Agreeing with Presbyterians

Many of my heroes of the faith, both past and present, are Presbyterians. I have learned a lot from them, and have a tremendous amount of respect for them. That said, I still think they are wrong on a few things, and while that particular blog may come at a later date, I think it’s important to focus on the subject of baptism in the light of where I believe we can both agree.

As a background, I grew up in the Pentecostal denomination, and so my understanding of baptism was largely shaped by that. While I still find believer’s baptism to be the correct position, I think it looks a bit differently, even though I have poorly described it in the past. I have, even recently, explained baptism as a public demonstration of a private commitment. While that’s somewhat true, it also puts all the focus on me. In reality, the focus is on God, just like all of the Christian life.

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

- 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith 29.1

Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

- Westminster Confession of Faith 28.1

With the more controversial section highlighted, the bulk of both confessions is the same. (Yeah, I won’t talk about the ordinance/sacrament thing, so pipe down!) The focus is on the work of the Triune God. The texts used to support the LBCF version are fairly non-controversial as well. Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; and Romans 6:4. So while there is important discussion to be had on where we disagree, and why, I think it’s also important to point out that both sides are focusing on God when talking about it. Hopefully this is something I can better articulate in future discussions.

Also, if you want the very best arguments for and against infant baptism, you need to look at this article. Nobody can argue with pictures.

SDG

Life With Boxes: A Short Story

(The following are stages in a fictional life of someone as he observes humanity.)

The second I’m born, a man with a mask takes me and cuts my lifeline. I try to tell him how important it is, but he doesn’t understand me. As he’s taking me to a room to get cleaned off, I notice a glowing box on the wall. This place is filled with strange things, and it makes me miss home.

Once I’m clean and wrapped up, I go back and am handed to the person lying on the bed. She seems somehow familiar to me. There’s a man who seems to be very interested in me standing nearby. He’s holding a smaller glowing box next to me. I wonder what these things are?

I wake up in a different place, still being held by my mother while my father is sitting next to the bed. There is a parade of people that come in with gifts, and almost all of them take out glowing boxes and hold them up toward me. Only the very old do not have them. I wonder if there’s a connection?

We go to my parent’s home. It is big, and there are glowing boxes of all sizes around the place. These must be very important, but I don’t know what they do yet.

Today my father is very upset. It seems that he has lost his box, and is frantically searching for it. He actually starts yelling because he cannot find it. It seems like he may be physically harmed if he does not find it. I do not want him to be hurt, so I hope he finds it. Since only the very old people do not have boxes, perhaps there is a connection between getting old and dying, and not having a box. My mother uses her box to help him find his. I wonder what all the fuss is about?

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As I meet kids my own age as I start school, I’m amazed to find out that they have boxes too. They mostly use them to play games, and some of them look very different from the boxes that grownups have. Perhaps there are different boxes for different ages. I do not have one yet, because I am still unsure about them.

I have noticed that the rooms in my house where people most often gather are centered around the bigger boxes. Whenever it lights up, different things are displayed, and people watch it constantly. I’m told that they are real people doing those things, so I try to talk to them. This is apparently funny to my parents, and they explain that we can’t interact with them through the box. They seem like fake people to me, even though I’m repeatedly told they are real people, sometimes pretending to be other people, and other times playing sports.

Today I made a terrifying realization. I was shown pictures and videos of myself on a box. I do not understand. I remember the events, and it certainly looks like me and what I was experiencing, but something is missing. I don’t know what the difference is, but I know enough to not try and ask about it. I don’t want to be laughed at again. I do not like that they took some of me and put it on the boxes.

There are things on shelves that apparently are very old versions of boxes, or something. Nobody touches them, so I assume they are there for decoration.

Today I am taken with my parents to the largest box I have ever seen. There are many people with us, and we sit for a very long time. It is very loud, and people laugh,cry, and even yell things at the fake people on the box. I wonder why my parents do not laugh at them? I do not understand why people seem to care so much about fake people. Or perhaps it is the boxes that they care about, or that the boxes create the fake people. I wonder what all the fuss is about?

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As I go through school, I am often thought of as being strange because I do not have a box. People seem very annoyed that they cannot get in touch with me whenever they want to. It is thought rude of me to tell them when and where they can meet up with me. There is something strange about that.

It does take me longer to complete assignments than my friends, because I don’t use the boxes. Interestingly, I seem to retain the information longer. I do not know if there is a connection, but if there is, I would prefer to do harder work to get longer benefits.

Some boxes seem to be used primarily to listen to music. In order to not interrupt others, there are strings which connect to our ears from the box. I find it interesting that in order to charge boxes, you have to plug them into the outlets in the walls, and to enjoy boxes, sometimes you have to plug the boxes into yourself.

I do not often enjoy watching movies, mainly because I distrust the boxes and the fake people that live there. However, there is one movie that I have found to be fascinating. I wonder if this is an attempt at describing the real life. Perhaps this is art imitating life, as they say. If this is true, than we need someone to rescue us from the fake world, and bring us to the real world. We need to be unplugged. I hope there are no boxes in the real world. I still don’t know what all the fuss is about.

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I remember reading somewhere of a story in a magical world where children enter it, and live entire lives and fight battles. There is a talking lion that is somewhat of a hero, or at least a rescuer. I believe they have made a movie about it as well. The interesting part for me is that there seem to be quite a few parallels to the movie I watched a few years ago. The lion mentions that when they leave the fake land, they will be able to find him in their real world, though he goes by a different name. I wonder if there is some truth to this?

People seem very distracted by their boxes. I can hardly have a conversation with someone without their box lighting up or vibrating or making noise, only to have them interrupt what we were talking about to check it. There is somewhat of a growing concern about this tendency, but it seems to concern people for a few minutes only, and then nothing changes.

The boxes keep getting both bigger and smaller. People now have boxes on their wrists the size of watches, and some on their face the size of glasses. The bigger ones are generally for your living room, to simulate the experience of going to the theater for the gigantic boxes. I’m not entirely sure why people want to invite others over, only to watch the box, and then talk about what the fake people did on the box. I feel like it would be better to just talk to the people and get to know them better. But I am in the minority on the whole situation. I do not think any of the fuss is worth it.

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I am nearing the end of my life, and thankfully the doctors tell me that I will not need to be connected to any boxes because I am in good health. I have decided that I want to be cremated, though my reasons are somewhat strange. I have been to several funerals in my lifetime, and I notice that we dress the dead people in their best clothes, put makeup on them to make them seem alive, and then place them in something shaped like a box. Then lots of people come to see the once-person in the box. An eerie parallel to the spectacle of the theater, where people go to see the fake people dress up and do other things. Why must our lives center so much around those boxes?

I believe that the things in the other movies are actually true. There is somewhat of a fake world and a real world, and that people need to be rescued from one to the other. Also, we need to find the rescuer in our world, and I believe that I have found Him, though He is known by a different name here. They made a movie on that, too.

I believe that ultimately, there is nothing inherently wrong with the boxes, even though I do not choose to have them. I think the problem is that the things you own end up owning you, and therefore we become controlled by the boxes, and whoever controls the boxes on the content side. I think people need to be very careful about what they do with their boxes. There needs to be more fuss about that.

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Now that I have died, I am in a very different world. A better world. There are no boxes here. It would appear that the fuss was all for nothing.

Where are You, Christmas?

The Grinch is my favorite Christmas movie, and actually, it might be one of the only ones I like. One of the songs in the movie is where I get the blog title from, and basically it’s a song about the relationship between a child and her perception of the force from Star Wars. That part isn’t super important, but rather a segue into this here blog.

I was visiting family for Thanksgiving, and after acquiring a Christmas tree on the day after, there was a lot of decorating going on. I was content to sit and watch the tree being decorated, and my sister made the observation that she thought I’d lost my awe of Christmas. As I’ve taken some time to reflect on this, I think she may be right, at least in some ways. It’s not simply that Christmas is all commercialized into an abomination, either. Upon further reflection, I’ve also lost my awe with how much of Christendom seems to celebrate Christmas, as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christmas eve services (I’m going to one in a couple hours) or Christmas carols (I’ve enjoyed them more this year than in the past). It seems that people celebrate Christ in the same way that the world celebrates Santa. It’s cute, for children, a shinier bauble than the other guy’s, and a largely surface-level thing to be forgotten as soon as Christmas passes.

I’m not too interesting in the debates on whether or not Christmas has a pagan origin or not, as it seems to me that those discussions are one, large, genetic fallacy. The incarnation is a glorious event, and is always connected to the cross. Don’t just treat this like Talladega Nights. Take it seriously, even as we are happy and gracious. What is the incarnation? Why is it important? What does it mean for us? RC Sproul gives some insight into what we celebrate on Christmas in this video.

So yes, do remember the reason for the season. Do remember the incarnation. Do remember the gospel, and our need for it.

SDG

Hypocrite!

We can hardly go a few days without the news broadcasting some scandal about how someone was publically against something, but then were found to be doing the same act in private. All of us are familiar with the word hypocrite, but there are a few strange peculiarities about the concept that I think are interesting.

I don’t remember where I saw someone point this out recently, but the author was saying that the word hypocrite has been hijacked. Before looking up the definition, my initial understanding of the word was that someone acted hypocritically when they claimed to do/think/believe one thing, but then did the exact opposite. The article I read pointed out that the word has been strangely limited in scope. If some weight-loss guru suddenly went through something and gained a bunch of weight, we wouldn’t call them a hypocrite, would we? It seems like the only time this term is brought out is when it is applied to politicians or religious leaders, on issues of morality. This smelled a bit fishy to me, so I went to the dictionary.

The word hypocrite, as defined by Webster, is as follows:

hyp·o·crite

noun \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\

: a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs

Full Definition of HYPOCRITE

1:  a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion

2:  a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

— hypocrite adjective

I found this to be rather interesting, if a bit convenient. By convenient, I mean that you hear all the time that people don’t want to be a Christian or go to church because of all the hypocrisy. It’s convenient because you can only seem to apply the term to religious/moral people. Perhaps, then, my earlier thought about the weight-loss guru might not be proper to use after all. But wait a second, is there more to this? A word that is designed to flare up the emotions, so that there is a “reason” for not doing something? Something that can apply only to morals, religion, virtue, or belief, but not to our bodies? Sounds an awful lot like Schaeffer’s two-stories, doesn’t it? However, there is an even stranger issue about the word, given it’s spectrum of applicability and the culture we currently have.

In an age of relative morality and truth, the charge of hypocrisy should have no weight to it. If we call someone a hypocrite, we are claiming to have the moral high ground to do so, and to say that what they are doing is wrong, and that something (probably the opposite thing) is the right thing to do. But in order to do all that, there needs to be some sort of objective moral standard, the like of which requires us to do certain things and not others. It would not only have to be objective, but it would also have to be binding on us, so that there are certain things we should or should not do. However, to have an objective moral standard or law that requires that we have certain duties would require a lawgiver. We don’t want to think about Who that lawgiver might be, so we came up with the idea of relative truth and morality to shelter us, as Schaeffer would say, from the truth of God.

This is one of the many examples of how secular beliefs betray the people who hold to them. Paul understood this when he was writing his letter to the Romans. He wrote that “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:14-16).

Without an objective, moral standard, the charge of hypocrisy should only be a statement of fact, without any negative connotations attached to it. Obviously, nobody lives like this, and that’s actually a good thing. We all intuitively know that objective moral values and duties exist, and should be acted upon, for the betterment of ourselves as individuals, and society as a whole. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were doing horrible things to people, and Jesus knew that, and took more than one occasion to call them to task for their behavior. The particularly relevant time is recorded in Matthew 23:13-36, where He pronounces woes (prophetic proclamations of judgment) on them. In the passage, He calls them hypocrites or full of hypocrisy 7 times. Not only does He merely call them that, but He also justifies His doing so by pointing to their actions and tells them what will come to them if they continue on their present path.

This is an example of practical apologetics. How we can take a very common phrase, and think through it, back to the necessity of God. Also, we can talk through how the objective moral system that Christianity provides is also good for society, as it provides the foundation for justice etc. Hopefully this will be helpful to you.

SDG

The World I See

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There’s a scene in the movie Fight Club, where Edward Norton’s character is recuperating and Brad Pitt’s character gives him a short “pep talk” about the world he sees (in the future sense). While there’s a ton to say about Fight Club, the main point of connection I want to make is the fact that Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, sees the world very differently from most people. I feel like I can relate to this aspect, because it seems like I see the world very differently from most people, also. Obviously, I have a very small circle of reference in terms of people to compare, but I think you’ll see what I mean as I try to explain some of the things that I see in the world around me.

One of the main things I see is a palpable sense of confusion. My generation is lost/directionless, and we’re starting to realize that. We try to placate these feelings with articles that say things like “when you’re younger, you think grown-ups have it right, but when you grow up, you realize that nobody knows what they’re doing.” The problem with these articles is that it’s simply not true. There are people, perhaps even a great number of them, who know exactly what they’re doing in life. Let that sink in. This is actually a good thing, and isn’t necessarily them just being arrogant or narrow-minded.

We don’t really like talking about ourselves, at least not our weaknesses, and especially to people who wouldn’t immediately be able to relate. Instead of taking the time to phrase our uniqueness in such a way that people different from us would be able to understand or empathize with, we let snarky or satirical articles do the work for us. Don’t believe me? How many times have you seen articles on your various social media outlets that have the title of “___ things that only ___ will understand”? What is the meaning behind these articles? In one way, I hear that what they are basically echo chambers, or a means of being reassured that you aren’t the only one that ___. But if that’s all they were, emotional buttresses, we would simply read them and get the “feels”, and move on, but we don’t. Instead of that, we share them for all our friends and family to see. Why do we do that? I think it’s just what I said above, a sort of impersonal “here’s me!” set of points that be put out there at a relatively low cost to us, while still getting vague things about us to others. Why would someone bother taking the time and effort, and possible hurt, to explain their various social anxieties and how they view other people, and their need to be alone, when instead they can simply share an article about 9 things you need to know about introverts? We don’t want to take the time to read any of Carl Jung’s or even Briggs/Myer’s research, to understand the point or foundation of their tests, but we’ll dang near live by the cheap, 15 question, internet representations of said research.

Another interesting sign of the confusion of my generation is the number of bizarre things we dabble in. We’re still not too fond of “organized religion” or Christianity in particular (in my American-centric experience), but we’ll try just about any sort of “spiritualism” that comes down the pipe. This includes anything from the ignorant phrase of “Native American spirituality”, to tarot cards, a misunderstanding of any and all eastern religions (we’ll just leave aside their organized nature), all the way to the supposedly mystical power of positive thinking. Now that things have been separated into two stories, anything is up for grabs in the realm of possibly “true”. Don’t believe me? How many times have you seen someone on social media (does anyone say this in person?) request for positive vibes to be sent their way? Even leaving aside things like yoga, the idea is that positive vibes, or good thoughts, or whatever, is just as valid as prayer. Having a discussion of each of these things, comparing and contrasting their epistemological foundations, would just be narrow-minded, hard, and probably also regressive and bigoted, somehow. Since truth is relative, and the two story divide is firmly in place, who am I to suggest that all these forms of spiritualism are different, and that one might be better than another?

Unfortunately, we don’t have the foundational support of a solid worldview. We claim to be Taoist, without ever reading the Tao Te Ching. We claim to be Atheist, without thinking beyond “god doesn’t exist”. We claim to be Christian, without reading the Bible, or ever bothering to understand how that applies to life, or reading any Christian author much older than we are. We quickly run to bulverism, without thinking of the alternatives. The Modern Thinker’s Creed by Steve Turner is still the best summation, in poem form, of the way we think. Mix in an unhealthy dose of apathy, and that’s a spicy meat-a ball. The confusion of all this, mixed with a general ignorance of philosophy, politics, and theology, as well as the washout from the self-esteem movement seems to all be coming to a head. Perhaps it is merely a collective quarter-life crisis, but it seems more like pandemic life burnout. I think there will come a time in the not so distant future that many people will be desperate to latch onto something solid in a world that has seemingly become increasingly chaotic. My prediction is that at some point, Islam will be in America in a big way (perhaps something like Dearborn’s Arab festival, on a large scale) and many people will convert (however sincerely) because in the raging torrent of confusion, Islam will appear to be a solid foundation. Islam may be a fist, but at least that fist is made of iron. 

Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe I am thinking too much, and thinking wrongly, about the things I see. This is only a small area, and I am prone to both cynicism and error. If I’m not, what is there to do about it? To be honest, the whole thing seems overwhelming to me at times. Say I’m right. What can 1 guy do? I don’t have much of a platform, any relevant degrees, or experience in dealing with these sorts of things. The good news is that I (nor you) don’t have to try and start from myself and figure everything out on my own. The Christian worldview has the tools to both understand the human condition, and the solution for its ails. The gospel of Christ is at once both blessedly simple, and yet incredibly profound and deep in a way that is helpful to all of life. Christ is Lord over all of life, and is sovereign over all of creation.

This means that as Christians, we need to do the heavy lifting of understanding and reading the Bible. We need to know how Scripture speaks to life’s multi-faceted conundrums. In this information age, we have the benefit of thousands of years of material from faithful Christian men and women, who have thought through many of these same issues. To borrow a Biblical phrase, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. This is hard work, but doing this work is one of the ways we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Continue to fight the fight, run the race, and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7), and know that the God who will never leave nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5) is the same God who is in you, both to will and to work, for His good pleasure (Phili. 2:13).

SDG

The State of Truth

I’ve written about truth a lot on this blog, but I think there has been a slight shift (or maybe I’m just picking up on it) that Christians should be aware of.

I’ve talked a lot about relativism, and how it’s confusing, harmful, and self-refuting. However, I don’t think people are relativists in the purest sense of the word. I may have told this story before, but I was talking to a guy and he was telling me about how truth is relative, and you can believe whatever you want. He then turned around to his kids and told them they could have their dessert only after they finished their meal. I didn’t pick up on it soon enough, but I should have asked him why he wasn’t raising his kids in a relative way. Nobody raises their kids in a relativistic way, just like how nobody wants to have a house built by a relativistic carpenter or go to a relativistic doctor. So if there are certain things that people aren’t relativistic about, then what are the things they are relativistic about?

It seems like this is where another stream of thought merges in. I think people are only relativistic about things that they seem to think don’t actually matter or effect them, personally. In other words, we are blending pragmatism and relativism. You don’t want a relativistic surgeon, because you know that if the doctor believes something is true for him, then it better also be true for you, because your life is on the line. However, people don’t view things like religion and God in the same way. In classic Schaeferian terms, people put religion into the upper story.

I find it interesting that a lot of early Christian writers spent a good deal of time talking about why/how Christianity was good for both the individual, and for society. We may want to think about incorporating that into our apologetics and our evangelism. I’m not just talking about the “save yourself from hell” approach, either. Since we know that Christianity is not merely about heaven, but also incorporates our lives and actions on this earth.

I think we need to still articulate how Christianity is objectively true, for all people, and at all times, but we mustn’t stop there. We also need to answer the “why should I care” question. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, apathy is only beaten by how this could actually effect them. The fact of the matter is, Jesus is Lord over all of life, and that has actual effects on the lives of individuals and the societies in which those individuals live.

So, in summary, we should be thinking about how to answer two questions in our apologetics and our evangelism:

Is it true?

Why should I care?

Questions that are not as easily answered as you might think, but are important enough to take the time to answer them.

SDG

David Encounters a Protest Rally

Persons of the dialog: David, Amy Hipsterical

Setting: A park.

David: Excuse me. What is going on?

Amy: We’re just finishing up, so I’m afraid you missed your chance to join in!

David: Join what?

Amy: This was an awareness march. It’s basically a protest march to raise awareness for a worthy cause.

David: I see. What cause were you raising awareness for?

Amy: We were raising awareness for the fact that we all need to (points to sign) coexist.

David: Interesting. What does that mean?

Amy: Well, a lot of people are hating other people these days. They say it’s in the name of some religion or belief, but I think ultimately all religions say that we should love one another. So this sign is a reminder that we need to love people, even if we have different religions.

David: I certainly agree that we need to get along. Do you see violence between these groups?

Amy: Well, I think there are certainly places in the world where they actually go to war against one another, but not here in America. But that is only one small portion of what this is about. In the safer places in the world we still have hatred, and that’s probably even worse than war, if you think about it.

David: I see. So what do you mean by hatred?

Amy: Well, I think it’s a refusal to love people, and that comes out in different ways.

David: Alright. How do we go about loving people?

Amy: That’s a good question. I think it has to do with choosing to be nice, even if you disagree. I mean, you can disagree with what someone believes, but you don’t have to hate them for it. You should just keep that to yourself, you know?

David: I’m not sure I follow you. What if you want to talk about the things you disagree about? Is there a way to do that where you don’t end up showing hatred?

Amy: Yeah, but I think it’s tricky because we live in a society that has made it easy to hate, you know?

David: Ok. So what advice would you have for me if I wanted to talk to someone about something we disagree about?

Amy: Well, I think you have to be really loving about it. Just because you think someone is doing something wrong doesn’t mean it’s wrong for them. Like you might think a certain belief is wrong, but that might just mean it’s wrong for you, and not wrong for someone else. We need to be really tolerant of other people. That’s a big part of what it means to coexist.

David: That’s an idea I’ve heard a lot about lately. So how does that work when you want to have a friendly disagreement with someone? Or think it’s an important discussion to have.

Amy: Well, I think it’s important to realize that if they’re not hurting anyone, then what they are doing is ok. I mean, ultimately, if we have disagreements it’s really more of a matter of taste. For example, we might like different types of music, and so it’s ok to discuss why we like what we like, but I don’t think it would be right to tell the other person their type of music is bad or wrong or something.

David: Hmm. That may work in terms of music, but do you think it would work in more important areas?

Amy: You mean like religion?

David: Well, I think there are all sorts of areas that are more important than music taste. Religion would be one of them, but even politics and public policy or banking have more significant consequences on life.

Amy: In these areas, it’s important to remember that all sorts of things can work. It’s just a matter of different cultures, and if the religion or political system doesn’t hurt anyone, then it doesn’t really matter what else they do.

David: So I’m getting the idea that you’re ok with just about everything, so long as people don’t hurt one another. Is that accurate to say?

Amy: Absolutely! If you don’t hurt people, then everything else really just boils down to differences in taste, really.

David: Why is it important not to hurt people?

Amy: Seriously?

David: Yes.

Amy: Well, would you like someone to hurt you?

David: No, I certainly would not.

Amy: Then there you go. Nobody wants to get hurt, so therefore it’s wrong to hurt people.

David: I get that. But I can think of instances where it might be ok to hurt others.

Amy: I can’t.

David: What about if someone tries to attack someone you love deeply? Would it be ok to defend them, even if it means hurting the attacker?

Amy: Well, I suppose so. But that’s an extreme case. That’s self-defense.

David: So, in at least one case, it is ok to hurt someone else.

Amy: I don’t think I would phrase it that way. I would say that it is ok to defend yourself or someone you love.

David: Ok. So would you say that if someone has an idea or belief that says it’s ok to hurt others, that that would be a bad belief?

Amy: Yes, certainly.

David: And would you think it would be a good idea to talk about why that idea is a bad one?

Amy: Education can fix a lot of the ignorance in our society, and I think it can solve a lot of problems.

David: Sure. But even outside of a strictly educational context, would it be a good thing to do? Like if you meet someone who has a religion, for example, that says that you must convert or die. Would it be a good idea to try and discuss why you think that religion is wrong?

Amy: It doesn’t sound like it would be safe!

David: Haha, well let’s suppose that this person might not be a practitioner of that aspect, for the sake of argument.

Amy: If I would be sure that I would be safe, then I suppose it would be a good idea to discuss it, sure.

David: How would you go about having that discussion? It seems like you can’t go the “whatever is true for you, works” route, since you feel so strongly that hurting people is almost always wrong. Yet since that belief is there, it is important to discuss it.

Amy: …yeah.

David: To quote Jack Sparrow. If I may lend a machete to your intellectual thicket.

Amy: Haha. Go for it.

David: I think you need to develop a lot of your ideas. I think you have a genuine heart for people, and that’s a good thing. However, in order to be effective, I think you have to better understand what tolerance, love, and hate are.

Amy: What do you mean?

David: There are some older ideas about what those words mean. They aren’t very popular these days, and nobody marches to raise awareness for them (though maybe they should). However, I think they are more sustainable, and they make dealing with difficult situations a bit easier. Maybe we can meet up and talk about them over coffee some time?

Amy: That sounds like a good idea.

Lecrae, Tim Lambesis, & Christian Music

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Christian music is an interesting thing, and lots of controversy unfortunately comes out of it. The two guys pictured above represent two of the more controversial genres (hip-hop/rap and metal), and so they tend to be more scandalous in the eyes of people, regardless of any other factors. I happen to thoroughly enjoy both of these genres, so I’ve been following these guys for years.

Recently, there has been a good amount of controversy surrounding these two individuals, and I just want to touch on that, and relate it to Scripture. First, we have the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, the former front man of the metal band As I Lay Dying. I say former, because Tim got arrested for trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife. This would be a pretty crazy situation by itself, but it was intensified because As I Lay Dying was associated with Christianity. They were known as a Christian metal band, and obviously that is the sort of sinful behavior that should not be associated with Christians.

In a rather lengthy interview, Tim talked about his self-destruction, and how their band really wasn’t Christian at all, but while they may have started that way, they were now just doing the “christian thing” to have jobs and make money. The entire story was quite shocking, to the secular and Christian worlds alike. The obvious question was, how did we miss it? I think part of it is the fact that most only pay attention to the music, and since As I Lay Dying preferred to have their lyrics have implicit Christianity, it was easier to miss. They were a band that preferred to be called “Christians in a band” instead of a “Christian band”. This is an extremely common sentiment among bands, and while there is nothing wrong with the statement as such, it is interesting that bands/artists make this statement commonly only after they have some sort of change in lyrics.

For As I Lay Dying, they have always chosen to take the “implicit Christianity” route with their music, even back when they were actually Christians, they still preferred to be as Christians in a band instead of a Christian band. The reason many artists say this is because there is a stigma that comes with being a Christian artist. The idea is that you have to be talking about God constantly. Back in the day, when the church was afraid (well, more afraid) of rock music, in order to be a christian band, some people said every song had to have so many JPMs (Jesus per minute) in order to “count”. So this sort of stigma doesn’t come from nowhere, but is the designation a helpful one? I think it depends on more than just the music. For example, here are some lyrics from the song “The Darkest Nights”

For so long I have felt alone
Content to live with unrest
Longing faded into countless nights
That buried my weary heart
But You brought an end
To this dead hour
And meaning to a calloused life
Held in Your arms

So it seems pretty clear what he’s talking about, but it would appear that his life did not match up with his music. So while the “implicit Christianity” thing wasn’t the problem, it did contribute to the more camouflage nature of his change. So we’ve looked a little bit at the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, and how implicit Christianity functioned within the As I Lay Dying paradigm, but what about Lecrae?

The controversy surrounding Lecrae is not nearly as scandalous as the one surrounding Tim Lambesis, and the reason for this is because while Tim’s life did not match up even to the implicit Christianity of AILD, Lecrae’s life very much matches up with Christianity. The reason there is controversy with Lecrae is because he has moved from an explicit Christianity to an implicit one. Compare the songs “Go Hard” and “Confe$$ions”. The former would be an example of lyrics that would fall under the “explicit Christianity” category, whereas the latter would be in the “implicit Christianity” category. Comparatively, Lecrae’s implicit lyrics are more explicit than the implicit lyrics from AILD, but they are certainly more implicit than his earlier stuff. Media and certain Christian circles went ablaze with questions on whether or not Lecrae had sold out, and with his success, he had walked away from Christianity.

Personally, I think the reactions were way overblown. However, I think it’s ok to say that there has been a shift in Lecrae’s music, and doing so doesn’t make you a “hater”. He actually made a song called “rebel vs. gravity” to address the controversy, and I think there are some things to be said about the song. In the song, he (as Mr. Gravity) says that he did change, but it was never for the change (money), and that he matured. Later on, he talks about how he isn’t as self-righteous as he was before, and that while he still believes everything he wrote on the “Rebel” album, he points out that bragging about mission trips or people he’s discipled on every song doesn’t make him more holy (true) and not doing it doesn’t make him less holy (true). However, the question then becomes “were you self-righteous and bragging on your earlier albums?” or was it simply that you felt the conviction/need to be more explicit? Unfortunately, we don’t know the heart of people, and from what listeners could ascertain from the lyrics, it seemed simply that he was “bringing the truth hard, hoping that it gets through” as Mr. Rebel says. If he was bragging and being self-righteous, he managed to do it in a way that nobody noticed. In this way, perhaps even “explicit Christianity” can be a camouflage.

Perhaps the song dispels the controversy, and it is adequately addressed. Though actually, I think the song brings up more questions than it answers. How was he being self-righteous before? If he is no longer being so, how can we tell? He says that he doesn’t want to turn every song into a sermon. Why not? I’ve read in various articles that he feels like he’s taking Francis Schaeffer’s advice, and is influencing culture by being good at his craft. While it is true that Schaeffer talked about the need for Christians to be, say, good artists or musicians while also being Christians, I think it may be unfair to cite him in this particular instance. The reason I say that is because it’s not exactly the same issue that Schaeffer was addressing. The worry isn’t that Lecrae is a good rapper in the eyes of the world and has implicit Christian lyrics, but rather, that there was a change from explicit to implicit. Personally, I would be interested in hearing a more full explanation of this. Maybe it’s out there somewhere and I’m unfamiliar with it, but as far as I know this song is the only thing that addresses it.

When I started writing this, a few texts from Scripture came to mind. One of them is the parable of the two sons, which is found in Matthew 21:28-32:.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

While this is not an exactly similar situation, I have to wonder what we prefer as listeners to Christian music. On the one hand, we have a guy who came out with explicitly Christian lyrics, and then later slowly changed to a more implicitly Christian approach. On the other hand we have a band that came out with implicitly Christian lyrics, and later self-destructed, revealing that they were faking Christianity in order to get money. I think putting the two side-by-side makes the reaction to Lecrae look pretty silly, and rightly so. The appropriate response would be to ask him some questions about he views his ministry and where he feels that God is leading him. Instead, Christians came out of the woodwork, looking to throw him under the bus. I think there are some questions which deserve answers, but they need to be done in a respectful way.

The other Scripture passage that comes to mind is one where (I can’t find it to reference) Paul is in prison, and he talks about how there’s an enemy of his who is out preaching Christ in order to try and take some of the fame away from Paul and for himself. Interestingly, Paul’s response is that he’s grateful for what the man’s doing because even though he is doing it from an evil heart, the truth of the gospel is still being preached. That’s sort of how I feel about the As I Lay Dying ordeal. They may have been lying about what they believed for unjust gain, but they were saying true things.

Ultimately, I think we need to take some advice from Lecrae, who says that we need to be learning from our pastors, and not necessarily from musicians. This isn’t to say that we can’t learn things from musicians, but when it comes to theology, we need to get that from the proper place. We need to go to Scripture, and then to our pastors, to get our understanding of Christianity. There is certainly a place for a critique of musicians, but we need to do that from a place of respect and kindness, always looking to Scripture as our guide and foundation.

SDG

The Generation That Won’t Impeach

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “impeach”? For me, I think of Clinton and Lewinsky or Nixon and Watergate, but that’s about it. Without going to Google/Wikipedia, do you know what impeachable offenses are for elected officials? I certainly didn’t, and that’s part of what I’m getting at, even if it’s not the whole. There will likely always be people who are in politics (truism much?), and therefore know the ins and outs of impeachable offenses. However, to an extent, the American system of government is “accountable to the people”, and public opinion can do certain things. This is largely the area I want to focus on, both because it is more of my interest, and also because technically political material is beyond me.

It would be very easy to point to Obama’s administration, and how this or that issue should have been an impeachable offense, but the fact of the matter is, there is more at play than simply Obama. Granted, in the case of the presidency, there is always influence on future presidents. Particularly if one president is able to get away with something his predecessors might not have been able to. But what’s the point of all this? Why do I think my generation (I’m currently 26) won’t impeach anyone? Well, let’s start by listing a few things we think:

    • All politicians are corrupt
    • The political system is broken
    • All truth is relative

These are just a few things that play into why I don’t think my generation will impeach someone. First of all, I think an elected official would have to do something so incredibly outlandish and evil (don’t ask about the definition of evil) that it would rise above our general apathy and cynicism toward the political machine. We naturally assume that since the system is broken, and that politicians are corrupt, then therefore they are going to do bad stuff all the time. We pretend to care and know what we’re talking about around election time, but the rest of the year we will be more surprised when they do a number of really nice/good things (why do you think Pope Francis is so popular?).

So someone will have to do really bad things, and they will have to do them with enough regularity that people will remember to care about them. It’s easy to quickly get a bunch of moral outrage behind something, but it’s incredibly difficult to get that same response a few weeks after the fact.

Then we have the problem of moral relativism. It’s particularly difficult for my generation to claim moral high ground on many things, excepting the people who don’t hold to our definition of tolerance and relative truth, of course. I say this is a problem because while it would be somewhat easier to get people upset about something, it is quite another to get them to the point of doing something about it. Punitive action is saying that some rule has been broken, and there deserves to be a punishment for it. This sort of flies in the face of the “tolerance” bumper stickers, because it’s saying that there is some sort of objective rules which need to be followed. We don’t like thinking about objective morality or rules which are binding, regardless of if you disagree with them or not. This might naturally lead into all sorts of sticky areas like the definition and nature of rights, freedom, and how we are to continue to function in a society with them. These sorts of questions are ones that my generation tends to avoid like the plague.

These are some of the issues that would need to be surmounted in order for my generation to actually impeach someone. With ISIS, we are starting to see exactly what sorts of things need to be done to shock my generation out of its slumber. I sincerely hope we take the hint, and not just roll over and hit the snooze button.

As Christians, this is the task we face whenever something happens and we are called upon to respond to it. To borrow a phrases from Al Mohler and Francis Schaeffer, we need to be able to rest on the strength of full Christian conviction, informed by a Biblical worldview, and offer real answers and real hope to a generation which has none.

SDG

The Straw Man

You remember the movie Wizard of Oz? The classic film has been analyzed to death, and there are a ton of theories about it. I won’t be addressing any of those, nor positing my own, but I would like to talk about one character. Each of the companions Dorothy meets in her journey to the magical land of Oz is lacking one thing, which they will all travel to the Wizard together to acquire. The Straw Man is in need of a brain, and while I don’t know if this was an intentional correlation or not, there is an informal fallacy in logic called the straw man fallacy.

This particular way of arguing or reasoning rears its ugly head in all sorts of circumstances, and is surprisingly easy to commit. When dealing with other people, we have to realize that they have a different view point from ours, and from the groups they affiliate with. This may seem like an obvious point, but perhaps it’s so obvious that it is easily missed.

Communication scholar Tim Muehlhoff talks about how it is important that we create a “thick” view of people, instead of a “thin” one. You can only accomplish this by taking time to figure out some important things:

    • What does this person believe?
    • Why does this person believe this?
    • Where do we agree?
    • Based on all I’ve learned, how should I proceed?

This applies even if the person you’re talking to claims to belong to a particular group, or believe a particular thing that you’ve heard, read, or studied before. Interestingly enough, in one way, the more you study something, the easier it becomes to straw man a person. I’m here making a distinction between every day communication and academic communication. If you are writing an essay on classical Islam, then the more you read and study, the less likely you will be to straw man classical Islam. However, if you are talking to someone who calls themselves a Muslim, and has lived in America their whole life, they may not believe things that are consistent with classical Islam. Therefore, if you proceed based on your study of Islam, you will end up creating a straw man of that person’s beliefs, even if that means they are theologically/philosophically inconsistent with their claimed worldview.

In other words, you need to figure out what exactly each person believes, and argue against that, and not whatever you suppose they believe. As an intellectually-oriented guy, that is a hard lesson to learn. I strive to be consistent to the Christian worldview that I espouse, and so I have a tendency toward thinking that everyone does the same in an academic sense.

Whether you come from the perspective of the academic “I’ve studied that, so you must believe X” or from the layman “I’ve heard that somewhere, or talked to someone who believed that, and so you must believe X” you must guard against using a straw man in your discussions. While all people have worldviews, backgrounds, time periods, and cultures that they come from that color what they think/believe, it is important to find out specifically what each person believes, in each situation. There is nothing wrong with have a store of background information in which you can say things about categories of belief, but while it may inform your discussions, it should never dominate them.

Each person is an unrepeatable soul, created in the image of God, and part of evangelism is loving people enough to find out what they believe. May God help us as we seek to share His truth in a lost and confused world.

SDG

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