Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When Politics and Religion Collide

I ran across this NY Times article by Ross Douthat while reading Justin Taylor’s Blog.

It is an interesting article giving advice to journalists as they write about religious beliefs (specifically “Conservative Christianity” in this instance) when they do not share those beliefs. His four points boil down to this:

  1. Conservative Christianity is vast and complex with overlapping beliefs and practices. It is easy to hold up the fringe and extreme views as the “normal” views of either a political candidate or a religious movement.
  2. One should avoid a double standard. If you don’t think it is important to hold a Democrat’s feet to the fire for their ties to radical views then you shouldn’t turn around and say that it is important to hold a Conservative’s feet to the fire for similar ties to radical views.
  3. Don’t see conspiracy in movements and organizations in which you are unfamiliar. Often “code words” are not conspiracy driven code words but merely the normal everyday language of those movements and organizations.
  4. Republican politicians have been better at using their religious constituents than the constituents have been able to “use” the politicians. Douthat uses a great example in George W. Bush and the Federal Marriage Amendment.

I would love to simply say, “Yeah! You tell ‘em!” But I think that I need to take his advice very seriously as well.

  1. Liberalism is a vast and complex movement. It is easy for me to pigeonhole the whole movement as socialist but when I reflect back on my experiences with those that would self profess to be liberals often they are merely concerned for other people. They have no desire for a socialist system but rather they are trying to find a way to help those that are in need and quite often ignored. We may disagree as to why things are the way they are and the best way of fixing them, but often we both have a mutual concern for others. The disagreement frequently stems from the initial analysis as to what leads to the problem. Until we agree on this (and that day may never come) we will continue to disagree on the course of action that needs to be taken. I need to remember this whenever I engage in these conversations.
  2. If I want to hold Democrats to a high standard then I need to start by holding myself to either the same or an even higher standard. Then I need to move on to holding Conservative politicians to those standards. I like to think that I hold myself to those high standards but sometimes I really don’t do that good of a job.
  3. Even if I really do think there is a conspiracy going on, it rarely helps to jump up and down and wave my arms while yelling. How often has a real conspiracy (Area 51 notwithstanding) stayed a secret? In order to have a large conspiracy there must be a large number of people know about it. And that means the odds of someone spilling the beans gets closer and closer to 100%. How often does a crime get solved because someone couldn’t keep their mouth closed? I need to just tackle the issue head on.
  4. We may be a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles but we are not and never will be a Theocracy. I have every right to argue against laws that I do not like but “Because the Bible says so” is never (nor need it be) a valid argument as to why a law needs to be changed. If I believe that I have the Truth on my side then I should be confident that a intelligent and logical argument can be made to change a certain law. If my only defense is “Because the Bible says so” then I should probably start to examine why I want that law changed.

Finally the most important thing is to handle any of these discussions with grace and civility. He who yells loudest during an argument is probably not doing well.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Attributes of God and The Problem of Evil - Updated

(In my rush to finish before heading off to church I forgot to wrap up my line of thinking.)

God can be known through both his negative and positive attributes. Talking about God’s negative attributes is not talking about God’s “bad traits” rather it is explaining something about God in a way that says what he does not have in order to say something about what he does have as an attribute. For example, I have already said that he is eternal and by this we mean that he does not have a beginning or an end. God is also is omniscient—there is nothing that he does not know. God is also omnipotent—there is nothing that God cannot do. God is also fully sovereign over all things. There is nothing that God does not rule over. He sees all things and is ultimately in control of all things. God’s rule and control over the universe is also combined with his intimate relationship with creation. It is this combination that gives us what is called God’s providence; his maintaining and controlling of his plan for humanity and all of creation.

Yet it is very easy for me to forget that God is ultimately in control of everything that happens.

When it comes to the idea of God being in control there are two ends of the spectrum. The first end is that God has strictly determined everything (and I mean everything) that has or ever will happen. If this were the case then, among many other issues, all of our life experiences would be at best a mere illusion and at worst a deception. We either only have the perception of being in control of our decisions or God is deceiving us into believing we have control over them. Neither of these options fit into what we experience in life or what we read in the Scriptures.

The opposite end of the spectrum is that God is not in control at all. He merely set things in action and is sitting back to see what is going to happen. Each and every thing that happens is a surprise to both us and God. If this is the case then things like prayer are completely pointless in that God doesn’t intervene and everything is controlled by mere chance. Again, I don’t see this fitting into what we experience in life or read in the Scriptures.

That God is ultimately in control lands somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. He is in control but also allows us the freedom to make choices. God being ultimately in control does not mean that God is a puppet master pulling all the strings. It is good to remember that there is a difference between what God predestines to happen and what God allows to happen. There are certain things that God allows to happen that we just do not understand.

Why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? This question leads to one of the most difficult questions that Christians face: The Problem of Evil. Of course, as Brett Kunkle points out, the problem of evil is not just a difficult question for Christians but it is a difficult question for everyone.

The best we can say is that any suffering and evil that we encounter in the world is allowed by God for reasons that are beyond us. Yet in the overall scheme of life, Jesus Christ provides us the ultimate comfort. While in this life what he provides is the salve to get us through, ultimately and eternally he provides the cure for our suffering. One day Christ will return and set all things right.

For further reading/viewing on suffering and the problem of evil consider:

Greg Koukl’s articles A Good Reason For Suffering and How Christians Can Deal With Tragedy

Lee Strobel’s video Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

William Lane Craig’s video Do Pain and Suffering Disprove God’s Existence?

Peter Kreeft’s article Suffering

Attributes of God and The Problem of Evil

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Morning Deep Thought #1

As I sat there at the laundromat waiting for our comforters eating BBQ pork fried rice and contemplating a busy weekend of babysitting my 10 month old niece I had a revelation. Chinese food has finally made it to the digital age. Not the restaurants-I've seen online ordering before. But the actual food. Or at least the fortune cookies have:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is being a Cub fan a lifelong affliction?

1983 and 1984 were great years to be growing up a baseball fan in Chicago. I was a young pup and just starting to seriously follow baseball. The White Sox had won the AL West in '83 and the Cubs won the NL East in '84. Imagine my great discovery...we had winning baseball every year! Well over the next four years the White Sox won more games than they lost one time and the Cubs managed to do it zero times. I also came to find out that you cannot be both a Cubs fan and a White Sox fan.

So I did the smart thing (it's a family matter) and picked the Cubs.

Three years ago I had the chance to visit old Yankee Stadium in it's last year. The atmosphere, the history and the winning hooked me. I bought a Yankees hat and was on my way to becoming a Yankees fan. I really don't like switching my baseball allegiance from the Cubs but did I mention the winning?

Following the Yankees while living in Chicago can be somewhat difficult even in the day and age of this internet thing. In August of this year I started subscribing to MLB.TV which allows me to watch all of the Yankee games. So far in August I have watched more baseball games than I had in the previous 4 or 5 years combined.

Yet I find myself falling into my Cub fan habits. For those unfamiliar with Cub history there is: The Billy Goat Curse, The Fall of '69, The June Swoons, The heartbreak of 1984, the 2003 collapse that was wrongly blamed on an unfortunate fan, not winning a World Series since 1908 and the overall loosing. They have the same number of World Series wins as the Blue Jays, Mets and Marlins. The thing is that all of those teams have been in existence at least 86 year less than the Cubs. There have been a couple of games over the past two weeks where the Yankees were down by a couple of runs early and I chalked the game up as a loss. The Cubs rarely ever come back and they don't give you the impression that they will come back.

I decided not to watch the Yankees game yesterday because after three innings they were down 7-1. What a surprise to wake up the next morning and see that they ended up winning 22-9. As a matter of fact they set a Major League record of hitting three grand slams in one game.

It is all a lesson in shedding that feeling of inevitable doom that has been continually reinforced as a lifelong Cubs fan.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Does Having a Personal God Matter?

I believe that there is only one true God that is the uncreated and uncaused being. Everything that has been created or will be created has and will be created by God. God is a transcendent being meaning that God exists outside of and beyond creation. However, this does not mean that God only exists outside of creation—God is personally involved within creation and does in fact draw near.

Genesis 3 speaks of God dealing on a very personal level with Adam and Eve. While there might be those that wish to dismiss this story as mythological in nature (of which I am not one), it still speaks to the truth about how God has taken a personal interest in humanity and has decided to deal with humanity on a personal level. While God may not speak to us in the same way depicted in the Garden of Eden as well as other places in the Bible, it is clear that we see this same level of personal involvement through Jesus Christ.

Rather, what it means to say that God is transcendent is that we as human beings, restricted to living within creation, cannot in this lifetime fully know everything there is to know about God. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that we do not see everything fully which also relates to God. Part of our not seeing God fully is due to our sinfulness but it is also due to God being beyond our full comprehension. Our knowledge of God is limited to what God has revealed to us.

But living life as if God is a personal God that has drawn near can be very difficult. I find that I don’t always consider that God is personally involved in my life. My angry reaction this morning to the guy that cut me off did not take into account that God may be watching. I was in my car. He can’t actually see me in there can he? He doesn’t actually notice when I pretend not to see someone in need does he?

I would guess that not fully living life considering that we have a personal God is largely responsible for leaving people in hunger and need. It is responsible for wars and conflict. God may be a personal God but he has also allowed us to chart our own path. We are personal beings and we need to consider how we relate to other personal beings in light of having a personal God. Jesus told a parable about this very thing in Matthew 25:42-45. He related how we treat others to how we treat God:
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
While I am not always as good at that as I should be it does provide an excellent area of continued growth.

Amy Hall has an interesting blog post on the notion of God being a personal God.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What Makes A Christian Band a Christian Band?

Needtobreathe is quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. Their song Lay ‘Em Down was playing somewhere and, as I do with songs that I like but are not familiar with, I “SoundHounded” it. About a month later I was going through the songs in my SoundHound history and came across it. Often I will listen to a song and wonder why I had decided that I needed to know what song was playing. With Lay ‘Em Down there was no question that it was a song that I wanted to buy. So I have bought a few of Needtobreathe’s songs and have really enjoyed listening to them.

Just a few days ago I was listening to Shine.Fm through their iPhone app. (There are no radio stations in Chicago that actually play any Christian music that I want to listen to on a regular basis.) The DJ (Should it be CDJ or even MP3J?) read a bit of an interview with Needtobreath lead singer Bear Rinehart on whether or not Needtobreathe is a Christian band and if they ran into any conflict between faith and art.

The way we approach it with the media, I say, you know if I were a truck driver from the south, definitely that would affect my music. And so me being a Christian, that definitely affects my music. We make really honest music, and this time more honest than the last. So that means this time, it’s more Christian than the last. It’s more overt in that way. I think fans really like that, secular or Christian. I think a lot is made out of that in the media, but I just don’t think that people really do care. I mean, we play a club one night and maybe on a Christian tour the next. You can turn the dial and hear our song on the Christian station and then hear it on the secular station next. I hope that we send a positive message regardless. We definitely don’t try to fill someone’s agenda.
It is an interesting thought. I wonder if he is on to something in that we can sometimes be more concerned with the labels we attach to something rather than whether or not the shoes fit. Is Needtobreathe a Christian band because of the songs that they sing or are they a Christian band because the members are Christians? Do I believe certain things and live my life a certain way because I wear the label Christian or is the label Christian attached to me because I believe certain things and live my life a certain way? It is a chicken and the egg type of question.

Paul states in Colossians 1:9-10:
And so from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Paul is saying that Christians are to be filled with the knowledge and understanding of God and it is to affect how we live our lives on a daily basis. That in turn is to help increase the fruit we bear and increases our knowledge of God. So on one hand when I attach the label Christian to myself it should affect how I live my life. But the way I live my life should also cause people to recognize that I am a Christian.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Intersection of Revelation and Apple Pie

A Credo is a statement of faith and is Latin for "I Believe." The last big assignment in seminary was to write our own personal Credo. It was quite the daunting task. The combination of putting your belief in writing along with the peer and instructor review process was both intimidating and fun at the same time.

While it is a statement of faith it needs to be so much more than that. It is not just head knowledge but it is also foot knowledge. It should shape how I live my life. And what turned out to be even more difficult than putting my beliefs in writing in order to go through the review process was when I came across something that I realized just did not make it down to my feet often enough. It was always a very good reminder that I am still a work in progress. The end of seminary is not the end of the journey. It is merely one step along the way.

As I was going through the process of writing my Credo I found it quite helpful to research how others - both individual people as well as organizations - formatted their Statements of Faith. It was interesting to figure out what others thought was important to include and in what order they organized the information.

A lot that I came across started with some form of epistemology - or how we know what we know. In terms of Christianity this usually takes the form of Revelation. Revelation is how God reveals himself to humanity and we tend to understand the concept of revelation almost instinctively. We can know something about another person in one of three basic ways.

For example, let’s say you wanted to get to know something about me. One way often the most direct way is when I tell you about myself. Let’s say that you are trying to figure out my favorite dessert. I can simply tell you that it is apple pie. Another way you could learn what my favorite dessert is would be for my wife to tell you. She knows me very well and could accurately tell you my preference. The third way is if you observe that whenever given the choice of desserts, my overwhelming choice would be to take a nice sized slice of apple pie. I will refer to this as the “Apple Pie Method.”

God does the same thing. The first two examples in the "Apple Pie Method" (my wife or me telling you) tend to fall in what is called Special Revelation. Special Revelation is when God spoke directly to people and we read about it in the Bible. This gives us a very direct knowledge about God.

The third example in the "Apple Pie Method" (you watching me eat apple pie) is when we see evidence for God in nature which is called Natural Revelation. There are things in nature that teach us about God but they tend to be limited. We do need to include both Natural Revelation and Special Revelation in order to get a full understanding of God. Yet it is Special Revelation - as in the Christian Bible - where we find the fullest knowledge of God. It is also where most of the information for my Credo comes from.

Over the next few weeks - as I start getting back into writing on a regular basis - I will share some of those things that I felt were important to include in my Credo and how those things should shape how I live my life. Be assured that they don't always do so as I want them to but that it is something that I continue to struggle with. Now to go and find some apple pie.

For further reading on revelation and how God speaks consider Tim Challies article on Revelation, Inspiration and Illumination and Greg Koukl's article on Hearing God's Voice.

For further information on the reliability of Scripture as revelation consider Lee Strobel's videos on the Reliability of the Gospels, The Case for Christ and Dr. Peter William's video on New Evidences the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts.