Defining Deviancy

By way of introduction, I originally wrote this post during the prop. 8 debate in California. At the time, I got into a bit of a back-and-forth on a local discussion board with some crabby young progressives on the subject of gay marriage. That exchange led to a number of those commenters challenging my views of homosexuality and how I argued against it. I took a number of their key responses and wrote the following post

In light of the recent SCOTUS decision, I thought I would repost it.

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I have been receiving a bit of push back from some young progressive bloggers in my town. They have taken great umbrage with my perspective on homosexuals and homosexual behavior. All of my views are walking contradictions of inconsistent strawman argumentation, or so they say.

In other words, I’ve been receiving lots of that famous progressive openness, tolerance, and hugs.

Allow me to respond to some of the love.

It’s a great big universe out there, and I can’t believe that any higher power wouldn’t want his/her/it’s children to be completely open and accepting of each other without judgment.

I am always surprised how those who are non-practicing Christians (or any religion for that matter) have a more robust knowledge of theology than the actual Christian being criticized. Yet such is a typical response from our general secular society who think matters of religion and faith are to be simply equated to a person’s favorite ice cream.

“I can’t believe it! You rocky-road people are so narrow-minded and bigoted. You know there are other people who don’t like rocky-road and what about those people allergic to nuts? You bigot.”

When they speak of judgment, they often resort to the one text they are for sure to have memorized: Judge not lest you be judged. As if citing that verse trumps all arguments.

Sure. I’m to conclude that God doesn’t want us to offer any value judgment or exercise any sort of moral discernment when it comes to matters He has actually addressed in the Bible. The expression of human sexuality and the sin of homosexual sex being one of those major issues He has addressed.

To assume that homosexuality is a choice of deviants and sinners is absolutely preposterous and tells me that those who do adhere to that ideal obviously haven’t really taken the time to know homosexuals enough to understand that it’s not a choice.

Here we get to the heart of debate: what defines deviant behavior.

It’s believed homosexual behavior should never be criticized as “deviant behavior” because homosexuals are oriented naturally to have a same-sex attraction. It’s their personal, internal appetite to have a same-sex attraction. They can’t help the way they are born.

In the mind of the homosexual activist, telling homosexuals they need to change their desires would be like telling a black person he needs to become a Chinese guy. Or in this case, telling a heterosexual man to stop being attracted to women and start being attracted to men. It’s not an issue in which a person can merely cut his hair and put on a suit and tie. We’re dealing with a person’s genetic, mental make-up.

But that is where the defense of homosexual orientation runs up against serious problems, because that argument is utterly subjective.

Allow me to raise the specter of pedophilia.

As soon as I did with my progressive detractors, they angrily renounced my comparison. But I am not comparing all homosexuals to pedophiles. I’m addressing orientation; and there’s a difference. Why is the pedophile’s orientation any less of a legitimate, internal sexual attraction as the same-sex orientation?

Honestly?

The pedophile’s orientation is labeled deviant even by homosexual activists. But why? Just because they are sexually oriented toward teens and pubescent children? I am in no way advocating for NAMBLA, and again, I am not saying all gays are pedophiles, but why do we condemn their “orientation” just because it is directed toward children, and not the orientation of adult men directed toward other men?

One is considered a deviant disorder, the other is not. The pedophile’s “orientation” is a “disorder,” but a man who seeks to surgically alter his body to be a woman is not a “disorder” but a minority in need of equal rights protection? Really? A person may retort, “But it’s his choice to have a sex change, the child doesn’t have a choice!” But is it a good thing for our society to allow a person to physically harm him or herself in such a way because it’s his or her choice?

They most certainly are unrelated. You simplify your theological philosophy by lumping those who are not heterosexual in with wonton [sic] hedonists, sexual deviants, those with sexual obsession and other disorders that may manifest themselves in obsessive sexual behavior.

I am curious how one distinguishes the concept of “obsessive” from the idea of “orientation.” As a red-blooded, all-American teenager, I was sexually obsessed with girls, yet I didn’t consider such an obsession a “disorder” requiring psycho-therapy. Of course, that obsession never “manifested” itself in any illicit behavior. Believe me, I really, really wished for it to have manifested, but usually other factors prevented it from taking effect, particularly my absence from the heavy drinking parties put on by my peers. But my obsession was still there, and was still extremely real.

Point of order – pedophilia involves forcing sexual acts on individuals who are not old enough to consent.

Well, to be more precise, pederasty involves a sexual relationship between an adult individual and a younger individual, usually a teenager. It is often falsely assumed that sexually active children are not old enough to consent. But what does age have to do with consent? Teens consent to lots of different sexual activities in our modern society. In fact our glandolatrous popular culture encourages such consensual activity. The lack of cultural awareness on the part of my accusers is amazing to behold.

Do you consider a 14 year old sophisticated? I certainly don’t. I know quite a few 14 year olds who think they are, but it’s certainly not the case. You’re attempting to equate the definition of marriage with the definition of personhood, which deals with the ability to reason and process as a mature adult.

I had suggested that if what constitutes the act of pedophilia is the legality of the “child’s” age, then does lowering the age of consent now take away the stigma of pedophilia?

Contrary to what my detractor states here, there certainly are sophisticated 14 year olds out in the world who willingly have sexual relationships with older adults, and to deny this fact again reveals a woeful lack of awareness of our youth culture. Spain has their legal age of consent set at 13, where as Austria at the age of 14. Those two countries certainly believe 13 and 14 year olds are mature enough to reason and process as a mature adult so as to have a sexual relationship with a person twice their age.

But then the objector shifts the goal posts from being about age to being about the ability to reason and process as a mature adult. This is another subjective objection. I believe I can make a rather compelling case that Lindsay Lohan lacks the ability to reason and process like an adult. In fact, the entire celebrity culture whose disastrous personal lives are played out before the public in the magazines at the check-out lines at Wal-Mart lack the ability to reason and process like adults. But they certainly can consent to sexual relationships, which are often the focus of their disastrous personal lives.

Nothing like making the issue of people who are of the same gender about nothing more than the act of sex. I would ask Mr. Butler based on these assertions are you only married for the purpose of sexual intercourse? It is certainly what you are boiling down those who are of the same gender and wanting to be married to be all about. Keeping them from marrying does not somehow eliminate the sexual acts of homosexuality which is really what you are railing about.

Honestly? Yes, I did get married for the purpose of have sexual intercourse. Why is that a bad thing? I fear God and He has specifically told us how and when we as His creatures are to engage in lawful and healthy intercourse: Within the bonds of marriage as He has defined it between only one man and one woman.

The comment implies people “marry” one another for more than just sex. Such things as companionship and love. Certainly that is true. I love the companionship I have with my wife. But let’s be frank: companionship and love can be experienced without the need for a sexual relationship. Is the relationship of a married couple unable to experience sexual intercourse due to physical limitations make their companionship and love for one another any less meaningful without the sex?

So yes, it is the homosexual sex I am railing about, because let’s face it, it is the same-sex sexual attraction and activity that defines what homosexuality is, and it is what God has specifically marked down as sinful as I have argued in more detail with this post.

Studies in Eschatology [7]

Restoring Israel

I had written on the subject of the Kingdom of God (KoG) as it related to the NT Church.

I believe the exegesis of the biblical texts reveal to us that the KoG is distinct from the NT Church. Moreover, the KoG is eschatological, or in other words, it awaits a future fulfillment at the return of God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ who will reign over the entire earth.

Yet, in the intern, as God’s eschatological purposes are being worked out according to a divinely established time table, God is calling out by the means of the gospel a spiritual body of believers comprised of both Jews and gentiles who are united with Jesus Christ by faith. They presently live according to the principles of the coming eschatological kingdom as they submit themselves to the authority of Jesus as the rightful Lord of God’s kingdom.

As I noted in my last post addressing the KoG, those of the covenant Reformed equate the KoG with the NT Church. The primary reason for this view is the idea that the NT Church fulfills the promises God made to OT Israel about making them a great nation and a great kingdom. Whereas the Jews had in mind a geo-political kingdom established on earth, God really had in mind just a spiritual kingdom comprised of Jews and gentiles from all over the world united in one spiritual body under the headship of Christ, the NT Church. Thus, those promises of Israel being restored in the land and of being established in a national, geo-political kingdom were fulfilled in Christ building His spiritual kingdom all over the world through the disciple-making activities of the Christian church.

Along with their view of the NT Church fulfilling the OT promises made to Israel shaping their convictions concerning the KoG, the covenant Reformed will also argue that no where in the NT is Israel promised restoration to their land in a political kingdom. That is a significance absence in the NT, for if the KoG was a yet future geo-political kingdom, then much would be said about it. In reality, next to nothing is stated about a Jewish restoration by any of the NT authors.

I would like to respond to that claim. I believe much more is said about Israel being restored to their land than what the covenant Reformed will allow. I will divide my study into two parts. With this first post, I wish to consider the promise to Israel of being restored to their promised land, and then with the next post, address a few key individual passages often appealed to as suggesting the KoG is spiritual and has no physical dimension attached to it at all.

The Promise of Restoration

When we search the Scripture we discover that God’s promises to Israel are quite plain. Beginning in the OT, God specifically told Israel through His prophets that He will set up a kingdom on this earth which will be everlasting in duration. This is promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (c.f. Psalm 2, 72), and reiterated through a number of prophets including Isaiah 2:2-4; 11; Daniel 2:34-45; Micah 4:1-8 just to list a few. Additionally, that kingdom will involve the establishment of the nation of Israel to a special place in that kingdom. See for example Joel 3:18-21; Amos 9:14, 15; and Zechariah 14:16-20.

Coming into the NT, however, those OT passages are the ones spiritualized in order to speak of spiritual salvation only. There are a few reasons why the covenant Reformed draw the conclusions they do with their interpretation of those promises. One of the primary reason is because it is wrongly perceived such an idea of restoration creates division among “God’s people,” and places the Jews in a favored status with God. Paul, they point out, argues against any favoritism with God in Romans 9-11 and through the book of Galatians, and declares salvation is not based upon ethnicity or birth right, but squarely on the grace of God alone.

To suggest Israel will be restored to a favored status in a physical national kingdom cuts against Paul’s whole argumentation that a person’s national heritage gains that individual nothing with God. Thus, it is concluded in light of NT teaching (the greater revelation which trumps, and so reinterprets, the OT revelation), those OT promises must be understood in a different fashion than one of being fulfilled “literally” as non-covenant Reformed believers insist. A person can see how hermeneutical presuppositions come into play here.

But, I believe there is no warrant to employ a spiritualized hermeneutic to those prophetic promises. I think the objections by the covenant Reformed fail to take into consideration some important features related to prophecy and fulfillment.

First, I believe it fails to distinguish between what I would call a salvific unity and a unique diversity in God’s purposes. By that I mean God has set forth one avenue of eternal salvation in which a person is made right with God. That of course is through God’s Son, the appointed King of the Kingdom, Jesus Christ. All men are made right before God in exactly the same way: by grace through faith alone in Christ. Being a gentile or Jew, or a man or woman, or whatever, does not confer a salvific advantage in this sense. Yet, in God’s eschatological plans, each ethnic group has a designated purpose to play. There is a unified diversity. Even though men of all tribes and tongues will stand before God united in Christ, they are still men of different tribes and tongues. There is no reason to think their ethnic factors will be erased.

Additionally, there is sound biblical reason to see those eschatological promises of restoration transcend both testaments and across Jewish/gentile lines, and that has to do with the fulfillment of the New Covenant. Turning to Jeremiah 31:31-37, God promises a new covenant to Israel in which He will put His laws on the hearts of His people, Israel (31:33ff). The new covenant entails a heart change in the participants of that covenant so that they receive a spiritual motivation to obey God.

Coming to the NT, we see that new covenant established and initiated by Christ on the Cross. Though the new covenant was originally promised to national Israel, there was an unanticipated spiritual fulfillment of it in the formation of the NT Church which takes in both Jews and gentiles. Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16, 17 address the spiritual dimensions of salvation the new covenant confers upon God’s chosen people due to Christ’s greater priesthood.

The covenant Reformed appeal to the passages in Hebrews as completed and a total fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In fact, some would argue the “Israel” spoken of by Jeremiah was really the “Church” which God had in mind when He revealed the new covenant through the prophet. Because of that interpretation, they redefine the “house of Israel” mentioned in Jeremiah as being the NT Church.

But there is no reason to re-interpret the language of Jeremiah’s prophecy when one understands the two facets of this prophecy being unfolded. The first involving Christ securing the salvific promises of the prophecy, what is addressed in Hebrews, but secondly, the eschatological prophecy of a national restoration for the nation of Israel.

Note with the citation of Jeremiah’s prophecy in Hebrews, the writer does not quote the remainder of the prophet’s oracle, Jeremiah 31:35-40, where God promises that the “seed of Israel shall not cease from being a nation” and “God will not cast off the seed of Israel,” and “Jerusalem will not be plucked up or thrown down any more forever.” This is language of a future national restoration in an eschatological kingdom, not merely a spiritual fulfillment encompassing only salvation.

But, what about any specific restoration of land promises in the NT? The covenant Reformed are quick to point out no direct NT passage speaks to Israel being restored to their land. However, I believer that is not entirely accurate. Robert Saucy observes that the land is always connected to the nation of Israel in the OT. Thus, any reference to God’s continued concern for the nation of Israel would most certainly have a territorial aspect [Saucy, 50].

Moreover, as Bruce Compton points out, Paul wrote of a future deliverance of the nation in Romans 11:26, 27; a deliverance which fulfills God’s promise of a new covenant with national, ethnic Israel [Compton, 35]. Granted, some covenant Reformed guys like Robertson and Reymond attempt to interpret “Israel” in this passage as being God’s elect, both Jews and gentiles, or the salvation of the Jews taking place throughout the history of the Church, but there is no exegetical warrant to reinterpret “Israel” in such a fashion. To do so represents an allegiance to the presuppositions of a theological system, not the intended meaning of the biblical text. It should also be noted that Paul cites Isaiah 59: 20,21 here in Romans 11:26, 27. Isaiah speaks of the deliverer (Jesus Christ) coming to Zion, a title for God’s holy city which is in the physical land of Israel.

However, the most comprehensive NT discussion of Israel’s restoration to their land is found in Luke’s gospel and his record of Acts. John Mclean states that when we survey Luke’s writings he used “Israel” 12 times in his gospel and with each time it clearly means national Israel and/or its people [Mclean, 222]. This meaning also continues through out the book of Acts as well.

Without going into a whole list of passages from Luke-Acts, allow me to concentrate on one passage in Acts. In Acts 1:1-8, right before Jesus was taken back into heaven, some of his disciples asked him if he would at this time restore the kingdom to Israel. Thoughts of Israel’s kingdom were perhaps fresh on their minds, because according to Acts 1:3, the Lord spent 40 days speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Christ responds to their inquiry, not by correcting them as to their misunderstanding about the kingdom, but by telling them it was not for them to know the times and the seasons which the father put in His own authority.

The typical covenant Reformed response to that question by the disciples is to say they misunderstood what Jesus meant by “Israel.” The land promised to them wasn’t the land of Israel per se, but as verse 8 reveals, it was the “land” of the whole world as they went out proclaiming the gospel after the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. However, throughout His ministry, Jesus answered questions and corrected misconceptions people had. The Gospels record more than one hundred questions were asked of Jesus. With all those question asked of Him, only two of them, one by the high priest (Matt. 26:62, 63), and another by Pilate (Matt. 27:13), Jesus did not answer directly. With all the others, He responded to them with full answers, many times correcting the wrong thinking of His audience [Mclean, 219]. Thus, to argue that the disciples were misunderstanding His teaching on the Kingdom for the last 40 days prior to that question (Acts 1:3), is a bit of a stretch. I believe it is noteworthy to observe how Jesus did not offer any correction to the disciples’ misunderstanding with the definition of “Israel” or their question about the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel.

Moreover, Peter continues to anticipate the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in his sermon recorded in Acts 3:17-23. He tells his Jewish audience that they must repent to receive the times of refreshing from the Lord, and then they will experience the times of restoration of all things. These “times of restoration,” states Peter, were spoken of by the prophets. In other words, those OT prophecies that promise a restoration of Israel.

Now, there is still a question about the spiritual descriptions of the KoG and the land of Israel mentioned in the NT. For example, Abraham being said to be waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-16). That passage and others like it strongly suggest that the hope of God’s saints is not in restoration to a physical land and a physical city, Jerusalem, but rests in the certainty of a spiritual kingdom. Do those passages really teach that? That is what I will take up in the second portion of this study.

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Sources

Craig Blaising, “Premillennialism,” in Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

R. Bruce Compton, “Dispensationalism, The Church, and the New Covenant,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 8 (Fall 2003): 3-48. online here

Larry R. Helyer, “Luke and the Restoration of Israel,” JETS (Sept. 1993): 317-329.

John A McLean, “Did Jesus Correct the Disciples’ View of the Kingdom?,” Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (April-June 1994): 215-227.

Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Thomas Nelson: Nashville TN, 1998).

O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. (P&R Publishers: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2000).

Robert Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids MI, 1993).

Echo Zoe Interview

I recently had the wonderful privilege of being interviewed once again by Andy Olson of Echo Zoe radio. The last time I visited with Andy, we discussed King James Onlyism. This time around, we discussed my articles I recently remastered and reposted interacting with Chaz Bufe, the blues guitar playing, anarchist atheist.

Check it out: 20 Ways to Answer the Fool

 

About Those Video Ads on My Blog

adsI moved from Blogger to WordPress back around September, 2012. The move was a semi-painless one and I have really grown to love the new platform.

One of the new feature that I have had to deal with is the presence of video ads occasionally popping up at the bottom of my various posts.

They are part of the WP blogging complex and are meant to help defray the cost of offering a free blogging platform to users. I make no money off of them, nor do I have any say as to which kind of ads will run with my posts. As far as I know they are random, though I can see them being sophisticated enough that the WP bot generating them keys specific ads to play as they relate to the subject of my posts or the use of particular words.

As the administrator, I don’t see those ads, but I know they are there. My regular readers and visitors are the ones who see them. I don’t even know if they automatically play or how they work specifically, but obviously I know they show up at the bottom of the posts because WP tells me that “An advertisement may appear here” when I am compiling and editing a post.

Every once in a while, I may have a concerned reader drop me a friendly note alerting me that an inappropriate ad was playing at the bottom of a post he was reading. I thank the reader for his concern and basically lay out the explanation I noted above: WP chooses the ads, I don’t, and there is nothing I can do about it really. I have only had maybe one or two vicious hater trolls go to twitter telling everyone what a hypocrite I am for being a finger-wagging moralist do-gooder working for John MacArthur and Grace to You making money off sexually explicit video ads. I ignore those individuals because I know sensible people are more discerning than that.

At any rate, the only thing I can do to get rid of the ads is pay a yearly fee of 100 bucks that would have them removed. I also get an improved post editor and some other perks, but as a father taking care of 6 other folks and a spoiled rotten cockapoo, laying down a 100 dollar yearly fee for a webpage is a difficult thing to do. I’d have to deal with the silent glares of my wife who considers my blogging to be a quaint hobby like stamp collecting and would bluntly remind me that clothes don’t grow on trees.

However. Having said all of that, there is one thing you readers can do. It just takes a moment of your time. If you happen to see an inappropriate or risque video ad at the bottom of a post, you can click a little link that says something like “report this ad.” Go to the link HERE and read the instructions, particularly the bottom paragraph that explains how reporting ads works.

– You’ll need to send an email to the support@wordpress.com people.

– copy the link of my article where you saw the ad.

– And create a screen cap of the actual ad. (I’m assuming you all know how to do that).

Place the copied link and the screen cap of the ad into the email and hopefully that will help in cutting them down a bit.

It would be much appreciated.

A Christian Response to the Parents of a Transgendered Kid

Dear Mrs. McLaren,

My name is Fred Butler and I recently read your open letter to Christians posted at Huffington Post. I am one of those “Christians” you attempt to shame regarding how your gender confused son has allegedly been treated.

Honestly, I am not someone who frequents HuffPo. I was linked to your article from a different page.  I don’t visit HuffPo primarily because many of their posts are on topics I find sophomoric and immature, if not troubling and at times demeaning. For instance, the day I read your letter, linked in the sidebar was an article called “19 Women on the Best Things about Their Boobs.”

Really?

I hope you can appreciate the irony of your letter demanding Christians respect your transgendered kid’s sexual orientation linked along side another article sexually objectifying women’s breasts. And that on a leftist website that pretends to champion women’s rights. It’s that kind of reporting that turns me away from the website in the first place. I would imagine most God-fearing Christians you intend to reach with your letter believe the same way as I do, so more than likely you’re merely preaching to the choir with your open letter. Judging by the fist pumping cheerleaders in the comments that sounds exactly like what is happening.

But let me move on.

Before I begin, It may be helpful to clarify what it is a Christian actually believes. When I read your little jab about “buffet-style Christians,” I am working from the assumption you have been told that belief in Christian doctrine, particularly doctrine that defines human sexuality, is often maligned with misinterpretations from cherry-picked passages. If that is what you think, you have been sorely misinformed.

But please forgive me if I am being presumptuous. You may very well know standard Christian theology and doctrine. However, it is just in my experience with individuals critically hostile toward Christianity, especially individuals like yourself willing to publish an open letter taking us to task for our convictions, that I find those folks woefully ignorant when it comes to the Bible or basic Christian teaching. They tend to burn strawmen built from secondhand critical sources that are just as equally ignorant. Rarely have I encountered a critic writing open letters against Christians who accurately reflects what it is they believe. I sincerely get that sense from you when reading your letter.

As a Christian I believe that God exists and that He revealed Himself through His prophets and apostles in the pages of Scripture. I believe Scripture is God’s Word and that means it is infallible and inerrant in all that it records with both history and spiritual truth. (Yes, I realize the internet is filled with cranks and other self-appointed “experts” who have multi-paged websites supposedly refuting my assertion about the Bible, but a serious evaluation of their charges will easily debunk them).

I further believe Jesus was the Second person of the Trinity come in human flesh. He lived a life obedient to God the Father, was predestined by God to be crucified at the hands of both the Romans and the Jews, and then rose again to life three days later to secure eternal salvation for a redeemed people.

I believe all men and women without exception are born in sin, separated from God. That does not mean that all people are entirely given over to wicked depravity, but that their core, spiritual being is naturally hostile toward God and His law. All men are sinners, but they all may not live as sinfully as they could.

I also believe the Bible has a lot to tell us about sexual matters. God is our creator and His original creative design was one man and one woman for marriage for life. Jesus Christ, who is God and thus our creator, affirms in the four Gospels what Genesis 1 and 2 teach us about men and women and marriage. In fact, the NT writers also affirm the same truths. I also completely recognized that the entrance of sin into the world ruins God’s original intent with men, women, sex, marriage and the family. That is evident by the history of abuse, sexual sin, adultery, divorce, fornication, and  yes, homosexual behavior.

Now, coming back to your letter.

You express anger with the name calling and ugly words people have thrown your way regarding your transgendered child. You go onto complain how the worst culprits in your mind are Christians, because Christians are supposed to be loving, compassionate, and non-judgmental to the “least of these” misunderstood people like you and your family, particularly your child.

But given what I just outlined above with basic Christianity, do you understand why Bible-believing Christians would not be so “accepting” of your life choices you are encouraging with your child? In order for me to be “affirming” of a boy becoming a girl, I would have to deny the fundamental truths of Scripture and change the theological commitments of my Christianity.  Not only that, I’d have to deny the fundamental truth of reality that a man cannot become a woman no matter what he “feels.” The Bible is only affirming the truth of reality, and I’m sorry, but those are truths I will never relinquish.

As I pointed out above, you ridicule the “buffet-style Christians,” but why am I, the guy who affirms what has been the conviction of the historic, Christian faith regarding sexuality for the last 2,000 years, the so-called “buffet-style Christian,” whereas the new revisionists who want the Bible to openly affirm homosexuality are not? They are the ones who are truly picking and choosing the verses they want to highlight, or ignore, rather than taking the Bible as a unified, divinely inspired whole in the entirety of all 66 books.

But I think most Christians are disturbed that you want us to accept a transgendered NINE YEAR OLD! Even more to the point, you recount the story of when your son was five, he pitched a fit in the car one day crying that he was really a girl and after a little bit of soul searching and visits with therapists, you have been encouraging your son to be a girl ever since. If he is now nine years old, that means this transgendered fantasy has been going on for like FOUR YEARS! Can you not understand how any sane thinking person, not just Christians, see this as madness! I as a father of five children myself would even say it is parental abuse!

Mrs. McLaren, I honestly think the Christians you are encountering who have a gut-wrenching aversion to your son’s situation are responding not out of hate because they think your family is “icky,” but out of love and concern.  You have only willfully blinded your eyes to the truth.

Ma’am, your son, no matter how much he may protest and claim he “feels” like a girl will never be a girl. He will never have a uterus or ovaries. He will never ovulate and have a period. He will never experience menstrual cramps or what it is to be pregnant and birth a baby. To cultivate his delusion will only serve to set him upon a course of self-destruction.

What is more, you have been feeding this lie for FOUR YEARS with a son who is now NINE YEARS OLD! He hasn’t even reached puberty yet! And all because he had an episode once when he was five insisting he was a girl. It never once occurred to you to tell him he is wrong? To actually pursue therapy? Instead you start calling him a “her,” telling everyone he is your “daughter,” and dressing him like a living doll? What on earth!?

What I find distressing, however, is that you are engaged with perpetrating what I consider to be the cruelest emotional and mental abuse upon your son and I, the Bible-believing Christian who believes God has established marriage between only a man and a woman and that people can never swap genders no matter how they “feel” about it, is the bad guy. Even more grievous is that our society pats you on the back and applauds your abuse. It truly is a twisted world we are living in these days.

Now. I understand what I wrote is blunt. You are more than likely disgusted with me right now. I am nothing more than another hater cursing your family. I also know there will probably be people coming to you later after they read this letter apologizing to you and telling you that I “don’t represent true Christianity” or that I am a fundamentalist that can be ignored or waving me off in some dismissive fashion.  When they do, know that they are liars and do not love you. Contrary to what you may be thinking about me right now after reading this, I do care for you. I am grieved for your situation and indignant that no one has apparently taken the time to outline the truth of the matter to you.

My prayer is that God’s Spirit will break through to the hearts of your family and bring you to salvation. He can do such a miracle. Your son does not have to be enslaved to his fantasy like he is now. That is the reason Christ came to dwell among us. He, being the God-man not only restores our sin broken relationship with God the Father, but He redeems people to live life as God intended to live. Christ can redeem your son as He can redeem everyone in your family. He is a saving God who grants not only eternal life, but deliverance from sin and inordinate affections.

Book Review

godcardMore Than His God Card: What Jesus wants you to know about Him as revealed in His miracles.

Author: Brian Onken
Publisher: Ambassador International

I’ve written lots of book reviews over the years at my blog, but those reviews were of books I wanted to read and review. This is probably my first ever review of a book that I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing. I said “sure,” and the folks were kind enough to send me a copy.

The person who contacted me from Ambassador International, the publisher of this book, has asked me in the past if I would be interested in others to review, but honestly, judging from the publicity material sent to me, each one of them sounded like it was written for women and would be sappy. (Not that solid, godly women only read sappy stuff, but I hope you get my drift). This book, More Than His God Card, piqued my interest, because the subject was a study on the miracles of Jesus.

The author, Brian Onken, is an instructor with a biblical equipping ministry called, The River located in South Carolina. His bio page says he has degrees from Talbot and Regent Universities and that he has pastored both small and large churches. He has also been a researcher and teacher with the Christian Research Institute (not sure if that is pre or post Hank), and he has worked with the Walk Thru the Bible ministry.

The thesis of the book is to show the reader how we can see Christ’s character put on display in the various miracles recorded throughout the four Gospel narratives. Rather than understanding that all of the miracles Christ performed were designed to manifest His deity, the miracles had other, special purposes in the ministry of Jesus.

The author considers the following miracle stories:

– The wedding feast from John 2
– The catch of fish from Luke 5
– The healing of the leper from Mark 1
– The raising of Jarius daughter and the healing of the bleeding woman from Mark 5
– The healing of the paralytic from Mark 2
– The healing of the man with the withered hand from Mark 3
– The stilling of the storm from Mark 4
– The healing of the deaf and dumb man from Mark 7
– Jesus walking on water from Matthew 14
– Jesus healing the demonized girl from Matthew 15
– The feeding of the multitude from Mark 6
– The resurrection of Lazarus from John 11
– Jesus appearing to Thomas in John 20

The overall study of the subject of Christ’s miracles was commendable, and in many instances encouraging, but I thought that the author was trying too hard to prove his thesis. He made desperate attempts with explaining away the miracles of Christ as Him showing forth His “God card.” In a way, it was like he was intentionally avoiding those clear passages that obviously display Christ’s deity.

Let me provide a couple of examples.

Consider his study of the healing of the paralytic from Mark 2. With this story, a group of friends bring a man who was paralyzed to Jesus so that He would heal Him. When the friends lower him through a hole in the roof in the middle of where Jesus was teaching, He tells the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven him. Shocked by such blasphemous words coming out of His mouth, the scribes grumbled among themselves that no one can forgive sins but God. Knowing what they were grumbling about, Jesus asks, “What is easier? To say ‘your sins or forgiven’ or take up your bed and walk? But to show you that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins, I say take up your bed and walk,” and immediately, a man who was severely crippled with what amounted to a spinal cord injury, was completely healed.

With just a simple reading of the passage, especially the exchange between Jesus and the scribes, it’s pretty clear that He was pulling out His “God card.” The reason I have authority to forgive sins, Jesus says, is because I am God, and to show you that I am God, I will deliver this man from his paralysis and restore him to complete health, which He did. Onken, instead, seizes upon the description Jesus gives Himself, “the Son of Man,” and concludes,

Although we might hear that title as one with a divine ring to it, it is a title that would have been used to refer to the Messiah — God’s appointed and anointed deliverer. By itself, it would not have been heard as claiming, “I am God.” [93]

So in other words, Jesus wasn’t claiming He was God when He healed that man, but that He had merely been given authority as the Son of Man to do it.

But while it is true that the title “Son of Man” is a Messianic title, it is one that is linked to divinity and only one specific person can rightly claim that title for Himself, a man who is God.

Look at Daniel 7:13ff., where the prophet sees in a vision “one like a Son of Man” coming to the Ancient of Days and He is given an everlasting kingdom and will rule the nations with absolute sovereignty. Only God rules with absolute sovereignty and He does not share His glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8). Mark later retells how Jesus cited that vision from Daniel and applied it to Himself when He was on trial before the religious leaders, (Mark 14:62). The reaction by the high priest after hearing Jesus apply that passage to Himself was that He blasphemed, which means he recognized Jesus was calling Himself God.

Another example is when Jesus fed the multitude in Mark 6. After reviewing the passage about the miracle, Onken draws a rather simplistic observation that focuses upon the left over fish and bread and Jesus calling the disciples to come and rest with him. The take-away principle, he notes, is how we as Christians are called to do life with Jesus and trust Him that He will always provide what is necessary when we are challenged with overwhelming needs [187].

Okay, I suppose; but can we really say that is the point to the miracle? That Jesus wasn’t putting on display His “God card?” What is missed in Onken’s study is the follow up to this miracle that is found in John’s gospel in chapter 6, and in fact, he doesn’t even mention John’s account.

John recounts what happened the day following Christ’s feeding of the multitude. Those people Jesus fed chased Him around the Sea of Galilee so as to force Him to set up a divinely ran welfare state with Jesus as king. They had recognized immediately after the miraculous feeding that Jesus was divine because only God can create food out of thin air (John 6:14-15).

When they found Jesus, He rebuked them for fixating upon the miracle rather than who He was and His mission to give men eternal life. Jesus then identified Himself with the manna from heaven when God divinely provided food for Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt (Exodus 16) and used that OT event to picture the salvation God provides through Him. So while it is true that the feeding of the multitude shows how Jesus meets basic, daily needs and provides what is necessary when we are confronted with overwhelming need, the greater purpose of the miracle was bringing us to the dialog Jesus had with the crowd the following day in which the sign was designed to display the divine person and work of Jesus.

In addition to the strained attempts that explain away those clear miracles that were meant to display Christ’s deity, many of the devotional principles the reader is supposed to take away from the stories were a bit contrived. For example, the healing of the man with the withered hand from Mark 3 was meant to show us how Jesus will never embarrass us or put us at risk [110-111]. The stilling of the storm is (of course!) the confidence that Jesus will still the storms of our lives [124]. And Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus shows us God’s invitation to a life of adventure with Him [155-156].

I can say for myself that I thought the book was an “Okay” study of Christ’s miracles. I commend the author’s attempt to highlight the many facets of Christ’s miracles we may tend to glance over with a quick read of the Scriptures. However, I think his avoidance of the so called “God card” miracles is forced and ultimately causes his study to fall flat. But the book can definitely serve as supplemental devotional material for a preacher teaching through the Gospel narratives and who may need some fresh insights with practical application of those texts.

My final take on the book: I think his study would be remarkably improved if he would shift his focus away from trying to disprove the “God card” option with Christ’s miracles and instead show how those miracles subtly reveal Christ’s deity when Christ perfectly demonstrated  His divine attributes during His ministry. His miracles were His “God card,” but they manifested His deity by revealing how He is a perfectly loving, gracious, compassionate, sovereign, and saving God.

Studies in Eschatology [6]

kogThe Kingdom of God

With my previous posts introducing eschatology, I laid down some necessary ground work on the subject of hermeneutics, or the basic principles one employs to study the Bible. I outlined three broad areas of hermeneutics where stark differences exist between eschatological systems when applying those principles to Scripture. Those three areas are how the OT and the NT relate to each other, how we utilize prophetic passages, and distinguishing between ethnic Israel and the Church.

Before moving on to considering the three main systems of eschatology, I believe it is necessary to define one other important element in our discussion and that has to do with defining the Kingdom of God. Here, with the idea of God’s Kingdom, we find once again a significant difference between the covenant Reformed position and the non-covenant Reformed position.

Let me begin with the covenant Reformed viewpoint. Simply put, without few exceptions, the covenant Reformed equate the Kingdom of God (KoG) with the NT Church. Though there is an understanding that a future and eternal aspect of the KoG still awaits for eternity, the Christian Church IS the KoG now in the present.

I will develop this more in later posts, but the “KoG = the Church” concept is the key factor in defining amillennialism and to a degree, postmillennialism. Both systems teach that at this point in Christian history, the KoG has come upon the earth in the form of the Christian Church which now awaits the consummation of all things at Christ’s return who will then usher in the eternal state.

The 5th century Church father, Augustine, was the first to write at length on this premise of the KoG equating the Church in his massive tome, The City of God [Culver 2005, 857]. Augustine’s position has been the one held by the Roman Catholic Church up to our modern times, and was the position adopted by the Protestant Reformers which continued to shape their eschatology even after they broke away from Catholicism.

Tragically, Augustine’s Kingdom/Church theology resulted in some disastrous circumstances throughout the course of Church history, including the marrying of Church and state, the persecution of heretical dissenters by the Church/state, and a long record of political intrigue among the various popes, bishops, kings, and emperors.

Now it is important to note that the covenant Reformed just don’t adhere to their view out of blind loyalty to historical traditions. They build their position regarding the Church/KoG by appealing to Scripture and theology.

Their first appeal is to the specific instances in the life of Jesus where He opened His ministry by pronouncing the KoG being “at hand,” a little phrase that could also be translated “drawing near,” (see for instance Matthew 10:7, Mark 1:15). The phrase “drawing near” has the idea of “coming upon.” Christ proclaimed His Gospel ministry to be directly speaking to the KoG preparing to “come upon” His audience. After His Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the Church was officially energized by God to carry forth the Gospel message of the kingdom, that KoG “came upon” the people. So it is concluded the KoG and the NT Church are one and the same.

Moreover, the apostles, particularly Paul, spoke of the KoG in terms of relationship to the Church. For instance, he writes to the Colossians that in the work of God’s salvation in their lives, they were “transferred into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13). Salvation into the Church is equated with entrance into the kingdom.

Additionally, the covenant Reformed position will argue how the biblical understanding of “kingdom” is not one of a realm, with subjects and a king sitting on a throne, but rather speaks to the authority of a sovereign to rule or reign [Ladd, 122ff.]. So in other words, it is understood the Bible speaks primarily of an abstract dynamic to the KoG. That being, Christ’s spiritual authority given to Him by the Father to rule the entire earth.

So, when we consider some of the further teaching from Christ and the apostles on the KoG, the emphasis is upon a spiritual dynamic, not a literal kingdom. For example, Jesus told Pilate in John 18:36 that His kingdom is “not of this world.” Luke 17:20, 21 records Jesus as telling the Pharisees that the KoG is not observable, nor can anyone say “here it is” or “there it is,” but that the KoG is “within you.” When Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to correct some issues of division within their fellowship, he wrote in Romans 14:17 that the KoG is not about “eating and drinking, but is about righteousness and peace.” In other words, the KoG is equated with the Church, the body of Christ, a spiritual group united around the true sovereign King.

And then one final argument raised is what is considered the complete lack of any teaching in the NT on Israel being restored in a future, geo-political kingdom [Crenshaw and Gunn, 247-262].

Contrasted with the covenant Reformed position is of course the non-covenant Reformed who have an entirely different perspective on the KoG. They believe the KoG is still future and is not entirely equal to the Church in all respects. Instead, the Church is distinguished from the KoG in that it is currently composed of those individuals, both Jew and gentile, who are now presently being called out by God to be a “spiritual aristocracy” who will one day inherit the kingdom [Culver 1954, 39]. Those individuals are presently owned by Christ as King and are governed even now by His principles, but the full sense of the KoG awaits establishment for the simple reason that the King is absent, away from the scene of the kingdom  [ibid]. His subjects are currently without a permanent home, as the await for that Kingdom to be established by the return of Christ.

Thus, when Jesus said the KoG was “at hand” or “drawing near,” that was not to say it had arrived and so represents a higher order of spiritual reality coexisting with the present course of affairs [Blaising, 193], but that it was as Jesus stated, “drawing near.” The idea being it is imminent in that Jesus has presented Himself as the sovereign of the KoG, but a futurity of the kingdom is still to come [Saucy, 94, 95]. That is why Christ taught His apostles, and by extension all believers, to pray “thy kingdom come.”

Just like the covenant Reformed believers, the non-covenant Reformed also build their future eschatology on Scriptural considerations. The first feature being that the OT eschatology prophesied a future KoG which would be set up on the earth. Many OT prophesies spoke to this including Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 7:13, 14; Isaiah 2:2-4, 11:1ff, 65:17; Micah 4:1-8; Zechariah 14:9, 10 to list just a small handful.

Secondly, Christ proclaimed the promise of a kingdom when He came, see for instance his words in Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 19:12-17. Robert Culver points out with Luke 19:12-17 that Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He expected a long period of time to transpire BEFORE His kingdom should be established [Culver 1954, 36ff.]. The parable of the ten talents given by Jesus was in response to a misconception that the KoG “would appear immediately” (Luke 19:11).

Also, in Acts 1:6, 7, the Lord again corrected the misconception of the KoG by the apostles who believed God was about the “restore the kingdom to Israel.” He told them it was not for them to know the times and the seasons, meaning they were not to concern themselves with the timing of the kingdom. Note here that Jesus did not correct their misunderstanding of the KoG as if it is to be equated with the Church, but He corrects their idea about the timing of the future kingdom’s coming.

Now, as I noted above, one crucial argument raised by the covenant Reformed against the idea of a future KoG is the complete lack of NT passages teaching Israel being restored in a geo-political kingdom. I believe that is an important argument to answer, along with the passages they claim emphasize the spiritual dimension to the KoG. What I would like to do is pause here with this brief summary of both positions and then follow up with a post specifically addressing those arguments from a futurist view of the KoG.

*******
Sources:

Craig Blaising, “Premillennialism,” in Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Robert Duncan Culver, Daniel and the Latter-Days. (Revell: New York NY, 1954)

__________, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. (Christian Focus: Great Britain, 2005).

George E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future. (Eerdman’s: Grand Rapids MI, 1974).

Robert Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids MI, 1993).

Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years: Studies in Eschatology in both Testaments. (Scripture Truth: Fincastle VA, n.d.).

Twenty Ways to Answer a Fool [17]

Is Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions?

I come to my last post addressing Chaz Bufe, the blues guitar picking, Christ-hating anarchist, and his 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity.

Chaz’s final point argues that the key components of the Christian faith are borrowed from a plethora of ancient religions that pre-date Christianity. Most specifically, from the religious followers of Mithra, a Persian cult god that was extremely popular among the Roman soldiers during the first century. Chaz writes,

20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism-the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.

Christianity is a faith grounded in history. In other words, the second person of the real Triune God, became a real man named Jesus, who lived in a real period of human history, walked a real geographic area, and performed real signs and wonders to demonstrate His claims of deity. This real, historical person Jesus, then gave Himself up to be falsely executed so as to die on a real cross so as to ransom a people from the penalty of their sin. He really resurrected from the dead 3 days after His execution, and will really return to judge the world at His historical second coming. There is nothing “mythical” about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The idea that Christianity is a religion based upon composite myths and stories borrowed, or stolen, from other ancient religions is rather new in literary studies. The first critics who speculated about the “Jesus myths” began to write in the mid-1800s. Many of them were the product of the atheistic enlightenment which attempted to displace the influence of the Christian church in western society.

German philosopher, Bruno Bauer, who wrote out his views of Jesus in the 1840s, was probably the first “serious” attempt by a “scholar” to connect Christianity to pagan myths. Bauer even argued that Jesus never existed and was a total fabrication of the earliest sects of Christianity. One of Bauer’s students, Karl Marx, promoted the belief Jesus never existed and made it part of his Communist dogma.

Those “copy-cat” claims, however, were debunked early on by legitimate scholars, even by those who would be considered liberal. But the advent of the internet provides the ability for any atheist crank and his little brother to post this pseudo-intellectual nonsense without scrutiny, and has brought about a resurgence of the “Jesus myth” fallacy among the network of various atheistic groups. Uniformed Christians who stumble upon the “scholarly” looking web articles become alarmed at what they read. If it is true Jesus never existed, or that the bulk of the Christian faith is hobbled together with bits and pieces of other existing religious myths, then our faith is unfounded and we are, as the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:19, men to be pitied.

To begin answering Chaz’s assertions of parallel, copy-cat faiths, probably the most thoroughly written response for lay level readers is J.P. Holding’s collection of essays addressing the variety of ancient religions atheists claim are borrowed by Christians. His research does a good job of debunking some of the alleged connections and demonstrating they are more contrived by the critics than based upon genuine similarities.

More specifically, J. Warner Wallace has written a lengthy article addressing the Mithra connections that Chaz directly mentions in his point. What Wallace documents in his article, and what Chaz fails to tell his readers, is that the real Mithra scholars, not the internet cranks smoking up their comparisons, deny any myth borrowing ever happened between Christians and followers of Mithraism. When the top scholars in the world of one of the most obscure and forgotten cults flat out deny the central tenant of your thesis, you’re pretty much making stuff up in order to sustain your argument.

Wallace’s article is more than adequate to show Chaz, along with the host of pseudo-scholars he depends upon, doesn’t have a clue what he is talking about. But let’s consider a simple historical and biblical response.

– First of all, it is true mystery religions flourished throughout the ancient world around the 1st century. Yet, the one place where they were not only uncommon, but also rejected, was Israel. The practice of pagan mystery religions were non-existent in ancient Palestine. That is simply because the Jews had learned a rather hard lesson about God’s utter hatred against pagan cults nearly 500 years earlier when Babylon was used as the rod of punishment against Israel’s idolatry.

Christianity is Jewish in origin, and it began in Jerusalem and flourished in Israel for nearly the first two decades after the Spirit’s coming. The first Christians were also Jews who were raised with a revulsion toward cultic paganism. It is absurd to think that in the incubator of OT monotheism where Christianity was born and firmly rooted, that the main components of the faith were myths and symbols borrowed from a variety of pagan mystery religions that didn’t even exist in the same country.

In truth, the historical background of Christianity grounded in the doctrine of the Person and Work of Jesus was well founded before missionaries began to even encounter pagan mystery religions. This is an important point to consider. We must realize that it takes a significant amount of time for “mythology” to be established within a religion and the components of Christianity were well-founded decades before the close of the first century. Paul’s doxology of Christ he describes in Philippians 2:5-11 may well had been a citation from an early Christian doctrinal hymn. Paul wrote Philippians around 60 AD, which means he is citing an affirmed doctrine of Jesus Christ that had been believed by the faithful for at least 30 years prior to his writing that epistle.

– Secondly, Christianity was a public faith. Meaning the Gospel was proclaimed and taught out in the open to all people groups without exception. Mystery religions, on the other hand, like Mithraism, flourished among exclusive groups who are “in the know” as to the the content of the religion; individuals who have “earned” the right to be entrusted with the secrets of the religion.

In order to know about Mithra, a person would have had to at least become a Roman soldier, something that was exclusively male, and then probably involve himself in a series of initiations in order to even be recognized as worthy of learning of Mithra. Roman soldiers, then, would have no interest in “evangelizing” for Mithra, or even promoting a belief in him, because it was a faith shared only among those Roman soldiers who had been initiated into the secret order. Thus, a copy-cat religion would be extremely difficult to develop, because it is impossible to cut-and-paste together parts for a new mystery religion when you don’t even know the “mysteries” of the other religion to begin with.

– Thirdly, skeptics like Chaz reject the NT as being an historical document, but in reality it is. The first 5 books of the NT, the 4 Gospels and the book of Acts, are historical documents recording the events surrounding Jesus Christ and the spread of the Christian Church from Judea to the uttermost parts of the world at that time. When Christians began to engage the pagan, gentile world with the Gospel, it was obvious to the gentiles that Christianity presented unique truth claims that radically set it apart from the scores of mystery religions familiar to them. What made Christianity special was not that it borrowed already existent myths, but that it presented reality: it taught a belief in a living God who was active in space and time and claimed to be the judge the entire world.

mithraNever in any of the many encounters with gentiles as recorded in the NT do the pagans respond to the Gospel message as if it was just another mystery religion.

For example, when Peter presented the Gospel to Cornelius in Acts 10, Cornelius, who was a Roman soldier, does not say, “Oh that sounds just like what the followers of Mithra believes.” Moreover, there was a supernatural move of the Spirit that fell upon Cornelius and his household in the presence of Peter and the Jewish men with him. Such an occurrence of the “Spirit falling” upon people is absent the Mithra mythology.

Moreover, when Paul was in Athens (Acts 17), a city completely given over to idolatry, cultic practices, and mystery religions, his preaching of Jesus to the people was a curiosity. His message was so unique that it caught the attention of the local authorities who brought him into a meeting to have him explain his “religion” (Acts 17:22ff.). After Paul brought up the Resurrection of Christ, most of the people mocked, because the idea of a dead man rising back to life was unheard of. No one said, “There is nothing really new about this Paul’s beliefs, this stuff sounds just like any other “mystery” religion.”

– And then fourthly, Christianity experienced periods of violent persecution for at least the first 200 years of its existence. In addition to severe state sponsored persecution, there were secular critics who wrote against the Christian faith. None of those critics ever attempted to debunk Christianity as being an off-shoot of Mithraism or a copy-cat of any other known mystery cult. If Christianity was nothing more than a collection of already pre-existent myths found in other ancient mystery religions, then there would be no need to persecute the Church or write against its beliefs.

Why would anyone be threatened by another mystery religion with similar myths already believed and practiced by adherents of other similar faiths? Secular critics of Christianity accused Christians of atheism, because they refused to acknowledge the other gods. No other mystery religion was a threat to the social fabric of the times, because no other mystery religion god told its followers to abandon idolatry and believe in an historical person, or to turn from pagan temples and religious prostitutes to serving the One True God and living a life of ethical holiness.

Conclusion

Chaz ends his lengthy screed by offering a final word. He says that his 20 points are just a smattering of the problems with Christianity. He then states that even if a half of what he wrote, or maybe even two-thirds or even three-quarters, was discounted, the fact that Christianity must be abandoned would remain. That is a rather bold claim; however, I believe my meager responses show that it is really an embarrassingly laughable claim. Moreover, what he has to offer as a suitable philosophical replacement is unworkable in the real world.

Chaz is an obscure, amateur philosophy hack who has access to the internet. I just stumbled upon his online booklet from another obscure atheist site. I took on his claims, not only for the blog fodder, but to show how Christianity can easily answer the prattlings of a fool. Chaz represents the type of Bible critic most Christians will encounter in the class room, or at work in the break room, or at the family reunions and holiday get togethers. Though I have taken a while to respond, I do hope I have offered some stepping stones for my readers to use when they encounter the Chazes in their lives.

A Decade of Hits

decadeYesterday, May 31st, was my 10th year of blogging. Golly, how the time as flown.

On May 31st, 2005, I published my first ever blog post that introduced who I was and what I planned at the time to do with my blog. Looking back over the last decade, I think I stuck pretty close to my stated purpose.

As I was contemplating the acknowledgement of my 10th year of blogging, I thought I should share my reflections on what I have learned and experienced those past years since 2005. But, honestly, as I racked my brain to recall those reflections, I couldn’t really think of any. A better thing to do is link back to the post that I wrote highlighting my 5th year of blogging and that I reposted on my 7th year of blogging. (BTW, I lot of those links in the article take you back to the old Blogger edition of this blog, so be alert). Other than the stats being greater, what I wrote about then still applies to this day five years later. One particular paragraph I wrote about blog etiquette still amuses me,

A few months or so after had started blogging, I received an email with a link taking me to some fancy-pants website where writers pontificate on how a person or business can improve on-line etiquette. The article in question was exploring the then “blogger” phenomena and spelled out the rules on how to be a successful blogger by generating traffic to your site. The writer exhorted bloggers to do such things as write short posts, link to as many other websites as you can, keep your blog articles organized around just one or two themes, don’t plagiarize, etc.

I read those suggestions and realized my blog pretty much did the opposite of everything mentioned in the article. On my blog, I jumped from topic to topic, sometimes talked a lot about myself, and some of my articles were like 2,000 words or more. According to the logic of this article, my blog should have failed six and half years ago. But here I am seven years later and I have no thought of losing interest or slowing down in any fashion.

I guess if I were pressed to mention one reflection I have learned the last 10 years, it would be that I have greatly improved my discernment with picking the social media hills to die on. When I started, I would scour the internet searching high and low for controversial subjects to address. I intentionally wanted to write about subjects I believed would generate push back from commenters.  As I grew in my notoriety and influence, I began to see what a waste of time that can be because it becomes distracting. Besides, trolls get attracted and before I knew it, I’d be arguing over stupid triviality with some idiot who goes by the name “KingsSaint1″ who believes the moon landings were hoaxed. Is it the least bit profitable to spend a Thursday afternoon wrestling with that oversize tar baby?

In fact, I am actually contemplating turning the comments off on my posts, a practice I would previously ridicule others who did. The main reason is simply because I just do not have the time anymore of responding; and honestly, I’m getting to the point where I don’t care what other’s opinions on a matter may be, especially some hardheaded troll.

tenyearsComments can be helpful and encouraging in that if a person takes time to thoroughly debunk a particularly nasty troll, others with lesser abilities can learn from the encounter. However, that person, unless he is especially gifted, still has to take the time to write a response. For me, I have 6 people and a dog, not to mention a job, who are demanding on my time, and they are much more important than a conspiracy troll who lives in Ohio. Compiling a thoughtful rebuttal to a troll can become wearisome, and 10 times out of 10 engagement is pointless, because the troll remains lodged in his hole.

If I were to offer a second reflection regarding my blogging from the last decade, I’d say I have come to value quality over quantity. When I began back in 2005, I would strive to have at least 3 posts up a week. Many times, in order to maintain that personal goal, I’d toss up half-baked posts, or link an article I found amusing and offer my witty remarks, or embed a funny video. The last couple of years in particular, I have cut back my posting to maybe one, or perhaps two articles a week at the most.  I want to spend a bit more time writing and rewriting to provide a quality product rather than just posting filler to get me to a particular target number.

There are many subjects I’ve addressed over the last 10 years, as well. Those posts I consider to be evergreens. People are always finding them with internet searches and utilizing them in their personal growth and interactions with others. I have been returning to those posts slowly over the months, reformatting them and updating them to keep them accessible to those who will be helped by them. I can’t tell you how it warms my heart to have total strangers visiting my church or touring our ministry who ask specifically if I am around so they can thank me for blogging on such and such a subject. That makes it all worth it.

I have also thought of giving up blogging altogether. But when I seriously begin contemplating that course of action, something pops up that animates me and I find myself writing up a response of some sort. But I do confess that desire to leave off blogging has been more prevalent in my thinking the last year. Again, that has more to do with the time factor than losing interest in writing and commenting.

However, I am not quite ready to hang it up. I look forward to at the least, one more year. I may be slowing down but I am yet to call it quits.

Of course, I’ll see how I feel about that next May!

The Real Reasons Why Youth Are Leaving Church

youthI hadn’t planned writing a follow up to my previous post, but I started thinking about what I wrote and I thought I should offer a more comprehensive reason why I believe people are leaving church.

I say just people, rather than “young people,” because currently, alarmist types want us to believe it is college aged young people freshly set free from the concentration camps of their stifling and non-thinking fundamentalist churches and rigid homeschooled families who are running away from Christianity in vast numbers. But people of all ages leave church on a regular basis. In fact, generations of “young people,” upon leaving home for college or moving away from their parents after getting married stop attending church, so it’s not like this is a recent epidemic or something.

There were a ton of kids in my youth group at the church I attended when I was in high school. They were all actively involved, because simply put, mama and daddy made them go, and I am sure the food and games had an appeal as well. Most of them were phony anyways, because when they weren’t at church participating in puppet shows or singing in the youth choir, they were throwing down at the weekend kegger party and engaging in various forms of teenage debauchery.

If I had to guess, I would say maybe just a handful of my high school youth group peers acted the least bit “Christianly” throughout their high school experience. Of the 20 or 25 friends at my group, I’d imagine just 2 or 3 still attend church today in any serious manner. A few more may have returned once they had kids, but for the most part, while they may live externally clean lives, they are practically irreligious and remain unchurched.

So what are the real reasons the so-called Christian youth are leaving Christianity? Contrary to the polls of self-appointed experts on American youth culture, their departure really has nothing to do with those typical tropes like coming from a sheltered home-schooled family, or not having the right apologetic thinking, or the church being “anti-science,” or Christians rejecting gay teens.

Let me lay out 7 thoughts to show you what I mean:

1. The kids aren’t saved. It’s too simple, I know; but that’s reality. They are not regenerated, and thus do no possess saving faith. Hence, when they are confronted by the culturally brutal and harsh world, their non-existent faith is exposed as just that, non-existent.

No amount of feeding them the right apologetic answers to skeptical critics of Christianity will help that at all. If the kid isn’t saved, it doesn’t matter if he knows all the proofs of God’s existence, or can defend the historical Gospels, or shoot down the Zeitgeist youtube movie. He has no love for Christ; and when sin confronts him, he may resist at first, but will eventually give in and it’s all down hill from there.

But is it more than just saying the kid isn’t saved? Certainly. There could be a number of factors that have converged to have driven the kid away from church.

2. The kid comes from a moralistic family. In other words, the family may indeed attend church, perhaps be involved to a degree, but the faith of the parents and the kids is no more than a set of conservative morals untethered from Scripture and the worship of God. Morals alone are not enough to keep a young person faithful to Christ. Only a regenerated heart can do that.

3. The parents are self-righteous hypocrites. By that I mean they pretend to be spirit-filled, serious-minded Christians at church, but at home, it’s an entirely different matter. Mom and dad bicker and snip at each other, they complain about everything, maybe are dishonest with their dealings with others, gossip about people and situations at church. They basically instill an attitude of disrespect in the hearts of their children toward not only church, but even themselves.

4. Church leadership intentionally avoids difficult subjects. They won’t talk about those subjects that supposedly clothesline the young person when he gets out in the real world. They mistakenly believe young people would be bored with their discussion, or perhaps the subjects are way over their heads and raise too many hard questions their little minds can’t handle right now.

Instead, they focus on teaching simplistic things like keeping your virginity before marriage, figuring out God’s will for your life, and what spiritual gifts you may have. Any difficult topics they leave for the occasional expert to handle. That expert who usually comes in the form of a prepackaged DVD message on Wednesday nights. Many times those experts are really unlearned and inexperienced, and hardly know what they are talking about.

5. Church leadership is lazy. If they don’t intentionally avoid difficult subjects, they won’t even take the time to educate themselves on those topics that will challenge their young people. Paul told Timothy that godly men must prove themselves workman (2 Tim. 2:15). The important word in workman is work. Studying the Scriptures, exegeting the Scriptures, applying the Scriptures, teaching the Scriptures takes hard work.

Today’s youth need leaders who will do the hard work of shepherding them, confronting them, teaching them the Word of God, especially when it comes to those difficult subjects they encounter or will encounter. They don’t need leaders who will only put forth minimal effort feeding them pablum, while providing them soft beds to cozy up in. They need to come face to face with the holy God of Scripture who will rock their world, but will also save them through the blood of Christ. That experience only comes when leaders shake off the stupor of laziness and do the hard work of lifting high the God of Scripture by taking the time to handle it rightly.

6. The youth pastor is basically a young, inexperienced and spiritually immature guy. All my life as a churched kid, practically every youth director has been an early 20s something post-graduate. He’s probably no more than 5 or 6 years older than the oldest kid in the youth group. Not to disparage a person’s youth, or even youth groups for that matter, because I happen to know a number of mature thinking young guys in their early 20s, and there are churches with great youth groups teaching their kids to think biblically. Regrettably those are the rare exception and sadly not the rule.

The vast majority of youth pastors are placed in the positions because the church, as well as parents, mistakenly believe only a young guy can “relate” with their kids; plus they are expecting nothing more than sanctified baby-sitting. The youth pastor is merely required to create an atmosphere of wholesomeness that includes directing fun activities, so they are not necessarily known for being theological giants. In fact, the youth pastors are notorious for being the gateway for introducing wack-a-doodle heresy into the church, along with immature behavior on the part of the kids, and that is due primarily because he is a spiritually immature and unlearned novice.

preciousAdditionally, if the youth director happens to be a mature young man who wants to bring substance to the youth group, when the teenage goats begin leaving because they hate the teaching of God’s Word, the parents freak out and accuse the young man of quenching the Spirit. He’s then kicked out and replaced by a more pliable hireling.

I remember once at my college church when our youth pastor had a guest speaker come in to preach at the high school group. That evening, they were particularly rambunctious and rowdy, and the guest speaker told them that he believed most of them were lost because they had no respect for the teaching of God’s Word. He was absolutely correct with his assessment. Now guess what happened? Did the kids become gripped with conviction upon hearing those words, repent of their sins, and beg to be saved? Do you think their moms and dads were mortified as to what happened and dealt firmly with their teens? Of course not! Don’t be silly! The next week, the poor youth pastor was deluged with mobs of angry parents demanding a reason why he let such a horrible man tell their precious hellions that they were lost, because they know their little devils asked Jesus into their hearts after they walked the aisle when they were four.

7. The Church leadership and youth pastor doesn’t evangelize the kids. Oh, don’t get me wrong. They “evangelize” them in the sense that they preach to them an anemic, “God has a wonderful plan for your life, Jesus wants to be your buddy and make school great for you” false gospel, or a gut-wrenching “Red Asphalt, kids die in car wreck after a drinking party and get dragged straight to hell” presentation that is designed to emotionally manipulate an aisle full of sobbing teenage girls to pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts. Decisions are certainly made after those evangelistic presentations, but they are theologically vapid, empty of any serious biblical content, and not empowered by the Holy Spirit to save souls.

Now.

Having said all of that, can a kid come from a household of hypocrites, attend a church with lazy leadership who coddle the youth group with a 20-something rock climber guy as the pastor who preaches a lame Gospel message? Yes. God is great and transcends all of those problems. However, if we consider those reasons, I think a case can be made that what college age kids are leaving isn’t necessarily biblical Christianity, but some syrupy sentimental version of the Christian faith. That would only mean that the vast numbers of college age kids never really left Christianity and church to begin with.