Monthly Archives: June 2011

Online Apologetics?

Everybody and their dog (no, seriously, their dog…) has a Facebook account, right? So it’s big enough that it has to be taken seriously, but like everything else there are bad things and good things about it. What about apologetics? I’ve heard that it’s a really bad forum for discussing anything, let alone the things that matter, but I’ve also heard that it’s the best place to do it because anyone can talk to anyone else fairly easily.

I think the answer to that is somewhere in the middle. I think Facebook, and all of the internet, blogosphere, twitterverse etc. is an arena which simply needs to have an intelligent, Christian presence. That said, I liken it somewhat to a moderated debate, in the sense that the two people in discussion are very unlikely to persuade or convert the other. The real benefit of debates are the people who watch it, whether that be in the audience or from watching/listening to the debate later. This is the same with online discussion. I think the real people who benefit from it are those who read the dialogue, but don’t participate. A catchy title, or a hot topic, or simply the people involved often bring people to watch something that perhaps they have been thinking about or maybe wouldn’t even normally think to look up on their own.

I think there needs to be apologists who are able to calmly answer the claims of skeptics so that people will at least see that there is another side, and an intelligent side at that. Dispel the rumors that are being spread about Christians being anti-intellectual and anti-scientific etc.

The downside to doing online apologetics is that everyone is much bolder behind a keyboard, especially with google and wikipedia at their fingertips. More often than not, people will not make anywhere close to the strong statements they make online, in person. If you are genuinely standing in front of them, they are not going to insult you by saying you’re an ignoramus etc. Also, if you are having a face to face conversation, this is a much better barometer in terms of knowledge. In real time, there is no opportunity to quickly look something up if you don’t know the answer. That is a two-sided coin because it means that either side can end up being the one without answers.

To that end, I really cannot stress the importance of reading enough. I know there are all sorts of excuses as to why you don’t, but think about it; you are in a one on one situation and you know the person you are talking to doesn’t know the Lord, yet is genuinely curious because they have heard a lot of things from a lot of people and are coming to you to set the record straight. What would you say in response to some of these questions?

Hey, aren’t all the world religions basically the same at bottom? Isn’t it just all about the golden rule?

I heard that Jesus was just another example of the dying god myth.

The Bible has just been translated over and over and over again, and there have been additions and contradictions.

If God is so loving, then why is there so much evil in the world?

Is the Bible really against people who love each other but happen to be the same sex?

The list goes on and on and on, and these are fairly common questions. What would you say? Would you have an answer? Think about this, whatever your first reaction was when I mentioned reading, whatever excuse came to mind, is it really worth not being able to tell people about the God you serve and the truth you know is in the Bible?

I know that you’re not going to be able to answer every question, and neither can I or anybody else for that matter, but I think our goal should be to know enough to answer a lot. The good thing is, it’s not us that saves people, but God. The Holy Spirit is what transforms peoples lives and removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. He opens their eyes and their minds to the truth of the gospel. That is not an excuse for us to be lazy, but rather, it should give us hope and take some pressure off knowing that God is sovereign over all, and His will will ultimately be done.

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The ScumBlog, you could say.

Recently, I was in Denver CO and visited the “Scum of the Earth” church. It’s certainly a name for a church that catches your attention doesn’t it?

I had previously heard about the church via a few facebook postings from Doug Groothuis (he has preached there) and so I figured it would be a good church to go to, and I figured it would be an experience!

I enjoyed the service quite a bit and was surprised by a few things as well. First, I knew the subcultures that they were trying to reach so I was expecting to see those sorts of people there, so that wasn’t really shocking or anything, especially since I could probably have fit right in for a number of years. I appreciate the fact that the church exists (they are currently out of their normal building for renovation, so pray that they can get back in quickly!) because most of the people there would’ve probably never set food in a “normal” church, even if said church would’ve accepted them. An interesting point there is that both sides are somewhat to blame at that part. There are a large number of churches who wouldn’t want “that” type of person in their building, and so there’s certainly an un-Christlike attitude on the part of those churches. However, I’m willing to bet that a lot of the people in attendance probably wouldn’t attend those churches as a matter of principle. After all, they would feel out of place and would presumably be quite misunderstood. So really, those two are the different sides to the same coin.

That said, the people were quite friendly, as when I walked in I was greeted by a pair of Jesse’s, one of whom had quite the impressive green mohawk. However, I actually felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable the second I walked in because I had brought a bible. This leads me an interesting question, and that would be, how accepting would they be of a typical businessman? What would the reaction be if someone from one of the “normal” churches decided they were going to start coming? Unfortunately, I was only there for one service, and it was the morning one whereas their night service is the main one. Based on what I saw, I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they would do their best to make the person feel welcome, but it would undoubtedly be an issue worth thinking about.

Personally, my awkward feelings were helped by the fact that as I sat down I looked over and saw renowned New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg sitting a few seats from me! Turns out, he was one of the founding members of the church, and he’s also not a bad tenor as I was able to sit next to him and his family during worship. The seating was also something that was a bit awkward. As you might expect, the church was a very laid back sort of service so that there were couches and typical coffee-shop type furniture. The awkwardness came when there was a circle of chairs in the middle and since there was no identifiable “pulpit” I wasn’t sure where anything would be taking place. As it turns out, I chose to sit directly in front of where the main pastor was. This wasn’t a huge deal as there was an empty seat a couple away and I was able to move. Also, this could be simply a peculiarity of them not being in their normal building and having to set up with what they had. Still, it would’ve been helpful to have someone explain where things would happen.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was how the service was structured. The pastor passed out some papers around to everyone that included the order of service and some scriptures for reading and the lyrics to the worship songs that were going to be sung. The surprising part is that this church actually uses liturgy! This was surprising for a number of reasons, especially for someone who grew up in protestant churches of various stripes. Liturgy is really something you don’t find in many protestant churches today, and is generally termed “old” and in our society, old is equated with bad. There have certainly been more serious reasons to come against the use of liturgy throughout church history, but as far as I could tell, this church wasn’t falling into error. It was strange hearing/seeing things like “eucharist” and “doxology” and the call and response type service coming from the hardcore/emo/goth/etc crowd, but it was also really cool in a way. Here were people that hadn’t been (presumably) raised in the church, and so therefore were able to take a more face value look at a liturgical approach to a church service.

Something that also impressed me was the fact that, while most didn’t have bibles, many were eager to read the scriptures. The pastor handed out pieces of paper which had several scriptures to be read and simply asked for volunteers. This is a common practice regardless of what church service/ministry event you go to, but there was a major difference. With this church, it wasn’t awkward. In most every other situation I’ve been in, whether that be a church service, small group, campus ministry etc. when the leader asks for someone to read scripture it is always an awkward experience. Nobody makes eye contact so as to not be chosen, nobody volunteers and it’s perfectly silent. This goes on for a few minutes and then someone finally starts reading. I think if Christians really believed that the Bible really is the very Word of God, then we should be much more eager to actually read it. Yes, reading out loud and in front of groups is probably a scary experience, especially for some of the more shy people, but that is something that needs to be worked through, not hid behind. There are some strong lessons to be learned from their example.

I’m not to keen on the fact that the first song that they did to sort of get people’s attention was a Bob Marley tune…though I’m not entirely sure if it actually was or if he was kidding, I’m not too big into the guy. The worship songs themselves were songs you would hear anywhere else, such as “We Fall Down” and “Here I am to worship” as well as an old hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus” and was entirely acoustic with one guitar/singer and a guy on the djembe. I enjoyed the worship.

I’m not sure what the usual pastor is like since this particular message was delivered by a guest pastor. He preached on the gifts of the spirit, with a particular emphasis on the gift of tongues. Since I spent several years in high school in the Assemblies of God church, this topic was of particular interest to me. I was right with him in pretty much everything he had to say, though he was definitely a topical preacher instead of an exegetical one. He addressed some of the errors on a couple different sides when people talk about tongues; those being that there is a second infilling of the Spirit, tongues as evidence for salvation, tongues as evil, and attitudes from people who have the gift or who don’t and how they look at and treat others.

One other issue that you are bound to run into when having a church like this, is how to address the dress code. I understand that what you don’t want to do is tell them they have to look “normal” but at the same time, there are certain types of attire that could be stumbling blocks to others in the church. One young lady had a barely-there skirt and though she walked by quickly, it was a distraction, especially as one who knows all too well how powerful the temptation of lust can be. Truthfully, I’m not sure how you would address something like that, but I would say it is something that is important and needs to be addressed, especially in a church dynamic where that probably isn’t an uncommon thing.

Overall, I really enjoyed the service and believe that the ministry is doing some great things for Denver. If you happen to be in the area, go check them out. You might just learn a few things from being around “scum”.

Revenge vs. Justice

I think it is a common, shared, human experience that we understand that there is something wrong with the world and therefore we all have a sense of wanting justice to be done. We recognize the need for this on the practical level because we have things like police departments and court systems etc. However, there is another aspect which I think needs to be addressed also, and that is the concept of revenge.

It seems to me that there has been a great blurring of the lines when it comes to the idea of revenge and movies are probably largely responsible. There’s a lot to be said about ethics when it comes to movies and how they effect our lives and what is moral and what isn’t but I’m going to try to avoid a lot of those topics simply because I don’t think a blog is the best place for a 300 page book.

In order to best explain my point I’ll reference the specific movie Lucky Number Sleven, but it is a story/concept that is all over Hollywood movies of varying genres. The basic idea is this, due to a doped up race horse, this guy ends up betting more money on it than he can pay and eventually gets himself and his family killed because he owed money to the wrong people and couldn’t pay up. Turns out (spoiler alert) the kid never actually gets killed and he grows up and ends up killing the people responsible in the same way that they killed his dad.

There’s all sorts of discussion about what is moral or not moral about this and if what he did was wrong or right etc. but that discussion actually never really gets started because we naturally feel a sense of being ok with what he did, why? Because they got what they deserve. Why did they deserve that? Well, they deserved it because they had done the same thing to someone else. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and all that. However, the important thing to mention is that while we have this inner desire for justice to be done, we often settle for revenge. In the case of the movie example, Sleven is taking revenge for what happened to his family and we tend to assume that since they “got what they deserve” that therefore it is ok, and justice has been served. After all, another concept we seem to really enjoy is that of vigilantism, someone who takes the law into their own hands.

However, these two concepts are not the same, even though I think society has blurred the lines so much that some people may not be able to tell you the difference. Put simply, justice deals with a foundation that is (supposed to be) based on ethics and morals and doing what is right whereas revenge has no concern for the means or rules or foundations so long as something equally wrong (usually synonymous with painful) is done in reaction.

Revenge, therefore, is actually a very utilitarian concept in the sense that we think pain should be received on those who inflict it, and there should be a quantifiable system where this can be done. Basically, the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” concept played out exactly. However, when it comes to putting this into practice, there is never a systematic way to do it. There are some movies which actually point out this idea, but basically the point is that when it comes time to actually dole out the exact amount of pain to someone that has been caused, it usually isn’t done. How can it be? After all, if someone kills a family member, would killing them be the same pain? Surely not, as you yourself didn’t experience the physical pain, but rather, the emotional and psychological pain. More so even then that, what if you did do the exact same thing to the other person? That is, what if you killed a family member of the person who killed a family member of yours? There is still a problem, because now there is likely guilt on top of all the pain you felt before, there are all sorts of side issues that could spring up because of it, and to top it all off, your pain doesn’t disappear and the act doesn’t bring your family member back.

In these ways, revenge cannot cash the checks that it writes. Revenge is simply a shadow of what we actually long for in justice. Revenge may be based on a supposed sense of fairness, or more noble still (and sometimes justice uses this concept too, unfortunately) a sense of rights. Unfortunately, to talk about rights, that is, what someone may or may not have a right to do, says nothing about what is right or wrong. A system based on rights is flawed from the start. It is on this backdrop that Jesus said these things: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said,’You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:38-48

There is a lot in that passage, but it is also clear what He is calling His followers to do. He is not calling them to seek revenge, but rather, to seek God because He alone is able to perform perfect justice. God’s is not a system based on rights, but rather on what is actually right and wrong. He is only one who can make such a system, and perfect justice is accomplished on the cross and in hell, and with those two we cannot compete.

Arminian Salvation

The following quote I think really sums up the whole Calvinism/Arminianism debate well.

“If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.” – J. Gresham Machen

The idea that there is some part of us that survived, as it were, the fall or that some part managed to not be as tainted by sin as the rest is simply false. That train of thought can be traced back to several philosophers of antiquity but the fact of the matter is that there is no part of us that is not tainted by sin. Therefore, since our whole being is tainted by sin, there is no part that could possibly fulfill God’s law. If there is no part of us that can live up to the law of God (Romans 3:23), then there is no way that we can offer anything by means of power toward our own salvation. Only Christ can fulfill the law of God. As Machen so adequately put, “Christ will either do everything or nothing,” there is no in between. To attempt to offer up something of ourselves does a number of things: 1) It states that Christ’s work on the cross was not perfect and complete. 2) It states that Christ was lacking something that we somehow have. 3) It places us, at some level, actually above Christ, based on the previous two points. 4) Therefore, this denies both the full deity of Christ, and the total fallenness of man.

You can see what a dangerous path this sort of idea leads, regardless of how nice the idea may seem on the face of it. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and is of the Lord. By grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.