“If You Were Born in India…”

boys from india with painted faces and turbans

The common argument goes that if you were born in India, you would most likely be a Hindu. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, then you would most likely be a Muslim. If you were born in a Christian family, you would most likely be a Christian. From this, skeptics would conclude: your Christian beliefs are just the product of where you were born and not based on what is true. Some skeptics will even go so far as to say that therefore Christianity is not true.

Now to an extent, this is true. Statistically speaking if you were born in India, you would be a Hindu and if you were born in Saudi Arabia then you would most likely be a Muslim, but it doesn’t follow that Christianity is false because some of us may only be Christians because we were born in a Christian family. To put forth the argument that Christianity is false because we are more likely to adopt the beliefs of our family because of where we’re born is to commit the genetic fallacy.

The Genetic Fallacy

What’s the genetic fallacy you might ask? Well, the genetic fallacy is when you try to invalidate a belief by showing how someone came to accept it. For example, if I were to say: You only believe western democracy is the best form of government because you were raised in a western democracy. Well, that may be true but it doesn’t follow that democracy is not the best form of government. Or to put it another way, what if I came to conclusion that the earth is round based off what I learned in a comic book? Does it follow that the earth is not round? Of course not. You can’t invalidate a belief by showing how one comes to believe it. That’s just nonsense.

Here is something to consider: What if we have good, solid reasons for believing that God exists? What if we have excellent reasons for believing that not only Jesus existed but also have good reasons to believe his ministry, death, and resurrection actually happened?

Going further with this, what if a personal God has graciously revealed himself, both generally and specifically? What if there are good solid reasons to believe Christianity is true and every religion that contradicts it is false? How we came to our beliefs is irrelevant if Christianity is true. So to the skeptics out there reading this, let’s examine the arguments and evidences for Christianity being true rather committing the genetic fallacy.

Shaping Culture and Helping Believers

In my last post I talked about the first of three reasons for every Christian to use apologetics: that it helps us to reach unbelievers.  We saw this happening in the Gospels and Acts. Today’s post is about exploring the other two reasons for using apologetics: Shaping culture and strengthening believers.

I don’t think I’m the only one to notice this but the United States is slowly becoming post-Christian. Most unbelievers do not see theology as a source of knowledge anymore. Christianity is seen to be anti-science (even though it is not) and reason and religion are becoming at odds to many Americans in this country. More and more, non-Christians are holding onto a worldview (i.e., their view of the world/reality) that includes the idea that science can explain everything (which it cannot) and religious beliefs are just person-relative and hold no objective truths about God and reality.

Apologetics Shapes Culture

Why are these considerations of culture important? These considerations are important because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It’s always heard against the background of the cultural context in which a person lives. A person raised in a cultural context in which Christianity is seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel which a person who grew up in a very secularized culture will most likely not. For the secular person, you may as well tell them to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth-fairy than Jesus Christ!

It is for this reason that Christians who depreciate the value of apologetics because “no one comes to Christ through arguments” are shortsighted.  For the value of apologetics extends far beyond our immediate personal contact. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to help create and sustain a cultural context in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women.

In an article called “Christianity and Culture,” on the eve of the Fundamentalist Controversy, the great Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen soberly warned,

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. 1

Unfortunately, Machen’s warning was ignored, and biblical Christianity retreated into the intellectual closet of Fundamentalism. Anti-intellectualism and second-rate scholarship became the norm.

Fortunately, in the United States in recent decades a renewed Christianity has emerged from the Fundamentalist closet and has begun to take up Machen’s challenge in a serious manner. To put it simply, we are living at a time when Christian philosophy is experiencing a genuine renaissance, arousing interest in natural theology, at a time when science is more open to the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the cosmos than at any time in recent history, and at a time when biblical criticism has undergone a renewed quest of the historical Jesus which treats the Gospels as valuable historical sources for the life of Jesus. The church is well poised intellectually to help reshape our culture in such a way as to regain lost ground, so that the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking people.

Apologetics Builds Up Believers

My final reason why a Christian should engage with apologetics is because it strengthens fellow believers. Contemporary Christian worship tends to focus on attaining emotional intimacy with God. While this is a good thing, emotions will carry a person only so far, and then he’s going to need something more substantive. Apologetics can help to provide some of that substance. Unfortunately I hear all the time about a married couple’s kids leave the church because all they get from the church is an emotional rush. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have valid arguments for Christianity being true and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our kids to unbelief. It’s no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories; they need sound doctrine and apologetics. We’ve got to train our kids for war (spiritual war that is). We dare not send them out to public high school and university armed with rubber swords and plastic armor. The time for playing games is long past.

But apologetics does much more than keep Christian believers from lapsing into unbelief, it also has an up-building effect. By studying apologetics we can find a much deeper and richer faith than what is available to us in a mere experiential  faith. American churches, as a whole, are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial walk with Christ. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, and of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.

So to summarize: Christian apologetics helps shape culture to where the Christian faith is seen as an intellectually viable option and it strengthens believers by keeping them from dropping into unbelief and gives them a mature, deep, and satisfying faith in Jesus Christ.2

  1.  J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913): 7.
  2.  Much of this material has been taken out of William Lane Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition (2008).

Saddest Christmas Song Ever

Advent brings out an interesting mixture of emotions for me. On one hand, I remember the Decembers of my childhood and the anticipation of Christmas, presents, and an obscene number of cookies. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve been initiated into “grown-up Christmas.” Finances can pinch. Weather can threaten. But more than anything, Advent is a time when we remember what we’ve lost. We think about loved ones who won’t be attending the family Christmas party. Divorce, addiction, and death break the shiny image of our culture’s “perfect Christmas.” Loneliness is never more acute than when it seems everyone else isn’t suffering from it. The colder temperatures make it physically harder to bridge those emotional gaps. For large numbers of our neighbors—including our neighbors in the church—it really isn’t the most wonderful time of the year.

Thank God for the gift of music, which gives us a way to express the truth in a way that engages our hearts as well as our minds. I hope you don’t think it’s strange, then, that I’m so thankful for sad songs at Christmas. I need songs that help me express the sadness and longing that, to my surprise, sprout out of my heart during this season. Without them, I wouldn’t just feel cut off from the people around me—I’d feel cut off from God.

Perhaps the saddest song for this season is the medieval “Coventry Carol.” Set in a minor key to a haunting melody, the carol tells the saddest part of the Christmas story: Herod’s panicked order to kill every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-15). The song, presented from the perspective of the women of Bethlehem, laments the impending doom of “the holy innocents,” as church history has remembered them. Here are the lyrics, which have been updated very little over the centuries:

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

(You can listen to a beautiful choral arrangement on YouTube here. For those with more eccentric tastes, Sufjan Stevens’ version is just as beautiful. You can find it here.)

Why do I love this song so much? First, it’s a beautifully bittersweet song of loss and mourning. But secondly, I’m comforted at the deepest level of my heart to know that I am not the first person to feel sad around the holidays. Far from it! In fact, the very first years following Christ’s birth were marked by pain in the holy family itself: the pain of out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy; the pain of staying committed to your betrothed despite the shaming whispers; the pain of fleeing from violent authorities and sojourning in a foreign country. In other words, the song encourages me to remember that Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer at the holidays.

As a Christian, I am part of a big, timeless family that has always shed tears, not in spite of following Jesus, but precisely because of him. Jesus’ own mother would have her soul pierced to see the humiliation and death of her beloved firstborn (Luke 2:35). Our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake in prisons and in slums simultaneously remember the unspeakable joy and the unspeakable sorrow that is theirs only because of Jesus. Those of us who feel abandoned by our friends and families, who have made decisions with devastating consequences, who have to bear the scars of sin within and without—Advent and Christmas are for us. They always have been. And, because our suffering Savior is now our triumphant King, they point to a time when no more children will die, and the sufferings of this present time won’t compare to the glory we enjoy—provided we suffer with him (Romans 8:17-18).

Image credit: “Sorrow” by Alexander Boden via Flickr, license CC BY-SA 2.0. Original was cropped to fit slider.

Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t Agree With You About Love

I clearly remember being down at what used to be Tom and Lib Phillip’s field (now Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.   It was a beautiful spring afternoon and I was chatting in the outfield during batting practice with one of my non-Christian teammates about God.  As these conversations often do, our discussion moved towards the topic of the afterlife.  Without any hesitation at all he said to me: “But God is love and would never condemn anyone.  I believe that we will all be in Heaven together one day.”

Not only do the majority of people today still believe in God, my experience tells me that most of them share a similar conviction with my old friend on the baseball team.

It’s popular or “in” to conceive of God as loving.  Rarely will you hear of a Westerner say that they find the idea of a loving God grotesque or undesirable.  Who would, right?

But this presents a major problem for bible-believing Christians.

Why?  Wouldn’t it create some common ground and make the “bridge building” process between Christians and non-Christians easier?

I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it makes it significantly harder.

Because the other beliefs that non-Christians hold along with their conception of love simply cannot be married with a Christian worldview.  Which means “love” as Christians conceive of it, is not the same “love” that can be found in popular culture or in non-Christian belief systems.  So if you’re a Christian, your neighbor probably doesn’t in fact agree with you about this thing called love.  As D. A. Carson states:

“If people believe in God at all today, the overwhelming majority hold that this God—however, he, she, or it may be understood—is a loving being.  But that is what makes the task of the Christian witness so daunting.  For this widely disseminated belief in the love of God is set with increasing frequency in some matrix other than biblical theology.  The result is that when informed Christians talk about the love of God, they mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture. Worse, neither side may perceive that that is the case.”  1

The Importance of Context

We all know that words change meaning depending upon the context in which they are used.  To give a really simple example, take the word chair.  As a noun it can mean a seat with a back and four legs in one sentence, as in

“Jennifer got up to throw her gum in the trash and then returned to her chair.”

Or the word chair can mean “the person in charge of a meeting or organization” in another: “John spoke up and addressed the chair.”

If you take the second sentence and use chair in the sense that it is used in the first sentence, you end up talking not to person, but to a seat with four legs.  (Something that most of us would consider a bit unusual.)

Our belief system too can function this way.  Take the concept of death for instance.  If you are a Christian, death is bad. 2 It was introduced into the world in response to human sin; it is a form of judgment.  But if you are an atheist who believes in Darwinian evolution, then death can be conceived of much differently:

“Death…in the biblical worldview is an intruder into an otherwise ‘very good’ world, and the consequence of human sin.  For the Darwinian, on the other hand, death is the necessary method of selecting out those less well-suited to survive and pass on genes, and therefore part of the ‘creative process’ of life which resulted in the arrival of human beings.” 3

That’s a pretty big difference.

Love too is like that.  Just because two people can say that they think God is loving doesn’t in any way mean that they are on the same page.  In fact, they could be in completely different ballparks.

This is what makes the task of the Christian challenging in today’s world.  We have to be able to parse the differences in the various meanings of love when we are talking with our neighbors or on Sunday mornings from our pulpits.

Love is Tricky and Sticky

I think the sum of what I’m wanting to say here is this: just because your local community member says that “God loves everyone” or that “God is love”, that does not in any way mean that they agree with the Bible which says things like “God is love” and “God so loved the world…” and so on.  I’ll go back to Dr. Carson to close:

“To put this another way, we live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved.  I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God–to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.” 4

God’s love cannot be conceived of in whatever way we want it to.  In biblical Christianity love is something that is possible only because of God (1 John 4:19), sees discipline as necessary and healthy even (Proverbs 3:11-12), believes there is a connection between truth and love (Ephesians 4:15, 1 John 3:18), considers others as better than self (Philippians 2:3), sees the cross as the paradigm of love (Philippians 2:1-11), and the loving marriage relationship between a man and a woman as a picture of Christ’s love for his church (Ephesians 5:21-33), and finds the ultimate meaning of human love in the mutual love that existed from eternity between the members of the Trinity (John 17).

This is hardly the picture of love that we find in popular culture.

So when we assume that what we say and what the world says is the same, we may find that we are telling people that we are addressing the four legged seat with a back and not the chair of the meeting.

No wonder the world looks at us a bit cross-eyed when we talk about love.

  1. D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 9-10
  2. Someone might object by saying that the apostle Paul says that “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” in Philippians 1:21. Good question. But the reason dying is gain is not because death is good–the result of death is good, namely being with the Lord, but death itself is bad in the Christian worldview.  Romans 5:12 teaches that death entered through sin, which of course means that death is bad.
  3. Alistair McKitterick, “The Language of Genesis,” in Norman C. Nevin, ed., Should Christians Embrace Evolution, 28.
  4.  The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 11.

Jesus and the Supernatural

Do you believe in the supernatural?

A survey from 2004 showed that thirty-nine percent of those living in the UK consider themselves atheists or agnostics.(1) Yet a more recent poll found that, while many of those in Britain are abandoning Christianity, their interest and faith in spirituality hasn’t gone anywhere. Over half (fifty-five percent) of those surveyed professed belief in the supernatural and superstition; twenty-nine percent claim to be able to see into the future; and a similar number reported that they had knowledge of past lives or possessed telepathic powers. In comparison, less than ten percent attend a Christian church weekly.(2)

In the US we have our own national fascination with the supernatural. A 2007 poll found that a significant number of Americans believe in UFOs (thirty-four percent) or have personally encountered a ghost (twenty-three percent). Lest we think that a lack of education is to blame, Americans with at least a college degree were more likely to believe in ESP (fifty-one percent) than those with a high school education (thirty-seven percent).(3) And of the top ten most popular TV shows last year, five were based on the premise that the supernatural is real and at work in our world.(4) At the same time as more and more of our neighbors are claiming no religious faith (or claiming to be opposed to it entirely), our interest in the weird and bizarre has stayed put. One could even argue that the decline of Christian belief has led to an increased appetite for the paranormal.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the Bible reveals our world to be chock-full of beings and realities that transcend the scientific definition of “natural.” Aside from God himself, spiritual beings like angels and demons are unapologetically presented as real and relevant to human life. Heaven and hell are not metaphors, and their inhabitants play as much of a role in the affairs of our lives as flesh-and-blood people — if not more.

Yet that is not to say that the spiritual world is an angelic Wild West. Hebrews 1:1-3 has already shown that Jesus, having accomplished the earthly work necessary to save his people, is now seated in heaven “at the right hand of the Majesty.” In other words — the King is on his throne, and the spiritual world is subject to him:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:4-14 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews affirms what many post-Christendom Westerners believe (and what the overwhelming preponderance of the citizens of the Majority World have always believed): there exists a world that our minds can only barely comprehend. Yet he goes further to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules over it all and directs its affairs. He quotes multiple passages from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to show that this has always been true — the eternal Son of God has eternally ruled over angels, who were created through him (1:2).

So are we crazy for believing in the supernatural? Not at all. But more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we submit to the rule of the King of the supernatural. Do we acknowledge Jesus, not only as the Ruler of the angels, but as the Ruler of our hearts? We’d be crazy not to.

 


1 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/pdf/wtwtogod.pdf
2- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590349/God-Were-likely-believe-supernatural-Number-people-think-sixth-sense-higher-regularly-attend-church.html
3 – http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-many-americans-believe-in-ghosts-spells-and-superstition-29857/
4- http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=tv_series

Something to Think About in 2015

Pastor Josh wanted to share a little something with you this New Year’s Day.  Grace and peace from all of us over at Red Door Church.

Subscribe to Red Door’s YouTube Channel here.

The False Gospel of Legislative Reform

I was reading just this week a pamphlet that I received in the mail urging Christians to get involved in the political process for the good of our nation.  Here’s one quote:

Many Christians are praying for and expecting revival.  While it is true that God has already given America three national revivals in the past, we desperately need another one today.  Personally, I’m not sure we can have one without legislative reform, because we have strayed so far from our Biblical foundations.  You cannot pollute the minds of a nation with ten billion dollars of pornographic literature annually and murder one and a half million unborn babies and have a revival.  We must have legislative reform, but we will never have legislative reform until we elect enough leaders who are committed to that reform.

Would a righteous God give us revival while we murder 4,000 babies every day?  Will He bless us while we legalize pornography and remove Him from the respectful position He has had traditionally?  I think not.

This raises a fundamental question about our Christian faith: which came first, our goodness or God’s grace?  Does God give us His grace in response to our goodness or is our goodness a result of His first pouring out His grace?

Or, to put it in political terms, should we only expect God to give revival once political reform has already happened, or is it more likely that God would give us revival which would lead to legislative/political reform? 1

In both cases, I would argue the latter.

Or think of it this way: Did God not give Jesus Christ to an apostate Israel after 400 years of deafening silence and that during a pagan Roman occupation?  There was little good to be spoken of in Israel or Rome at the time, yet God sent His Son, the One through whom He was going to make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  The greatest gift we have ever received in the history of the world, God’s Son, was not given to us in response to our goodness, or because we had the right people in power, or because we were pursuing legislative reform, but simply because God loved us.  God gave us His Son Jesus, because “he so loved the world” (John 3:16).  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Take John 3:16 for instance.  “World” or cosmos in the Greek, is a almost like a dirty word for John.  When John says world, think “bad.”  For example, John, the same John who wrote the gospel of John,  says in 1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world (same word in Greek as is found in John 3:16), the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

The world is bad.

Paul gives us another depressing picture of the world in Romans 3:10-18.  “There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, all have turned aside… There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So then why did God send Jesus?  Why does anything good ever happen to us?  To anyone in the world?

Love.

And God’s love (or blessing) does not depend upon our pursuit of legislative reform, or because we attain it.

Revival is possible in this nation, and I do pray and hope that God gives us a wave of revival like never before seen.  I do see the vast array of problems that only seem to multiply and continue to grow in power and influence here in what used to be a great nation.  I do fully understand as well, that as we grow increasingly hostile in this nation to God and to His truth that it will become harder for Christians to live as they please.  That grieves me unspeakably.

But I do not think that the way to pursue revival is by banging on the doors of the White House or by changing any laws.  That may be necessary.  But where there are cold hearts, no law(s) will ever warm them.  Only the gospel will warm the heart.

That is what we need more of, not legislative reform.  Christians should, in my opinion, focus more on living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and less on enshrining our values in the laws of our land.  There may be overlap there, but they are not one and the same thing.

  1. I’m not going to address the very real issue that many Christians do not feel that we need significant reform.