”
I don’t mean to oversimplify what follows because biblical salvation includes facets like justification, sanctification, adoption, and re-creation, the concept and objective of salvation in the Bible is really simple. What is it: To enjoy a loving, living, transformational relationship with our Creator.
That’s all sunshine an puppies, but when we look at the context of Scripture we face a bitter reality: that relationship, while instituted through Adam and Eve at Creation, is now broken. So how do you restore and fix something that’s broken?
Let’s look at how this plays out in your everyday relationships. Say you and a friend had a falling out and it was your fault. How do you restore the relationship? Well you, as the offender go to the person who is irked at you to ask forgiveness and try to bring about reconciliation.
The offended must be willing to extend forgiveness and choose to not hold the wrong against you anymore. They also must be willing to bear the hurt inflicted on them an acknowledge that they were hurt by the offender. To do that, certain conditions must be met. The offender must desire to restore the relationship. The offender must take responsibility for the hurt dealt to the offended. The offender must apologize and make good on that apology by never letting the wrong come between them again.
What does this have to do with Jesus being the only way of salvation? Easy. To restore the broken relationship with the one true God, the offended party, God, must be willing to bear the consequences of our sin. God accomplishes this by means of the Second Person of the Trinity assuming a full human nature, living a sinless life, and satisfying our penalty for sin on the cross.
Sinners, the offenders, need to repent, confess, be baptized, and trust God’s offer of forgiveness. When we do, we are reconciled to God for the purpose of fellowship with him as his beloved children. This is salvation in the Bible.
Now consider some of the common errors offered as “ways” of salvation. They are irrational in light of the biblical objectives of salvation. The “I’m a good person” view, or “I’m a sincere person” argument. These are based on the idea that just because I’m a tiny bit better behaved than my neighbor, I deserve to be saved by God. Or that I’m a sincere person who just wants the best for everyone. Me too! But it falls short of any logic and truth-claims to say to God, “I can save myself based on myself.”
If those two requirements were all that was needed, then most of us would be high on the hog, right? We’d make the cut. But where do we get that idea? These claims are put forward in Buddhism and other eastern religions (even Satanism, Wicca, essentially) that if one can rid themselves of certain undesirable traits, they will live a free, unhindered, loving life and then be absorbed back into the “star-dust” of the cosmos in an enlightened state. Islam has the “weighted scales of justice” idea that my good deeds must outweigh my bad in order to enter into Paradise on Judgment Day.
The basic principle behind these models rests on an individual’s behaviors, actions, and deeds. That if a person is sincere and a good moral citizen (the idea of morality – and even that is often viewed as a nebulous concept) and treat others decently, then I have fulfilled my goal and obligation to the Universe and will be happy, or whatever deity I’m seeking to satisfy will love me more.
Here’s the thing. In the Bible we learn this:
Jesus didn’t die to make us all in to good, moral, decent human beings and global citizens. Not even close! Jesus died to bring the dead back to life.
Resurrection is the proper title. It means that something died, was dead and buried, and is now alive again.
So contrary to the many objections, since the goal of salvation is forgiveness and reconciliation to a personal God in order to have loving relationship with him, the only storyline that makes any sense is to have God in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, bear our sin for us to restore the relationship, or as Paul writes:
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:20-12, ESV)
To enter that reconciliation between man and God requires repentance and faith in him on the part of me, the sinner (offender).
So is Jesus the only way to God? I say unequivocally, “Yes!” In light of all we’ve looked at in these posts, we see that truth is grounded in reality – the way things actually are. And there cannot be two differing statements on a subject claiming to be true at the same time (Law of Noncontradiction). Therefore, if Jesus claims He is the only way to God, and others claim the same thing, someone is lying. Truth is truth whether we like it or not. There aren’t differing versions of “truth” or different kinds of it. There is only Truth, and Truth will always be found out.
Jesus is the only religious leader who offers physical, historical proof to back up His claim to exclusivism. There has never been a more controversial religious figure who has faced the scrutinies of the world and comes out on top. From the textual evidence of the Bible, to historical extra-biblical accounts confirming the text itself, to intense scrutiny by archeologists, and to the evidence that the human heart is the problem, not human behavior, we see that the only logical outcome is that Jesus is one of two things. Either He is the way, truth, and life. Either He is the only way to the Father…or He’s sadly mistaken.
Logic dictates that Jesus cannot be just A way or A truth or A life…because truth does not allow such a claim to exist! If there is a God and if He seeks a relationship with us, and being the very nature of God is all purity and all truth and all-powerful, than there cannot be multiple paths to arrive at the same destination. Either it’s true and right, or it’s not. It is not subjective and it is not relative.
This is where I leave the ball in your court. Research. Read the Scriptures. Seek out the truth. You will find it, and His name is Jesus.
I love you. God loves you infinitely more,
I closed out part two (link above) on the Laws of Thought and Noncontradiction with a couple of statements:
So then, we can conclude, there is absolute truth. If Jesus makes these claims, we also see they are diametrically opposed to many other truth claims in our world. Perhaps non so strong as the one made at the Last Supper:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).
So why would I close with this statement? Why this quote from Jesus?
If we can apply all the Laws of Thought, which include the Law of Noncontradiction, then we have to take a statement like the one Jesus makes, and we need to take a look at it.
In this statement we find a claim of exclusivity. With all the religions in the world, how can any one of them claim exclusivity? How can a Christian claim exclusivity?
The interesting thing about those questions is this: Christianity is the only religion this is frequently asked of. If we’re being truthful, we realize that every religion in the world claims exclusivity, and every religion has a point of exclusion.
What example can I give? Well, let’s look to the Hindu religion. Hindus believe in two basic doctrines that they will never compromise on: karma and reincarnation. If we take a look at history we’ll see the Buddhist religion was born out of a fundamental rejection of two other Hindu doctrines. Buddha refused to submit to the authority of the Vedas (most ancient Hindu scriptures) and the caste system (a class structure determined by birth) of Hinduism.
As Ravi Zacharias writes,
“The issue here is not who was right or wrong. The truth is that they were systematically different—both claiming rightness.”
Let’s look at Islam. The religion of Islam is crystal clear in its belief in its exclusivity of God. You will never hear a Muslim tell you that you can believe whatever you want and all religions are equally valid.
In our Post-Truth and Alternative Facts culture, these kinds of claims often engender anger and scorn. We’ll brandish the terms politically incorrect or narrow-mindedness. Before we let those thoughts in, however, we have to remember that it is the sheer essence of truth that points us to this reality:
Truth, by its very definition, is exclusive.
Here’s what I mean (and you might need to go back and read the first two posts to bring yourself up to speed on what I’m about to say): everything
can cannot be true.
If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. It can’t be both ways. Ever. It’s philosophically and logically impossible. It doesn’t fit into reality.
The brass tacks is that even those who contest truth’s exclusivity virtually exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly comes to the surface. The law of non-contradiction, then, does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Therefore, to contest the law of non-contradiction is to agree with it simultaneously. So that means:
Where do we land the plane here? First, we shouldn’t be surprised by truth-claims, but rather hear them and research them before we believe them. If we put this scientifically: if the test authenticates truth, then we are morally constrained to believe it! This is where many folks try to run away and flee for fear of being exclusive, or where the cultural maxim of tolerance tries to trounce exclusivity.
As G.K. Chesterton said,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” – G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World?
Now back to the statement Jesus made at the Last Supper:
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)
This isn’t the only place Jesus makes these exclusive claims about Himself. The ” Seven I AM sayings” of John’s Gospel assert a point of exclusion as well:
- I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35)
- 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
- I am the Light of the World (John 8:12)
- 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
- I am the Door (John 10:9)
- 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
- I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
- 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
- I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
- 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…
- I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
- “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.
- I am the True Vine (John 15:1)
- “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
The Apostles also said similar things. Peter preaches this:
“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole…Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)
“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” (1 Cor. 10:20-21)
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? (2 Cor. 6:14-16a)
There are a few others in the New Testament, but for time’s sake we’ll leave them out.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Well, since we’re talking points of exclusion and statements of exclusivity, we find ourselves at a quandary. What is it you ask?
If Jesus (and His Apostles) said these very exclusionary statements, then what they are saying is that Jesus is the only way for a human being to be reconciled to God.
I leave you with this thought until the next post: Jesus Christ is either the inexhaustible God or one dismally lost.
Next post we’ll ask the Question: Is Jesus the Only Way to salvation? Or to put it another way: is Christianity true and all other religions false?
I love you. God loves you so much more,
The other day I started a new series here on Truth. It’s a building-block style series where each post will assume you’ve read the previous. If you haven’t done so, check out my first one, here.
Last post, we established the societal views between absolute truth and subjective truth. We looked at moral absolutism vs. moral relativism and saw that Absolute truth and moral absolutism actually win the day in logic and philosophy because truth is unchangeable, regardless of feelings or personal convictions.
In this post, I want to take that to the next step and look at what philosophy and logic calls the Law of Noncontradiction.
What is the Law of Noncontradiction?
It’s one of the Three Traditional Laws of Thought.
The laws of thought are fundamental axiomatic rules upon which rational discourse itself is often considered to be based. The formulation and clarification of such rules have a long tradition in the history of philosophy and logic. Generally they are taken as laws that guide and underlie everyone’s thinking, thoughts, expressions, discussions, etc.
The three Laws of to Thought are:
The law of identity: ‘Whatever is, is.’
Regarding this law, Aristotle wrote:
First then this at least is obviously true, that the word “be” or “not be” has a definite meaning, so that not everything will be “so and not so”. Again, if “man” has one meaning, let this be “two-footed animal”; by having one meaning I understand this:—if “man” means “X”, then if A is a man “X” will be what “being a man” means for him. (It makes no difference even if one were to say a word has several meanings, if only they are limited in number; for to each definition there might be assigned a different word. For instance, we might say that “man” has not one meaning but several, one of which would have one definition, viz. “two-footed animal”, while there might be also several other definitions if only they were limited in number; for a peculiar name might be assigned to each of the definitions. If, however, they were not limited but one were to say that the word has an infinite number of meanings, obviously reasoning would be impossible; for not to have one meaning is to have no meaning, and if words have no meaning our reasoning with one another, and indeed with ourselves, has been annihilated; for it is impossible to think of anything if we do not think of one thing; but if this is possible, one name might be assigned to this thing.) — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4 (translated by W.D. Ross)
The law of noncontradiction: Nothing can both be and not be.
In other words: “two or more contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time”. In the words of Aristotle, that “one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time”. Regarding this law, Aristotle writes:
It is impossible, then, that “being a man” should mean precisely not being a man, if “man” not only signifies something about one subject but also has one significance … And it will not be possible to be and not to be the same thing, except in virtue of an ambiguity, just as if one whom we call “man”, and others were to call “not-man”; but the point in question is not this, whether the same thing can at the same time be and not be a man in name, but whether it can be in fact. — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4 (translated by W.D. Ross)
- The law of the excluded middle: Everything must either be or not be.’But on the other hand there cannot be an intermediate between contradictories, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false — Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 7 (translated by W.D. Ross)
According to the 1999 Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, laws of thought are laws by which or in accordance with which valid thought proceeds, or that justify valid inference, or to which all valid deduction is reducible. Laws of thought are rules that apply without exception to any subject matter of thought, etc.
It should be noted that this was subscribed to and affirmed by Plato, Indian thinkers, Buddha, John Locke, and a myriad of others that are giants of philosophy.
So if we boil it all down, through ancient logic and confirmation by modern scholars, something cannot be and not be at the same time. I cannot say that a red car is parked in front of my house and also say a red car is NOT parked in front of my house.
So let’s talk noncontradiction.
In order for something to be contradictory, it must violate the law of noncontradiction. This law states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, you have contradicted yourself if you affirm and deny the same statement. For example, if I say that the moon is made entirely of cheese but then also say that the moon is not made entirely of cheese, I have contradicted myself.
In our world today, the law of noncontradiction is often viewed as Western construct. A lot of folks in our time believe that Western “Either-Or” logic is too arrogant, dogmatic, and exclusive…and so they opt for a dialectic system of logic, or a “both and” line of thought.
In the alternative facts culture and post-truth politics of 2017, these laws are important to remember. When we subscribe to a “both/and” logic, what we are saying is “things can be whatever they will be, as long as they be to me.” It’s often an emotional appeal devoid of, or at least severely pared down with any facts. If we are to believe that, than absolute truth and moral absolutism are dead.
However, the law of noncontradiction, propped up with the other two Laws of Thought, will always prevail. Why? Because they are not rooted in emotional conjecture or subjective opinion. They are grounded in reality – that is, in what actually is – held up by observable, provable, unchanging principles.
Why does this matter? Well, because these logical laws rooted in reality prove that there is absolute truth and morality is not relative. Therefore, when someone presents something to you, it is YOUR job to make sure that it is actually truth. Do not be quick to replace truth with opinion, conjecture, or conviction.
At the end of the day, truth will be proven true, regardless of efforts to spin, bend, eradicate, or change it. As Jesus says:
But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19b, NIV)
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31, NIV)
So then, we can conclude, there is absolute truth. If Jesus makes these claims, we also see they are diametrically opposed to many other truth claims in our world. Perhaps non so strong as the one made at the Last Supper:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).
How does all this apply? Why do I close with that statement? Why all the philosophy? We’ll get to that in the next post.
I love you. God loves you more!
I haven’t posted in quite a while. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had a lot to say. Maybe its my fear that my words would be a less than productive add-on to the conversations of the world. I’m not sure they won’t be. However, I’ve been thinking. A lot. As I pray and read through social media and news posts (grimacing, I might add), I am drawn back to one question posed in Scripture that seems to have captivated me.
In the trial of Jesus, he’s engaged privately in a conversation with Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea from AD 26-36. As a Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate was granted the power of a supreme judge, which meant that he had the sole authority to order a criminal’s execution. His duties as a prefect included such mundane tasks as tax collection and managing construction projects. But, perhaps his most crucial responsibility was that of maintaining law and order. Pontius Pilate attempted to do so by any means necessary. What he couldn’t negotiate he is said to have accomplished through brute force.
Back to the trial of Jesus. John records the exchange (the 2nd between the two) in chapter 18 of his Gospel:
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 19:33-38, ESV)
A lot of folks lump Pilate in with the list of “Super-Villains of the Bible” and perhaps it isn’t unmerited. However, I think his question, which is an important one, is an expression of a culture that had become devoid of truth’s ability to center and instruct, and correct. He’s speaking from his education, context, background, and the prevailing philosophical views of his time.
Now in 2017 since modernity and postmodernity have come and gone, they’ve left an interesting legacy that leaves us asking Pilate’s question: What is truth?
We’ve seen this recently in terms like Alternative Facts and Post Truth. These ideas are nothing new – in fact, they are the logical next-steps (or the continuation rather) in the philosophical progression of post-modernity that there is no absolute truths or truth is subjective.
Can truth be interpreted differently through various lenses that are dependant on the person? Are there absolutes, whether moral or ethical anymore (remember, only a sith deals in absolutes, btw, just kidding)?
So we have to ask then, what is truth?
Truth, in philosophical terms, is generally defined as such: A statement is true when it corresponds with reality. In other words, a statement is true if it matches up with the way the world really is.
That leads us into the two schools of thought that seem to be clashing today: Subjective Truth vs. Objective Truth
Subjective truth would be me saying the statement Coke is better than Pepsi. it can be true for me but false for you because it is a subjective claim. It has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with me. Thus, it’s subjective, like a preference of ice cream.
What if I said, “Chocolate peanut butter ice cream treats diabetes”? Can this be true for you but not true for me? No, because it is an objective truth, a reality in the external world we discover and cannot change by our feelings. Objective facts are what they are, regardless of how we feel or think about them [think of insulin].
That leads us to the question are morals subjective? Are morals subjective (like soda preference) or are morals objective, like the notion that diabetes is treated with exercise and diet and insulin?
Now we come to another crossroads: Moral Relativism vs. Moral Absolutism.
Moral Relativism is the view that moral truths depend on the individual or group who hold them. There are no moral absolutes, no objective ethical right and wrong. Morals are subjective, like soda preferences.
Moral absolutism holds that a moral rule is true regardless of whether anyone believes it, just like insulin controls diabetes whether anyone knows it or not. Morals can’t be created by personal conviction; nor do they disappear when an individual or culture rejects them. Ethical rules are objective and universally binding in all similar cases.
So why does this matter? Well, if we’re in the Post-Truth Era than it does matter. Because its simply another word for moral relativism.
There are three reasons that Moral Relativism doesn’t work and actually is harmful to humanity.
Moral relativism cheapens human life. When morality is reduced to personal tastes, people exchange the question, “What is good?” for the pleasure question, “What feels good?” Rather than basing decisions on “what is right,” decisions are based on self-interest. When self-interest rules, it has a profound impact on behavior, especially how we treat other human beings. The notion of human dignity depends on there being objective moral truths. Instead, we can discard people when they become troublesome or expensive. More wars, more crime, more oppression, more injustice. Why? Because if morals are relative, all those things are ok.
With moral relativism, anything goes! The death of objective morality is filled with an “anything goes” mentality. Nothing is ultimately wrong if you can get away with it, plus, whose to tell you to stop? It’s ok as long as its right for you, right?
Moral relativism creates moral cowards. If all morality is equal, then why take a moral stand against evil? Why stand up for what I think is right if all morality is subjective, personal.
In line with those three reasons, we reach four philosophical problems with moral relativism:
Problem 1: Moral relativism suffers from what is known as the reformer’s dilemma. If moral relativism is true, then societies cannot have moral reformers. Why? Moral reformers are members of a society that stand outside that society’s moral code and pronounce a need for reform and change in that code. For example, Corrie ten Boom risked her life to save Jews during the Holocaust. William Wilberforce sought the abolition of slavery in the late 18th century. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights in the U.S. If moral relativism is true, then these reformers were immoral. You see, if an act is right if and only if it is in keeping with a given society’s code, then the moral reformer himself is by definition an immoral person. Moral reformers must always be wrong because they go against the code of their society. But such a view is defective for we all know that real moral reform has taken place!
Problem 2: Moral relativists cannot improve their morality. Neither cultures nor individuals can improve their morality. The only thing they can do is change it. Think of what it means to improve something. Improvement means becoming better at something. But becoming better at something requires an external standard of comparison. To improve a society’s moral code means that the society changes its laws and values closer to an external ideal. If no such standard exists, then there is no way for the new standard to be better than the original; they can only be different. A society can abolish apartheid (racism) in favor of equality. A society can provide equal rights for women. It can guarantee freedom of speech and the press. But according to moral relativism, these are mere changes, not improvements. The Nazis used moral relativism as a defense for their crimes at the Nuremberg trials. The court condemned them because they said there is a law above culture.
Problem 3: Moral relativists cannot complain about the problem of evil. The problem of evil is one of the most commonly raised objections to the existence of God. Some of the great atheists—Bertrand Russell, David Hume, H.G. Wells—concluded on the basis of the evil and suffering in the world that the God of the Bible must not exist (genocide, child abuse, suicide bombings). The common argument is that if God was all-good and all-powerful he would deal with evil. But evil exists, so God must not. The force of this objection rests upon moral evil being real and some things being objectively wrong. But such a claim is peculiar if we understand the nature of evil. Evil is a perversion of good. There can be good without evil, but not evil without good. There can be right without wrong, but not wrong unless there is first right. If morality is ultimately a matter of personal tastes, like ice cream flavor, the argument against God’s existence based on evil vanishes. If evil is real, then so is absolute good, which means moral relativism is false.
Problem 4: Moral relativism is unlivable. Many of us are willing to be a moral relativist when it’s “convenient,” but as soon as someone attempts to steal our stuff, we quickly become a moral absolutist by appealing to fairness. We know what people believe not by what they say or do, but by how they want to be treated. If someone says he doesn’t believe in justice, cut in front of him in line. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t believe people who say that morality is subjective—that murder or rape may not really be objectively wrong
Truth matters. Truth is absolute. Truth will always be found out. Truth is truth no matter what you think or feel. Anything else is just opinion and/or conviction. That’s why holding our political officials, leaders, and ourselves accountable for what we say and do is paramount to an effective and orderly society.
I love you. God loves you more,
I’m feeling very remorseful at that, teetering on the brink of deleting it. All the political rhetoric is nauseating. I’m seeing people calling others bad parents, cursing one another, and crossposting half-researched, untrue garbage, all based on who one will vote for…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Since I work for a church, I try to be unbiased…but really, no person or group can ever be that. However, as I don’t often share my opinions (in this arena) unless asked, I try to be politically unbiased, but I am not, I cannot be to be politically indifferent. I will not be indifferent where the Gospel is concerned and where the Gospel is at stake, and the fundamental message of the Gospel is this: Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is already reigning over the universe, and yes, that includes the USA. Jesus founded a Kingdom that is “not of this world” (John 18:36), but breaks through with heavenly collisions through miracles, the Church, and love. I believe that one day His will be the last Kingdom standing. I believe the nations will bow to Him. I believe He will rule His Kingdom with justice, mercy, and love. I believe Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega…and that He has the final say in all things.
That Kingdom, that will crash into earth at the renewal of all thing (Rev. 21), has a different set of rules; a different set of politics, a different ideal of leadership, and so it DOES, and MUST directly impact how Christians interact with the world, including politics and government, and with those involved in them.
Paul exhorts us:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4, ESV)
From the examples of Jesus, Paul, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Peter, we see that we even pray for the well-being of those who are in direct opposition to our welfare. But on the other hand, we must realize, as Andy Couch states,
“… that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God.”
No human is free from that same temptation.
But some rulers and administrations are especially bombastic in their God-substitutions.
“After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became more and more elaborate in their claims of divinity with each generation—and more and more ineffective in their governance. Communism aimed not just to replace faith in anything that transcended the state, but to crush it. Such systems do not just dishonor God, they dishonor his image in persons, and in doing so they set themselves up for dramatic destruction. We can never collude when such idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance. Christians in every place and time must pray for the courage to stay standing when the alleged “voice of a god, not a man” commands us to kneel.” (Andy Couch)
And so this year, 2016, Christian voters (all voters) in the United States face an incredibly difficult choice.
I should note quickly, that this is not an endorsement for anyone. In fact, Hillary stands for everything a President should NOT be, and she will neither take up much of my words, time, or any of my vote.
The democratic nominee has taken extreme technological and monetary roads to gain, keep, and assure power founded in a rigorous control of one’s image and meticulous disregard for norms that restrain people with less money and influence.
Such an amassing of power, which is meant to shield the powers that be from the vulnerability of accountability of the rest of us, actually creates far greater vulnerabilities, putting both the leader and the country in a greater danger.
Ultimately, what she stands for is in such stark contrast to a biblical worldview, that many Christians automatically turn away from her. Her party receives its harshest criticisms from the Christians of America – and that’s all well and good…but I’m worried.
I’m worried because I see all kinds of people of faith throwing away that same logic and prudent judgment with the Republican candidate.
Just over a week ago a revelation of something in the man’s past (the first of many, I’m sure) has caused several prominent Christian endorsers to “pull away” from Trump and recant their endorsement. I think that’s admirable…but I also think it’s a bit late. What Trump is, he has always been. The tapes that were released, though shocking and indefensible, reprehensible even, should shock none of us.
There isn’t another political figure (in my memory) that has exemplified the “earthly nature” that Paul admonishes the Church at Colossae to leave behind:
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Col. 3:5, ESV)
Andy Couch states:
“Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.”
He has no humility, shows dependence on anyone, especially God, and even stated that he didn’t understand why he would need to ask God for forgiveness. He’s not interested in learning, he could care less about modesty, and he throws moderation out the window. He doesn’t think he needs to be taught, and is essentially the very embodiment of what the Holy Scriptures call a fool.
Some folks will compare Trump to King David. “He wasn’t perfect either.” I cede that point…however, David started out with a godly faith, he was shepherded by God from the sheep pasture to the palace, was teachable, and was repentant. After his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, David paid dearly. There is NO parallel in Trump’s long career of exploitation to even compare to. David lost a lot, and upon being confronted with his sin by Nathan, was deeply repentant, and penned Psalm 51. We know that this cost David dearly, and that the pain an anguish he endured because of it, expressed his humility. Trump has no humility.
Many of the folks I’ve talked to who are voting for Trump have done so very reluctantly, but with a strategy: Supreme Court appointments. I fully understand the gravity of what is at stake here, including a Christian’s (as well as other faiths) right to view sexuality and marriage a particular way without governmental influence is at stake. Unborn children’s right to exist is at stake. I get it! But at what point does strategy become another form of idolatry? Is it not when we attempt to force a system to manipulate and control completely the things we agree with and only in a way in which we agree with them?
“Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.”
Enthusiasm for a man like Trump gives our neighbors a reason to doubt that we believe “Jesus is Lord.” It crushes our witness. They see that some of us are so self-concerned, and so self-protective, that we will forge alliances with someone who violates everything we hold sacred—in hope, a certainly a false hope, given Trump’s deception and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us, and not God’s.
The United States political system has never been free of idolatry, and politics always craves concessions. Our country is flawed, but it is also tempered. And God is not only just, but also merciful, as he judges the nations.
“In these closing weeks before the election, all American Christians should repent, fast, and pray—no matter how we vote. And we should hold on to hope—not in a candidate, but in our Lord Jesus. We do not serve idols.
While awaiting execution, Dietrich Bonhoeffer recorded a number of his thoughts in a work we now know as Letters and Papers from Prison. One of these essays, entitled On Stupidity, records some of the problems which Bonhoeffer likely saw at work in Hitler’s rise to power:
Perhaps we’d do well to heed the words, no matter how offensive, of Bonhoeffer:
“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”
We serve a God who is already pouring out mercy, love, grace, truth, and justice on the earth. He is not confounded or blocked by who wins or doesn’t win – in fact, He’s not the least bit surprised.
May we keep His name hallowed, and may His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, for there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved: Jesus Christ.
I hesitate to add more noise into the already fever pitch dialogue on the two shootings in the past 36 hours, one in Baton Rouge, the other in Minnesota. I hesitate, but I understand that I must speak.
First, let me start off by saying I have nothing but the utmost respect for law enforcement. They have an incredibly hard job that I could never do. They have to make tough choices in micro-seconds, and we should always honor and respect out law enforcement officers of all levels.
I also fully admit that police officers are also being targeted at random and murdered, and that is equally unacceptable.
That being said, two human beings have been killed in as many days by law enforcement. Both incidents have been caught on camera, and a third shooting has emerged in Fresno, California. You can read about that here.
Let us check ourselves for a moment and tone down the politics and grieve. A human being – a fellow image-bearer of God – has been murdered. We should be weeping. It shouldn’t matter in this part of the process what race, who was at fault, or who was right. We need to stop and grieve! Human beings – fathers, brothers, sons – have been executed.
Let us stop all the political posturing and nonsense.
This is NOT a gun issue. America has had guns for over 200 years and gotten along just fine.
While I’ll be the first to admit that I, as a white man, cannot and will never be able to understand the struggles faced by my African-American brothers and sisters in this country. I cannot at the same time deny that race relations in America are all kumbaya. There not – and the sooner we address that elephant in the room, the better.
Racism is alive and well, and it is not going away. My African-American friends live in fear to leave their house. It has to stop. Now.
Ultimately this is a heart issue. When a person decides that one person, or a particular group of persons’ lives are less valuable than others, chaos ensues. We have stripped ourselves of every shred of human dignity and regard for others in the United States. We have become so disconnected from reality that we have forgotten the value of life. That every life is precious. That every person deserves to live without fear. That every human being is given the divine imprint of the image of God at conception. Anytime that is snuffed out, whether in utero or in life, by careless violence, or intentional murder WE. SHOULD. WEEP.
What’s it going to take, America? What has to happen before we start valuing life again? What’s going to move us from calloused and disenchanted people into a loving, caring, compassionate people? When are we going to remember dignity and life matter? That all lives matter?
When are we going to stand up and demand accountability from our law enforcement and put measures in place to protect them and the civilian population? When will we stand up and say, “ENOUGH!?” When will be demand people, no matter who they are or their status in society, be held accountable for criminal behavior? When will the violence stop?
The fact that immediately after these shootings we begin talking about gun control and race issues highlights that we are so numb to the fact that we’ve lost touch with reality. We’re living in insanity. We’re living in denial. Because we can’t even take time to weep over the death of a human being without trying to gain a foothold for our own selfish ambitions and agendas.
We. Should. Be. Ashamed.
We should be ashamed that we’re still having race issues. We should be ashamed that we can so easily flip the channel and avoid hearing what’s really going on? We should be ashamed that it keeps happening.
I’m calling on all Christians and all churches to be stand up and say, “Enough is Enough.” To stand and declare that we are blessed peacemakers who will not sit by idly and watch our neighbors and fellow humans be executed on our streets, law enforcement or civilian. I am calling on you to rediscover humanity and life, to pull your head off of Facebook and look at the world around you.
People are dying in our streets and we are content to sit by, as long as it doesn’t affect us. Shame on us. May God have mercy on us.
Enough is Enough. It’s time we change our country.
As a minister, I get the question (or various forms of it) “Do I really have to go to church?” I rarely find that question being asked of the Sunday morning gathering, but more often than not referring to Sunday morning Bible class, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.
This is a question I’ve wrestled with. As church leader it’s frustrating when people don’t show up. However, I don’t want to make it into a legalistic issue either. So how should we proceed?
Perhaps a good place to start is our understanding of “church” in the first place. The New Testament tells us the story of the birth Jesus’ church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). That day, the Holy Spirit explodes on the scene and the church is born. The rest of the New Testament fleshes out the theology of the church, but not in terms we’d think.
For instance, the church is never once referred to or related to a place or building. the early church would have a hard time with our saying “I’m going to church” because in their view, how could you go to something you already are?
Scripture paints a picture of a living organism, not a static institution as manifestation the church. The Apostle Peter says this:
5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5, ESV)
Paul writes this:
9 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22, ESV)
Paul’s famous “body” analogy of 1 Corinthians 12 concludes like this:
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27, ESV)
So we can see that the Church is a place that exists anywhere the people of God, who make it up, are gathered.
That begins to change our view of things, because that means that we are the Body of Christ, and Christ is present when we are gathered, and we can see in a bunch of Scriptures (too long to go into here) that we get together as a people on Sunday morning.
Typically when someone misses church, folks with throw out this scripture to condemn them for missing:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25, ESV)
But lest we proof text someone to death and make assumptions that Scripture itself isn’t making, perhaps our view of church must return to the original intent of God.
When we gather together on Sunday morning, or any time, for that matter with our brothers and sister to encourage, lift up praise, pray, and commune, something incredible happens: We experience God.
Typically this is called “sacramental theology” and if we boil it down, the point of coming together is to dwell in unity in the Presence of God…and you really can’t get that any other way than getting together with other Christians.
Some will argue that Scripture doesn’t extend that to Sunday evenings and Wednesday nights. To that I say, “You’re right!” However, I will ask this question:
If assembling together with other Christians to learn, to study, to laugh, to pray, to sing, if that gathering helps us experience God’s grace and draws us closer together, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it?
What could be more enticing or more important than that? What could make you NOT want to come and be with your spiritual family? What could be more pressing than that?
So I leave the ball in your court.
If you find yourself discouraged or tired of, disenchanted or bored with, annoyed or too tired for and of your congregation…i’ll bet my last hotdog on a stick that you’ve probably disengaged and really only attend Sunday mornings. If that’s true, then you’re probably spiritually starving to death and those are all the symptoms.
It also shows a skew in our personal priorities – a lack of self-control even, that we are so fickle and quick to put other things in the place of our spiritual life.
Instead of viewing church as another item to check off the list of pretend perfunctory piety, perhaps we need to remember what we are doing when we get together: being the visible manifestation of Christ on earth and experiencing God together.
I’ll see you Sunday,