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Hanging on to Faith, But Not Liking It

Rachel Held Evans appears to be toying with the notion of dropping the label of “Christian” altogether as she writes with tortured keystrokes:

I am hanging by the tips of sweaty fingers on this ledge of faith, wondering if letting go will bring freedom or death. I’ve hung on before—through the science wars, the gender wars, the Christmas wars, the culture wars—but I’m just so tired of fighting, so tired of feeling out of place. (source)

What’s the cause of this?

The Chik-fil-A controversy.

Rachel, like most in the liberal Christianity camp, rejects the notion that homosexuality is a sin.  She even says it is a “right” that we conservatives aim to deny:

I too believe marriage is a civil right in this country, and I too get frustrated when Christians appeal to their faith  to withhold this right from their neighbors. (source)

Rachel is clearly agonizing over her fellow Christians with the issue of homosexual marriage.  She not only wants to stop praying, but she thinks it might be better for some to be separated from grace:

Suddenly, my religion is alien to me—small, petty, reactive.  My faith has lost its bearings. I don’t feel like praying anymore, not even for the mom who begged me to pray for her gay son who vowed yesterday never to return to church again.

Can I blame him?  Perhaps it is better if he stays away. (source)

I want to seize just a moment on one statement, which I think is the key to Rachel’s problem: “My faith has lost its bearings.”

Yes, it has.  Now let’s examine why that’s the case.

Nick Peters argues, in part, that homosexuality isn’t part of special revelation (the Bible), but a part of general revelation:

. . . [I]n Leviticus 18 and 20, the verses following the list of sins tells us that it is for committing these sins that other nations are being cast out. Other nations were never punished for not following the dietary restrictions or wearing mixed fabrics. Those were practices that set Israel apart from the other nations as a sign they were in covenant with God. The other nations were commanded by Israel to live moral lives, but they were never commanded to follow Jewish practices. Jews could be condemned for trading with other nations on the Sabbath, but the other nations were not condemned for working on the Sabbath.

Note also that this places homosexuality in the category of general revelation. Other nations were cast out because of doing things that we can say that they should have known better. It would not make sense for God to punish a people when they could not have known that they were doing anything wrong. Since this is in general revelation then, you don’t need the Bible. (source)

So that means if you never pick up a Bible, you should still understand that homosexuality violates the natural order of things  (see Dave Armstrong and Jennifer Fulwiler for more on this “natural order” argument).  If you don’t see a violation of the natural order, then we have a bigger problem.

Why?

In committing any sin, you are essentially suppressing the truth of God through unrighteousness (Rom 1:18).  And acting on such evil inclinations without a second thought is a judgment from God:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom 1:26-32)

Rachel gives approval to those who practice homosexuality, campaigning for their right to legally marry.

Well, no wonder her faith has lost its ground!

She has suppressed the natural law through unrighteous support of sin.  Therefore, God is giving her over to these desires — and her faith is slipping because she feels the distance.

There are only two ways to end her cycles of uncertainty.  She can let go of the cliff, and therefore fall into the abyss.  Or, she can recommit to understanding God in his glory, on his terms (even the decrees she doesn’t like), thus hauling herself back onto the safety of the ledge.

Either option will settle her mind, but only one leads to life.  And it’s easier to let go rather than muster the strength to climb back up (Mt 7:13-14).

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 3

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #3 embodies two typical atheist objections to Christianity, which I’ve answered in my reply to God is Imaginary here and here. DGS asks:

If you believe your God has phenomenal cosmic power, and is able to sustain the universe, why do you have savings accounts, pension plans, insurance, college funds, stock portfolios and locks? Just in case?

DGS links to his previous article on that topic, which I will now specifically address. The post talks about how a church had armed guards in place, and one managed to halt a tragedy in progress (see this news item).

DGS says that when churches put things like this place, they are not acting as if God exists. Kind of like the sarcastic picture on the right. More to the point:

Stores and business put locks on doors. We would say that is wise of them to do so. But is a Christian demonstrating a lack of faith by doing the same thing the world does?

I don’t think that the Christian is. I think that the Christian is displaying good stewardship. More on that in a minute; first, let’s take a look at the so-called biblical support that DGS feels refutes some possible counterarguments.

Christians might say we aren’t called to be stupid. To that, DGS says:

Every church I have ever attended had locks on the door. Every church I attended in the past two decades also has an alarm system.

If God was in control—why would there need to be locks? Oh, we can claim God doesn’t want us to be stupid, and we should use common sense and wisdom, yet this flies in the face of 1 Cor. 1:20-21 which says the wisdom of the world is foolishness.

First Corinthians 1:20-21 is part of a larger argument (1:18-2:16) and isn’t a call to reject all wisdom of the world. It is an argument for accepting Jesus as Messiah despite the fact that he died the most shameful and disgraceful death that a person could die. In the ANE, a crucifixion all but guaranteed a type of public humiliation that we have no equivalent for in the modern world: everything the crucifixion victim did and everyone he was related to suffered disgrace, humiliation, and was ostracized from society. Paul was arguing that God often uses foolishness to shame the wise and worldly. Therefore, I don’t find that this verse particularly supports DGS’s argument that churches shouldn’t need door locks if the faithful who worshiped there truly trusted God.

Just what is God’s wisdom on protecting earthly things, then? Jesus very often told parables where a rich landowner trusts possessions to a steward (usually a servant of some sort). The rich landowner represents God, and the servants (stewards) represented humans. Using this imagery, Jesus is teaching us to be good stewards. Ultimately, everything belongs to God, and he will ask for it back some day. Better to return in better condition than we found it, for God won’t accept it in the same condition (and that probably means he will be outraged if it is worse condition!).

The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is a good illustration. Here, a landowner goes on a journey and entrusts talents to three different servants (v. 15). The first two invest the money wisely and return the original talents with dividends to the landowner (vv. 20-23). The third, however, buried his and thus was only able to return the original talent (vv. 24-25). This enraged the landowner. He told the servant he should have at least put the talent in the bank, that way at least it would have accumulated interest (v. 27).

The point is that God expects us to be good stewards of what he has given us–and it all comes from him, the spiritual (Eph 1:3-4) and the material (Jms 1:17) blessings. In order to fulfill that calling, we must take measures to protect what God has given us; not burying it like the slothful servant in the Parable of the Talents, but locking the door and alarming the building.

Accidents do happen, and therefore the church should take an insurance policy out for fire, theft, or other contingencies. Could the God of the universe stop a fire from hitting a church? Of course he could! But trials come (Jms 1:2-4), and it is through those trials that our faith is made stronger (Jms 1:12). We are just fools if we don’t think it could happen to us.

This isn’t showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect us, but is showing our obedience to him in safeguarding what he gave rightfully to us to use. We are the servants who are investing our talents and paying God back the original plus dividends.

Next:

Ever attend a church which has a building project? Perhaps needs a new roof? The same thing—a chart is put up in the lobby in the form of a thermometer, with each “goal” of contribution being a mark, and as the money comes in from the members, it is slowly filled in with red. Does the church say, “We need a new roof—don’t worry—God will provide”? Nope. The church says, “We need a new roof. Let us pray, and pass the plate.”

While the thermometer picture is overused, that’s not really the point here. The tithe is frequently brought up as a lack of faith in God. In reality, the tithe is a test. It is often said that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). This is true, and we (as Christians) aren’t giving 10% compulsively, under duress or penalty of hell. Rather, we are giving as an act of worship some of which God has given us so that the wealth can be spread. And we don’t have to give 10%; we may give what our hearts (and budgets) allow, proportionate to the wealth God has given us. We could give less, or (better) we could give more.

I’m not Pat Robertson or Paula White. I am not suggesting that giving more than 10% will give you yet more wealth in return. That isn’t promised anywhere in the Bible. Instead, I want to unequivocally say that I believe that the tithe isn’t limited to 10%, nor is it a 10% minimum. Giving what we can afford is the mark of responsible stewardship. This isn’t to reap a material reward, but to reap a spiritual one.

Churches do more than just build buildings: they fund missionaries and assist needy families in the area. All of that is made possible by the tithing of the faithful.

Yes, churches also pay bills and staff members’ salaries out of that tithe, but those are necessary and worthy expenses. The bills enable the building to have heat, running water, and other amenities that a person would expect from a quasi-public building. Which could work to bring in people, and in some cases (as is egregiously demonstrated in a TV spot for a church local to me) keep people coming. (My wife and I were both struck by this TV ad, which asks members of that church why they come to services. Only one of the half-dozen or so interviewees mentioned Jesus. One touted the fact that the church has a rock-climbing wall!)

As for staff salaries, the staff members are domestic missionaries, charged by God with spreading the gospel. Even Paul agrees that paying a church minister is a worthy use of the tithe (1 Cor 9:1-14; yet he himself does not by choice vv. 15-18).

While DGS sees health insurance and requests for tithe money as faltering on the part of the faithful, I believe that both are examples of the faithful’s obedience to God. We give tithes not out of compulsion or fear of hellfire and damnation, but out of love for God–to see the work of the gospel, spread by faithful ministers, continue to touch lives in our local community and abroad. Insurance of all sorts protect what we have, showing that we are good stewards in preparing for the inevitable destruction of earthly goods.

Much more could be said about stewardship. It is a lifestyle, not a formula for managing money. Time, talents (like singing, not the money in the above parable)–everything that is a gift from God should be used for his glory, proportionate with what the Christian can give. This is true obedience, not cowering in fear and lack of faith.

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 2

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

Question #2:

What’s your source?

DGS links to this article, and the conversation that ensued when DGS asked the blog author what his source was for Papias.

First, a little background. There is some serious contention about the authorship of the Gospels from critics of Christianity (and only critics of Christianity; neutral scholars never raise questions of this sort). They say we can’t trust the Gospels since they were authored anonymously. Leaving aside the issue of the trustworthiness of anonymous sources (it does not follow that a source is untrustworthy solely because it is authored anonymously; that is grossly untrue and totally ludicrous to even raise as an objection–a work should be judged on its own merits and not dismissed because we don’t know the authorship), are the Gospels really anonymous? Read the rest of this entry

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask

Through Dave Armstrong, I’ve found an ex-Christian atheist who goes by DaGoodS (I’ll call him DGS). He runs a blog discussing (naive) critiques of his former faith (don’t all ex-Christian atheists?) called Thoughts from a Sandwich.

Scanning his blog, I discovered this entry from November of last year. He has picked up a book called The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. His description is apt:

The author referred to a survey where 10,000 Christians were asked, “What Questions do you find difficult to answer?” and compiled a list of the top ten; the author kindly provides Christian responses.

DGS doesn’t think that the questions in the book are very good, and I’m also guessing that he finds the answers lacking as well.

Since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians allegedly can’t answer, I thought I’d take a shot at DGS’s list. Starting today, I’ll take a poke at two questions per day, posting one first thing in the morning and one in the late afternoon.

I’m hoping we can learn something from each other. Read the rest of this entry

Dave Armstrong Nails the Difference Between Denominations

In a conversation with atheist DaGoodS, Dave Armstrong hit a very important truth. DaGoodS highlighted a typical atheist talking point:

Considering one Christian group tells me “that particular Christian group” is wrong, yet “that particular Christian group” tells me the first Christian Group is wrong, and they ALL agree the Mormon Christian group is wrong. The Calvinists tell me the non-Calvinist group is wrong; the Protestants tell me the Catholic group is wrong. The Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Charismatics…all bickering and fighting as to who the “correct” group of Christians must be.

Every apologist who has engaged with atheists has heard this again and again. Christians have 100 million denominations, each says that the all of the others are wrong, so if you all can’t decide who’s right, how am I supposed to? Dave responds, correctly:

Yes, that is a real problem, and a major reason I am Catholic, but that is not your immediate issue. That comes later. Right now you need to even be convinced of matters that all these groups (apart from rank heretics like the Mormons who reject historic Christianity) hold in common: does God exist; Who Jesus was, etc. First things first.

But in passing, note that Catholics do not claim to be the sole true or correct group. We claim to be the fullness of Christianity, but we don’t deny for a second that other Christians possess large amounts of Christian truth as well. We’re not like the anti-Catholic Protestants who ridiculously deny that we are Christians at all.

And that’s the size of it. Unless they are heretical, all groups of Christianity, from Calvinist to Arminian, from cessationalist to charismatic, all believe in the deity of Christ, the existence of God as a Trinity, and that salvation comes by faith alone in the finished work of the Cross. I believe Dave could attest to everything that I just said.

The atheist has to start there. He has to decide if he believes in God, if Jesus is God Incarnate, and then what to do with that before he can get into doctrinal entanglements. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who urged us to keep our doctrinal entanglements private, as far out of the public view as we can.

As Promised . . .

In this post, I revised my previously negative opinion of Dave Armstrong and his ministry. In short, after following Dave’s blog for some time, I am now of the opinion that he is doing Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, a favor. He has started his promised series of posts on Christianity and its relationship to science, which I will be following with great interest.

Dave commented on my post:

I bear you no ill will at all and am happy to accept your apology. In fact, as soon as I can I’ll remove some old papers where we clashed, as a little “thank you” and reciprocal act.

To which I replied that I would also remove posts where we clashed. To that end, I did my best to follow through. I searched my blog for “Dave Armstrong” and either removed or revised the posts that resulted. There were posts specifically focusing on Dave. I removed them if they weren’t reasonable critiques or if they made fun of him. I revised posts that took unnecessary swipes at Dave, e.g. when he wasn’t the topic under consideration but I utilized an opportunity to make fun of him.

If I discover any other instances, I will promptly remove or revise those as well.

I pray that Dave’s ministry will continue to touch lives and advance the cause of God’s Kingdom on earth. We may have different ideologies, but I know that Dave and I have that as a common goal. Bickering among ourselves serves no purpose.