Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Evangelical Mind

2016 will definitely be one for the books. We are currently in what may be the craziest election cycle in the United States’ history. Campaign season can be fun or stressful for a lot of reasons, but I am always particularly interested in how the American evangelical community responds to candidate choices. Evangelicals traditionally have had conservative leanings in this country. There is, of course, no harm in this fact. Many churches in recent years have done a fairly decent job at emphasizing the arbitrariness of political leanings in evangelical orthodoxy. But this election cycle has caused my stomach to churn in unsettling ways.

 

I would like to believe that churches are becoming more neutral on political leanings, but this is not so. Due to the unfortunate nature of our divisive two-party system, we are left with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The evangelical response to Trump and his candidacy has been peculiar, to say the least. I could only hope and pray that Trump’s candidacy would be the knock-out hit to the unabashed evangelical devotion to the Republican Party, but this is not what has been observed. Multiple evangelical leaders across this country, many of them with big names and big churches, have, without question, endorsed Trump. And this is not an endorsement based off of the lesser of two evils, but rather these leaders genuinely think that Trump is a good moral agent who should be leading this country, with one pastor in particular calling Ch

 

ristians who do not vote for Trump “fools.” This only damages the evangelical mind by re-enforcing the false historical conception that America somehow used to be “great” and “Christian” and “blessed by God” and the Donald Trump, with his right-wing prowess, will successfully return America back to the good old days. We have officially uncovered a truth about many evangelical Christians that many others have suspected all along: To worship Jesus is to worship Western conservatism.

 

If these pastors and leaders cared to line up biblical morality with Trump morality, they would find that they go together, as Simon Cowell says, like vanilla ice cream and sausage: They don’t. But there is another side to this coin. There are many Christians, not just liberal, but conservative who have given a great deal of backlash to these leaders. Many evangelicals think Trump is a morally bankrupt agent and that Christians should not support him at all. There has been a strange mix of opinions amongst the evangelical community. Is this good? Well sure. It causes the church to wrestle with itself and its convictions. However, my ultimate concern for evangelical Christians has nothing to do with whether pastors are endorsing Trump or opposing him. My concern lies with the abrasive nature of their leanings. We bank on or against Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or whoever. We care so deeply about who our president will be. Americanism has a nasty way of pulling us back into its false religion of exceptionalism, a concept that is unfortunately praised by many Christians. Let’s face it; many Christians do a much better job of worshipping America rather than Jesus.

 

What I have discussed thus far is just a symptom of the bigger issue. The big issue is this: Christian hope has been staunchly misdirected. We all hope America will get better, and we hope for a good president. But this is just a cheap replacement for real hope. Christians can be unnecessarily pessimistic people. We often buy into doomsday theories and fear that anything going wrong in our country is a sign that we are “turning away from God” and hope we are nearing the end of days so Christ will return. I am convinced that for evangelicals, this negative sense of hope has bred in us a longing not for God and His control over His creation, but for America and its leadership. So many Christians are too fatalistic in thinking that things have to get much worse before they can get better that hope in God and His providence has become meaningless. We desire hope in things that we can see with the naked eye and things that we can control, and refuse to let God maintain control.

 

I am not at all indicating that taking pride in America and loving our country is a bad thing. But this is important: American exceptionalism and Biblical Christianity are antithetical to one another. Our hope lies in Jesus Christ and his ability not to save the world later, but to continue saving the world at present. Christ’s physical resurrection rendered the old order useless and gave us hope for our present age as well as our future.

 

Ryan Ellington Edit: Besides, this world is not our home.

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The Sin of Excessiveness

pizza and beer

One of the greatest evils in our world is abusing the creation God has given us. To commit “evil” can be seen as abusing something that was intended to be good.   For instance, sex, something that has always been God’s good intention, is certainly abused more frequently and maliciously in our contemporary culture. Alcohol is a wonderful substance that has even been included in the holy Christian communion, but there are certainly ways to abuse that. I bring these two examples up first to describe what I believe most Christians view as “the great evils.” People who have sex in the wrong contexts are creating a much more cultural evil than others. “Drinking and partying”, as it is often referred to by youth in the Bible belt, is one of the worst high school crimes a person can commit from the vantage point of a youth group student.

 

“Alcohol and sex, the two greatest evils.” This can be and often is phrased as a joke to describe a certain sect of Christianity that most modern evangelicals do not wish to associate with. But if we can joke about it and act as though it is just a fundamentalist ghost of our evangelical past, why do we still handle it with a nasty attitude? Many Christians, although they recognize that it is not actually sinful to drink alcohol or participate in sex in the proper contexts, still get very negative intuitions when the words are spoken. I have had many, many Christians tell me that it is wrong for a Christian to drink alcohol simply because it will “ruin your witness” or something like that. The problem is it is only Christians who actually seem to be concerned about this, not anyone else. I care nothing about being a witness to other Christians, and if a non-Christian were ever to tell me that drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco was offending to them, I would immediately drop the activity so as to not ruin my witness. I have yet to hear a non-Christian say this. And I am not harshly condemning those Christians who make this claim, because I have been there myself. But the root has nothing to do with alcohol, cigarettes, or sex, but this infectious idea that certain activities are permissible for the Christian to do and certain ones are not. The whole “smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will ruin your witness” is a modern fad that is influenced by theological dualism, not biblical Christianity.

 

Let me be clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form saying Christians should start lighting up and drinking. Not in the least bit. But the real sin does not lie in participating in a certain activity because it is inherently evil. We cause non-believers to wonder why Christians are opposed to “certain things” when we purport this condemnation. It is unbiblical. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to being judgmental of some of the things certain people do, such as partying or whatever. I am also just as guilty as committing the same sin. I am thankful that I have never had a personal problem with alcohol or the abuse of some substance, but I am committing the same sin nonetheless.

 

I have a problem with moderation. As someone who is emphatically impulsive and ADHD, I have a huge self-denial issue. For instance, I eat way too much. Yeah, gluttony is a real sin for me. I often will find pleasure in large amounts of pizza, donuts, oreos, fried chicken, etc. I also have an exercise problem (too much). Again, when I say I have a moderation problem, that includes everything. I tend to exercise way more than I should in a single period of time, sometimes for the purpose of relieving stress or finding comfort from my hectic schedule, or maybe because I ate one too many oreos. Is this bad? Not necessarily. Is it bad to find comfort and release in normal, healthy, day-to-day activities? No. My problem has little to do with what I am doing and much to do with how much I am doing it, and for what purpose. If I am feeling stressed out and anxious, I will either consume a large pizza to “stress eat” or go run 9 miles when my body really does not need it at the moment. Either way, I am looking for fulfillment in something that ultimately cannot supply it. I idolize it, and if I’m being honest, I idolize a lot of things. I am no different than the alcoholic or the cigarette addict who are looking for fulfillment from material products. Consumerism is a very American thing and can be hard to resist. But I find in the times where I need comfort and I look to the cross for fulfillment, I find a much greater satisfaction than when I seek it in food, exercise, watching TV, or something else. The real sin is not “doing something bad”, but “worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.” Idolatry is the real evil in all this. God has created us as creatures who are to enjoy the beautiful creation He has given us, but to find ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment in Him. A tendency toward excessiveness, which ultimately leads to idolatry, will crush this picture every time.

 

“Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.”

-David Bentley Hart

 

On Certainty

sin of cert

 

I recently read a fantastic book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. I will not lie, as skeptical as I was in reading this book, I was impressed and greatly satisfied with the result. I have a tendency, as do most Christians in the Western World, to intellectualize my faith. Enns hits on this hard. I want to discuss some of the spiritual insight I have gained in reflecting on some of these points.

 

Christianity is not rational. It can’t be because, post-Enlightenment Western civilization has significant epistemological differences from eras before. But why isn’t Christianity rational? There are plenty of reasons, and most of them do make sense, but we now have a very narrow view of what it means to “know.” Better yet, we have a very narrow view of the term “faith.” Faith and reason have been conflated in an almost unhealthy manner to form a false dichotomy between faith being a blind assertion with no evidential basis, or faith is essentially the same thing as reason when defined correctly. This epistemological debate stems from our ability to “know.” I would propose the Enlightenment era very much negatively affected how we should “know.” Reflecting on this, what should it mean to “know?”

 

For starters, science works off of repeatable empirical evidence. Due to principles such as falsification, science cannot make “proof” claims, just claims that are derived specifically from evidence. Likewise, history works off of evidence, but evidence that is not repeatable. Either way, it seems perfectly rational to accept both of these fields as legitimate. We do it all the time. To be rational is to base your beliefs on hard, physical evidence. I disagree. I do not mean I disagree that this is an invalid form of gaining knowledge, but knowledge cannot be reduced to these principles. Unfortunately, many contemporary western Christians have, without even realizing it, bought into this. Faith in God almost seems to be, at least in the apologetic sphere, working off of the same evidentialist-based principles as science and history. With the mass production of “defend the faith” books and apologetics seminars, we seem to be in a battle against some atheist agenda to overthrow religion with scientific or naturalistic evidence, while simultaneously using those same principles to either assume God’s existence can be reduced down to mere scientific principles, or that science simply does not hold up against supernatural creation.

 

This is unfortunate, because when scientists such as Lyell, Wallace, Darwin, Einstein, and Hoyle start to say a bunch of weird stuff that later seems to make a lot of sense and renovate the scientific enterprise, Christian opposition to scientific principles (with an odd contortion of the same principles) seems to fall short. This is where a new (or rather, really old and forgotten) idea of “knowing” should come into play. All truth is God’s truth. This is a standard the Christian should live by. So, if science or history conflicts with your faith, it doesn’t actually conflict, but it should give you more insight into God’s creativity. This scientific way of viewing knowledge should be one part of the Christian’s worldview, but it seems that it is often the only part.

 

This sets us up to rely on our faith in God through our own knowledge and reason. The problem is things are always changing, and what seems rational at one moment may seem completely ridiculous the next. By doing this, we are confining God to our feeble understanding of who He is. The reality is that God is ultimate Being, and His ability to be grasped in its fullness is impossible. Faith, as Enns points out, must be much more about our Trust in God than our feeble arguments that we use to support his existence. Do not hear me saying that these apologetic arguments are not of great importance and do not have their place. They absolutely do and as a philosophy student, I affirm these. But the real issue lies in knowing God through trust. This is difficult to put into words, but it cannot be seen in the same rational light as the scientific method. It is an entirely different way of knowing, but knowing nonetheless. Even in times of doubt, we shouldn’t run away and ignore the fear of being wrong, but we should embrace doubt as a way of God showing us our limited knowledge, and trusting Him through those times of struggle anyway. Also, we should embrace being wrong, because you can’t gain knew knowledge until you admit you are wrong about something. This allows us to not put God in a box where He has to operate on our rules and conditions, and it lets us not lose faith when our “arguments” are proven to be unsound.

 

“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

-CS Lewis

Should Christians Meditate?

meditate

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Early pagan belief systems emphasized the importance of meditation, and many large eastern religions still practice it today. Meditation is a big part of many people’s lives. It can be a way to achieve a higher level of consciousness, have a mystical experience, or it can be just a way to relieve stress and anxiety from a hard day at work. But there is a question raised for Christians in regards to this topic. Should Christians participate in meditation? Or maybe, is it a sin for Christians to participate in this practice. This, like many other topics, deserves a proper understanding of what exactly the subject is and what exactly is being achieved during the process.

 

What is Meditation?

 

There are a variety of different forms of meditation. We often picture someone sitting with their legs crossed and their palms facing upward on their knees, sometimes doing a chant or prayer of sorts. Meditation can be defined as simply deep thought on a particular subject, or it can be an ultra-spiritual practice. Either way, there are some careful steps that the Christian must take in order to meditate in a faithful way. There are, of course, better ways to meditate than others. For instance, John Piper’s form of mediation in which every verse in Scripture read ought to be extensively thought out and reflected upon is certainly a powerful, beneficial form of meditation for the Christian to practice. Not only that, but I think Christians SHOULD practice it. Deep thought and contemplation on Scripture will always be beneficial for the personal spiritual walk of the Christian.

 

What about other forms of meditation that require one to sit in silence, with their eyes closed, and reflect upon other things? Or better yet, what about the forms of meditation that are used to achieve a higher level of consciousness? Not all of these kinds of meditation are hyper-spiritual in nature. In fact, the ancient Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, has been shown to have very positive effects on brain chemistry, reducing anxiety and depression for many people. Even the atheist writer Sam Harris has written that he practices Vipassana himself. This practice has very similar qualities to a common form of Christian meditation known as Centering Prayer. This prayer allows one to sit in silence and focus upon God and essentially find rest in him. It is done by closing your eyes, blocking out all distractions and focusing on a particular word that describes God’s character, such as “Christ”, “Savior”, “Divine Love”, etc.

 

So, Should Christians Do It?

 

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Centering Prayer or Christians pursuing some kind of meditation to enrich their spiritual lives. Many people who practice these forms of meditation say that they feel much closer to God and have more peace in their lives. It is very difficult to just give a black-and-white answer as to whether meditation is wrong for the Christian or not.  There is nothing unbiblical about it, so long as you do not invoke non-Christians spiritual practices into it.  If you are a Christian and choose to pursue meditation, I would keep three things in mind:

 

  1. Make sure the manner in which you meditate does not clash with Scripture. Matthew 6 gives a model for Christian prayer, and it also gives one specific prohibition in verses 7 and 8: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The word “babbling” is often translated as “chanting”. This does not mean we cannot pray the same thing over and over again. What it DOES mean is that we cannot chant with the intention of coercing God into meeting our every desire. This leads to my next point.
  2. Make sure that your meditation is not “you-centered.” We have this problem often enough with normal prayer, and we certainly don’t need it in some other form of meditation. Again, coercing God into meeting your desires is never a good thing. Also, Christians should never meditate in order to achieve some higher degree of consciousness. Make sure that what you are doing is not all about you, and not even primarily driven to relieve you of stress and anxiety (although it is not altogether wrong for this to have some motivation), but strive to honor God and further His Kingdom in everything you do. If you choose to do the Centering Prayer exercise, make sure your intention is to eliminate all distractions so your whole purpose is on God and your communication with Him. Never try to invoke some kind of higher mystical feeling.
  3. Finally, never allow meditation to replace other forms of prayer. Scripture models a healthy account of prayer that is simply communication with God, just like you would communicate with anyone else. Meditation should not take the place of this traditional form of prayer that Scripture speaks so highly of. Talk to God, ask Him for guidance, ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him for a clean and pure heart every day.

 

Our Modern Quest For Truth

Science continues to create theological problems that we have never been presented with before. This isn’t going to go away. We live in a scientific age where science is the dominant method for attaining truth.

Science is no conspiracy. While there is a degree of error, every scientific theory is under constant scrutiny and peer review. If someone were to find an alternative to, say, germ theory, they would instantly be famous. So how do Christians and other religious believers deal with our faith in light of such a science-dominated culture?

The Authority of Scripture

 

I recently had a dispute with a friend on Facebook. This individual (falsely) accused me of not accepting the authority of Scripture because of my views on Genesis 1-3. I have not doubt that this friend was well intentioned and was genuinely looking out for me as a fellow believer, but I think he missed the point. As Christians, our faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens those truths can rightly be seen as diminishing to the authority of Scripture. I do not see how one can say Genesis 1-3 affects that truth. This is not an issue of authority. It is an issue of interpretation. While an alternative to the literalism of Genesis 1-3 does present significant theological problems (death before the fall, historical Adam, etc.), none of them affect the authority of Scripture.

The History of Young Earth Creationism

While it is important to note that 7-day creationism was a view that some theologians had before the 20th century, it has not been, by any stretch, the dominant view. Ellen White, a Seventh Day Adventist in the 19th century, has been considered by many to have developed modern Young Earth Creationism. Later, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood as a way to explain the fossil record. In 1925, we had the Scopes trial. Combine these three events together, and you have modern day Young Earth Creationism. Origen, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others saw the Genesis account of creation as having a very poetic nature to it and did not see the creation of the world as being bound by seven literal 24-hour days.

The problem is that Ken Ham and many others today have made a literal interpretation of Scripture as being the only way to properly understand the Bible as the authority of God. This is not true. In fact, in some ways, this it is the opposite. True authority comes from God, who inspired certain men to write the biblical texts, which are communicated through a specific cultural context. If we are to take the authority of Scripture seriously, we have to understand what exactly the author of any given text is saying. To just assume post-Enlightenment literalism does a disservice to Scripture. Literalism is a hermeneutic, just like any other, and it has to be defended on the same grounds.

Galileo Galilei

 

Not only did Galileo provide sufficient evidence for a heliocentric solar system, but he also set a precedent for a particular kind of hermeneutic. It was widely accepted, without question, that the heavenly bodies did revolve around the earth, and the earth was fixed and could not be moved (Psalm 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). It would not be seen as very sophisticated in this day and age to make a claim that these verses are literal, scientific texts that ought to overpower our basic understanding of astronomy. Galileo was vehemently accused of heresy in the Catholic church, but he stuck to what he believed is right, and now we have a proper understanding of the astronomy of our own solar system. “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” We should listen to Scripture on the basis of how we are to be reconciled with Christ, not what the material world has to teach us.

Charles Darwin

 

Darwin was no Christian, but he did not see his theory and Christianity as being in conflict. He had many friends who were Christians, and none of them saw evolutionary theory as a threat to their faith. Darwin developed his theory based off of his own observations. It had nothing to do with his lack of belief in God. Asa Gray, a friend of Darwin’s who was a Christian, wrote him after he developed his theory and said that it actually helped him make better sense of his theology. Charles Kingsley, another theologian who was acquainted with Darwin, wrote “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular pastors of the 19th century, said in a sermon once that the notion of millions of years should not be a threat to biblical theology. YEC pastors and theologians were not widely known in the 19th century, and Darwin was seen as giving a rational method that God used to create.

Interpretation

The Bible is a very old book. It is easy to take it literally, and when any given literal statement contradicts objective reality to just assume it is literary or some sort of metaphor. People in the Ancient Near East really did think that the heart, intestines, and other body parts controlled intellect. People really did think hell was actually underneath the earth. People really did think there was a dome above the sky and the stars and other heavenly bodies were carved into it. This is ancient science, and nobody actually accepts it. Just because Ancient Near East writers had a false conception of what the cosmos actually looked like does not diminish the inspired theological truth of the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book to the universal truths of every field of study; it has a very specific message just like any other piece of literature.

The Quest For Truth

Literalism is easy. After all, if God wanted to convey truth to us through His Word, wouldn’t He make it easy to understand? Sadly, it is not that simple. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes the whole bible literally (at least in the post-Enlightenment sense). Many only take the Bible literally when it doesn’t conflict with common sense or their prior convictions. This is not a consistent hermeneutic, however. Culture plays a huge part in how the Bible was written, and it plays a big part for us when we go about interpreting it. God speaks to cultures. There is not one objective way to speak to a human being, it is done differently depending on the understanding that person has about the nature of reality. In an age of science, where much of the data we acquire in the fields of biology, geology, physics, anthropology, etc. contradicts a literal reading of Scripture, we must be careful to take the Bible for what it is. The Bible is the Word of God, but it does not define every aspect of truth that can be discovered. God created the natural world, so it will not contradict His Word. Science and religion are not in conflict; they both point us toward truth.

When Scripture Gets Nasty: How to Read the Bible Today

I’m not going to lie, there are times when I really do not like reading the Bible. It’s not always the fun-loving book I want it to be. In fact, there are times when I am straight up uncomfortable with the Bible. When I wake up in the morning and open my Bible, I feel as though I am never prepared for what I am going to get. There are days where I feel total spiritual satisfaction after my morning devotional, there are times when I feel confused, times when I feel sad, and there are even times where I feel like I have wasted my time. There are messy stories in the Bible. There’s murder, destruction, rape, the slaughtering of entire people groups, the desolation of entire cities, people who are struck down by God, and many other things. I started to ask myself a few months back: Why is this stuff in the Bible?! Isn’t the Bible the inspired Word of God, which is supposed to help us gain knowledge and insight about Him? Why such a nasty book? Aren’t we supposed to grow spiritually from it? How should we make sense of the Bible?

The Bible is Not God’s Love Letter to Us

 

I was at a church camp several years ago and the speaker said something to me that I will never forget. He held up his Bible and asked, “Why would you not follow God if He wrote you such a massive love letter?” I think part of the problem Christians have with reading Scripture is that they are reading it through the lens of a false expectation. Let me make a bold statement: The Bible is not written TO us. It is, however, written FOR us. When you pick up the Bible, you have not just picked up a book, but an entire library of different genres that were written specifically to different cultures of different times. The Bible is an ancient document; so it would suit us well to read it like one. Not only is the above statement false, but it is also oversimplified. Instead of the Bible just being a love letter to us, it is a huge collection of documents that are all centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his eternal plan that IS full of love. The Bible is not a love letter, it is much more than that.

The Bible is Not a Rulebook

This one is kind of a given, but it’s difficult to live out sometimes. I often have a hard time reading the Bible and not getting the impression that it is just I giant book full of rules and regulations that I have to follow or God is going to cut me down. This is not what God intended for His Word. We will always be a slave to something, be it our own desires or something else. Christ has given us the opportunity to be a slave to Him, and He calls this the only real, true freedom. Instead of viewing the Bible as a book of rules that we have to follow or we are dishonoring God, view it as a book full of freedom opportunities. God has not given to you what is the only way to live, but what is the BEST way to live.

I only bring up what the Bible isn’t because I believe it is spiritually unhealthy to go into Scripture reading with those two expectations.

The Bible IS a Story Book

 

The Bible is full of stories. I have always wondered why this is. Once I figured it out, it became a lot more meaningful to me. People love stories. Jesus often taught in parables in order to keep people focused. The Bible has so much messiness in it because that is reality. There is very little you can encounter that is not documented in some form in the Bible. Often times the best way to learn is through the story of the experience of someone else. This is crucial. The Bible is not something written directly to us, and it is not a list of rules either. It is a book of insight. It is a book of real people who are messy, broken, and trying to find their way back to God. I am convinced that this is the reason so many Christians find the Old Testament obsolete. Instead of asking, “What does this have to do with me?” ask, “What can I learn from the men and women in this story, who are on their own journey to finding God?” The Bible can be difficult to handle sometimes, but if we keep in mind that these harsh, sometimes crazy stories are all about the journeys of people who lived a long time ago, we can gain more insight about what God is actually trying to teach us through His Word.

10 Biblical Passages That Radically Shape My Worldview

The Bible can be a tricky book. Much of what I study is how to properly interpret it. However, to make things simple, I’m just going to post ten different passages that have had a significant impact on my life:

  1. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.                                                     Romans 12:2

This verse is fairly well known among many Christians, but there’s just something deep about it that really sticks out to me. For one, to be conformed to Christ, by definition, is a moment of radical change that cannot be achieved by means of anything else. Also, it shows the powerful, life-transforming power of Christ to change someone, regardless of who they are or what they have done.

  1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a]whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1: 2-4

One thing that my dad always told me growing up was to try and figure out what God is teaching you during any given hardship. While this is difficult to do, this verse is speaking to that kind of situation. When I have this kind of perspective, it not only makes hard times bearable, but it also gives me a tremendous amount of comfort, knowing that God will make all things work together for good. It is a method of spiritual growth that cannot be achieved any other way.

  1. The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1

People have different ways of connecting to God spiritually. My particular way is through being out in His creation. This helps me to connect to God in a way that no other method does. This verse just helps shed light on God’s beautiful handiwork.

  1. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

James 1:19

Try this. You would be amazed the amount of wisdom, insight, and joy you can get from listening to others (particularly those who have more life experience than you).

  1. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:39

To turn the other cheek when you are slapped in this culture is a sign of shaming the other person. Do so in love, not in hate or an act of revenge. A non-violent behavior can go a long way with people who cause conflict in your life.

  1. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

This verse is simply speaking about focus. The human struggle revolves around a constant anxiety, and sometimes even depression that can hinder people from living the abundant life that God has meant for them to have. The main cause of this is focus. Have your focus on things that are good, things that are of God, and not things that are meant to cause you harm.

  1. One who is full loathes honey,
    but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.

Proverbs 27:7

Sometimes it’s good to throw in a metaphor. I like this verse because it puts the satisfaction of God in simple human terms. This sort of connects to John Piper’s idea of Christian hedonism. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

  1. he predestined usforadoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Ephesians 1:5

Adoption is a beautiful thing, one that I have had the privilege to witness first hand in my own family.

To know that Christ had the intention to adopt us, children who were lost, is a powerful message that fully grasps the sovereignty of God.

  1. “If your brother or sister[b]sins,[c]go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Matthew 18:15

Need help solving problems in your personal relationships? There you go. That’s as simple as it gets.

  1. He will destroy death forever.
    The Lord God will wipe away the tears
    from every face
    and remove His people’s disgrace
    from the whole earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8

This is my favorite verse in the Bible. The knowledge that Christ will defeat death in the end is what gives the most powerful feeling in the Christian walk: Hope.

Biblical Literalists Need to Be More Critical of the Bible

biblical literalism

Biblical literalism is a very unfortunate result of post-Enlightenment thinking.  This kind of thought seems pretty attractive on the surface, but if you really want to get a grasp as to what the biblical writers were saying, it would be much more sophisticated to look at the ancient meaning of the text.  The big problem with biblical literalism is that nobody actually takes the whole bible literally.  I have recalled many different Facebook conversations that I’ve had with different people in which they claim to take the Bible literally from beginning to end.  This is just plain false.  The Bible literally says to gouge your eye out if you look upon a woman lustfully.  The Bible literally says to sell all of your possessions and give to the poor.  The Bible literally says that the earth is held up on four pillars.  The Bible literally says that there is a solid dome covering the earth.  The Bible literally says a lot of things that are just simply not true in the Post-Enlightenment literal sense.

The main problem with this line of thought sort of transcends over into the way that biblical literalists actually live their lives.  The Bible says that it is God’s Word.  I agree, but why should we assume this?  The literalist assumes right off the bat that the Bible is the Word of God without even questioning the actual content in the Bible.  This is problematic just as much for the Christian who withholds the view as it is for the non-Christian who’s trying to rationalize the Bible.  Here’s where I’m getting at.  We are not to question the Bible simply to get understanding about it.  We are to question it in order to tear Scripture apart into it’s little bits and question even the validity of the thing we are reading.  This is how we gain true understanding.

One thing that many Evangelicals don’t seem to understand is that there are actually people who simply don’t view the Bible as divinely inspired.  Why is this?  Because it makes sense.  It actually makes sense that the Bible is not divinely inspired…. From a LITERALIST point of view.  Taking every scientific, historical, mathematical, and sociocultural aspect of reality that we have discovered into consideration, it just simply makes no sense to think that God divinely inspired Scripture to be read literally.  If the Bible is either literal or false, many people are going to choose that it’s just false.  This is where Biblical criticism comes into play.  Biblical criticism allows one to see the Bible through a much more objective lens where we study the anthropological mindset behind each and every verse in the Bible and learn how to properly interpret it.  This is good hermeneutics.  If we were to educate the average layman on how to interpret the Bible critically, much of these problems and misconceptions about Christianity will fade away.

Christianity and Suicide

suicide picture

Amidst the deeply theological/philosophical stuff I usually post on here, I like to occasionally speak to the Christian community as a whole, and how we should handle sensitive issues like this. This post in particular will be about suicide, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, especially among teens. This is a sensitive issue, in fact one of the most sensitive issues. Suicide in one way or another affects many people, whether it is struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves, a loved one, or even a good friend committing suicide.

Suicide has affected me personally, and this is spread out among four very specific instances that have taken place in my life. When I was in seventh grade, there was a student in my history class named Joe. Joe was a nice guy, even though I never really knew him that well. But one morning, I came to school to find out that Joe had taken his own life. This was the first time I had ever encountered anything like this. Even though I did not know Joe very well, it deeply affected me. I could not imagine how much of a low point a 14 year old kid had to hit to do something like that. It was a tragic event, and it affected many people in Joe’s family and many people at his school.

On my 15th birthday, I got news that a local pastor’s son, Aaron, had taken his own life. I never actually met Aaron, but I knew many people who knew him very well. This affected me primarily because my dad was a pastor, and Aaron was very close to my age.

The third event, and definitely the most personal, happened on December 26, 2011. It was the day after Christmas, and I was sitting in my room enjoying the video game I had received as a gift the day before. My dad walks in, sits down, and tells me to turn the game off. He proceeded to explain to me that my good friend, Zane, had passed away. When my dad got back from meeting with Zane’s family, he told me that Zane had taken his own life. I immediately broke down crying. I couldn’t help it. Zane, one of the happiest, most joyful, most adventurous people I had every known, was gone. Zane was so caring. He loved everybody in his life, and he even donated his time to helping people with physical disabilities. He was one of the strongest believers in Christ I had ever met. I was in a daze all week leading up to his funeral. At his funeral, I saw more pain in the souls of the people surrounding me than I had ever seen before. It was at this moment that I realized that suicide is the most one of the most detrimental things human beings can experience, not just for the person who it is directly affecting, but for the people around that person as well.

The final event happened just this last July, when I received news that pastor Ergun Caner’s son, Braxton, had taken his own life. This one sort of began to anger me based off of the Christian community’s response to it. A pastor up in Montana, JD Hall, was getting all kinds of flack for engaging in conversation with Braxton on Twitter just weeks before. Let me say this real quick, JD Hall and I have gone at it before on his own blog, and we have had our disagreements, but he is NOT responsible for the death of Braxton Caner. Hall even came out two weeks later and repented for his sin, which is all we can ask of him. To have this kind of attitude toward people like Hall is not only a false accusation, but it is making an assumption that one fully knows what Braxton was going through, and NOBODY knows that.

Now, these four events did have a significant impact on my life, but I need to say some things about suicide from a Christian perspective:

Suicide is the single worst decision one can make.

 

Please don’t misread what I am saying. Suicide may be the worst decision one can make, but you have got to at least partly understand what suicidal people go through. They hit the absolute lowest point they could ever hit in this life, and they feel as if they have no other way out. We often try to figure out why someone would do such a thing, which to a degree is healthy. It helps us to better understand the situation that is at hand.

Our culture influences suicide.

 

Christians, we have got to be aware of the fact that we live in a day and age that borderline encourages suicide. You don’t believe me? How many times have you heard somebody say, even if it was a joke, “go kill yourself”? Christians all over the world talk about how selfish suicide is, which is insulting and degrading to someone who struggles with suicidal thoughts and actions, and it does absolutely no good. Euthanasia is becoming increasingly popular. Involuntary suicides are beginning to take place in certain countries around the world, and voluntary assisted suicides are being encouraged, not just for people who are severely disabled, but for people struggling with anxiety and depression as well. It is a poison that is affecting the very world that we live in, and it is madness. We have got to become conscious of this fact, and spread Christ’s love and offer help to people to prevent it from taking place.

And my last point…

 

Handling suicide from a Christ-like perspective.

 

Let me make this very clear. Suicide does not prohibit one from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Many Christians try and make this claim, and it is not only perverting but bastardizing the Word of God. It is literally adding a false doctrine into the Bible. Suicide is a sin, but God doesn’t get mad and throw you in hell because of it. It breaks God’s heart, and He mourns for you. My good friend Zane made a terrible mistake, but I follow closely to the words of his uncle, who spoke at his funeral. “I cannot allow a single act of sin to outshine an entire life devoted to God.” I cannot help but find so much truth in that. Just because we may have been saved by God’s grace, doesn’t mean that we will not struggle in this life. We must allow our lives to flourish in God’s creation, and to spread His good message to the entire world. We should help Christians and non-Christians alike if they are struggling with suicide thoughts, and we should be there to support one another through the hard times. God did not create us to be lonely creatures, but to be interactive and to support one another. This is discipleship, and it is Christ-like.

“O Lord, we call upon You in our time of sorrow,

That You give us the strength and will to bear our heavy

burdens, until we can again feel the warmth and love of

Your divine compassion. Be mindful of us and have mercy

on us while we struggle to comprehend life’s hardships.

Keep us ever in Your watch, til we can walk again with

light hearts and renewed spirits.”

Amen

The Dangers of Joel Osteen’s Message

osteen

 

When we hear the term “prosperity gospel” what do we typically think of? Almost everybody would say Joel and Victoria Osteen. This attractive and wealthy couple has gained an incredible amount of popularity among many contemporary evangelicals. And it’s no surprise. You see, as a Christian, I am willing to admit that the life of one who follows Christ is not an easy, or comfortable one. It can often be one of suffering. But it is also one full of joy and satisfaction. So here’s the problem with this prosperity gospel that the Osteens and many others buy into:

 

IT IS COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE THAT IS PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE.

 

I would argue that Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest protestant church in North America, Lakewood Church, has presented a perverted version of God’s Word. To put it simply, it’s not God’s Word at all. It’s a false message. So, why does he gain so much popularity? It’s simple. Let’s take a look at this man, Joel Osteen.

 

Osteen was born in Houston, Texas. His father, John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist minister who eventually founded Lakewood Church. Upon John’s death in 1999, Joel took over as Senior pastor of Lakewood. Since then, Lakewood Church’s attendance has grown from 5,000 to 43,000. Incredible. So what is he doing that all other churches aren’t doing? Now, I am going to commend Osteen on one thing. He is not obsessed with hell. For some reason, many modern day evangelists scare people into accepting Christ so that they do not burn for eternity. This is weird because Jesus never taught this way. But that’s beside the overall point. Osteen cares nothing about repentance or sanctification. Like, not at all. What Osteen cares about is making people happy. In an interesting video I saw the other day, his wife, Victoria, was preaching and she said to not worship God for the sake of God, but for us. Her reasoning is that God is happiest when we are happy. I don’t know where she gets this from, but it sure isn’t God’s Word. The logic of the prosperity gospel goes something like this:

 

If you worship God, not really caring about Him but caring about yourself, then God will give you a happy life (your best life now) and you can essentially take pride in the fact that God loves you enough to give you stuff.

 

The Osteens are obsessed with God, but they care nothing about sanctification through Christ. They care about material possessions. They care about getting whatever they can out of God. You can just hear it in Joel’s voice as he preaches. At best, the man is a motivational speaker speaking on a basis of false motivation. Why does Joel Osteen look like he’s got it all together? Because he has turned his church into a multi-million dollar industry by telling people what they want to hear, and not the uncomfortable truth of Christianity.

 

So, can we get anything out of what Osteen teaches? Sure. He is right in that God does want us to be happy and full of joy. He is wrong in the way that he presents it. This is the most important part about what’s wrong with the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel is presented in a way that God can be glorified by means of satisfying our sinful desires. That’s the kicker with Osteen’s message. He loves people and he cares about them, but he does not understand the basic message of Jesus Christ. We live in a messed up world that doesn’t need to be destroyed, but restored. God created this world for us to thrive in and worship him in. We are supposed to get pleasure and joy out of worshipping God, but because of our fallen nature, we automatically turn to the one thing that Christ warns us against: Getting satisfaction from the world without having the peace of Christ in your life. That’s when true pain and suffering comes. Ever hear that C.S. Lewis quote, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither”? The prosperity gospel aims directly at earth. We are called to be a people of repentance, a people who sit in and can be satisfied in God’s loving embrace. We are NOT a people who are designed to get satisfaction out of riches and then claim we got them because God loves us. Yes, all good things do come from God, but if our focus is on getting riches and a happy life from God, then we will never gain the full and joyful life that God ultimately has for us. If you want to hear the real gospel, not one of material possessions but one that is centered around Christ, look at the famous words of Keith Green:

 

“The Gospel is simply this: Jesus will forgive all your sins if come to him humbly, lay down at his feet and say, ‘You are the LORD! And I will follow you for the rest of my life on earth, so that I can spend eternity with you, and have the glory of your Father!’”