Archives For marshall


I remember being really annoyed as a kid when MTV stopped playing music. (Above reproach alert: I was not a Christian then.) Instead of music videos they had shows about the lives of the musicians. It was so bad they actually spun off a whole new channel (MTV2) that actually played music so that they could basically dedicate MTV exclusively to non-music.

I’m much older now and so I listen to talk radio. Funny enough, they’re doing the same thing. They rarely talk about the actual acts of the stars they care about. Instead, they talk about their lives outside of baseball, football, or basketball. Talent that goes beyond anything we could ever dream interests us not to the talent but to the talented. We want to know them more than we want to watch what they do. At least that’s what sells.

Everywhere I turn, media is doing this.

The History Channel wins ratings when it tells us the true story of Da Vinci or Van Gogh or Beethoven. The art of these masters flashes on the screen for a moment before and after commercial breaks, but it’s not the main attraction.

In 1984, Hollywood struck it rich and won an Oscar with Amadeus, a movie about Mozart. His tunes played in the background, but it was the life of the genius that intrigued the masses. We want to know him because the music is so overwhelming.

Reality TV shows take us into the homes of the talented all the time. DVDs are filled with extras which always let us hear more about the stars of the show. “Behind the Music” is more popular than the music.

Every normal person, people with mundane talents and average intellect, people like me (and probably you), seem caught up in curiosity. What are these people really like? The genius grabs our attention, but the products that flow from their super-imagination are the appetizer. Our gut tells us that the person is much greater than the product.

But maybe I shouldn’t have been so annoyed. When we find ourselves more drawn to the personality than the product, we might be heading in a good direction. Or, at the very least, we are revealing something about ourselves that God has shaped. The author of Hebrews might have pitched “Behind Creation” as the next great show because “the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (Hebrews 3:3).

God himself made our world in order to captivate our attention. He wanted us to be overwhelmed by his genius. But he did not want us to end with simply a fascination on his works of art. He intended us to almost neglect the music in favor of the Musician, ignore the sculpture to spend time investigating the Sculptor.

I sat in a classroom while C.S. Lewis expert Jerry Root began describing a sunset he watched off the coast of Santa Barbara. His ability to paint the scene made us forget we were in a 70s era bunker without windows. After a few moments of whisking us into a daydream of paradise, he hit his climax, “What must he be like if this is what he lets us see of his creativity?”

In my last post, I explained that Christians typically try to convince non-Christians of the truth of the Bible by proving its reliability textually and historically. But non-Christians have another way of evaluating Christianity: they want to know if they can trust the Bible morally.

whitecrossIt doesn’t occur to me to answer that question for one main reason. I have lived so long inside the Christian worldview that I forget how different our religion is. Most religions and philosophies aim to change behavior from bad to good in order to please God, be a good citizen, or feel good daily. Christianity, on the other hand, only tries to prove that something happened historically. Once you’ve proved that, you work backwards to prove the rest.  My question is “Is Jesus God who rose from the dead?” Once I answer that question then I can assume that God knows how I ought to live.

Here’s why this is great news. When a person simply evaluates from their own perspective whether or not a certain philosophy or religion will make them “good,” “please God,” or “feel good,” they’re doing the best they can. But they’re basically just reflecting the current wisdom of their friends and family and media. They cannot rise above their culture because they’re stuck in it; just like a fish couldn’t imagine walking on land because his whole world involves water. When Christianity comes along with its way of “being good,” “pleasing God,” and “feeling good daily,” the wisdom comes from another world. It’s not up for debate or evaluation because we humbly realize that God is speaking (as opposed to humans, who should be critiqued).

We evaluate the trustworthiness of our religion in a completely different way. It has very little to do with personal experience, whether it seems to work, whether it makes me feel like I’m a good person, whether I get personal peace. (It will do pretty much all of that for you even though that’s not the point.)

Evaluating Christianity goes like this: Did Jesus die as a historical event? Did he rise from the dead? If so, then he must have been someone very important. What did he say about himself? Did God approve of his message? Jesus claimed to be God. And when God lets Jesus come back to life, that seems like a pretty significant endorsement of what Jesus said. Now, with that in mind, how did Jesus say we get on good terms with God? How did he command us to live? Our aim is to figure that out, respond accordingly, and assume that God knows best how to be good rather than bad, how to please God, and how to feel good today. History comes first, and all the practical stuff is the natural result.

Greek BibleA few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “You Can Trust the Bible.” Like I’ve always done in talks like this I laid out a simple path: 1) You can trust the Bible textually. 2) You can trust the Bible historically. 3) You can trust the Bible personally.

With the first point I showed how the copies of various books of the Bible are so plentiful and precise that we can know with nearly perfect confidence that the words in our Bibles are the words originally written by the authors. With the second point I showed how the Bible stands up to repeated attacks on its historical value, proving itself more accurate over and over. This makes sense because the authors have such an incredible advantage over modern people in terms of knowing what actually happened (i.e. they saw it happen).

After making those two points, I pulled in for the clincher, “That’s why you can trust the Bible and give your life to Jesus.” Christians in the audience loved it. I got lots of pats on the back from those in our family.

But then I got some texts from people who weren’t so convinced. “How can I believe a book that endorses slavery?” “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?” “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”

Nearly every book I read in college and seminary about how to “prove” the Bible took my two steps. But modern people expect another step. They have a different standard for evaluating a religion. They want to know if they can trust it morally.

Modern people expect to know if they can trust every moral claim about a religion or philosophy before they jump into it. Think about this for a minute. Why do they have this expectation? I’ll give two reasons, but I’ll only focus on the second.

1) Religions and philosophies aren’t chosen these days because they’re true but because you agree with them. People chose a religion as an endorsement of the philosophy they already hold. It’s like getting a historical, cultural stamp of approval that backs up what you already believe.

2) They want an answer to this question because this is how modern religions and philosophies are evaluated.

Buddha 1I’m finding that more and more of my non-Christian friends approach spirituality in a semi-Buddhist way, so I’ll use that religion to make my point.

Buddha was an agnostic. He didn’t make claims about God; in fact he said it was a waste of time to desire to know what God is like. In his opinion, caring about God too much hinders you from real enlightenment. What matters is living right, thinking right, and feeling right. The patterns of feeling, thinking, and living that you develop will give you personal peace. But Buddha didn’t claim that he got his stuff from God. No, he thought hard and came up with this philosophy. He then told people to follow him by thinking hard. The only test he offered people for evaluating whether or not Buddhism is “true” is personal experience. Huston Smith (the most famous professor of world religions) summarizes Buddha’s approach and includes a few quotes from the sage himself:

“On every question personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’”[1]

Not every person in the West thinks just like this. Not everyone connects their line of reasoning to Buddhism. But there are similarities among hard-working pragmatists, socially progressive secular humanists, well-meaning agnostics, generous atheists, and sweet and carefree New Agers. Ultimately they want to find a life-philosophy that helps them be good not bad, be good enough for ‘god’, or feel good today.

So, when I go on and on about historical arguments for the Bible and its factual nature, people yawn. Other people seem interested but unaffected on a spiritual level. The textual question doesn’t matter to them, nor does the historical question. They want the moral, life philosophy, personal peace, ‘be good’ question answered.

It’s an important question. And in the next post, I’ll explain how Christianity actually answers it.

[1]Huston Smith, World Religions, 98. Quotes from Woodward, Some Sayings, 283.

Wedding RingsI’m not bragging when I say this. My wife didn’t want to get married growing up. At least, she tells me that she didn’t want to get married too early. She wanted to wait. She wanted to put it off. She didn’t want to be the stereotypical “Ring by Spring” getting her “M.Rs.” from her Bible college. But she became a stereotype and married me the week after she graduated.

What happened? Well, I came into the picture. I met her when she was 18, we started dating right as she turned 20, and we were married when she was 22. Early as the birds come these days.

My wife wasn’t into “commitment.” She didn’t want to be “tied down.” Like any normal person she didn’t want to end up like some “boring old married couple.” All people talk about are the downsides of being married: what you have to give up, what you can’t do anymore, what you do “for fun.” That wasn’t enticing.

She didn’t want to get married for a very smart reason: the sacrifice wasn’t worth what she got out of it. She had a fear of commitment, but it was totally legit. She was afraid to commit to something she didn’t know, to someone she had no feelings for yet, and it was going to cost her everything.

When we tell people about entering a relationship with Jesus they’re reasonably squeamish. It doesn’t sound fun. It doesn’t sound inviting. It doesn’t sound worth it. Why? Well it’s the same reason my wife didn’t want to get married. She didn’t like the idea of sacrificing her independence and freedom. She didn’t like the idea of changing. She didn’t like the idea of becoming “boring.”

What got my wife over the hump? What convinced her to get married so young? Well (cough, cough), I did. She didn’t fall in love with commitment. She didn’t fall in love with changing who she is. She didn’t fall in love with becoming a boring old married couple. She fell in love with me and all that came with it, especially the last part.

To be honest, if all someone told me about marriage was what I’d have to give up and change about myself, I also wouldn’t want to get married. After ten years, I can look back and laugh at the person I’ve become. I used to save Carl’s Jr. chicken sandwiches under the seat of my van so I’d have a snack after class; now I don’t eat fast food and instead we are gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free. Sound fun!? I used to be independent, carefree, and able to accomplish tasks efficiently. Now, I have four other people to get on the ball before we make a move toward any task.

But I love my life. My wife loves marriage. We love the commitment. We love being together. Because we love each other.

As we invite people into relationship with Christ we need to consider where they’re coming from. If you know Jesus you know how freeing and peaceful it is to be “married.” The sacrifice isn’t a drag. It’s not a boring departure from your youthful self. It’s perfect peace. But your friends don’t know what he’s like. All they see is “going to church,” “giving money away,” and “doing boring church stuff.” That’s a sacrifice that doesn’t make sense unless you love the person you’re doing it with (Jesus) and the one you’re doing it for (Jesus).

When Peter, Paul, Priscilla, and Phoebe shared the gospel with people, I’m convinced that they told stories about from the Gospels (the biographies of Jesus). They shared stories about what Jesus is like. They told stories of miracles and radical forgiveness and insane boldness and liberating justice.

It’s like when I first met my wife and she told me stories about herself and I told her stories about myself. I wanted her to get an idea of who I am before she took the biggest step of all (which for us was the first date [marriage was a slam dunk after that]).

People don’t want to commit to being Christians unless it’s worth it to them to enter the relationship. They have a legitimate fear of commitment. Who would want to commit to someone they don’t know when it’s going to cost them everything? They have to like Jesus before they’ll want to marry him. We can’t just tell them “You can have a relationship with God” because they don’t know what God is like. “What if I don’t like God?” they might be thinking.

God is an unknown to them so an offer to sacrifice everything for him comes up short in their logic. It sounds like this, “Hey, do you want to get married? If you get married it’s forever. You will have to give up your rec league teams and your nights with friends and going to the beach. You’ll go to bed early and wake up next to the same person every day. But I’m not going to tell you who you’re going to marry, you just have to commit today, forever, and be ready to change everything about who you are and what you like to do!”

For the “Gospel” to come across to someone as “good news” they have to know the person they’re entering a relationship with.

So, get familiar with Jesus. Learn some stories about his life. Meditate on what it has meant for you to be in relationship with him. And then when you go out and talk to your friends and family about Christ, tell them stories about him like you’d tell stories of your favorite friends.