Friday, February 29, 2008

Hollywood's Christians

The human mind is a wonder when it comes to imagination. Look at Hollywood. They can produce trolls, devils, dragons, and ogres. They can form images of far flung worlds in distant galaxies. They can make up fantastic space aliens and weave amazing stories from the past, the present, and the future. And their creations are so believable! As technology improves you begin to wonder, "Did they actually find a basilisk, or is that a computer generated thing?" Such imaginations!

I wonder why it is, then, that Hollywood seems completely incapable of producing a believable Christian? It seems that they lack any ability to present anything vaguely similar to my lifelong experiences with Christian pastors, preachers, or simply believers. Hollywood's versions are always ... something else. Pastors are often outlandish firebrands with end-of-the-world fetishes or power plays or perhaps they're just greedy for all that their flock can give them. They often have bizarre opinions on morality although everyone else around them is quite normal. You know the types. Everyone is quite okay with premarital sex, but these sick-minded religious nuts think it's a sin. No one has a problem with homosexuals, but these pastors are in favor of killing each and every one. None of them are portrayed as believing that it is wrong behavior, but loving the person. That's too ... acceptable. Of course, there are the other sorts as well -- the other end of the spectrum. The "acceptable" pastor types are the ones with no beliefs at all. Oh, they have beliefs, sure, but nothing that is certain. Whatever you believe is fine. They just want to love everybody. There is no right or wrong religion, no right or wrong belief. Uncertainty is the virtue they possess. Everyone knows that a good pastor isn't sure of anything at all, except, perhaps, that all people are basically good inside.

In Hollywood, Christians who aren't in the pulpit are portrayed in similar ways. So many of the Christians I've known are decent, loving people who don't sneak out and kill homosexuals or follow leaders blindly until they "drink the Koolaid" or hate those who disagree with them. Most of them agree with the line, "Hate the sin; love the sinner." They aren't as interested in correcting others' lives as much as introducing them to Jesus because, after all, Christianity isn't about correcting lives, but coming to a relationship with Christ. Oddly, I've never seen Hollywood portray a Christian that way.

I find it odd that the world seems so capable of imagining so much, but incapable of imagining a Christian. Is it because of the too-loud folks who call themselves Christians and act as foolishly as Hollywood portrays them? Or is it a built-in animosity of the world toward the real people of Christ? I think it's probably some of both. I don't get it, though, because most Christians I've known are nice people to know. They'd be nice people for Hollywood to know. They'd often make great heroes on the screen. Maybe it has something to do with Christ's words: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, should I?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Evidence for the Existence of God

An anonymous commenter asked me to produce evidence for the existence of God. I see no reason not to oblige.

Dr. Walter L. Bradley "received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin." He is no scientific slouch. He is a Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor University, but he is perhaps best known for his scientific evidence for the existence of God. I've read the thing myself. Frankly, it's over my head. (Math is not my strong suit.) The argument shows that the universe requires Design, not randomness.

Imagine that you are walking in the forest and come across a rock. You think, "Oh, look, a rock." Naturally occurring, of course. Nothing to really see here. Move along. Then you come across a rock on top of a rock. "Interesting," you think, but still possibly naturally occurring, and you move on. When you come to a pile of 10 rocks carefully balanced on one another, do you think, "Oh, look, how interesting! I wonder how that happened in nature?" or do you think, "Someone else has been here."? You see, the complexity of the universe begs for a Designer. Watch any nature show you wish. Make sure it is a naturalistic nature show -- predicated on Evolution without God. It seems impossible for them to avoid the term "design" when they describe animals and plants in nature because it is manifestly obvious that things are too complex to happen at random and end up so precise.

Philosophy, too, likes to enter into the fray. If there is no god, the argument must be "something comes from nothing." One Evolutionist (if I knew his name, I'd credit him) argued, "For something to come from nothing takes a long time." It's the only possible conclusion. Why is it, then, that the theists are considered irrational while the atheists are arguing something that is so illogical? There are indeed many philosophical arguments for the existence of God. There is the Ontological Argument, the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument, the Argument from Religious Experience, and the Argument from Miracles. Some are good arguments; some aren't. For instance, there is Pascal's Wager, but Paul refutes that in 1 Cor. 15. One argument says that because we can conceive of a perfect being, He must exist. I find that odd, since we can conceive of lots of things that don't exist. Others are hard to avoid. The Cosmological Argument has various forms. One actually came from Aristotle, who was not a Christian. His was the "first mover" argument. "If there are effects, there must be a first cause -- an uncaused cause." One argues that nothing comes from nothing. Therefore, if anything is, something must have "necessary being" -- God. The Kalam Cosmological Argument argues that all that we know is caused, so it must have a First Cause. (Trust me; I'm really abbreviating these arguments. You should really look into them yourselves.) The Teleological Argument is the argument of Intelligent Design. Nothing as complex as the universe we live in occurs by chance. It has all the indications of design, which requires a Designer. Moral arguments come in various forms, but argue from the fact that there is a moral law to the need for a Lawgiver.

Philosophy is nice, but there is so much more. Dr. Hugh Ross offers Astronomical Evidences for the Existence of God. Dr. William Lane Craig answers critics of the Caused Universe argument. Dr. Ross offers some of the parameters of the universe that strongly argue for Design.

Now, mind you, I'm no scholar in these arguments. I'm a reader. I can do the searches. I know how to find websites like godandscience.org or doesgodexist.org. A simple Google search for "evidence for the existence of God" pulls up more hits than I can manage. There are papers by PhDs, simplified versions for students, and pdf's. Even Kant, who was famous for arguing that you cannot prove the existence of God, argued that God must exist if there is any reason to believe in morality.

Two common errors are made in this question. One is the error of the atheist: "No evidence of God exists." This is so fundamentally false that I can only imagine how they keep it up. I can only think that they "ignore the elephant in the room", so to speak. They willfully choose to deny all the evidence offered. Evidence is out there. The second error, however, occurs on the other side. The theist tries to argue, "We can prove that God exists." This is equally false. "Proof" requires that evidence is sufficient to require belief in the truth of the claim. Scripture itself tells us that this won't happen. People can choose to ignore evidence and choose to believe all sorts of crazy things. Ultimately we know that natural Man is hostile to God and unwilling to receive things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Proof of God doesn't exist.

There is one other common error, although this one comes from both sides. This error says that faith and evidence are contradictory. This error defines "faith" as blind. "If there is evidence," so many people argue, "it is not faith." The Greek word for "faith" is actually defined as "to be convinced". We become convinced by many things and it doesn't exclude the evidence. Both sides make this error. Don't you make it.

Now, I have just scratched the surface. There is evidence. There are arguments. There are reasons beyond "blind faith" to believe that there is a God. It is certainly possible to reject those reasons, but to suggest "there is no evidence" is simply not true.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Learning English

I know ... I went to school, too. You sit through countless hours of "English" class as if you don't speak the language and need to learn it. You muddle through years of verb tenses, spelling, and grammatical structures and wonder "Who cares?" You ask yourself, like kids ask in just about every class they take, "How will this help me in real life?"

Wisdom comes with experience. It's only later that the mom who is budgeting a limited income needs algebra in the grocery store to figure out what the best purchase would be. A wise person realizes that they can solve a problem today by using something they learned in history class in high school. The things you were taught in Civics suddenly looms as important when the government tries to take away Constitutional rights. Standing close to the classes, it's hard to see why we need them. But time and experience tells us we do.

So we come to those years of English classes and wonder what difference they made. They actually are relevant to everyday life. They are the common means by which we communicate with one another. They are the rules of conversation, communication, dialog, and discussion. Without them, the changing landscape of language would make interpersonal communication extremely difficult. One commercial for some cell phone service illustrates this. The mother, grandmother, and daughter are playing Scrabble. The daughter spells out "ROTFL." The mother objects. "That's not English!" But when she tries to communicate with her daughter to correct it, she can't because her daughter doesn't understand proper English and she can't communicate in her daughter's confused phone English. Sure, it's a commercial. Sure, it's an exaggeration. But it makes the point.

I see this problem arise in our conversations with people on the Internet. Spoken English is one thing. English on the Internet, however, is written. Suddenly, new factors are in play. Can you express yourself in a way that is understood by others? Is your spelling satisfactory to use words that readers can understand? Does your grammar say, "I'm a person worth listening to", or does it say, "I'm not very bright, but I'm expressing an opinion you should hear"?

There are a lot of common errors people make. "Two", "to", and "too" are all spoken the same way, but all mean something different. Yet, people use "to much" too much. It is possible to construct a sentence where "Their problem is that they're there." The differentiations in the three words are clear in that context, but many people don't seem to know them when used alone. The same is true for "your" and "you're". Other things aren't as clear. Many people have a hard time differentiating between "it's" and "its", largely because it runs counter to intuition. We tend to think that the apostrophe indicates possession (as in "Todd's car"), but in the case of these two, "its" is possessive (just like "hers") and "it's" is the contraction for "it is".

I suppose there are smarter people out there with long lists of pet peeves about grammar and spelling. I have my own pet peeves. My point, however, is not about my peeves. My point is about your expression. You want to make a point to someone on the Internet, so you put it in comment or write a blog on the issue. If you write it poorly enough, you might as well save yourself the time and embarrassment. Regardless ("irregardless" is not a word) of your valuable points, you will be likely scorned for such poor communication skills. The thinking is common: "If he cannot express himself in an intelligent way, why would I expect his opinion to be intelligent?" What I'm suggesting is this: If you value your own positions and opinions, perhaps you ought to take some time to learn better English and to proofread your writing. There are tools on the Internet to help. There are all sorts of ways to check spelling and grammar. If you think your ideas are important enough to express, maybe you should take the time and effort to learn to express them in a way that people will understand them. It's just the considerate thing to do.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Inability

There are often objections to Reformed theology that revolve around the claim that Scripture teaches that natural Man cannot come to Christ on his own. This "inability" claim is a sticking point for many people. I think the biggest reason that it is a sticking point is that it is misunderstood. So I thought I'd examine something on which we can all agree and see if the similarity there might help here.

In Matthew 19, Jesus tells the disciples that it was very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are shocked. But Jesus tells them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26). It is a common perception that nothing is impossible for God, and that perception most often comes from this verse. However, it isn't quite an accurate perception. Why do I say that? Because we know from other references that there are things that God cannot do.

In Titus 1:2 we read that God "cannot lie." This opens the door to a whole list of things. He cannot lie or change His mind (1 Sam. 15:29). He cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). He cannot be unjust and He cannot fail (Zeph. 3:5). He is eternal and cannot cease to be (1 Chron. 16:36). He cannot tire (Isa. 40:28). He is omniscient and cannot fail to know anything (Psa. 139). This list goes on and on. Something else God cannot do is the illogical. I don't mean that everything He does must makes sense to us. I mean that He cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. He cannot make a square circle because the square and the circle have separate and distinct definitions that cannot be made to match. When God says He will save those who place their faith in His Son, He cannot then say He won't. That would violate the law of non-contradiction. And we should all be happy about that. Indeed, then, there are lots of things that God cannot do.

When we say that there are things that God cannot do (as demonstrated in Scripture), what do we mean? Is it a contradiction of what Jesus said? It is not actually a contradiction. God can do anything in theory. What He can do, in fact, is "exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). However, the things that I listed that Scripture says He cannot do He cannot do because it would violate His nature. You see, He has the power to do them, but it would violate His nature to do them, so He cannot. Let me put it another way. God can do anything at all, but because of His nature there are some things He will not do.

All the things I listed about what God cannot do are all good news to me. They bring God into the realm of knowable. They give us stability. They give us confidence. A god who lies or changes His mind or sinned or could fail would be a god we couldn't trust. His nature makes Him GOD. I'm glad there are things He cannot do.

Similarly, then, when we speak of Man's inability, we are not speaking of the lack of power or even the lack of will. When we say that Man cannot come to Christ without God causing it, we are not saying that there is something lacking in Man that prevents him. We are saying that it would violate his nature to do so. There are no external constraints. Nothing outside of Man is preventing him. It is simply that he is hostile to God by nature, dead in sin, and cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God. In other words, Man can come to Christ, but because of his nature he will not do it.

God's inability makes Him good. Man's inability is eternally fatal. Praise be to God that He has an answer to Man's inability.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Offer of Atheism

Over at Townhall.com (HT: FzxGkJssFrk) there is an article about someone asking an atheist, "What has atheism done for us?" I've wondered the same thing. More than once I've asked atheists, "What are you offering?" I want to know what they have to substitute for what I have.

Knowing Christ, I have a lot of benefits. I have peace in daily events. I have hope for a future. I can love with little in return because I am loved by God. When things around look dark, I have reason to continue because I know the Sovereign God. I don't suffer from the guilt that my sins might cause because I believe they are paid for. I have strength for all occasions -- strength not my own. And the list just goes on and on.

So I want to know, what is atheism offering? It appears to me that atheism has nothing to offer. Daily events are random and purposeless. The common thought that "Everything happens for a reason" becomes mostly meaningless. The future is blank. When we die, we die. The end. Nothing more. Life itself has no meaning, no higher purpose, no real value. You do what you can for whatever reasons you can muster and that's it. Don't look for support. Don't look for strength from outside of yourself. We're biochemical bags that came about by accident, live lives that are thrown at us like paint against a wall, then die and become nothing more than worm food.

When I've asked atheists what they have to offer, few have answered. The few that have told me that what they were offering was the truth. It was freedom. It was the freedom of the truth. Now, personally, if I were to become convinced that there is no God, no afterlife, no forgiveness of sin, none of that good stuff, I'd not bother continuing. It's a game I wouldn't care to play. And, of course, terminating my existence wouldn't be any big deal because what's one less biochemical bag? But what I'm wondering is if there are people who would consider that kind of truth "freedom". Is it freedom to believe that nothing has meaning? Is it freedom to believe that life has no value? Would you consider it a good thing to know that morality is pointless, good deeds are pointless, your whole life is pointless? Is that freedom? Is it something that someone considers "a good thing"?

Here's what I'm really asking. If it were true that there is no God, would you want to know? If it were absolutely true that life was meaningless and religion was false, would you want to be convinced? If it cost you all the blessings of being a Christian, would you still want to know the truth, or would you prefer to hang on to a lie? Is there some knowledge that, if it is true, is not worth having? I ask because I don't know the answer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The House of God

I'm enjoying the Psalms immensely. There is so much good stuff in there. The psalmists praise and complain. They rejoice and cry. They thank God and pray. They run the gamut of emotions, but always -- always -- they glorify God.

One thing I have found interesting as I've been going through the Psalms is the many references to the house of God. Some might argue, "God is everywhere; we don't have to go to some physical place to be in His presence." And that would be technically true. Still, there is an amazing perspective offered on the house of God in the Psalms:
I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You (Psa. 5:7).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psa. 23:6).

O LORD, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells (Psa. 26:8).

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple (Psa. 27:4).

How precious is Your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see light (Psa. 36:7-9).

Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, the holiness of Your temple (Psa. 65:4)!

Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise (Psa. 84:4)!

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psa. 84:10).
What a deep longing we find in the Psalms to be in the house of God. You've heard the unbeliever say, for instance, that it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. The sons of Korah would beg to differ. "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God," they proclaim. In the house of God there is steadfast love. In the house of God there is light and life. In the house of God His glory dwells.

In the early days of America, towns were built in an interesting fashion. The town center was always the same: a church. The focal point of the town was God's house. Today we generally have economic centers at the core of our cities. It bespeaks the shift in our nation's emphasis. I pray that, while the nation shifts, believers recall the wonders of being in the house of the Lord. That is where true abundance and satisfaction can be found.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Go To Your Room!

I admit it. I like a good argument as well as the next guy. I use the term "argument" in the legal sense -- you know, where two people present their differing perspectives and the reasons for them? I generally enjoy Christian Apologetics, the art of defending the faith. Generally I find that such exchanges are good if properly performed. I believe that I should always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in me, but I insist that it be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

But I have to be honest. Sometimes I get really tired of it. Sometimes I just want to tell the two sides, like spoiled children, "Go to your room!" I get tired of glib anti-theists whose idea of a good argument is "someone who called himself a Christian agreed with me, so I know I'm right." (Seriously, I've actually seen that argument more than once.) I get tired of the nasty folks who call themselves disciples of Christ and attack with unkindness and disdain rather than defending with gentleness and respect. I get tired of watching arguments fired across each others' bow rather than discussions and exchanges of ideas while respecting the person. I can't tell you how often I've watched these types in toe-to-toe battles, neither understanding where the other is coming from nor going to. It's as if one is arguing, "That house is blue!" and the other is shouting, "No, it's a two-story!" and both are taking it as if their mother was insulted by the other.

It doesn't take a lot of work to find this kind of stuff, and it's not limited to those who oppose my beliefs. In fact, it is my firm suspicion that just about everyone who engages in discussions of truth will, at some time or another, fall into this trap. I know that I'm not immune, although, I believe that over the years I've learned to mellow a bit. There really are times that it's just best to turn the other cheek. There are times when it becomes absolutely evident that the concept you were discussing is no longer the issue and the other person is simply interested in fighting. There are certainly points at which there is no longer any possibility of making any headway in the exchange of ideas. They're settled and you're settled and anything more will just bring you both to blows. You can't point out that their view is misinformed and illogical (even if it is) and there isn't anything they can say that would sway you away from your view. The only option is pistols at 25 paces.

I do love the discussion. I am insatiably curious about how other people think. I am baffled by the apparent lack of reason of some people. I am interested in finding deficiencies in my own perspectives. I know they're there. So I'll take breaks from it, but I won't stop. I just wish that we could make it a rule that name-calling and unkindness could be banned and gentleness and respect in the discussion could be the norm. It certainly should be the case for Christians. Why, do you suppose, it isn't?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Grace is Hard

It seems as if the biblical concept of grace is hard to handle. The notion of "unmerited favor" seems to fall outside the boundaries of that with which we are comfortable. Even Christians balk at the idea, thinking that there must be something we contribute, if only our choice or our faith or our obedience or ... something. Roman Catholicism includes merit in its theology. "Congruous merit" is when the person has insufficient merit to require God to act, but sufficient merit to incline Him to show favor. "Condign merit" is when the merit is sufficient that justice requires God to show favor. In Roman Catholic thinking, as in most human thinking, congruous merit is in play when someone shows the slightest hint of being good. That inclines (not obligates) God to show more grace, and the person can work toward condign merit. All of this because, you see, unmerited favor just doesn't compute.

My grandfather who died last year had been fed the Gospel for longer than I've been alive. He heard it over and over from my parents. He heard it at church when they took him along. He read it in books they asked him to read. For over 40 years he heard, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" -- salvation by faith through grace. So it wasn't unexpected, a few years ago, when we were having a family gathering on his behalf, that the subject came up again. What was unexpected was his response. Someone at the table expressed it clearly ... once again. We are saved by faith through grace. My grandfather almost came out of his seat. "Wait! If that's true, then anyone can be a Christian!" It was as if he had heard it for the very first time. And his tone wasn't acceptance; it was scorn. "No one can actually believe that, can they?" was almost palpable in his voice. He rejected it again despite our affirmations. You see, unmerited favor just doesn't compute.

I remember a pleasant little ditty from The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews sings a duet called Something Good. She sings with the Captain about how wonderful it is to finally be loved and how undeserving they are. And she offers some fine, standard reasoning.
Nothing comes from nothing;
Nothing ever could.
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good.
The song understands rightly that nothing comes from nothing (despite the objections of some atheists I know), but then jumps to a conclusion: The only way that good things happen to people is if they are good themselves. It only takes a moment looking around to realize this is wrong. People get away with bad things all the time. One of the stickiest questions for Christians is "Why do bad things happen to good people?" So we know that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It was the same error the disciples made when they asked about the man born blind: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind" (John 9:2)? The song and the idea that the only way good things can happen to people is as a result of them being good is wrong. You see, unmerited favor just doesn't compute.

Paul puts it this way:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing ... but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).
One might be tempted to think that this Good News we offer is just so wonderful that no one should be able to resist it. I know I think that from time to time. It's not the case. Unmerited favor (among other things) doesn't work in the minds of most people. It is too good to be true. The truth is that this is just one of those very rare cases when something that seems too good to be true ... really is true. Unmerited favor may not compute, but it's still true. Perhaps that's an evidence that it's a "God thing."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lessons from Moms and Dads

It doesn't take long to see that moms treat kids different than dads do. I know ... stereotype, but it is so often the case. Moms mother their kids, and dads don't. See? We even use the term "mother" in a particular sense. As a noun, it refers to the female parent. As a verb, we think of mothering as nurturing and protecting.

I watched my wife in a dialog with our 20-something-year-old son. He's having trouble managing his money. "Give me your money," she said. As he headed for work, she said, "Drive carefully", as if he was planning to drive recklessly through the streets and needed her reminder. "Are you going to be warm enough?" she called after him. Me? I'm thinking that if the kid has no money long enough, he'll learn to stop spending it all before he can pay for what he needs. His driving is his responsibility, and if he's too cold today, he'll learn a valuable lesson to dress warmer tomorrow.

Mothers tend to mother. Fathers tend to push. Mothers tend to comfort and nurture. Fathers are more often the disciplinarians. Mothers tend to be protective. Fathers will let their sons try semi-dangerous things to learn new things. And so it goes.

The funny thing is that both of these come from the same place. Mothers who love their kids feel like they need to nurture and comfort and protect their children. Fathers who love their kids feel like they need to push and prod and develop their children. Despite the differences, both are coming from love.

What insights can we gain from this interesting fact? Well, for one thing, as it turns out kids need both nurture and admonition. From this we can see that God was wise to design a family as a father and a mother. One side or the other will cause an imbalance for which it is extremely difficult to compensate, let alone recognize. You see, both are operating out of love. It's very difficult to fault one side or the other. It is simply best if both parents are present.

A broader insight would be that love comes in different forms. Some people try to tell you that love is narrow. It operates as they see it. For instance, someone might argue, "Any loving person would give money to that poor homeless man on the street corner." That is a narrow view of love. Love could be withholding money in the hope that he is motivated to get a job or, on the other end of the spectrum, withholding money and giving him a job. There are a variety of ways that genuine love can be expressed. Mothers express it one way; fathers another. Both are love.

In a more general sense, it suddenly becomes easy to see why one group of people can say, "Poor people need welfare" and another group can say, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for life" ... and both come from the same starting point of genuine concern. A misguided teacher once told my junior higher, "Liberals want to help people and conservatives just want to keep what they have for themselves." That completely misses the truth. Love can be expressed in holding a child or in letting a child go. It can be expressed in keeping a child from being hurt or in allowing controlled pain that teaches a necessary lesson. And these variations work in other areas of life.

The next time you find someone who expresses love in a manner different than your own, remember this. Love has different faces and different expressions. Yes, I know, love is often not expressed at all, and that's a different problem. But sometimes -- just sometimes -- you may be objecting to a genuine expression of love just because it's not your expression. It's okay if love is expressed in a way that is different than your way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Princess Bride Theology

The movie, The Princess Bride (1987), was a fun movie. It had all the components of a great fairy tale. It had Westley, the stable hand who loved the lovely Buttercup. There was the princess who was due to wed the prince even though she loved another. There were fantasy creatures like a giant, a wizard, and the Rodents of Unusual Size. There were pirates, subterfuge, people who were not what they seemed and all the while, "true love". There were highs, like when Westley, as the Dread Pirate Roberts, bests all that Vizzini has to offer to rescue the princess. There were lows, like when the evil Prince Humperdinck kills Westley. And in the end, true love wins out.

The film was fun to watch. It had a story line that was acceptable and "fairytale", but it was sprinkled with humor as well. After Vizzini said for the umpteenth time that the thing that was actually occurring was "inconceivable", the drunk swordsman, Inigo Montoya, tells him, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." And then there is Miracle Max. Max is a banned wizard. After Westley is killed, his two compatriots take his body to Max. They were hoping to pay him for the miracle of bringing Westley back to life. Miracle Max, after much coaxing, tells them, "Well, it just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead."

What an amusing concept! "Mostly dead." No life. No breath. No movement. But he was "mostly dead". But it makes me wonder how closely this comes to some of the more prevalent theology out there that I hear today. In The Princess Bride such fantasy as "mostly dead" is fun, but does it work as well in real life? It seems so. Take, for instance, Eph. 2:1. In Reformed theology we would argue that Eph. 2:1 says that natural Man is actually dead in sin -- spiritually dead. Outside of Reformed theology, they argue that we're "mostly dead". No, they don't use the phrase, but that's the idea. Sure, we're spiritually dead, but that doesn't mean that we're actually spiritually dead dead! There is sufficient spiritual life in the spiritually dead to know, seek, and develop faith in God. Sure, we're spiritually dead, but only mostly dead.

It works in other areas as well. Those pesky Reformed folks like to say that God is sovereign. That means Sovereign. He makes all the calls. Everything that happens is under His approval. Sovereign! Wiser, non-Reformed people consider God sovereign ... or, at least, "mostly sovereign". They've figured out that God, in His absolute sovereignty, has surrendered His sovereignty to Man's Free Will ... and still remains Sovereign. "God is a gentleman," they say, "and doesn't interfere in human choices." But God is still sovereign ... somehow. Like the "spiritually dead" that is mostly dead, God is mostly sovereign without anyone actually admitting that He is anything but fully Sovereign.

Then there is the arena of grace. Virtually all real Christians agree -- we are saved by grace. Well, we should. Isn't that what the Bible clearly says? "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Most of us are even in agreement about what grace means. From the passage, it is "not of works". From other references (e.g., Rom. 11:6) it is clearly "unmerited favor". It is getting favor from God that we don't deserve. Good! We're all on the same page. And then we take a step further. The Reformed argument is that Man is spiritually dead -- actually spiritually dead -- and incapable of coming to Christ. God is sovereign -- actually Sovereign -- and chooses whom He will choose to save. Those He brings to spiritual life, gifting them with faith and bringing them to Himself. This scenario clearly fits the criteria, "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16). It is grace -- pure, unmerited favor. Nothing in the person has engendered this event. "No!" cries the non-Reformed. "God chooses whom He will choose based on their choice of Him!" I suppose in a world where we are "mostly spiritually dead" and God is "mostly Sovereign", it works that grace can be "mostly unmerited favor", but if God chooses me because I made the right choice of Him, then grace cannot be actually and fully termed "unmerited". It is "mostly grace."

I come from a world of Princess Bride theology. I believed it. I held it. I even argued it. But the more I was faced with Scripture, the less I could hang on to the fantasy of "mostly dead" people chosen by a "mostly Sovereign" God on the basis of "mostly grace". That's a nice fairy tale, but it doesn't really work very well in real life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Sins of the Age

Christian morality seems to be on its way out in American culture. The most obvious dismissal has been for sexual morality. God says that sex outside of marriage won't work. We've decided that His opinion is not of interest on that. But it's not merely sex. While the Bible is clearly against homosexual behavior, society is coming to a state of acceptance. While murdering babies would be sin in Scripture, "a woman's right to choose" is of higher importance to our culture. The Bible urges selflessness while our world urges self-centeredness. And so it goes.

In the vacuum of biblical morality, it seems as if a new morality has begun to fill in the gap. There are things in our world that have become unacceptable while the unacceptable becomes normal. One is the concept of judgment. Every day every person passes judgment. They decide what is right and what is wrong. They decide what is wise and what is foolish. They decide what makes sense and what doesn't. But "Thou shalt not judge" has become the command of the day. Recent studies have indicated that the number one Bible verse known by most people who are not Christians is Matt. 7:1 -- "Judge not, that you be not judged." Yanked pitifully out of context and used horribly to judge people, it is one of the new sins of the age.

Its close sister, "intolerance", is right up there, too. "Intolerance" has a nice, moral feel to it. We see, for instance, the horrors of intolerance in the Holocast. And we all see that as evil. Good! But "intolerance" has shifted its meaning. Tolerance used to be the act of enduring. You could radically disagree with something, but if you allowed it to continue despite your firm disagreement, you were "tolerating" it. Now it means a bit more. Now it means more of a permissive attitude. Nay, merely allowing isn't enough for "tolerance". You must embrace ideas with which you disagree. You must even encourage them. Oddly, this concept only extends to the ideas with which Christians disagree. No one, for instance, is calling for tolerance toward Christian morals, doctrines, or beliefs. Intolerance toward Christian views is considered acceptable, but all other kinds of intolerance fall under the new sins of the age.

There are many new sins of the age. I once told a Christian therapist that my idea of loving my wife was to set my self aside and serve her. "That," she told me, "is wrong. You must first take care of yourself." And there are others. Perhaps the most prevalent new sin of the age is a bit of a surprise. Because it doesn't fall into the moral categories of either Christianity or modern morality, both Christians and non-believers are buying into it without thinking about it. It doesn't violate Scripture. It isn't a point of contention between believers and non-believers. So it is rising in prevalence on all sides in our society to day. What is this new unpardonable sin in America? It is being boring. Dull is unacceptable. Exciting is right. No one wants to associate with the leper who doesn't do sky-diving or bungee jumping or some sort of interesting activity. Even Christianity, if it can be made interesting, gains in acceptability, but Christianity that is not "relevant" or "exciting" is evil ... on both sides. Of course, "exciting" is a purely relative term, so there will be an ongoing problem with this concept. Those ridiculously stodgy churches that find it stunning to simply be in the presence of God without a band, upbeat music, video screens, or performance will always be on the outside of acceptability compared to the new and exciting churches competing for your entertainment attention. Pastors that simply expound the Word will be viewed as less acceptable as pastors who dramatize life lessons. And someone who spends his free time on his knees before God praying and studying the Word will never be as acceptable as someone doing "fun things for God". Because, you see, the new sin of the age is being boring. That will never do.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It Feels So Right

Humans have an interesting propensity. They tend to think with their feelings. "Hey, that doesn't make sense!" you might say. You're right. It's a contradiction in terms. But it's very common today. What I think isn't true; how I feel is.

Look, as an example, at the economy. There is a standard, popular measure of the economy that is driving all sorts of things. It's called "Consumer Confidence". They have an index for it. They measure it. They use it to decide which direction the market will go. What is it? It asks, "How does the consumer feel about the current economic conditions?" That's a powerful feeling.

I remember a song years ago made popular by Debbie Boone entitled, You Light Up My Life. What a warm and fuzzy love song! Made you feel good inside. And there is that classic line: "It can't be wrong when it feels so right." You could almost hear my mental brakes squealing with that line, but I'm largely alone in that. "If it feels good, do it." Of course it can't be wrong if it feels right. How could I question it? In fact, that is perhaps the majority argument for the truth of Christianity. "How do you know that Christianity is true?" "Because it feels right." There are likely lots of variations on that. "I got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart." "My gut tells me it's right." "Because I feel so close to God." It's all the same root. "It can't be wrong when it feels so right."

Why, do you suppose, Obama is viewed today by so many with such favorable perspective? Is it because his sharp reasoning has convinced so many? No. His call is for "change," and he's the guy to do it. Of course, he hasn't done it so far. It's really hard to trace much of anything he has accomplished in his political career thus far. And how exactly his change is going to be a good thing isn't very clear. "I'm in favor of people having income and being healthy." Is that change? No, Mr. Obama is gaining such popularity because he makes people feel good. I can't tell you how many times I've heard supporters say, "He's the guy that can bring us all together." Are they unaware that there are many of us that are concerned about what he'll do to America? And the answer to my question is, "Yes, they are unaware." He's making them feel good with his language, demeanor, and attitude. That's what it takes.

We've redefined love to be the feelings that are associated with the choice. We've redefined the attitude of joy to be the same as the feeling of happiness. We've redefined peace as something that is purely a feeling. It seems as if we're in the business of redefining basic commands and necessities (like "the fruit of the Spirit") into feelings instead of choices we make. That's a problem.

These are examples. They just scratch the surface, but they run the gamut. Evil people operate on how they feel. Good Christians operate on how they feel. Good Christians, for instance, view worship as "feeling good toward God." The command, however, is that "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37). Yes, emotions are in there. But so are your will and your mind. We are called to be "ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you." "It can't be wrong when it feels so right" isn't a defense.

Feelings are an important aspect of human beings. Solomon says there is a time to laugh and a time to cry (Eccl. 3:4). Paul said we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). We are commanded to "be angry, yet do not sin" (Eph. 4:26). Lots of emotions. They are valuable and they are part of being human. Let's just not allow them to substitute for the minds that God gave us to use. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord (Isa. 1:18).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Evolution Sunday

Evolution Sunday? Really? Yes, it's a reality. Churches around the country choose to observe the Sunday closest to Charles Darwin's birthday (Feb. 12, 1809) as Evolution Sunday. So, last weekend pulpits around America recognized the liberating truth of science in general and Evolution in particular. What liberating truth do they have to recognize?
All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker. - Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent. - Will Provine
Lots of happy, theistic Evolutionists trot along with the Theory of Evolution, embracing it as if it is perfectly compatible with Scripture, but the theory by definition is designed to circumvent and eliminate God. At its core is the belief that no supernatural being ever intervened in the process.

What I cannot fathom is the connection of "Evolution" and "Sunday". I understand Resurrection Sunday (or "Easter" if you wish). That's a fully biblical, absolutely essential Sunday. I understand many of the other Sunday observances as well. They fit nicely in a biblical framework to be observed by believers. I actually question the "Abortion Sunday" concept, but I suppose since humans are in the image of God and we are to protect life, that might be acceptable. But in what sense is there any room for these two terms to be put together -- "A theory designed and defined to eliminate God" and "The Lord's Day"?

It's a bit ironic if you ask me. These liberal churches are standing over on their "more rational" side, beckoning to us "less rational" folk. "Come to the side of reason. Embrace science with us as we embrace religion with you." All the while the science they are embracing is denying at its core the religion they are embracing. And that, in their minds, is "more rational".

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Man Beats Dog

A local story here hit the newspaper. It wasn't a remarkable story, to tell the truth. A man was arrested for beating his dog. Okay, fine. Not a nice thing to do. Also not horribly unheard of. The story went on, however, to explain that when the police showed to cite him for the action, he threatened to kill a neighbor. That's bad. When the police went to arrest him for it, he fought them. So now the story is that a man who beat his dog was arrested for aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.

As I said, the story was newsworthy, but not particularly remarkable. What I did find remarkable was the response to the story. I talked to several people about it, and their response was the same. And the story was on the Internet complete with comments, and their response was the same: "How awful that someone would beat his dog!"

Where have we come to in this society? No one is upset that he threatened his neighbor. No one is outraged that he resisted arrest. No one is particularly concerned about disorderly conduct. What is really, really upsetting is that this man hit his dog.

Perhaps I'm too simplistic. Or maybe I'm just out of touch with reality. I am not in favor of people abusing animals. As Christians, we believe that we are to reflect the character of God to the world, and that includes to the world of nature around us. We are supposed to take care of it. All well and good. We're in agreement. But there is a sharp, biblical dividing line between animals and Man in Scripture. Animals should be taken care of, but Man is "in the image of God" and requires special care above and beyond anything offered to animals. We are allowed to kill animals to eat, but we are not allowed to kill people. Killing an animal is not murder; killing a person is. So why is it that people are outraged at the treatment of the animal, but not at the treatment of the people? (Note: Although the perpetrator hit him, the dog was not injured.)

This shift in society's thinking about the elevated importance of nature over the decimated importance of humans is really troubling to me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Paul on Human Nature

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.", 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:9-18)
This passage, along with many others, is one of the reasons that Reformed theology holds that Man is "Totally Depraved." The argument is that natural Man is sinful at his core and is incapable of doing good. Of course, the passage causes many of us (me included) to pause. "Really? 'No one does good'? 'No one understands'? 'No one seeks for God'? What about all the people we've known who were good people? What about people we know -- maybe even ourselves -- who were seeking for God?"

The passage causes a dilemma. Either we can take it at face value, or we can find a reason to modify the face-value meaning to match our common experiences. The most prevalent approach, it seems to me, is to do the latter. Maybe Paul doesn't mean at all what he is expressing. Maybe he is not really intending to suggest such strong statements. The most common approach I've seen is just that: Paul is engaging in hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech where a person exaggerates to make a point. Before you leap on that, realize that the Bible itself engages in hyperbole. In Luke 8, the demoniac that Jesus freed proclaimed "throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him" (Luke 8:39). There is no real reason to think that this guy went door to door, to every single person on every single street telling them what Jesus did. The idea is intended to be an overstatement of the fact that he was just telling everyone he could find. Now, what if Luke engaged here in hyperbole? What if, in fact, the guy missed one or two. Would that nullify what is being said? Not really. What is being said was that the man went out and told everyone he could find. Imagine, for instance, that your child comes home from a birthday party. You ask, "Who was there?" and she answers, "Everybody!" Will you accuse her of lying because ... well ... you weren't there? No. You understand that she is saying that there were a lot of people there -- likely a lot more than she had thought there would be. If one person wasn't there, it doesn't change the intent.

That's the key. The intent.

So people read Paul's diatribe against people and assume hyperbole. Why might they do that? Well, the passage is largely quotes from Old Testament sources. He draws from Psalm 14:1-3. He draws from Psalm 5:9 and Psalm 140:3. He calls on Psalm 10:7 and Psalm 36:1. What do we know about the Psalms? Well, we know it's poetry. Poetry doesn't necessarily need to be literally correct. It is intended to convey an idea, not be taken word-for-word. So Paul is pulling out these passages from the Psalms to make a point. Hyperbole.

Remember, though, that the key is "intent." What is Paul's intent? His intent is stated at the beginning of the passage. "We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin." What follows are Paul's "proof texts". Now, what happens if Paul is engaging in hyperbole here? What if, in fact, he's exaggerating to make a point. Well, then, it is safe to assume that there actually are some who understand, some who seek for God, some who do good. That's the point we're trying to make, right? There are actually some who are worth something. There are actually some who are not under sin. Oh, wait, perhaps that won't work.

Perhaps we need to let the passage interpret itself rather than trying to interpret the passage from our experience. Perhaps, in fact, we ought to let the passage interpret our experience rather than the other way around. How would that look? It would say that our standards are skewed. What we consider righteous is not righteousness to God. What we consider good is not good to God. What we consider worthy is not worthy to God. Maybe ... just maybe our entire system of measuring this kind of thing is too loose. Maybe, just maybe, we're measuring "righteous" and "good" and "worthy" by standards that are far too low. If we allow this passage to interpret our experience, here's where we'd end up. Those things that we considered "righteous" and "good" and "worthy" are apparently not any of those things. Perhaps we, as fallen creatures, don't really know what "righteous" and "good" and "worthy" really are in God's eyes. In fact, that would suggest that we have desperately wicked hearts that have deceived us without our knowing it. Wait ... I've heard that somewhere before ...

The Bible keeps saying that Man is evil at his core. We don't do good. We hate God. If we are as bad as the Bible says we are, we are truly without hope without Divine Intervention. Enter what is perhaps my favorite phrase in all the Bible: "But God ..." (Eph. 2:4). Look it up. It's wonderful, especially in context. It is so much more wonderful if what the Bible says about us is true because it is so much bigger than our experience taught us.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

God's Method of Choosing

The other day I was listening to my local Christian radio call-in show and a caller asked, "Why did God choose Israel?" The host was somewhat baffled. I understood. Searching the pages of Scripture, you won't likely find anything that clearly says, "The reason God choose Israel out of every other nation on Earth was ..." It's not in there.

What is in there? I wanted to ask the question because I find that one of the most common complaints about Reformed theology is that "You Calvinists are arrogant because you consider yourself 'chosen by God'." Now, to me, given that God chose Israel and knowing the number of times that the New Testament refers to believers as "the chosen" or something very similar, I'm guessing that God has similar reasons today for choosing whom He chooses as He did when He chose Israel. So, what I'm really looking for is a biblical explanation about why God chooses whom He chooses.

Some of our hints are in the negative. What does that mean? That means that most of what we find from God on the topic are "I did not choose you because ..." In Deut. 7:7 God assures Israel that they were not chosen because they were a great people.
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples ...
By the same token, Paul assures us that God didn't choose Jacob because he was a good person.
And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad -- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call -- she was told, "The older will serve the younger" (Rom 9:10-12).
(Please note: If you try to say that God chose Jacob over Esau because He knew that Jacob would eventually choose to follow Him, you've simply negated the point. Paul is making the point that it was not based on their works, either past or future. He makes this certain in the next few verses when he says, "So then it depends not on human will or effort, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16).)

These two hints tell us reasons that we can discard as to why God chooses whom He chooses. It is not because of what the chosen do, have done, or will do. It's not because they are more lovable, more capable, smarter, better looking (well, perhaps in my case ... no, definitely not), or superior in any way. One other "negative" affirmation of this is actually somewhat of a slap in the face to that concept.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Paul affirms that God chooses the foolish, weak, ignoble people. God's selection, according to Paul, seems to be the low and despised. God doesn't choose whom He chooses because they're worthy of being chosen. That seems to be the message of the negative affirmations.

There is more information, however, in each of the passages I've cited. In Deuteronomy He goes on to say, "... but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:8). God chose Israel because God chose Israel. He chose to love Israel. He chose to make promises to Abraham and chose to keep them. God chose Israel because He wanted to. The 1 Corinthians passage states clearly why God chooses "losers": "so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." Perhaps the passage in Romans 9 gives the best answer as to why God chooses whom God chooses. Jacob was chosen over Esau, it says, "in order that God's purpose of election might continue."

I suppose you might be able to find Calvinists who are arrogant. No doubt. But these are ignorant Calvinists. They aren't aware that they are classified as weak, foolish, low folks not worthy of being chosen. There is, at the bottom, only one reason that God chooses whom He chooses, and it doesn't include, nor does it have any room for, "I'm better." It is always and only in order that God's purposes may stand. What purpose? That God be glorified. God chose the loser nation of Israel and chooses people today to be His own based not on our value but His purpose and His glory. I'm happy that He chose me, but that gives me no room for boasting ... which, oh, by the way, was His intent, wasn't it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Father of Lies

I thought I wrote about this some time ago, but in reviewing my past stuff, apparently I only thought I did. Well, stop me if you've heard this ...

Everyone knows that it's a sin to lie. It's abundantly clear. No one doubts it. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exo. 20:16). There it is, plain as day. What else do we know about lying? Well, we know that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44-45). We know that all men are liars (Psa. 116:11). We know that liars don't go to heaven (Rev. 21:8). And we know that lying makes your pants burn. No, wait, that's just a kids' saying. Strike that.

What is a lie? Most people consider it "not telling the truth", but we all know it's really much broader than that. You can lie by not saying anything. You can lie by telling the truth. "Really, Dad, my teacher didn't appear to be drunk in class ... today." The inference is clear: The teacher has been drunk in the past. Conversely, there are things that are not lies that fall in the category of "not telling the truth". For instance, when Jesus said, "She is asleep" about the little dead girl, was that an attempt to deceive? No. Death is a permanent transition from consciousness of this world to the next. Sleep is a temporary departure from this consciousness. She was only temporarily away. In fact, "sleep" was a common euphemism in Scripture to describe the dead because it wasn't the end. Some have said, for instance, that President Bush lied to us about Iraq. Did he lie? Was his aim to mislead us? Or was he operating on faulty information which he passed on to us? You see, if I tell you something as true that I believe is true, you may receive faulty information if it's actually false, but I did not intend to mislead you.

That, then, is my standard definition of a lie. Any attempt a person makes by word or lack of word, by silence or by action, to deceive someone would be a lie. Accidental misinformation is not a lie; it's a mistake. Truthful information intended to deceive someone into a faulty conclusion isn't the truth; it's a lie.

And we know that all lies are sins and all liars go to Hell. (Well, we can be forgiven, sure, but you know what I mean.)

I suppose, however, that when I said "No one doubts it", I wasn't completely honest. I have my doubts. I understand that bearing false witness is a direct violation of the Ten Commandments. But are all lies "bearing false witness"? I know that Satan is the father of lies, but are all lies from Satan? I know that all men are liars, but are all lies sin? I'm having a little trouble with this. (Yeah, like anyone who reads this blog with any regularity would be surprised, right?)

You see, I have too many biblical examples of lies that were commended rather than condemned to make a blanket statement. You can look at the midwives of Israel in Egypt (Exo. 1:15-21). They were commanded by the Pharaoh to kill all male children at birth. They refused to do it. Then they lied to the Pharaoh about it. Exodus says, "So God was good to the midwives" (Exo. 1:20). "So" indicates a cause and effect. Because they saved the male children and lied to Pharaoh, God was good to them. If it had intended to say, "God was good to the midwives in spite of their lies," the author might have prefaced the sentence with "but". He didn't. How about Rahab? Rahab hid the spies and lied about them (Josh. 2:1-20). Her lie saved their lives and, in return, they saved hers. So important was she that she is listed in Hebrews in the extremely exclusive faith chapter (Heb. 11:31). Now, maybe you think I'm mincing words or finding excuses. Okay. Let's look at another one, where we'll find a real catch to the idea that all lies are sin from Satan.

In 1 Sam. 16 we find the story of Samuel the prophet being sent to anoint David as the replacement for King Saul. In 1 Sam. 16:1, God tells Samuel to go. In verse 2, Samuel balks at the command. "How can I go? When Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And look at God's response: "Lie to Saul." Now, you might argue that it's not an actual lie. He told Samuel to "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.'" Fine. And Samuel did take a heifer with him and told the town elders that he was there to sacrifice to the Lord. But it was not the reason Samuel was there. It was an attempt to mislead. Sprinkling the truth in the midst of an attempt to mislead isn't any less a lie. (Note: If you read through the passage, there never is any reference to any actual sacrifice being carried out in Samuel's visit to Bethlehem.)

Now we have a problem. You can squirm about if you want, but if your teen tells you "I'm going to the library to do my homework" and, after visiting the library for a short time, goes to the movies without your permission, you'd call that a lie.

Other people will call up the Nazi events. Christians hid Jews from the Nazis and lied about it. (Come on. Some told fabrications, and others attempted to deceive the Nazis by various actions. In either case, it is an attempt to deceive -- a lie.) However, to me, debating the morality of lying to Nazis about hiding Jews is an experiential argument, not a biblical one. It says, "What do you feel is right?", not "What is right?" However, when we have God commanding Samuel to deceive Saul, and we know that God cannot sin, I think we have a valid reason to question the position that all lies are sin ... or maybe to question that all deceit is a lie.

I notice something in the lies in the Bible that are commended. In every case, the lie was not intended to benefit the liar or to harm the one to whom the lie was given. Perhaps it could be argued that Samuel's lie was intended to protect Samuel, but 1) he didn't come up with the idea, and 2) he was told to do it by God for the purpose of obeying God. Since 99% or our lies are intended to shield us from consequences or obtain for ourselves some benefit, I would suggest that most of our lies do not line up with the biblical ones. And what does the command actually say? "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exo. 20:16). Notice that it doesn't say "for." It says, "against." Clearly the command is to refrain from telling an untruth that is intended to harm your neighbor.

If you think I'm being unfair or dogmatic (in the wrong direction) here, let me know. I'm not completely convinced of anything at all on this topic. It's just that I'm having a very hard time taking a "never lie" stand when liars in the Bible are commended, commanded, and blessed by God. Maybe not everything is as black and white as we'd like to think it is.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On Human Government

There are only a limited number of ways that we've come up with to govern a large group of people. There is the leadership of one person of the many. It comes under various names. It can be a dictatorship or a monarchy or even a theocracy (although in this case it's one person under a divinity). There are extremes, such as fascism on one end or totalitarianism on the other. There is leadership by a group of people. That could be an aristocracy or a parliament or a more complicated form like America's government which includes the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. There is democracy in which all the people govern all the people by means of a total vote. Or, we can give up control. That's called anarchy. Each form of government has its advantages and disadvantages. I'll leave you to pick out possible advantages to each (and good luck with anarchy).

As we progress in time, some of the concepts of government become more complex. Socialism and Communism, for instance, used to be interchangeable terms. Now they aren't quite synonymous. Socialism is the idea that the government manages the nation's wealth, distributing all things equally to all people. Communism is the idea that all people share all things equally -- without actual government. The way this has worked itself out, however, is to have the government own everything and distribute it ... which is actually socialism. Communism in its true form only occurs in small pockets in which a small number of people share all things in common, such as the early Church.

There are varying forms of each type of government and varying levels of success for each. Americans tend to think that democracy (which isn't quite accurate) is the best. (We're actually a Republic.) The difference between democracy and the American way is that democracy is run by the majority. In a true democracy, the minority has no protection. In a republic such as ours, there are safeguards built in to defend the concerns of the minority. In fact, in our system of government, there have been times when one person has been able to dictate to everyone else what they will do just so the rights of the one can be protected. That doesn't happen in a democracy.

The problem, of course, is that each form of government has pitfalls. We tend to forget that. In truth, each form of government has the very same pitfall. It is human-operated. You see, we can have a benevolent dictatorship in which a single, good leader can run a country well. There are biblical examples. King David and King Solomon were both benevolent kings. King David was a man after God's own heart, and the country thrived under him. But when King Solomon died, his sons did not share the same love for God, and the country split and eventually nearly vanished. Communism can work. We see that in the first Church. The primary point of the success of Communism, however, was the voluntary nature of it. When it is required, it becomes a burden. When it is voluntary, it is heroic. So it worked well when the Church was depending on God. When the Church came into her own power, it didn't work anymore. But the failure of both the benevolent dictatorship and Communism both had the same root cause -- humans.

While we arrogantly tend to think that democracy is the best form of government, we forget that democracy suffers the same peril that other forms suffer. This is why government isn't the answer to our problems. This is why our next president won't be our savior. The problem with democracy is that it is predicated on people being good people. Democracy works when the majority is not just concerned about self, but about others as well. American democracy -- our Republic -- was predicated on a high, religious morality. Think about it. Europeans came to this land and established themselves for one primary reason: religious freedom. We might laugh today at "Puritans" and their narrow moral outlook, but they and their moral influences were the original premise of our government. Voting themselves more money was unconscionable. Giving the government all power was immoral. (If you read the Constitution, you'll find that it is intended to limit government powers, not expand it.) Expecting the government to take care of them was unreasonable. The purpose of the government, from their perspective, was "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty." Somehow that has shifted to more power to the government and less liberty to the people. But, in truth, liberty to a people who cannot be trusted with it is dangerous. And that is the primary problem.

All forms of government have their good and bad points -- some more than others. The advantage, for instance, of a benevolent dictatorship is that it only requires that one person have high moral character. The disadvantage, of course, is maintaining a string of people with such character. We rarely seem to find more than one or two in a row. And we all know the problem that power tends to corrupt. The advantage of our form of government is that it is designed to look out for the minority. The disadvantage is that it leans too heavily on the morality of the majority. The next time you find yourself thinking that ours is the best government in the world, remember that it is still based on human beings. That means that it suffers from the same malady that human beings suffer -- a sin nature. And that, in the case of democracy, can be fatal.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Regeneration and Faith

One of the fundamental points of Reformed Theology is the position that regeneration precedes faith. One of the primary disagreements with Reformed Theology from the rest of Christianity is that regeneration precedes faith. It is the standard belief, as long as you're not Reformed, that anyone can come to faith and that faith is the prerequisite for regeneration.

Me? I can't figure this out at all. When I read, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:1-2), I take that to mean that people who are outside the faith are dead in sin. I don't want to be uncharitable, but it's really hard to be kind and still figure out what it means to be dead in sin if your not actually dead in any real sense whatsoever. "Well," I've been told, "it means that you're spiritually dead." Okay. I'm fine with that. And, of course, if we're right, "spiritually dead" would be supported in Scripture. Is it? I think so. Jesus said, "It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing" (John 6:63). Paul said, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:5-8). He told the Corinthians "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). That, really, is what is intended by "spiritually dead." It's not that the person has no knowledge or awareness of God (Rom. 1:19-20). It's that they are spiritually dead to the point of being unable to "accept the things of the Spirit of God" or "to understand them." (If you don't like the term "unable" in that last sentence, take it up with Paul. He's the one who said, "not able." He's the one who said they do not because they cannot.) So it would seem that the Bible is not silent on the topic. People who are "in the flesh", not yet born of God, "natural Man", are spiritually dead, incapable of (spiritual) profit, hostile to God, incapable of understanding the things of the Spirit.

So ... if you're spiritually dead, how do you have a spiritual event like faith? I don't understand the alternative. If you accept "spiritually dead" as the condition of human beings before being born again, in what possible sense can they set aside their hostility toward God, understand the the things of the Spirit of God, and come to faith (which is profit)? While both the Reformed and those who are not of the Reformed camp want to affirm the Bible as true, I cannot figure out how this one is even a point of contention. If humans are spiritually dead, it seems absolutely obvious that the first thing that has to happen before they can set aside their hostility, grasp the Gospel, and come to faith is that they first become spiritually alive. Thus, regeneration would have to precede faith.

Now, I don't know anyone on the Reformed side who would argue that there is a time delay. Everyone I've ever heard on the topic affirms what appears to be obvious. Faith follows immediately upon regeneration, so that the person experiencing it would never be able to tell that regeneration preceded faith. It's just the moment that "the light goes on", that "I finally got it."

But I'm not arrogant enough to believe I cannot be wrong. If someone can explain to me the mechanism by which a person can set aside their hostility to God, understand the things of the Spirit of God, and come to faith all before being regenerated and still agree with the Scriptures above, I'll be glad to listen. God knows I'm not perfect in my understanding. I'd like to know how flesh doesn't profit if it can actually provide the single thing required to be saved -- faith. I'd like to know how someone can place their trust in someone they naturally abhor. I'd like to know how someone can accept the things of the Spirit of God when Paul says they are "not able". If you can figure out how to make all that fit, I'm interested.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Out of the Mouths of Babes

"Out of the mouthes of babes." We've all heard that phrase. Did you know that it comes from Scripture? Even more astounding is exactly what it is that comes "out of the mouths of babes."
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, You have established strength because of Your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger (Psa. 8:1-2).
What did David mean? There are various opinions. Some say that God demonstrates His strength in the simple fact that children are born and grow up. They argue that God's provision of a mother's breast for a baby is demonstration of His provision for all of His own and serves to silence God's enemies. Others argue that it is a prophetic reference to the "babes in Christ," the first Apostles who turned the world upside down with the power of the Gospel. Jesus applied it to the children who were praising Him in the temple when the Pharisees protested (Matt. 21:16). And I suppose that it is a little of each of these: God's providence for His own, His portrayal of Himself in the glory of Nature, and the fact that little children often seem to have the least problem with trusting God.

"Out of the mouths of babes," then, is a reference to God establishing His glory and strength sufficient to silence His enemies. May we be the "mouths of babes" as we praise Him with all the saints.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Live and Let Live

We've all heard that line. It seems so right. It says, "Your business is your business and my business is my business." It seems so ... American, so tolerant. And we all know that tolerance is the highest value of the day. "Live and let live." It seems so noble, so reasonable, so wise.

Have you ever thought about how one way it is? First, the thought is almost always expressed when you are disagreeing with someone. What is it really expressing? "I want to do what I want to do." What is really being said? "You can do what you want as long as you don't interfere with what I want." In other words, if what I want to do is suggest that you do something different, then I am not allowed to do that. I can only do those things that you allow. That's not quite "Live and let live", is it?

But it goes farther. Think about it this way. You go to dinner with a friend who says, "Oh, let me tell you about my week." You reply, "Live and let live. Your business is your business and my business is my business." Instead of being reasonable, you're suddenly being unkind. Or what if you went for a hike here in the desert and your friend gets bitten by a rattlesnake? You say, "Your business is your business and my business is my business." Somehow that doesn't work, does it? From that perspective, "Live and let live" can be cruel at best and criminally negligent at worst.

"Live and let live" sounds right. It is the accepted thing. But what is really being said is two-fold. It says, "Don't interfere with my choices even if that interferes with your choices" while still requiring that you provide what they want. More accurately stated, it goes something like this: "I'll live my life the way I want to, and you live your life the way you want to as long as it doesn't interfere with what I want and as long as I don't want something from you." Somehow it doesn't seem quite so noble, reasonable, or wise anymore.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Supporting the Party

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt has offered Seven Reasons To Support The GOP's Nominee regardless of who it is. I'm guessing this is largely in response to James Dobson's remarks (over and over) that he would not vote at all if the options were either Clinton and Obama or McCain.

Hugh's "seven reasons" are simple and straightforward:
There are seven reasons for anyone to support the eventual nominee no matter who it is: The war and six Supreme Court justices over the age of 68.
I suppose I'm a little surprised to think that "the war" is such a fundamental issue (and obviously Hugh believes that the only viable possibility is to stay in it). But it's the Supreme Court justices that I find most amazing.

First, some of the more recent, bad appointments to the Supreme Court came from "good" presidents. Ronald Reagan installed Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy reaffirmed Roe v Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and supported gay rights in both Romer v. Evans (1996) and the more recent Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The senior George Bush appointed David Souter. He voted with Kennedy to reaffirm Roe v Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. So having a good president in office doesn't secure good justices. (Note: By "good justices" I mean "Supreme Court justices who will see things they way I do", whoever "I" is in that sentence. Generally speaking the "I" here is "conservatives".)

Worse, McCain has already stated that he has no intention of appointing the likes of another Alito. He has been quoted as suggesting he was "too conservative". Now, the fact that McCain denies the statement may be heartening, but it may be just another case of "say what they want to hear". Then there is the question of exactly how good of a Supreme Court justice nomination a good president could get through a Democrat-dominated Congress? And there is the problem of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform. Conservative justices went against McCain's reform; liberal justices supported it. Would McCain appoint a justice who would have the serious potential of overturning his own campaign finance reform?

There is another side to the question regarding voting for whomever the GOP puts up. One argument is that it is better to put a "less than good" president in office than a "clearly bad" president. Obviously there is no question, for instance, that a pro-abortion (sorry, pro-choice) president wouldn't be concerned about appointing a Supreme Court justice that is willing to uphold the murder of babies in the womb. That's bad. But I wonder about the other side. While I can clearly see that a bad president is bad, I question the wisdom of installing "the lesser of two evils." There is a tendency, if that happens, to move the thinking of the conservative side toward that "lesser evil." It goes something like this. "He's our guy, now, so we need to support him." And what was "bad" to us before he came into office becomes something that we support. It is the devolution of conservative values. It provides substantiation to views that we would have opposed. In the case of a "bad" president, we can stand back and say, "See? That's bad!" In the case of the "lesser evil", we don't quite have that luxury because we put them there.

So, which is worse? Is it worse to have an obviously bad president who will appoint obviously bad Supreme Court justices ... but will be quite distinct from us? Or is it worse to elect a president who isn't quite as bad, but whom we support to prevent the "bad one" from taking office, and who may or (likely) may not appoint any type of Supreme Court justice that would do us any good? I'm personally more concerned about the slide than the leap. And I don't see why anyone should conclude that "Christian" = "GOP". That doesn't seem to be an equation I find in my Bible.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Hidden Cost

Have you ever considered the cost of technology? No, I don't mean that it costs money? I mean the hidden costs. We spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out what effect drugs will have on human beings. We don't spend any time thinking about what effect technology will have on human beings.

Think about it. When you grab that iPod and stick those buds in your ear, do you think about what will happen if you plug that music directly into your head? I'm not talking about physical effects. I'm talking about the mental consequences. Or how about sitting down in front of that television set? What will the effects be from that? We just don't contemplate those things, do we?

For millennia, technological progress was achingly slow. Transportation, education, entertainment, farming, industry, it was all basically the same. A small advance here and a slight modification there, but little real change. Someone invents iron working and it makes a splash for a short time until everyone figures it out. Someone comes up with the idea of a chariot and it makes a difference for awhile, but then it's absorbed. Someone figures out how to print and the impact on education is large, but over time it is just normal. Fast forward to our time, and it seems as if technology is changing before we can assimilate the latest change. Computers are room size until, suddenly, they're able to fit on a desk top, and in less than a decade they're small enough to carry around. The time from shared telephone lines to a cellphone in every pocket is tiny. The way we listen to music has rapidly shifted from live to broadcast to recorded to digitized in no time at all. Entertainment was live only yesterday and in a half century it went to movie to TV to tape to disk. What was new to us yesterday is unheard of to kids today. Does anyone think about the effects of these technologies?

Look at television. In the 50's, when it first came out, the morality of the day was that divorce was bad and sex was for marriage. Enter television. As the "boob tube" gained viewers, Hollywood gained a voice. We thought of it as entertainment, but it cannot be denied that it was and continues to be propaganda. In less than a generation this electronic viewing machine has become a ubiquitous (Look that word up; it's everywhere) presence that has convinced nearly everyone that sex is a recreational pastime that has nothing to do with marriage and divorce is a given. The impact of the medium of television on children under the age of 5 is only now being discovered, negatively impacting their mental and physical development. It's true that television, by itself, isn't evil, but since Man is, by nature, hostile to God, it is just a fact that it will be used by humans to go against His desires. And we invite that into our homes.

How about music? It used to be that you had to have bulky equipment to listen to music. Technology miniaturized that and made it portable. Then they shrunk it further allowing you more and more music until you can now carry all you want in a pocket-sized container and you can listen non-stop. Our music, pumped directly into our ears without a break, tells us the world's morality. Listen enough and we just buy into it without even thinking about it. "Oh, no," you assure yourself, "I listen to a lot of Christian music." So ... do you ever evaluate that music? Or do you pump it in without thinking about it and assume that, because it's "Christian" it's good for you?

Then there are computers. There is little doubt that computer technology has shifted radically in an amazingly short time. And how good is that? It's a labor saver ... right? Perhaps. But studies indicate that American workers waste more time at work playing on their computers than they spend working. Then there is the problem of things like pornography. Someone came up with the idea of real-time video over the Internet, and it was a good idea, right? Sure, it's nice to be able to see friends and family who are far away. It's convenient for businesses to be able to use this technology in conferences. But now it's the favored way for women to perform sex acts in front of paying customers and for couples to "hook up for sex".

Technology is generally amoral. Unfortunately, in the hands of sinful humans, it will often be used for immoral means. Beyond morality, it seems as if we aren't too concerned about any long-term effects from the technology that we invite into our homes. Most of the changes in our society in the last 50 years are due to technology. We are more mobile, so families don't stay together like they used to. We have televisions so families don't have game night anymore. We have cell phones so, amazingly, families don't spend much time together anymore. In the words of a recent commercial, we suffer from "moral depletion" largely because our world is so much smaller. Everything has costs. Some of them are known. I think it's unwise to ignore costs because they're hidden. Technology is full of hidden costs.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is over (thankfully) and the votes are in. Of course, no one has one, but front runners are emerging. I find, however, that I'm strangely disengaged from it all. You see, I'm of the opinion that 1) a single president doesn't have the capacity to repair or destroy our country, and 2) government isn't the answer.

We've seen good and bad presidents come and go. We've seen noble leaders and foul leaders. We've seen leaders in times of peace and leaders in times of great upheaval. None of them seem to be able to make things all better in this country, and none of them seem to be able to make things intolerably bad in this country. Instead we find small shifts toward better or worse. I won't launch into comparisons of presidents to illustrate. That's your job to think about. (Hey, if I do all your thinking for you, what good are you?) In America in particular, the government is set up to limit the powers of any single person. Hillary may promise to fix the middle class, but can she actually do it? I heard her promise to create jobs and I thought, "How, exactly, does a President create jobs?" Obama may promise to fix the health care crisis, but can he actually do it? He hopes to install an 18 billion dollar education package, but he cannot do that alone. And I'm not focusing solely on the Democrats. All candidates make campaign promises that are intended to offer hope to the voters, but the truth is that they are all severely limited by a host of things as to what they can actually accomplish. It's very hard, given our Constitution and its form of government, to envision a president that solves our problems or destroys our nation. It just isn't going to happen.

Conversely, I am not a believer in the "Government is the solution to our problems" position. I know a lot of people think that is the case. They think that the government can solve the health care problems and the economic problems and the education problems. They think that government can fix the problems of the poor. I'm not one of those people. I think that the health care problems, for instance, are a complex set of circumstances that include factors of greedy health care, greedy health insurance companies, bad people doing bad things to themselves and others, and a variety of other situations not brought on by an institution, but by individuals. I think that throwing more money at education won't solve the problem that kids today aren't disciplined enough to learn and aren't interested in learning (as a couple of examples of the problems in education). Our economics are a product of people, not the government. It is how we spend. It is how we try to gather riches. It is how we accumulate debt. As an example, get-rich-quick scams are a problem because of individuals and their desire for quick riches, not because of poor government control or intervention. And the poor we have always had with us. The government doesn't make them poor, nor can it make them no longer poor.

I'm disheartened at times by the lack of representation I get in our government. I'm saddened by the moves I see toward socialism. I'm disappointed with those in government who claim to agree with me but go against what we agreed on. But I don't think that a single person can fix those problems nor can they destroy our country. What I do see is that America is headed in the wrong direction. We are abandoning all the moral structures that were necessary to maintain democracy. We are undercutting family by definition and exorcising the religious perspectives that give us moral clarity. We are moving away from every value that made America strong. As I see it, there are only two possibilities for this country. Either we need to have a major, national revival, or God needs to exercise His right to temporal judgment of a nation.

I'm glad "Super Tuesday" is over. It seems like a lot of hoopla without a lot of results. I voted, and I will continue to vote, but I don't see a lot of reasons to think that, in the final analysis, the next president will make anything fundamentally better or worse. The real need for change is in the people of this country. And that, in the final analysis, is God's job. We need a revival. We need the unmitigated Gospel. We need another Great Awakening. I think that's where I should be spending more of my time and efforts.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Non-Christian Baptists

The nasty folks from Fred Phelps' group (mistakenly referred to as "Westboro Baptist Church", which is neither "Baptist" nor "Church") made the news again. They have assured the world that Heath Ledger died and went to Hell because of his role in Brokeback Mountain. Thanks for that, Fred. Your loud, rude misrepresentations of biblical truth are a constant embarrassment to real Christians everywhere.

Saying, "They're wrong", however, isn't an argument. We need to explain how and why they're wrong. Maybe you already know it, but the exercise is a good one. So, where do they stand and why is it not biblical?

First is the argument that Heath Ledger died because he did a movie on "that abomination, sodomy." Interesting, but questionable. It's questionable because there was an entire cast involved in that movie that is still living. It's questionable because people die every day who did not participate in such things. I would want to ask the pastor if anyone in his church has ever died, and, if so, what abomination they committed. And if death was defined as Divine Retribution, in what possible sense could Paul mean, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)? Unless Fred is suggesting that he has some special input from God that says that this person died as judgment and that person died as blessing, perhaps he ought to be far more cautious in the conclusions to which he leaps.

Second, Mr. Phelps assured the interviewer that his viewpoint was definitely the Christian viewpoint. The only way to come to any other conclusion, he assured her, was to ignore the Bible. Anyone who loved and read the Bible would clearly agree with him. The arrogance is astounding. What kind of conspiracy must there be that would cause all other Christians who read and love the Bible to disagree with this misguided pastor? If it is true that true Christians all agree on this, then there is not likely more than a few hundred true Christians on the face of the Earth. On the other hand we find an overwhelming agreement among Christians who share a love for the Word that Fred is horribly wrong. How is that possible? Well, it would seem likely that Fred is wrong.

One of the primary problems with Fred's view is this: "Bad things happen to bad people." We like that idea. It seems just. It seems right. But it also is absolutely wrong. Read through the Psalms to find a number of complaints about why it is that the wicked prosper. Too often it seems like the "bad" just get the breaks while the good do not. On the other hand, Scripture promises the people of God that they will suffer. It is even described as a gift (Phil. 1:29; James 1:2-4). And it is a common question, even in the world, to ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" because everyone knows that's the case. It seems, far from the Phelps Philosophy, that instead of there being a correlation between "bad things" and "bad people", we find that unpleasant events from the painful to the fatal happen to both bad people as well as God's people. Christ assured His disciples that we cannot assume, because someone has something unpleasant going on, that there is sin involved (John 9:1-3).

Rest assured. For these reasons and more, the views of Fred Phelps and his people are not the views of the Bible or Christianity. When someone complains about it, feel free to agree. They're wrong, directly opposing the Bible they claim to love.