29 July 2013

Coexist: Religious Tolerance or Religious Pluralism?

More and more often, I see these coexist bumper stickers. Surely, you have seen them as well. They feature religious symbols ordered in such a way that they spell out "coexist". In case you are wondering, the letters represent Islam, Peace, Male/Female, Judaism, Wicca, Taoism/Confucianism, and Christianity.

On the one hand, the concept of co-existence is admirable. We live in a society where religious tolerance is increasingly under attack. Recent decisions--especially in the judicial and executive branches of the federal government--negatively affect religious freedom. A few days ago, I shared some thoughts from Francis Schaeffer about the purposes of First Amendment. One of these stated purposes is government is not to impede upon the free practice of religion. We should be in the habit of openly advocating for the free practice of religion in the United States. Of all places, the United States should be a safe haven for individuals to practice their religion, even if we happen to believe they are wrong (and vice versa).

On the other hand, I am not sure that is the intent of these bumper stickers, at least not the full intent. I suspect that the intent is to suggest that there is no such thing as an exclusive truth claim when it comes to God. In a relativistic, pluralistic society, whatever you hold to be true is true. What you believe is true for you and what I believe is true for me. We are expected not only to tolerate and respect the other person, but the other person's ideas as well, because for them, whatever they believe is truth.

But here's the rub--truth is not relative. Truth, objective truth, is what best explains reality as we know it. There are many different systems of thought, most don't fit with what we know about the universe. One does. In this regard, truth is exclusive and the idea promoted by these bumper stickers is patently false. We may both have ideas about what offers the best explanation, but either we are both wrong or only one of us is right. We cannot both be correct and hold opposing viewpoints.

Furthermore, individuals who put these bumper stickers on their cars are often champions of "tolerance" and peace, but what they fail to realize is how offensive these bumper stickers are to individuals of faith within certain traditions. For example, orthodox Christians hold strongly to the notion that Jesus is the Messiah and is the only way of salvation. Orthodox Jews hold strongly that Jesus was not the Messiah and therefore cannot be the way of salvation.

Rather than encouraging a culture of cheap and ineffective acceptance of all ideas as equally valid, why not encourage a respectful culture where every person can advocate for their ideas and face counterarguments? In this type of culture, people would be respected even if their ideas were not. We must return to a culture where we fight to know objective truth because in a society where everything is allowed as truth, it ends up that there is nothing is worth fighting for.

For more reading:
The Intolerance of Tolerance by DA Carson
Is Jesus the Only Way Stand to Reason

27 July 2013

Book Review: The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer

I have long considered Francis Schaeffer to be one of the most influential people on my thinking. His three volume set: The God Who is There, He Is There and He is Not Silent, and Escape From Reason as well as his short volume The Mark of the Christian have been beneficial reads.  I decided that this summer, I would try to read through his complete works--22 books, 5 volumes, 2262 pages.

Once again, I really appreciated his three apologetics books.  His work is essential for any serious student of understanding Christian worldview and how Christianity applies to all of life.  Schaeffer's knowledge of a wide variety of fields: philosophy, art, music, culture, and religion come together well in these books. 

Beyond these books, I really appreciated Genesis in Space and Time in which Schaeffer defended the truthfulness of Genesis 1-11.  He makes a strong call for understanding these early chapters of the Bible. True Spirituality is also a must read, perhaps one of the finest of his books. In this book, he defends the orthodox Christian position. His books Death in the City and The Great Evangelical Disaster further support the need for holding to an orthodox position and standing for True Truth.  Finally, his book Whatever Happened to the Human Race, which he co-authored with C Everett Koop was an excellent defense of the uniqueness and value of man.

There was a lot of repetition of ideas from book to book which others have raised as a criticism, but I don't necessarily think it is a bad thing.  It was a beneficial thing to see his ideas re-presented on multiple occasions.  Schaeffer was uniquely gifted as a cultural critic, philosopher and prophet. His words, written 30 to 40 years ago in most cases show a direct application to today's society.  His balance of truth and love is nearly unparalleled. 

Two Purposes of the First Amendment

When the First Amendment was passed it only had two purposes.  The first purpose was that there would be no established, national church for the united thirteen states.  To say it another way: there would be no “Church of the United States.”  James Madison (1751-1836) clearly articulated this concept of separation when explaining the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty.  He said that the First Amendment to the Constitution was prompted because “the people feared one sect might obtain a preeminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.”

Nevertheless, a number of the individual states had state churches, and even that was not considered in conflict with the First Amendment.  “At the outbreak of the American Revolution, nine of the thirteen colonies had conferred special benefits upon one church to the exclusion of others.” “In all but one of the thirteen states, the states taxed the people to support the preaching of the gospel and to build churches.” "it was not until 1798 that the Virginia legislature repealed all its laws supporting churches.” "In Massachusetts the Massachusetts Constitution was not amended until 1853 to eliminate the tax-supported church provosions.”

The second purpose of the First Amendment was the very opposite from what is being made of it today.  It states expressly that government should not impede or interfere with the free practice of religion.

Those were the two purposes of the First Amendment as it was written.

As Justice Douglas wrote for the majority of the Supreme Court in the United States v. Ballard case in 1944: "The First Amendment has a dual aspect.  It not only 'forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship' but also 'safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion.'"

Today the separation of church and state in America is used to silence the church.  When Christians speak out on issues, the hue and cry from the humanist state and media is that Christians, and all religions, are prohibited from speaking since there is a separation of church and state.  The way the concept is used today is totally reversed from the original intent. 

Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto

23 July 2013

Ancient Attitudes on Abortion

When the United States Supreme Court made its ruling about abortion on January 22, 1973, Mr. Justice Blackmun delivered the opinion of the Court.  The first section in his opinion was titled “Ancient Attitudes.”  In it he referred back to preChristian law.  He said, “Greek and Roman law afforded little protection to the unborn.  If abortion was prosecuted in some places, it seems to have been based on a concept of a violation of the father’s right to his offspring.  Ancient religion did not bar abortion.”  Thus, as his first point, Mr. Justice Blackmun based his opinion on the practice of pre-Christian Greek and Roman law.  Most people who read this did not realize the logical result concerning babies after their birth.  Roman law permitted not only abortion but also infanticide.  As we think this over, we ask ourselves, “Now that this door is open, how long will it be before infanticide is socially accepted and perhaps legalized?”-Francis Schaeffer, What Ever Happened to the Human Race?

Grant Horner: A Feast for the Soul

For the last several years, I have been using the Grant Horner Bible Reading System.  Here is Professor Horner talking about his program.  I would encourage you to give it a go!

Forget the Zombies

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.-Romans 6:11-12

I don't really understand the zombie culture. I actually find it quite distasteful. Granted, in my youth, I thought that Michael Jackson's Thriller was a really creative video, but for the most part, I struggle to understand America's obsession with the undead. How is it that we have come to a place where we find excitement and joy in brainless undead automatons, especially given their connection to witchcraft?

But here's the thing--I think a lot of us keep zombies around in our Christian lives as well. What are zombies? Those who have been killed and come back to life, at least in a way.  They behave purely on instinct.  They are soulless.

In Romans 6, Paul tells us that we are dead to sin, but alive in Christ. Our sinful selves have been crucified with Christ.  We've been set free.  He is not telling us that we need to put sin to death, he is saying it already has been and so we need to live in the light of that reality. He says, "consider yourselves dead to sin and so don't let sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey its passions."

But how often do we do this?  How often does the zombie of our old self re-surface, driven solely by its passion? The zombie self makes us forget for a time that we are alive to Christ, but dead to sin.  And so we give in.

Rather, Paul tells us to remember that our sinful man is dead so let's keep him dead. Sin shall have no dominion over us because we are under grace.

20 July 2013

Avoiding Accommodation

There is a growing acceptance of pluralism and accommodation.  And what has been the response of the evangelical leadership?  Overwhelmingly it has been to keep silent, to let the slide go further and further, to paper over the differences.  Here again we see the great evangelical disaster — the failure of the evangelical leadership to take a stand really on anything that would stand decisively over against the relativistic moral slide of our culture — the failure to take a stand on anything that would “rock the boat” concerning our personal projects and acceptance.  And now when our culture is all but lost, can we expect anything but further disaster in the form of a complete moral breakdown and the rise of a new humanistic authoritarianism if we do not take a stand?

-Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster

17 July 2013

Reformation and Revival

The church in our generation needs reformation, revival, and constructive revolution.

At times men think of the two words reformation and revival as standing in contrast one to the other, but this is a mistake.  Both words are related to the word restore.

Reformation refers to a restoration to pure doctrine; revival refers to a restoration in the Christian’s life.  Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture; revival speaks of a life brought into its proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.

The great moments of church history have come when these two restorations have simultaneously come into action so that the church has returned to pure doctrine and the lives of the Christians in the church have known the power of the Holy Spirit.  There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation; and reformation is not complete without revival.

Such a combination of reformation and revival would be revolutionary in our day — revolutionary in our individual lives as Christians, revolutionary not only in reference to the liberal church but constructively revolutionary in the evangelical, orthodox church as well.

May we be those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and Spirit-filled life.

-Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City

16 July 2013

Media Bias, Satire, and The Daily Show

Earlier today, I tweeted a link to a short post written by Matt Slick about his experience on the Daily Show.  Matt Slick runs CARM, which is an apologetics resource ministry. He reportedly was asked to appear on the Daily Show to discuss whether there was an anti-Christian bias in the media when it came to the issue of homosexuality.  Matt shared what he said and how this was changed and manipulated by the Daily Show, in fact clipping together parts from two different sentences so that it appeared that he said something he did not.

Since the reportedly doctored clip aired, Slick received significant backlash from the news community. He states he has been called a bigot, homophobe, and a number of other things. What I find interesting is that The Daily Show is a satirical news program, but that people believe it is more trustworthy than mainstream news sources (I recall reading this somewhere in the last several years). On the one hand, considering its satrical nature, we should not be surprised that the Daily Show would change or misrepresent things for shock value. That's what satire does. What is more deeply concerning is that many Americans assume that what they are hearing from Jon Stewart is truth and find it more trustworthy than mainstream news.

I believe that media bias, misrepresentation, and tweaking is alive and well.  For that reason, I think most of us would do well to slow down and consider the source before jumping to conclusions.

If you are interested in media bias, I would recommend the excellent blog, Get Religion.

Postscript: today I came across this quote from Francis Schaeffer: "I have also been on the other end of this manipulation by editing when I have been on TV talk shows trying to make a point.  Somebody at the controls knows that you are going to say something he does not like, and so he switches the camera and the mike and you’re dead.  You sound like a fool no matter how right your answer is going to be.  The television viewer says to himself, “Schaeffer is a fool” — and he may be, but this does not prove it.  A simple fact: people think they are seeing reality when they sit in front of that crazy box, but they are being manipulated in subtle but strenuous ways."

11 July 2013

Ways to Preserve Unity

Today, Challies posted these 12 Ways to Preserve Christian Unity, which he gleaned from the puritan Thomas Brooks's Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices.  Click through to read more in depth explanation.

#1. Spend more time considering evidences of grace in other Christians than you do pondering their sins and weaknesses.

#2. Consider that spiritual safety comes through spiritual unity.

#3. Meditate on God’s many commands demanding that we love one another

#4. Spend more time considering areas of agreement than disagreement.

#5. Consider your peaceful God.

#6. Renew in your mind and heart what it means to be at peace with God

#7. Meditate on the unique relationship between Christians

#8. Count the cost of disunity

#9. Be the first to seek peace and reconciliation

#10. Walk and work together with other Christians as far as possible, making the Word the only judge of your actions

#11. Judge yourself more than you judge others

#12. Pursue humility

07 July 2013

Francis Schaeffer: The Weakness of God's Servants

I have been working my way through The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, a spiritual mentor I have never met. I am copying here, in total, his sermon "The Weakness of God's Servants", an amazing sermon on how biblical Christianity is the most realistic worldview, neither romantic nor cynical.  It will take some time to read through, but I would commend it to you.

If someone asked us, “What is the Bible?” we probably would not begin our answer by saying, “The Bible is a realistic book.”  Yet in the twentieth century this might be the best place to start — to stress the realism of the Bible in contrast to the romanticism which characterizes the twentieth-century concept of religion.  To most modem people, truth is to be sought through some sort of leap from which we extract our own personal religious experiences.

Many feel that the Bible should portray a romantic view of life, but the Bible is actually the most realistic book in the world.  It does not glibly say, “God’s in His heaven — all’s right with the world!” It faces the world’s dilemmas squarely.  Yet, unlike modern realism which ends in despair, it has answers for the dilemmas.  And, unlike modem romanticism, its answers are not optimism without a sufficient base, not hope hung in a vacuum.

So we should say at once to twentieth-century people: the Bible is a tough-fibered book.

05 July 2013

First Knight: Themes of Islam and Christianity

"There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free."-King Arthur

Yesterday, I was listening to a lecture from Ravi Zacharias, the excellent apologist and evangelist. He was sharing a discussion he had with a Muslim individual who pointed out that Islam was the fastest growing religion in the world. Zacharias responded to the effect that it was the fastest growing forced religion in the world and that if the leaders would take their feet off the neck of their people, its growth would cease. Indeed, in many countries, compliance with Islam is the law and failure to comply results in death. Indeed, if someone converts to another religion they are killed if they do not manage escape.

As I thought about this teaching on my walk this morning, I began thinking about the 1995 movie, First Knight, starring Richard Gere, Sean Connery, and Julia Ormond. The movie is based upon the legend of Arthur of Camelot and essentially focuses on the love triangle between King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Lady Guinevere. However, there is also an important back story that involves another character by the name of Malagant. Malagant is a former member of the round table who has left Camelot to lead his own band of rebels, wreaking havoc on the countryside.

Malagant has gathered to himself a band of submissive followers who do exactly as he commands. In one scene, to demonstrate his power, he punches one of his right and men in the face and the man apologizes to him for having done wrong though he was blameless in the situation. Eventually, Malagant makes a move and briefly takes over Camelot through a strong show of power. He insists that might makes right. Out of love for their fallen king, however, the people of Camelot surge and oust Malagant. 

The essence of Islam is submission--indeed the word Islam means submission.  Many "converts" are added through forced compliance. In Islamic countries, failure to comply with Islam results in death. Conversely, Christianity is a religion of freedom. Christianity does not force converts. Indeed, we know that it cannot.  Christianity is a religion of love. John 13:34-35 says "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In the movie, freedom and love triumph over forced submission and control. Arthur, in his sacrificial death for his people, defeats Malegant. 

The same will prove true for Christianity and Islam.