Missional Christianity, Atheists, and Fundamentalist Christianity

3 03 2007

You may be familiar with The Blasphemy Challenge on YouTube, where mostly teens and twenty somethings make videos of themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, thus committing the Unpardonable Sin. Of course, they don’t even think they are sinning because they totally lack any belief in any god, much less the God of the Bible. They are really doing this to build the community of atheists so that they can better combat Christianity and theism because they think that God-belief is harmful to the world.

So of course, there have been many Christians who have stepped into the breach in order to defend Christianity and respond to these young Atheists. They are all over YouTube trying to engage atheists on many different issues and topics, from abortion to evolution.

The most notable Christian to enter the fray is Ergun Caner, the current president of Liberty Theological Seminary. This is the school that was started by the fundamentalist tele-evangelist, Jerry Falwell. Caner wants to engage the Rational Response Squad, who are the creators of the The Blasphemy Challenge. In fact, he is supposed be a part of a live internet show via the the Rational Response Squad’s website.

I personally do not think that any minds will be changed in their “dialogue”. What I do get a sense of is the fact that fundamentalists see atheists as a threat because of their ability to deconstruct the Bibe, and because they are usually strong advocates for Evolution. Atheists see fundamentalists as a threat because they are anti-science and put biblical revelation before scientific fact. I just don’t see a way for these two communities to connect without a lot of shouting and name calling happening. Even if the communities can manage to be civil to one another, there will not be any friendships forming.

This is another reason why I am a missional Christian. Missional Christians do form long lasting relationships with non-believers from all kinds of backgrounds, including atheists. We are not afraid of modern science, and I suspect that most of us are theistic evolutionists. Being a missional Christian means that you don’t pretend that you have all the answers, you just trust that He who is the Answer will reveal Himself to your non-believing friends in the course of your friendship.

For us, it is not so much about winning the argument, but rather, sharing our stories and just hanging out. Plus, could you imagine theists and atheists building Habitat for Humanity homes together? Or maybe just having a regular weekly meal with one another? Now fundamentalists don’t want any part of this because the danger is that they cannot control the conversation and there will be questions asked that they do not have answer for. Whereas missional Chrisitans are comfortable not being able to have a answer for every question.

Further, I bet my last dollar that if atheists saw Christians focusing on caring for the marginalized, being involved in racial reconciliation and social justice, and accepted the fact of evolution and global warming, they would actually begin to take us at least a little bit seriously, and perhaps would even want to engage us in a real way.


God, Violence, and Genocide

27 01 2007

They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua 6:21

I do not like it when God sends death and destruction upon humanity, but it does not cause a crisis of faith for me. I do believe that since God is our creator, He has the inherent right to destroy us. However, I do have a problem with those Scriptures where God calls for the destruction of entire groups of people at the hands of other people, usually Jews. This does create a crisis of faith for me because all manner of religous fanatics from Eric Rudolf to Osama Bin Laden use the Bible and the Q’uran to justify violence in the name of God. This lends credence to the argument from my atheist friends that religion is the greatest cause of evil in the world. This is the kind of argument that people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have been making. And let me state at the outset that Messers Harris & Dawkins are not the enemy, violent religious extremists who kill in the name of God are. They give all theists everywhere a bad name.

Let me state first that though I am a Bible-believing Christian, I do not accept those parts of the Bible that have God commanding people to kill for Him. Call me selective in my application of Scripture, but I do believe that if the Hebrew Bible was perfect and complete, that there would be no need for Jesus and the New Testament.

Second, in a pluralistic world, believers of whatever stripe are going to have to be comfortable with people disagreeing with what they believe. Moreover, many people are going to be very disrespectful and irreverent towads every permutation of religious faith, including your own. And the more you try to ram your faith down other people’s throats by using politics or violence, the more people are going to disrespect you and your faith.

I think that the way forward for Christian believers in navigating the problem of religious violence against non-believers is to follow Paul’s admonition: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”1Corinthians 5:12. Further, I also think that the way we influence those who think differently than we do is not through the ballot box, with bullets or diatribes, but rather, being the kind of community that speaks cogently to the larger culture, not by what we say but how we live.

What if we had churches that became demonstration projects for the truth of the Gospel? Imagine, multi-ethnic congregration that are racially reconciled and build homes for the homeless, and care for widows and orphans. I suspect that if we had a bunch of churches like this, that even Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins would be impressed.

Dealing with Genocide and Terrorism in the Bible

2 10 2006

What has been troubling me in the last few years since 911, is how groups like Al Qaeda use the Bible and the Quran to justify their violent acts. It is easy to say that this is just a Muslim problem, but that is not true, because there are numerous Old Testament scriptures that have God actually commanding the ethnic cleansing of entire groups of people, like the Canaanites for example. Because of this, I can understand why agnostics and atheists are more fearful of people like myself who are very passionate about their faith and believe the Bible to be completely true. This is a deep and fundamental issue for all people of faith in my opinion, and we have to address it head on. So in the near future, I will be doing a series of posts that will deal with the problem of religious violence and how to address it biblically and theologically.

Contra Benedict II: The Scriptural Basis for Multi-Culturalism & Pluralism

23 09 2006

For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for the next installment of this series, you wait is over (yes, I am a legend in my own mind). First, I want to again make it clear that I deplore those who want to kill the Pope because of a quotation he made from a 14th century emperor critiquing Islam for converting people through the point of a sword. This is madness. God does not need a defender, and it is a sin of the highest order to kill another human being who is made in God’s image. Only God has the right to take life. We demonstrate the veracity of our faith by loving others sacrificially, not by killing those we consider to be infidels. Violent religious extremists of whatever stripe hurt the cause of religion for everyone.

That said, let us move on to the biblical basis for multi-culturalism & plurality. If you listen to the Pope, he would like to make you believe that the postmodern moment that we swim in is just a fad and a phase. That once we get past it, we need to return to the modernistic methods of rationality and reason to prove our faith is reasonable, rational, and true. And that we need to get back to the specific brand of Platonic/Cartesian understandings of rationalism to do this right.

I say this is wrong, and it is wrong on biblical grounds. First, as I said before, God can, and has spoken to each and every culture and social system known to humankind. God is not in a box. We see in Genesis 11 that God is the creator of culture. Yes, he wants unity (more on this later) but at the expense of diversity. God is too big for to squeeze in to just one culture or ethnic group. He wants to be known and glorified in each and every ethnic group.

Second, both the letters to the Romans and Galatians demonstrate to us that you don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian, but we are all sons of Abraham (including women) no matter where we come from. I think that it would be fair to say that if you don’t have to become a Jew to be a Christian, then you don’t have to become Greek to become a Christian. Nor do you have to become white to get close to God, and so on.

Third, according to 1Corinthians 9:19-23: “19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel…”

It is clear to me from this passage that it is dangerous for the Gospel to be soley be tied to any particular culture. Yes, Christianity is a Western religion, but it is an Eastern one too. The Gospel is for all, it is not only for the West. Truth be told, I am sure that those in the East “get” aspects of the Gospel that those in the West don’t.

Jesus did not come to save only Greeks and Jews, He came to save the world, and to redeem each and every human culture and society that is out there. His image is borne by every person who has ever lived, and hence, He is present in every culture there ever has been or ever will be.

Fourth, it is not human reason that leads men to God, but God Himself. Listen to Paul again in 1Corinthians 2:

1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

And in the first chapter of the same epistle:

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Again, it is clear from me in these passages that the wisdom of humanity is not what brings us to God, but rather, it is God Himself who demonstrates His reality to us. It is not reason or rationalism that wins the day, but revelation, and that is something that only God can do.

Finally, as I said, God wants unity, but not uniformity. Genesis 11 demonstrates that God is the creator of diverse human cultures. Culture is not a dirty word to God. God is not against diversity, He is all for it, and He is the initiator of it. But at the same time, God’s ultimate plan is for all these human cultures to eventually form into another God-ordained culture that we see in Revelations 7, a vast human throng made up of peple of every ethnicity, hue and tongue, praising God in a new song with a new rhythm, in a new style, that is shaped by all the different songs and cultures and personalities that are standing before God’s throne.

This is the point of Pentecost in Acts 2. The diverse languages that were created the day the tower of Babel was tossed down by God, has now turned into a new language that all can understand. God has created unity out of diversity, and through it all, a new humanity.

Contra Benedict: Taking Issue With the Pope on Postmodernity

20 09 2006

I am not a scholar, merely a campus minister with a modicum of gumption. So I take on the Pope with some trepidation, who no doubt is no mean scholar and only the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. He knows several languages, I know only one. He can read the Bible in its original languages, well, at least I know the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. That said, with regard to his recent talk that has created such a flap, I boldy and baldly say that he is flat out wrong.

Contrary to what many people think, the Pope was really not trying to take on Islam (though I think he meant what he said about Islam, even if he was quoting Byzantine emperor from the latter part of the 14th century). No, what he was really taking on was postmodernity. The Pope essentially believes that Christian theology needs to be made on an equal footing with empirical sciences. Along with this, he is arguing that Greek thought needs to be exalted too, because he believes that it was no accident that the New Testament was written in Greek, and that the first non-Jewish believers were Greek. So he does not see a disjuncture between the rationalism of the Greek mind and Christian faith. He of course is against the gnosticism that comes from Greek thought, but nonetheless, he sees the rationalism and reason arising out of the Greek philosophy as being necessary for faith that is based on reason.

On its face, this sounds good, but the problem with this thinking is that it is necessarilly chauvinistic, narrow and downright untrue in my humblest opion. It is chauvinistic in the sense that he does not recognize God’s ability to speak to all cultures everywhere. He unwittingly exalts the Greeks, but what about the Jews who actually were the carriers of Holy Writ for centuries? He says nothing about Jewish thought and philosophy, but exalts Greek thought. And what about Native American culture, where many tribes believed in the Great Creator, respected the land, and lived without avarice and an overweening selfish ambition.

But no, the Pope wants us to exalt not only Platonic philosophy, but also Cartesian thought, that quite frankly is too self-focused, and even helps to undergird the worst of Greek docetism. In this sense, is not Christ not more clearly seen amongst the Cherokee than the European? This view would suggest that the European was not only the possessor of the Gospel, but the possessor of a superior civilization. Now I do not believe that all cultures are equal. There are some cultures that are truly brutal and dehumanizing. However, I would assert that European culture in the time of slavery and colonization was the most brutal, dehumanizing, barbaric, and uncivilized culture of the day. The Native Americans tribes were by no means perfect (hey, everybody needs Jesus), but they were not subjugating and destroying whole groups of people like the English, the Spanish, the French, et al.

So my main beef with Pope Benedict XVI is with is lack of historical context when he made his remarks. Surely he understands that Catholicism has just as much blood on its hands historically as the Muslims do? What, does he forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Counter Reformation? We do not even have to go that far back, how about the Clergy abuse scandal of the 1990s that is still rocking the Church? In light of all of this, I just think that his comments are off base.

Tomorrow, I will show how the Bible refutes his claims.

Looking More Deeply at What the Pope Said

19 09 2006

My friend Roger from Maurice’s message board sent me a copy of the Pope’s talk that caused such a stir in the Islamic world over the last couple of days. Please read it and tell me what you think. I will respond to his message in a series of blog posts beginning later today.

For now, suffice it to say that the Pope has opened a can of worms that in my view go far beyond the RCC’s engagement with Islam. To me, the very heart of the issue has to do with how we understand the message of Jesus and our faith. I have deep and profound disagreements with this man.


Jubilee & Juneteenth

6 07 2006

Okay, I am a month late with this, but bear with me:
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln that slaves in all slaveholding states that were at war with the union would be set free on January 1, 1863. Freedmen (i.e., free blacks, usually in the northern states) in the North went to their churches in droves on December 31, 1862 to have WatchNight services, where they would “watch” for freedom.

However, the message of freedom did not reach the slaves in Galveston, Texas until June 19, 1863. To this date, the sons and daughters of former slaves in this country celebrate “Juneteenth” (as the freed slaves in Galveston came to call that special day) on annual basis. It is a huge deal here in humble Oberlin, Ohio, the center of abolitionism back in the day.

The watch words on the mouths of the freedmen in the north when they first heard the rumor that the slaves would be set free, as well as the slaves finally hearing about the Proclamation, was, “This is the Year of Jubilee!”. They were referring to a passage in Leviticus 25 that spoke of debts being canceled and slaves going free. This was exciting indeed but based on poor exegesis, because verses 44-46 has God saying that it is okay for His covenant people to own slaves, but not of their fellow Hebrews, but only from amongst the gentiles. A fellow Hebrew could only be a bond servant, but would have to be set free during the Year of Jubilee.

However, this all flip flops in the New Testament where Jesus develops a new community and new people whom He calls His Church. Now, all of us who claim Jesus as Master are part of the covenant community.  This means that God’s original intention for Jubilee is to set everything right for everyone. There are not to be any slaves at all, and God wants all of His people to be heirs of the Kingdom, not debtors or slaves to the State.

Jubilee then is about a new kind of community based on right relationships and justice. So those former slaves actually had it right.

In a deeper sense, Jubilee is about reconciliation between God and us, and with one another. It is the dropping of barriers between Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and  female, illegal immigrant and citizen. Jubile is really about the Kingdom and Jesus’ Reign. This is why Jesus died, to bring us to God and to one another.

I really believe that for us to truly understand the meaning of the Kingdom and the purpose behind the very idea of Church, we must lean into what Jubilee and Pentecost are really about. If we are not reconciled in every sense of that word then we are not really being the Church that we are called to be.