Tag Archives: religion

Pluralism In Your Face

Editorial comment:

I’m not a political person. Faith means much more to me than politics. I do have strong opinions about the need to keep politics out of practicing and sharing our faith because equating the importance of God and politics is disrespectful to God. And it’s unwise. There is scriptural guidance in the form of an argument from silence—Jesus did not politicize His teachings. At the risk of appearing to taint this ethic, please dismiss the political and constitutional implications of the following material and focus on the core questions.

 

In potentially uncomfortable situations, most of us have some fear of rejection or confrontation that compels us to be silent about our faith. Thinking about it ahead of time can help overcome those fears.

Imagine that you are on the hot seat. Attention is focused on you, and your beliefs are called into question. How would you respond? (If you’ve never been in this position it might be good to ask yourself, seriously, “Why not?”)

Earlier this month, Russell Vought, an evangelical Christian, was testifying during a confirmation hearing, and Senator Bernie Sanders questioned Vought’s beliefs. The following two-minute YouTube clip captures the contentiousness of the incident.

For context, please read what The Atlantic has to report. Pay careful attention to the scriptural citations. If you aren’t aware of the context, you could be inclined more to an opinionated, rather than informed, reaction.

Back to the question. Forgetting about the political and constitutional issues and personalities involved, how would you respond?

Just in case this topic comes up at your water cooler or cocktail party, here are some thoughts to help you prepare an answer.

  1. The teaching of Jesus does not foment hatred, bigotry, or intolerance. Jesus said, directly, the greatest two commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. When questioned about whom He meant by ‘neighbor,’ Jesus taught the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans were held to be low-class people in the first century. By including them in the parable, Jesus made a clear point that His followers are to love others broadly and inclusively.
  2. As Christians, we believe the Bible contains the inspired word of God and is the final authority for faith and practice. We rely on what it says and do not have the liberty or right to make up our own brand of Christianity, or to cherry pick proof texts. There are many reasons, objectively and personally, for accepting the Bible as the inspired, holy word of God.
  3. Christians do not have the right to condemn people—we are commanded to love people—but God does have that right. If you really want to understand why, study the Bible. We, the created, are in rebellion against the Creator, and a holy and just God has a plan for the salvation of those who accept His complete sacrifice on our behalf. He has the right to condemn those who reject Him, as Scripture clearly teaches (again, read The Atlantic article).
  4. John 3:16, the most familiar passage of scripture in the New Testament, states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” From this passage, we can see that God is loving and did not discriminate to whom salvation is offered. He offers salvation to the world.
  5. Jesus said directly that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to God the Father except by Him.
  6. The apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, taught that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by our works. While we all know people of every faith and creed who are indeed wonderfully good, salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. Again, we’re not free to make this up—it is directly stated in the Bible. Just because people are ‘good’ does not entitle them to salvation.
  7. Western culture is inebriated with pluralism. We resist anything that might impinge upon personal freedoms—such as a morally-based worldview. Pluralism by its nature appeals to a wide swath of voters and is therefore quite pragmatic in politics. But on logical and spiritual levels, pluralism comes up short.
  8. In logic, there is the law of non-contradiction, which holds that two opposite truth claims cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. “There is either milk in the refrigerator now, or there isn’t,” as Norman Geisler says.
  9. The world’s major religions ALL have opposing truth claims. The nature of truth claims is that they are exclusive.
  10. Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead. Islam teaches that Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not rise from the dead. Keep it real. Both claims can be false, but both cannot be true. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.” Christianity depends on the objective truth of the Resurrection.
  11. Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses. Buddhists say there is no deity. Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God. Christians believe that God is loving and personal. As Ravi Zacharias says, “The world’s major religions are not fundamentally similar and superficially different, they are fundamentally different and superficially similar.” Most advocates of pluralism don’t take the time to investigate the differences.

Pluralism may be good for getting votes, but it’s an empty and illogical worldview. Although I disagree with those who wish to cast Christianity into a cultural stew with the world’s other religions, my Christian faith compels me to love those who disagree. I wish we could at least all agree on that.


The Dalai Lama is Coming!

I play soccer with a group of friends at the College of William and Mary, where I work as an IT staff person.  At the end of one of our games, we were talking about the upcoming visit by the Dalai Lama to speak at William and Mary Hall, on Wednesday, October 10.   There were several jokes about strange Eastern religious customs and how hot it would be to wear a monk robe all day long.  One made a sly remark about attaining “enlightenment” from the marijuana fumes rising up from the crowded Kaplan Arena this coming Wednesday from smuggled-in contraband.   This is a big deal event for the College, with several thousand tickets sold out within minutes to hear the venerable representative of international Buddhism.  So what is the big deal about the Dalai Lama?

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The 14th Dalai Lama

Actually, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition.   For hundreds of years, an unbroken line of spiritual teachers in Tibet have instructed the Buddhist faithful.  But the Dalai Lama is more than a religious leader position, it is also a  political role, unifying all of the Tibetan region north of the Himalayan mountains in Asia.  So when Communist China invaded Tibet in 1950, it put the current Dalai Lama into a difficult situation.   After a failed uprising against the Chinese in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled and established a government in exile in India.  The United States government has at times given support to the Dalai Lama’s efforts on behalf of the Tibetan people during the past fifty years.

Over those years, the exiled Dalai Lama has served as an international ambassador  in the West for Buddhism.  There are Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:  (1) all of life is suffering, (2) all human desire leads to suffering, (3) the annihilation of desire releases us from suffering, which is enlightenment, and (4) there is an Eightfold path  to that enlightenment; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.  Buddhism, however, is not a monolithic movement.   The Dalai Lama represents part of the  Mahāyāna tradition.  But the most popular form of Buddhism in the West is a more concentrated variant, Zen Buddhism, first propagated largely by the famous Japanese philosopher,  D. T. Suzuki, in the early to mid-20th century.  Oddly enough, Buddhism is considered by many to be a “religion” but the more philosophical traditions are  technically atheistic.   Even so, there are syncretic flavors that combine animistic beliefs with traditional Buddhist philosophy.    The study of Buddhism can get very complicated very quickly. Continue reading


Chi Rho

Veracity BlavatarIn the early days of Christianity, believers often paid the cost of discipleship with their lives.  Estimates are that 700,000 people died in the Roman Colosseum, where Christians were slaughtered for amusement at midday.  Followers of Jesus adopted Chi Rho as a christogram to symbolize their faith in Christ.   When choosing a graphical symbol for this blog the decision was pretty easy.

Depending upon where you live and your circumstances, life for a contemporary Christian can be quite comfortable.  While persecution of the Christian church is very real, in my corner of the world our faith is seldom called into the midday arena.  But I had dinner recently with the Reverend John Yates, whose faith was tested, and who paid a great price for his beliefs.

Without going down rabbit trails, the crux of the matter is a highly publicized dispute between the Episcopal Church and several Virginia congregations who took issue with the “intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world.”  The breakaway congregations felt that Episcopal leadership was acquiescing to contemporary culture instead of holding true to the Christian faith.  At the Chapel we have a Woodwardism (sayings attributable to Dick Woodward) that applies here: “Is the Church a thermostat or a thermometer?”  In other words, is the Church telling us what the temperature is, or is the Church setting the temperature?

The decision to leave (quoted below from a 2007 Washington Post article) resulted in the Diocese filing a lawsuit to regain the buildings and assets of the breakaway congregations.  The lawsuit dragged on for years, and cost millions of dollars in legal fees.  The court decided first in favor of the congregations, then reversed itself in favor of the Diocese.  John Yates’ The Falls Church congregation will have a final on-site service then vacate the premises on May 13, 2012.  They will then meet in rented facilities while they work out a long-term plan for their church house.

My purpose in blogging about this issue is not to cast stones at the Episcopal leadership, or to inflame anyone.  I just find it encouraging that in an age of stupendous cultural compromise there are believers willing to die on mountains for their faith.  How exciting for John Yates’ congregation.  I envy them in a way because church will be more expensive and less comfortable for quite some time, but what a privilege to know that your leadership is up to the task.  God bless.  Chi Rho.

Why We Left the Episcopal Church

By The Rev. John Yates and Os Guinness

The Washington Post
Monday, January 8, 2007

When even President Gerald Ford’s funeral at Washington National Cathedral is not exempt from comment about the crisis in the Episcopal Church, we believe it is time to set the record straight as to why our church and so many others around the country have severed ties with the Episcopal Church. Fundamental to a liberal view of freedom is the right of a person or group to define themselves, to speak for themselves and to not be dehumanized by the definitions and distortions of others. This right we request even of those who differ from us.

The core issue in why we left is not women’s leadership. It is not “Episcopalians against equality,” as the headline on a recent Post op-ed by Harold Meyerson put it. It is not a “leftward” drift in the church. It is not even primarily ethical — though the ordination of a practicing homosexual as bishop was the flash point that showed how far the repudiation of Christian orthodoxy had gone.

The core issue for us is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow. The American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, orthodox Christian faith common to all believers. Some leaders expressly deny the central articles of the faith — saying that traditional theism is “dead,” the incarnation is “nonsense,” the resurrection of Jesus is a fiction, the understanding of the cross is “a barbarous idea,” the Bible is “pure propaganda” and so on. Others simply say the creed as poetry or with their fingers crossed.

It would be easy to parody the “Alice in Wonderland” surrealism of Episcopal leaders openly denying what their faith once believed, celebrating what Christians have gone to the stake to resist — and still staying on as leaders. But this is a serious matter.

First, Episcopal revisionism abandons the fidelity of faith. The Hebrew scriptures link matters of truth to a relationship with God. They speak of apostasy as adultery — a form of betrayal as treacherous as a husband cheating on his wife.

Second, Episcopal revisionism negates the authority of faith. The “sola scriptura” (“by the scriptures alone”) doctrine of the Reformation church has been abandoned for the “sola cultura” (by the culture alone) way of the modern church. No longer under authority, the Episcopal Church today is either its own authority or finds its authority in the shifting winds of intellectual and social fashion — which is to say it has no authority.

Third, Episcopal revisionism severs the continuity of faith. Cutting itself off from the universal faith that spans the centuries and the continents, it becomes culturally captive to one culture and one time. While professing tolerance and inclusiveness, certain Episcopal attitudes toward fellow believers around the world, who make up a majority of the Anglican family, have been arrogant and even racist.

Fourth, Episcopal revisionism destroys the credibility of faith. There is so little that is distinctively Christian left in the theology of some Episcopal leaders, such as the former bishop of Newark, that a skeptic can say, as Oscar Wilde said to a cleric of his time, “I not only follow you, I precede you.” It is no accident that orthodox churches are growing and that almost all the great converts to the Christian faith in the past century, such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, have been attracted to full-blooded orthodoxy, not to revisionism. The prospect for the Episcopal Church, already evident in many dioceses, is inevitable withering and decline.

Fifth, Episcopal revisionism obliterates the very identity of faith. When the great truths of the Bible and the creeds are abandoned and there is no limit to what can be believed in their place, then the point is reached when there is little identifiably Christian in Episcopal revisionism. Would that Episcopal leaders showed the same zeal for their faith that they do for their property. If the present decline continues, all that will remain of a once strong church will be empty buildings, kept going by the finances, though not the faith, of the fathers.

These are the outrages we protest. These are the infidelities that drive us to separate. These are the real issues to be debated. We remain Anglicans but leave the Episcopal Church because the Episcopal Church first left the historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, “Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.”

The Rev. John Yates is rector and Os Guinness is a parishioner of The Falls Church, one of several Virginia churches that voted last month to sever ties with the Episcopal Church


Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu

The Apostle Paul was scrawny, hard on the eyes, not a good speaker, and constantly paid the price for his style and message.  He had lots of scars and baggage.  He made mistakes.  He considered himself, “…less than the least of all God’s people .”  And yet he was one of the most influential people who ever lived.  Two thousand years after his death, his letters are among the most reproduced documents in the history of mankind.

In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul responded to attacks against his ministry and his person.  He acknowledged that he was “timid when face to face” (v. 1),  and  that people were saying, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (v. 10).

It occurred to me this week, while thinking about Paul, that I had seen and heard someone who fit the description of being a less-than-impressive speaker, but having a powerful message that touched mankind.  Her name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, and she was often called ‘diminutive’.  And like Paul she had detractors.  But she had the courage of her convictions and she was able to demonstrate the mercy and love of Jesus Christ in incredible ways.  And for that she was memorable.

In 1994 she gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, attended by President Bill Clinton and a room full of dignitaries.  I remember that I could barely see her head above the podium, could barely make out what she was saying above the acoustics in the room, and that nevertheless she received a standing ovation.  It’s difficult to watch her speech (below) in some respects because she was not an impressive speaker.  But don’t miss the last minute when she stepped down from the podium.

So what did she say?  Here’s the impressive part—her transcript.  Many parts of her message confronted the views of the powerful people in the room, but she delivered it passionately anyway, to please an audience of one.  She had lived through unspeakable suffering to develop her message.  It’s the living Gospel ,with mandates and complete conviction.  Mother Teresa really walked the walk.  And she had a lot in common with the Apostle Paul.

Here’s a photograph of two renowned women—one was a beautiful lady who brought peace and joy to millions of people, and the other was a princess.

Princess Diana Meets Mother Teresa

Princess Diana Meets Mother Teresa


12 Apostles

The fate of the 12 Apostles is an interesting topic, and many arguments supporting the reliability of Scripture are built upon the martyrdom of the Apostles as described in extra-Biblical sources and apocryphal writings.  Many of these sources are wildly imaginative and unreliable, but we can learn from them nonetheless.

Sometimes you don’t have to go very far to check things out.  Several months ago, the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) ran a lead article about the recent discovery of the Tomb of the Apostle Philip in Hierapolis, Turkey, which was updated in this January 2012 Bible History Daily post. The original article mentioned that an interesting artifact depicting the recently uncovered site was on display in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  This artifact is a sixth-century bronze bread stamp that was found at Hierapolis.  Details about the artifact are summarized in this Discovery News post.  This was too good to pass up, so several friends and I made a day trip to Richmond and came back with the following photograph (shot through the glass with my pocket camera).

Apostle Philip Bread Stamp

Sixth-century bronze bread stamp bearing the image of the Apostle Philip

The 4-inch bread stamp labels the figure in Greek as Hagios Philippos (St. Philip), and another Greek inscription around the edge quotes from Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”

You can chase down the fascinating details of this news story—which is still unfolding as the archaeologists continue to work and report their findings—by clicking on the hyperlinks above, and gain insight into what happened to the Apostle Philip (and Bartholomew) after he accepted his great commission.  But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that Biblical archaeology is a vibrant, richly productive, and ever-changing field—full of ongoing discoveries that shed light on the Bible.  A little effort can go a long way to discovering new, rich insights to the veracity of Scripture.  And sometimes great discoveries are just a click or two on a hyperlink away.

Would you like to see more of these discoveries?  How many of them are there?  Lots!

Sometimes you can Google your way to great information, but sometimes there is more beneath the surface than any search engine can succinctly summarize in response to your search query.  This blog is all about sharing resources, so here are two that provide an ocean of archaeological discoveries for your consideration.  And they both happen to be actively sharing late-breaking information on the cutting edge of Biblical archaeology.

The first source packs great, professional teaching into a searchable, fascinating, contemporary catalog of discoveries.  It’s called (oddly enough) Ferrell’s Travel Blog and the name belies the wealth of top-drawer research that Professor Ferrell Jenkins has tied up in this site.  Spend some time here, and you will discover an indispensable addition to your Disciple’s toolbox.  Rather than just casually browsing through the posts, try jumping off on the side links, and use the Search box to investigate any topic you like.

The second site is also a blog (which I found from Ferrell’s Travel Blog).  It’s called the BiblePlaces.com Blog, and in addition to its energetic reporting of contemporary topics, their treatment and responses to ongoing controversies in the field of Biblical archaeology are impressive.  They are high integrity, and out in front of late-breaking events.  Another impressive addition to your toolbox.

Follow both of these blogs and you will be richly blessed.  Enjoy!


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