Thinking Out Loud

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

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May 28, 2019

On Issuing a “Farewell” to Those With Whom You Disagree

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

There’s a classic Negro spiritual, In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning. My parents owned a copy of the song covered by a group of white guys (not the version by the Gaither Vocal Band) and for some reason it got lodged in my brain Sunday morning while getting ready to leave for worship.

The song urges the listener to do what they can now in order to “fare well” at the sound of the trumpet ushering in the judgement of God. The chorus lyric (which is common to the GVB version) is “In that great gettin-up morning, fare thee well, fare thee well…”

At the same moment, my brain flashed back to the now iconic statement by John Piper to Rob Bell, “Farewell, Rob Bell;.” Piper’s pronouncement that Bell had officially left the fold of Evangelicalism (something Bell might agree with) and more importantly, left the fold of saved believers (something God might have told Piper that he didn’t tell everyone else.)

Piper’s statement was totally dismissive. It was the type of thing you say (more positively) to someone you don’t expect to see again; perhaps even someone who has died; but the context carried with it the tone of, “Get out of my life;” or “I never want to see you again.”

Despite this, the words themselves are actually a blessing. ‘Farewell’ is clearly a shortened ‘fare thee well,’ as vocabulary.com notes: “A farewell is also an expression of good wishes at a parting. If you’re leaving a job after being there a long time, your co-workers might throw you a farewell party.”

When someone in our lives announces that they are embarking on a bizarre career path or making an ill-advised investment, we might say, “Well…good luck with that.” We’re being equally dismissive, but the words themselves at least have a positive ring.

So are we really wishing the person the best of luck? Probably not insofar as it connects with the issue at the center of the interjection.

Nearly a year later, Christianity Today pressed Bell for a response to the many reactions his Tweet brought:

…my issue there was not primarily his view of hell. It was his cynicism concerning the Cross of Jesus Christ as a place where the Father atoned for the sins of his children and dealt with his own wrath by punishing me in his son. Rob Bell does not admire that. He doesn’t view the Cross that way, as a penal substitution. I consider that the essence of the Cross and my salvation, and the heart of God for me, and that ticked me off royally. I didn’t say all that, so probably everybody thought “Farewell Rob Bell” was kind of like “I don’t like his view of hell, so there.” Well, I don’t like John Stott’s view of hell either, and I never said anything about John Stott. I kept learning from John Stott. I would have sat at John Stott’s feet until the day he died.

In another article which responded to Piper, Justin Taylor wrote that, “it is better for those teaching false doctrine to put their cards on the table (a la Brian McLaren) rather than remaining studiously ambiguous in terminology.”  

Was it right for Piper to condemn Bell? He certainly wasn’t alone, but there was such an unbelievable degree of snark in the remark (that rhymes!) that it is now part of Piper’s legacy, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing…

…Seven years later, in March 2018, Piper’s remark was not forgotten:


I tried to locate a version of the song which comes close to remember, but this is the best I could find.

 

May 29, 2018

Biblical Contradictions – They Exist and I Love Them

by Aaron Wilkinson

This is a line of thought I’m still journeying through. You may find something helpful or not. It’s cool either way.

In high-school, a lot of my atheist classmates would talk about contradictions in the Bible. I didn’t really pay much attention. I figured they were probably wrong. My pastors and youth leaders never mentioned these supposed contradictions so I figured it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When I got into the habit of listening to debates, I began to hear atheists point to specific contradictions. In response, the Christian apologists would calmly explain them away.

“Take the sentences ‘Bob is rich’ and ‘Bob is poor’. You might assume that these are contradictions, but perhaps they refer to Bob at different times in his life. Perhaps Bob is poor in finances, but rich in terms of relationships and experiences. Perhaps there are two different people named Bob. We can’t assume and we have to know more.” This is, of course, a very good point and I found it very comforting.

But then in a university class a professor pointed my discussion group to a passage in Proverbs. We were supposed to interpret it and share our interpretation.

Proverbs 26:4,5

I read the first half thinking “Ah, reasonable.” Then the second verse completely froze me. “This is Proverbs. This is the book of rules to live by. I can’t do both of these things, so what do I do?” I tried to find ways to harmonize them – maybe you’re supposed to do it sometimes but not other times – but even then, am I not sitting there trying to fix the Bible? Am I not adding something to it?

Here’s another one. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us one thing, Paul tells us another.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 1:2,3
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Well, which is it? Do we get nothing but vanity for our toil under the sun, or is our labour not in vain? I could list dozens more but sadly I must be concise. Here’s another one in which Chronicles and Samuel are talking about the same story.

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 19:15
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”” – 2 Samuel 24:1

Chronicles: Satan did X. Samuel: God did X. Conclusion: … What?

If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting there trying to harmonize, harmonize, harmonize all of these passages. There may be nothing wrong with that. It’s a good impulse, but I fear we might miss out on something if that’s all we do. What that something is I will tell you, after one more example. Or rather, six more.

Open up to Matthew 5 and you’ll hear Jesus saying he’s not coming to abolish the law or the prophets. Then he goes on to repeat the formula “You have heard it said (quotes the Bible) but I tell you (says something different.)” So here we have a double whammy of contradictions. Six times, we have Jesus speaking in contrast to (“Contra Dicting”) other Bible passages, and he frames this by saying that he isn’t going to take an iota away from other Bible passages.

Right now, you’re either fascinated or really offended. Or both. Or you’re thinking the obvious objection that I’m going to cover in one second.

If the Bible is supposed to be a book of rules, it has clearly failed. I can’t both answer a fool according to folly and not answer a fool according to folly. If the Bible is supposed to be a philosophical panegyric, it has clearly failed. Labour can’t be both vanity and not vanity. If the Bible is supposed to be a textbook on spiritual realities, it has clearly failed. Unless God and Satan are the same person, David’s census has some weird stuff going on.

So it seems we’re left with two options. Maybe the Bible is a failure, or maybe we need to rethink its genre.

When I was in therapy, I learned a word. A word I had never learned from any western education institution; perhaps the entire western world needs therapy. “Dialectic.” Think Dialogue. It’s a conversation. Dialectic thinking simultaneously holds two propositions that seem to be in contrast. In therapy, if I’m caught in the anxiety of thinking I’m absolutely terrible or totally perfect, I’m going to have problems. If I can learn to accept that I’m both good and bad, virtuous in many ways while also having weaknesses to work through, that frees me. Now I can grow more easily.

My virtues and my vices are contradictory, but if I can hold them both as true at the same time then I am empowered to grow. The aforementioned objection that I assume you’re thinking is “But you’re defining ‘contradiction’ incorrectly. Contradictions are not simply contrasting statements, but statements with mutually exclusive meanings. You have to consider the meanings of these verses in context.” A brilliant point which highlights two important things: first that the word ‘contradiction’ needs defining (which I rarely hear happen) and tends to be wrapped up in shades of association, and second that we must ask ourselves what the Bible intends.

In the famous (and occasionally infamous) story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees try to back Jesus into a corner by asking him whether the woman ought to be stoned or not. Jesus redirects the question towards something more important. He seems to do this quite often, and what he does in saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” is highlight the Pharisee’s need for forgiveness. Jesus contextualizes our questions and frames our understanding in humility. This, I think, is the intention of the whole Bible.

The Bible does not give us all the answers, it points us to a person. It’s a conversation anchored around a person.

Do I answer the fool according to his folly or not? I don’t know, but if I follow the love ethic of Jesus then I’m sure I’ll make the right choice.

Is our labor vanity or not? I can philosophize over this, but if I’m trusting Christ then I know I won’t need to worry about it.

What is the relationship between the will of God and the will of Satan? Does God incite evil against us? A very interesting question, but one that must consider how God shows his love by participating in our suffering himself in the life and crucifixion of the Son of Mary.

People sometimes describe the Bible as “living” and this is why. A plain set of instructions is static. It’s dead. It only goes so deep and then it’s exhausted. A dialectic work keeps you wondering, keeps you asking questions. It is popularly said that Rabbis answer questions with other questions. This isn’t just deflection. We’re supposed to think deeper and, more importantly, better realize how the answers must be found with Jesus.

I recently listened to a sermon in which Bruxy Cavey of the Meeting House interviewed a Zen Buddhist. The Buddhist compared Jesus’ style of teaching with the Koan, the saying or question that’s supposed to freeze your mind and expose your unhealthy patters of thinking. While I think it’s important to recognize that Buddha and Christ have very different goals, there is some true to this. The Bible Project also has a great series that explores some the dialectic aspects of biblical wisdom literature.

In our broken world, if we desire change and growth, we don’t need a static book of precepts. We need someone who is going to freeze our attention, expose our habits, and “make foolish the wisdom of the world.” We need change, not the status quo. We need a living dynamic person to walk with as we grow in life and this is the Christ of the Bible.

This isn’t intellectual foreclosure. It does mean applying our intellect to something more important rather than squabbling over facts and figures. It means finding ourselves in a story, in relation to Christ, and making that the grounds upon which we ask ourselves, and each other, the big questions.

Take us away, Book…


Aaron — who may or may not be related  — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared yesterday at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission. Feel free to comment here or at the original article.

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

December 5, 2016

Living in a Post-Truth Era

Filed under: apologetics, bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:04 am

This started out as word study on “truth” from the website TopVerses.com I was writing for C201 but ended up going in an entirely different direction.

post-truth-banner

If you follow media of any type, you’ve probably bumped up against the phrase “post-truth” in the last few weeks. Wikipedia defines it as, “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” The Oxford dictionary online is much the same denoting “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  

The same dictionary publisher group named it the “word of the year.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the first time the term post-truth was used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in the Nation magazine. Tesich, writing about the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf war, said that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world”.

“There is evidence of the phrase post-truth being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant,” said Oxford Dictionaries. [italics added] [source]

Of course you see where we’re heading today. As Christians, we believe in objective truth, not subjective post-truth. We appeal to the scripture as our rock, our anchor, our source for knowledge. But it’s easy to fall into subjectivism.  We go back to Wikipedia for a definition of that term; “the philosophical tenet that ‘our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience’. In other words, subjectivism is the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.” [italics in last clause added]

How do we become subjective? Perhaps it’s:

  • When we say the situation ethics of a given set of circumstances means violating a scriptural moral principle (see note below)
  • When we try to accommodate evolution into the first few chapters of Genesis (see note below)
  • When we make allowances for homosexuality which contradict what the church has historically taught on the subject (see note below)
  • When we ignore teaching on the judgement of God and say that a loving God would never send anyone to hell. (see note below)

Okay…I guess I need to stop typing “see note below” and just say it: While the statements above would seem to imply that I am coming from a very conservative, dogmatic perspective I am no longer entirely settled on some of these issues. What I would want to say here very clearly is that I hope that whatever Biblical worldview I have is formed from debates, forums and careful study of what the Bible actually does or does not say, and not from my subjective view, or personal perspective on how I wish things were.

Basically, I can’t allow my own feelings — the way I wish things were — on an issue to override God’s objective truth on any given matter the same way the Roman Catholic church allows The Catechism of the Catholic Church to override scripture.

God does have an opinion on these matters and though “we see in part” and “we see through a glass darkly” it’s our job to try to discern what it is; especially in the cases where it impacts our personal code of behavior or a factor in our current circumstances.

It’s complicated, yes?

August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Why We Love Our Hollywood Heroes

My guest blogger today writes anonymously under the name Flagrant Regard. There are some reasons for this, which may or may not involve the Witness Protection Program. Or maybe it’s another one of those deals where somebody famous like J. K. Rowling pens some material under an alternative byline. Or perhaps it’s a lot less interesting than either of those possibilities…  You can catch his writing at — wait for it — Flagrant Regard.

Why We Love our Hollywood HeroesHow many times have you seen this in a Hollywood flick:

Man falls in love with woman, woman appears to have her sights on or a commitment to someone else.

The smitten man – always the story’s protagonist – does his best to win the woman’s affections and to become her ‘one and only’.  But, as the plot goes, the woman’s potential suitor finds himself in a losing battle with the other man in her life, or so it appears. And then of course, there comes this powerful moment in the story where he relinquishes his pursuit of the woman he’s in love with and, burying his hurt, stoically tells her something like, “I love you so much, I can’t afford to see you unhappy.  I want you to be with the man you truly love, and if it ain’t me babe, then at least I know you’re content.”

In some movies the protagonist gets another kick at love’s can as the woman in the story realizes what a truly unselfish man she’s throwing away and, forsaking the safe and familiar, falls hard and passionately for the new guy.  At other times (but is less rarely seen in modern American films) the pursuing male wanders off dejected and alone as he sadly accepts his destiny –  not being with the woman he’s in love with.

In either outcome, we value the protagonist as a true, unwavering and selfless hero who wants the best for the one he loves even at the cost of his own happiness.  Now that’s a Hollywood hero!

We cherish our silver screen heroic archetypes, especially in stories like the above, because of the selflessness involved; the sacrifice that springs from genuine love.  As we watch the drama unfold, we find ourselves wanting to believe in that noble kind of love because we know it’s the right kind to fully embrace and which also ‘sets the bar’ for ourselves.

But what of our heroism with respect to our following Jesus?  How much more should we be ready to sacrifice our selfish wants and desires – no matter how painful it is – in order to make sure the God we claim to love is pleased?  Are we willing to give up all or, like the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered who was not willing to give up that which he held most dear to him, we too walk away without God’s blessing or true fulfillment in our lives?

My wife and I heard these wonderful words of Martin Luther from a preacher just the other day:

“A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

In order to gain Christ, we are told it will mean us losing our very lives and sometimes walking away from the things we value most.  Will we walk away from a relationship that God’s word states is not right or will we blithely dismiss the clear instructions of the Scriptures in order to suit our desires or ideals?  Will we say in our prayers, “I want You to be pleased with everything I think, say and do, even if it means my sacrificing the things and/or beliefs I hold on to (which I think matter most).”?

Loving God often means struggle and persecution, but it is ALWAYS about forsaking all in order to gain Christ’s blessing, once we’ve been saved by His grace.  If you view the Gospel in any other light, you are not yet a beneficiary of the truth.  Yes, God is all about love, but he’s also about holy living, exemplary behaviour as befitting His people and He expects TRUE REPENTANCE:  an about face in our hearts toward God and a resetting of our minds that enables us to seek out what God’s will is for every aspect of  our life.

Do you want to be a hero?  Do you want to have the audience of angels and saints in heaven – and your heavenly Father himself – cheering for you?  Then be holy (sacred, morally upright, set apart), be seeking God’s will and be ready at all times to give your all no matter what the cost is to yourself.  This is how we win in this life and in the next.

© Flagrant Regard, 2012

“On His journey vast crowds attended Him, towards whom He turned and said, “If any one is coming to me who does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of mine. No one who does not carry his own cross and come after me can be a disciple of mine. “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost, asking if he has the means to finish it? — lest perhaps, when he has laid the foundation and is unable to finish, all who see it shall begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This man began to build, but could not finish.’ Or what king, marching to encounter another king in war, does not first sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet the one who is advancing against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers and sues for peace. Just as no one of you who does not detach himself from all that belongs to him can be a disciple of mine.”
(Luk 14:25-33)

“Therefore, surrounded as we are by such a vast cloud of witnesses, let us fling aside every encumbrance and the sin that so readily entangles our feet. And let us run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, simply fixing our gaze upon Jesus, our Prince Leader in the faith, who will also award us the prize. He, for the sake of the joy which lay before Him, patiently endured the cross, looking with contempt upon its shame, and afterwards seated Himself– where He still sits–at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore, if you would escape becoming weary and faint-hearted, compare your own sufferings with those of Him who endured such hostility directed against Him by sinners.”
(Heb 12:1-3)

February 3, 2011

Deconversion: Because Crossing the Line of Faith Works Both Ways

I’ve been reading the blog, Losing my Religion by Jeff McQuilkin since long before I started one of my own.  Maybe he had me at the title.  Jeff’s blog has always been at the leading edge of discussions on the issue of faith and doubt.

This one is a longer post, it might take you a good five minutes at least, and then I hope you’ll also track with the comments people have left there.  It’s about two people he knows of which one (to use language we use in this blog) is moving away from the cross while the other is moving toward the cross.

It’s also about faith that it is intellectual versus faith that goes beyond the mind.  It’s about objective absolute truth versus the subjectivity of belief based on empirical evidence.

It’s about you.  It’s about me.


Not long ago, I was browsing through my Google Reader, kind of sorting through and unsubscribing from blogs that had become inactive, and I came across a “good-bye” post from a fellow blogger. He had been struggling with his faith for some time, and I’d tracked with him for awhile because he had expressed such honesty and candor about his doubts and his feelings. This post was several months old (I was admittedly behind in my reading), but he’d written a good-bye post to close out this particular blog because he had finally decided there was no God, and he was now an atheist. Since the blog was about struggling with faith, and for him there was no more faith to struggle with, he’d moved on to write a new blog about atheism.

When I read his words, my heart sank in grief, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I only know this person from his writing–I don’t think we’d ever even commented on one another’s blogs–but I felt this profound sense of loss, and I grieved for my brother who had struggled so long and had come to such a sad conclusion. I say “sad,” because when I look at my own life and struggles, I cannot imagine the amount of sorrow I would feel if I ever came to the conclusion that there had been no divine purpose in it all, that all this time I’d been muddling through on my own, that there was really no One watching out for me. Never mind the implications of the afterlife–even the idea of living in the here-and-now with no belief in God (especially if belief was once there) is a completely devastating thought to me. This is why I grieved so for my brother who had lost his faith.

I am acquainted with another atheist for whom I don’t feel the same sense of grief and loss; in fact, I feel a bit of hope. In hearing him talk about his own struggles with faith, it’s actually apparent that he wants to believe. He’s not a militant atheist, and is friendly to Christians, even admires them; he says that the only thing that really keeps him from crossing the line into faith is that he is so analytical that he can’t get his mind around the idea of the supernatural. In short, his logical mind gets in the way.

From my perspective, the biggest difference between these two atheists is the direction the struggle for faith is taking them. For the latter, I think his path is ultimately toward Christ; he would totally be a Christ-follower if he could just overcome the mental block, and I have hope that one day this will happen for him. For the former, he’s coming from the opposite direction–he once had faith (or at least belief), but got disillusioned, and for one reason or another his doubts were never satisfied. So he walked away from Christ.

But despite this difference…

…continue reading here…

January 2, 2011

Gutenberg’s Motivation

Filed under: bible, internet — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:43 pm

Though the internet was hardly on the radar in its early days, during the last few years, we’ve watched the explosion of a medium that gives us an insight into what it must have been like to live in those days when the printing press burst on the scene.

Some will know that Gutenberg’s first project was the edition of the Bible that bears his name, but few realize that it was this project that really drove the invention itself:

“Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams, the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men!  Through it, God will spread His Word.  A spring of truth shall flow from it: Like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men.”

Johannes Gutenberg

Wikipedia fills in the story of that early Bible:

The Bible sold for 30 florins each, which was roughly three years’ wages for an average clerk.  Nonetheless, it was significantly cheaper than a handwritten Bible that could take a single scribe over a year to prepare.  After printing the text portions, each book was hand illustrated in the same elegant way as manuscript Bibles from the same period written by scribes.

Our world has seen an equally paradigm-smashing development with the internet.    If you haven’t seen it already, take a moment to visit Gary’s Social Media Count.

December 28, 2010

1,000,000 Channel World

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 pm

Seth Godin blogged this a few days before Christmas, where it appeared under the title…

Three ways TV changed everything (and what’s next)

TV changes everyone it touches.

TV brings mass. For fifty years, TV meant that programmers and advertisers had a very good chance to reach everyone, or almost everyone, at the same time. TV integrates a culture, because there’s instant common touchstones being generated daily. (When I say, “yadda yadda yadda” or “where’s the beef,” you know what I mean, right?)

TV brings pluralism and diversity.  This seems to contradict the first, but it doesn’t. Once TV has opened a channel to the brain, it can bring in whatever it chooses, without clearing it with you first. So, the viewer can discover that people-who-don’t-look-like-us aren’t so different, or that women might be good cops, or that a member of the [insert oppressed group] might also be a person too.

and finally, TV brings dissatisfaction.  Advertising needs to make you dissatisfied to work. And picture perfect sitcom families have more money and less trouble than most folks (because they’re not real).

Now, of course, TV isn’t what it used to be. No more three-channel universe. That means that the cable/internet virus changes everyone in a very different way. Call it the million channel world (mcw).

The mcw brings addressability. There is no mass any more. You can’t reach everyone. Mad Men is a hit and yet it has only been seen by 2% of the people in the USA.

The mcw bring silos, angry tribes and insularity. Fox News makes a fortune by pitting people against one another. Talkingpointsmemo is custom tailored for people who are sure that the other side is wrong. You can spend your entire day consuming media and never encounter a thought you don’t agree with, don’t like or don’t want to see.

And finally, I have no idea if the mcw is making us happy. Surely, a substantial use is time wasting social network polishing, and that’s not really building anyone’s long-term happiness. And the mcw makes it easier to get angry, to waste time (there’s never ‘nothing on’) or become isolated. Without a doubt, the short-term impact of mcw is that it makes it easy to spread terror and harder to settle on the truth. At the same time, there’s no doubt that more people are connected to more people, belong to more tribes, have more friends, and engage more often than they did before it got here. We got rid of some gatekeepers, but there’s a race for some new ones. In the meantime, a lot of smart people are fending for themselves, which isn’t so bad.

One thing we learned from the TV age that’s still true: more media is not always better, particularly when we abdicate our power to filter and choose.

July 14, 2010

Wednesday Link List

We’re back with the links… some of these have been accumulating for a few weeks, and there have been many great posts lately at Christianity Today, which are represented here:

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