Archives For Christianity

I am so thankful for Christianity. That probably sounds odd, or lame, or both. But the longer I live, the more I test out my Christian beliefs in more of the real world, and the more amazed I am at Christianity’s ability to explain this world and to allow me to thrive within it.

Francis Schaeffer always said that Christianity offers an explanation for all of life. It speaks to everything. And I keep finding that he’s right about that. We sometimes think that Christianity is about going to heaven when we die, but it provides the only accurate and profound answer to everything we encounter.

I am thankful…

Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt)To be able to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and to know that justice is still served. Because the wicked will be punished, and because Jesus was punished on behalf of the wicked who trust in him, justice will be completely served in this universe. I can always forgive because Christ forgave first, and because vengeance belongs to him. This gives me unbelievable freedom and joy in relationships.

To be able to tell my daughters that they will see their dead loved ones again—and mean it. The loss of a loved one is unbearable. And yet I am so comforted that when a believing friend or family member dies, I will be able to look my daughters in the eye and tell them truthfully, “You will see him again, and it will be amazing!”

To be able to point my daughters to Jesus as an example of forgiveness—and everything. This morning I was talking to one of my girls about what to do if her sister hits her. How amazing that I can explain that Jesus was hit, wounded, and even killed, and that he did not hit back! Parenting would be so difficult without the example of Jesus.

To be able to explain and value the good in this world. When I see people doing good, pursuing good, praising good, I don’t have to wonder why people who don’t see the world as I see it can still do good things. I believe in a God who made a very good world, and who still showers his goodness in all corners of this world, even when some people want nothing to do with him.

To be able to explain and oppose the evil in this world. Contrary to some world religions, I don’t have to accept evil as simply “the way it is.” And I can fight against the evil in this world without fighting against God (as in some Eastern religions). This is God’s good world, and though he permits evil for a time, he has sacrificed himself to defeat evil and he will one day remove it entirely.

Rembrandt - Descent from the CrossTo be able to point people to the power of love, and know that it’s something deeper than the power of positive thinking. Love can be a cheesy concept—Why can’t we all just love one another? And yet I believe in a God who is love. I can say with a straight face that true, self-sacrificing love is the most powerful force in the universe.

To be affirmed in my deep understanding that I am not good enough, and to be reminded that that was never the point anyway. Every day I am proven right in my suspicions that I’m actually a horrible person. And Christianity told me that this is what I would find about myself. Yet Christianity also reminds me daily that my value is not dependent on my performance, and that Jesus saved me while I was a sinner. There are no words to express how amazing this reality is.

To be affirmed in my love for this world. Contrary to some religions (such as Gnosticism or Buddhism) that see this world as icky or illusory, I can look around at this world, love and enjoy it deeply, and be affirmed in this by the Creator. He made a good world and placed us within it. What a joy to have the freedom to love the world God made!

To be affirmed in my love for the people around me. I don’t have to be in competition with the people around me. I don’t have to hate them. I can value them as bearers of the image of God. I can see their value, and love them with the love of Christ.

To know that God is there, and that he loves deeply. I am part of one of the very few world religions that sees God as a personal being who cares about what happens in this world. I belong to the ONLY religion that understands that God cares so much about us that he sacrificed himself for the sake of human beings. There is so much comfort in these profound truths!

To know that no godly effort in this life will be in vain. I don’t have to wonder if my sacrifice for the sake of God and his kingdom will be worth it in the end. I am promised that every bit of suffering, every bit of effort, every single undertaking done for the Lord has value, and none of it will be wasted (1 Cor. 15:58).

This list can (and should) go on forever. Christianity is more than a dusty, lifeless belief system. It is the self-revelation of the infinite-personal God who is the only foundation for reality. I am so thankful for God and for his accurate, artful, and brilliant revelation to us.

 

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.

The arts should matter to Christians. For one thing, art is all around us, and the way we interact with what is around us is important. In addition to that, the arts give us insight into what our culture cares about. And yesterday I argued that the arts give us an opportunity to test God’s truth in the real world. Today I will add a simple point: The arts establish points of contact with the unbelieving world.

Let’s be honest, many Christians have a tendency to withdraw from the culture around them. In many ways, this impulse is understandable. Without a doubt, our culture produces many things that are indisputably evil. Even those cultural productions that aren’t outright wicked often contain destructive, deceptive, and desensitizing elements. So it makes sense that Christians want to avoid being exposed to these things.

While this is a serious concern (one I dealt with a while ago in two posts on “good” movies and “bad” movies), the answer can’t be to simply run from culture. On the one hand, you can’t escape culture—it is an unavoidable byproduct of human interaction. Even those that try to escape from culture (e.g., the Amish) end up creating their own culture. But there’s another important reason not to run from culture. As Calvin Seerveld put it: any arena from which Christians withdraw simply goes to hell. Or to put it positively:

“If Christians are to be a force in shaping the contours of their society and evangelizing people in it, they will have to come to grips with the culture in which they inevitably live and move and have their being.” (Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination, 11)

In part 2, I mentioned the fact that the arts are a helpful catalog of the way that human beings feel about their existence. As Christians, we can gain insight into the way the unbelieving world views the world, including the way it views us as Christians:

“Christians, especially those called to preach or share the word, should take a special interest when those ‘outside’ the faith are drawn to deal with its mysteries and should listen closely when they tell us what our orthodoxy has sounded like to them.” (Malcom Guite in Beholding the Glory, ed. Jeremy Begbie, 30)

“Angela” on The Office may be an unfair caricature of what Christians are really like, but there is value in knowing that we have a tendency to look that way to the non-Christian world.

Add to that the fact that the arts give us opportunities to connect with people. We all know that we need to be evangelizing, but we tend to approach evangelism through an awkward encounter where we try to convince our non-Christian friends to care about some point of Christian doctrine that matters to us, but doesn’t matter to them. As I’ve said before, this is not all bad. But what if we had the opportunity to bring the truth of God’s word to bear on the things that our friends and neighbors already think and care about?

I contend that this is exactly the opportunity the arts give us. When my friends listen to Death Cab for Cutie singing about what comes (or doesn’t come) after death, I get an opportunity to engage them in a conversation on eternity. When a runaway bestseller raises the issue of who human beings are at the core (whether that bestseller is written as fiction or nonfiction), we get the opportunity to bring a biblical worldview into a discussion that our friends and coworkers are already interested in.

By avoiding the arts, we are passing up these opportunities. I think that is a mistake. It doesn’t mean that we should listen to, watch, or read everything on the market. But if your friends are interested in some form of art or culture, take the time to check it out. You might be surprised at how easy it is to talk about God’s truth in the context of the things that people are already thinking through.