The future is here and it is pre-modern

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We often hear conservatives (both the political and religious kinds) lament the decline of civilization caused by the abandonment of Judeo-Christian “values.” Every year we witness battles in the culture war over Christmas songs in malls, monuments to the 10 commandments, or students praying at football games. These controversies seem to indicate a growing hostility towards Christianity, if not religion in general. I’d suggest, though, that we have moved well beyond the post-Christian and into the post-secular.

New Age may have ended as a phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s but it ushered in an alternative spirituality that has continued to gain momentum. Yoga, mantras, meditation, and various pantheistic beliefs and practices have become mainstream ideas, accepted without question. The increasing number of Americans who identify as spiritual but not religious is a testament to its success. People have rejected Christianity (the goal of New Age) while avoiding the skepticism of a secular worldview that is hostile to any belief in the supernatural.

Next came the Age of Interfaith Religion with its central belief that there is one truth, which speaks in many tongues. Oprah is probably the most well-known advocate of this view and you can watch an interesting video of her on YouTube arguing with an audience member about whether there is only one way to heaven. This worldview compels us reinterpret our beliefs in light of other religions. No less than the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has said that we must no longer consider sin an operative notion in the modern life. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says that Christians need to get over their antiquated hang-ups about homosexuality:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision. They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

See the problem emerging for Christians? We face increasing pressure to change our beliefs to accommodate the prevailing moral beliefs of the culture. For them, it’s not enough to win the debate. They must bring everyone into submission. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened…

Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 1:21,25

Add to this mix a growing unfamiliarity with the Bible and Christianity and my belief is that we are heading into a time not that different from ancient Rome or other pre-Christian societies. I think that the early church will serve as a model of how to engage a culture that views Christianity with belligerent hostility and fear.

It’s a future that inspires concern but one that should drive us to look to the cross as the symbol of the ultimate victory we have in Jesus.

 

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Pew: Christians Believe Everyone Goes To Heaven

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Christians who are believe the Bible is the word of God and is “literally true word for word” make up 59% of evangelicals. However, 57% agreed with the notion that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Among all religious Americans 70% hold that view.

Mind you, these are evangelical Christians who are saying this. Political correctness has penetrated the church as it has with the society as a whole. Nobody wants to be mean and imply that a lot of people will go to hell. How can my friend/coworker/relative go to hell? I don’t hate him.

Many Christians, myself included, fear that the coming years will bring greater hostility towards the church. Now is the time for believers to prepare for future persecution by establishing their faith in the word of God. Can the church face this challenge if the gospel is merely optional, one of many alternatives?

All worldviews have, at their core, a set of non-negotiable truth claims. Like Oprah, too many people think that they can avoid deciding which belief is true by affirming the conflicting claims. All paths lead to God and it’s silly to argue with each other about who’s right. You’re ok, I’m ok.

Tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing. Just because we are not responsible for creating a theocratic government doesn’t mean that we sanction unbiblical beliefs and practices. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world, saying the unpopular things that no one wants to hear.

Broad and wide is the path that leads to destruction. There’s no room for a bandwagon on the straight and narrow.

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Phil Roberston And Hipster Christianity Don’t Mix

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The most important thing I’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality is that there is a cultural divide in the church between the urban and the rural. I think that this divide explains the criticism coming from Christians, even more so than disagreements over what he said.

The most common objection is that Phil’s confrontational style was offensive and not Christ-like. It runs afoul of the hipster approach to evangelism that sees unbelievers as people who are suffering because they don’t know that God loves them. For Christians to judge their lifestyle as sinful, in their view, brings condemnation down on their heads and pushes them away from God when we need to attract people to Him.

This relates to another complaint from Christians that this controversy is a distraction. They tell us that we need to focus on meeting the physical needs of the poor and those who are in need. For the hipster, evangelism is about sponsoring children in sub-Saharan Africa or handing out soup and sandwiches to homeless people downtown. Stirring up controversy is counterproductive to sharing the gospel.

We can easily answer these objections but the telling observation is that the Christian critics are simply embarrassed by Phil. The hipster Christian lives a very modern lifestyle, socially-conscious, passionate, and ambitious. He buys fair-trade coffee and the rest of his paleo-diet groceries at Trader Joe’s. Phil is far from that: crass, country, redneck, and patriarchal.

In the church there is an infatuation with urban culture and ministry. Urban is genuine and real whereas suburban and rural is fake. Urban ministry is where the real work of evangelism is taking place. It’s the wave of the future. Phil Robertson is history.

So like so many other fads, this fascination with urban culture will also pass. Too many Christians forget, or don’t understand, that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. They miss that in their frustration with all the attention the issue attracts. Jesus did not come to set up soup kitchens. His message called us to repentance at the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. It is about the reconciliation between God and man and the liberation from the bondage of sin.

To his credit, Phil is fighting the battle by speaking what the Bible says about sin when so many other Christians are doing nothing. What’s worse is that some Christians sit back and judge how he fights while they make no effort themselves, and that’s the real problem.

Duck Dynasty And Homosexual Bigotry

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Well that didn’t take long.

Phil Robertson, the “Patriarch” of the Duck Dynasty clan, went where no brave soul dare treads and shared his thoughts on homosexuality, America’s new untouchable class. From the Huffington Post:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” Robertson told GQ. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

He was criticized for likening homosexuality to bestiality and paraphrasing a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which says that such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. In response to the criticisms Robertson released a statement:

I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.

In the name of tolerance A&E suspended him:

His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.

The problem with making homosexuality a legitimate, mainstream lifestyle no different from any other expression of sexuality is that you cannot tolerate anyone or anything that calls it a sin. Such discrimination cannot be tolerated and must be stamped out. 

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In the case of gay marriage, for example, there is a very real problem trying to balance “marriage equality” and religious liberty. Those who don’t take this dilemma seriously simply dismiss any concerns that there is an inevitable conflict between the two but eventually it will become apparent and we’ll have to face it. It’s not simply a problem of wedding photographers refusing to do gay marriages. Churches and religious-based organizations that have any dealings with the government or public will be targeted and silence. If a church uses public facilities, for example, it will be forced to comply with laws against discrimination in order to conduct their ministries, whether it’s soup kitchens or shelters.

Bigotry had manifested itself in various forms in the past. It was directed towards immigrants, blacks, religious groups, and women. Its modern-day face is tolerance and works its way through the political activism of “gay rights” proponents.

I think this modern form of bigotry is worse because it goes beyond its predecessors and invades the mind. In the past there was a limit to what bigots wanted to accomplish, usually discrimination and exclusion. Today, these bigots who think that they are liberal want to censor what we think. We are not allowed to voice opinions that do not revere homosexuality as a noble pursuit.

The Bible does tell us that all who follow Christ will be persecuted. It will not get any easier to confess biblical doctrines. Christians must be prepared in advance for the opposition and ready to contend for the truth. Jesus was controversial and offensive and no matter how liberal, or libertine, our culture gets it will always be hostile to the gospel. Our problem is that we hate God, not that we don’t believe in Him. But Jesus has reconciled the world to God and we now are able to be called the people of God.

Think Globally Act Locally

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Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53:10

This verse is one reason why I have come to see Isaiah as an important transition point in the redemptive history of man. We see here that God putting into place a sequence of events that will lead to the arrival of the Messiah who will not only redeem Israel but bring in God’s people from all over the world. In these latter chapters of Isaiah God talks a lot about the gospel that would be taken to the gentiles. God was the first one to think globally and act locally.

The seed, or offspring, that Jesus will see is us, His church and He has enjoyed the fruits of His success for thousands of years. These days we see people are consumed with pursuing “success” but it is usually within the context of some career ambition. We also see many people who are trying to figure what to do in light of their failure to achieve or find any fulfillment in life even after they have succeeded. Jesus teaches us some profound lessons about what real success looks like.

Not only has Jesus benefitted from His sufferings until His death on the cross but we also enjoy those benefits. This chapter describes some of those blessings. We have been healed and justified by the Son after He suffered the punishment of our iniquities. He exchanged our sin for His righteousness and made us one with Him. Hallelujah.

We see a clear summary of this in the New Testament:

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 2:10

Do you belong to this number? Are you part of His seed?

Can The Pope Assure Atheists Into Heaven?

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Pope Francis has caused another controversy last week due to answer he gave to a journalist’s question about whether nonbelievers can be forgiven. Part of the Roman Pontiff’s response:

You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience…

Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.

The more you read the Pope’s response the more confusing it sounds. While I do not think he went so far as to say that atheists can be forgiven apart from faith I do still take issue with how he misled the public about the nature of sin. He watered it down so much that it does not seem very serious, which then raises the question of why it’s even a big deal. It’s important to keep in mind that he wrote a long letter and the part that is getting the most attention is only a couple of sentences long, so we need to reserve judgment until we know what the context is.

If all we had to go on were these remarks then it wouldn’t be much help. It’s too ambiguous and vague, and there’s good reason to be concerned about just that. But I don’t believe that the press is misrepresenting the Pope because he has made the same point in more direct language in the past. Here is what he said last May in a homily:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

It seems that the Pope believes in something of a social gospel in which your good works are given such weight that it overshadows doctrine. Throughout the centuries the pendulum has swung from one to another and many people create a false dichotomy between doctrine and behavior. Sound biblical doctrine teaches us that what we believe and how we treat others are equally important and must be balanced.

When we read 1 John we see that there is a threefold test to distinguish true believers: confessing your sins and walking in the light; love for the brethren; and confessing that Jesus is the Son of God who has come in the flesh. Truth and love cannot be separated and made to stand on their own.

Of course, most important of all is that the Bible teaches us that only those who believe in Jesus Christ will have everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven and they are saved by grace through faith alone, not by their works. So, just because an atheist does good works does not mean that he will then enter the kingdom. That is because the problem with mankind is that we are enemies of God and we are in need of redemption. Our problem is not fundamentally a moral one but a spiritual one.

Can We Trust The Bible?

For those of you who don’t have 8 minutes to watch this video the short answer is: yes.

For the rest of you, this interview will probably whet your appetite for Dr. Kruger’s book about how we can know that the Bible is reliable and authoritative. He says that the book is written for the Christian in order to answer the question: How do we know what we believe is true? They tackle a couple of common, popular objections to the Bible’s credibility as well.

Sharing The Gospel With Unreasonable People

How do you talk to someone who says that they don’t have a problem with contradictions? Ravi says that you can’t preach to them but have to live out your faith and show them what a life based on coherence looks like. Eventually those individuals experience something that will challenge that notion. For Christians patience is key.

Is God A Social Construct?

Tim Keller addresses the notion that belief in God is merely a projection of man’s own imagination. He shows what’s wrong with this by “relativizing the relativist.” Although he doesn’t mention this, it is an example of the genetic fallacy as well, which dismisses an argument by pointing out a person’s motivation for believing.