Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (3: The Way)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME. 

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Way 

And in the first place, Jesus claims that He is the way. This is where Christianity is truly unique. Other religions claim to show us the path to God or immortality or enlightenment. Jesus does not. He did not say that He had shown us the way. He says that He IS the way.

Christianity does not look at our hopeless problem with sin and death and tell us the way to work our way out of the problem. Every other religion does this. Their teachings all claim to have a path that we must attempt to follow and that, hopefully, we will arrive at the correct destination. They are all inventions of a man or a woman who had not yet arrived at their destination. They are all the claims of people who have died trying.

Jesus did not do this. Yes, He came and lived the life as we were meant to live it. He had a true relationship with His Father, the Creator of the Universe. However, He never said that the solution to our problem was to imitate Him. He claimed that He was the way. We do not achieve salvation by being as good as Jesus. We are saved by trusting in Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus has already reconnected creation and Creator. He did this by taking the punishment of sin and rebellion upon Himself even though He did not earn that punishment. He died for the sins of the world and then He rose again. He is not offering us a hope of a path, He is offering us immediate restoration; relationship with the Creator. And His teaching is not a collection of theories. His claims are of a done deal. And they are the claims of someone who has conquered death.

Pride: Christians are often accused of being proud in their beliefs. True followers of Jesus can never be proud in their relationship with God. Because the Gospel reminds us all of who we actually are. We are all terrible sinners deserving of death. It is only in the Grace and Love of God that we have been forgiven and restored. And God has that same love and grace for anyone who wants to have it.

True Christianity is unique in that those who follow it can never see themselves as better than anyone else. The most faithful of Christians are the ones who are most aware of their shortcomings and weaknesses. They are most aware of their need for a savior. And they are also the most aware that the “worst” in society are loved by God in the same way as the “best.” There is no room for pride in Christianity. In fact, it is considered the primary sin.

Conclusion:

So, Christianity is exclusive in its claims, but it can and should never be intolerant, arrogant, or prideful. If Christianity ever becomes any of those things it has ceased to be the Christianity that the Bible tells us about.

On the other hand, Christianity is unique amongst all the other systems and cultural means of solving our problem of sin and death.

It does not offer change produced by ethical standards, but rather ethical standards that result from a material change.

It does not propose a theory about the universe and life constructed within the system, but rather a reconnection with truth from the One who created the system.

It does not suggest a path back to God that we must attempt to traverse, but rather a restored relationship with the Creator who has made His way to us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (2: Truth)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME. 

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Truth 

The Bible teaches that truth is not just a collection of facts. Truth is a person. The God and Creator of everything that exists, is outside of the Creation He created. He is the ultimate source of Truth in the universe because He has made this universe. It operates according to rules and laws because it was created by a Creator who has a consistent and true character. And Truth, therefore, is not just the reality we experience in Creation, Truth is the person of God.

When we rebelled against the Creator, we lost our relationship with the Truth. When we sinned and experienced death, that is when we started inventing religions as ways of denying death. We started telling ourselves lies.

The Bible is where Truth has revealed Himself to us. It presents the only system that makes consistent sense of the world that we live in—of the problem we have with sin and death—and that offers us a solution to that problem. Jesus is God. Jesus is Truth embodied in a man. Jesus is our only hope at reconnecting with God. What Jesus offered us was not another in a long line of religious solutions to our problem. He gives us back the relationship that we lost in our rebellion.

Arrogance: Another objection raised against Christianity, or more specifically here in John 14:6, is that it is arrogant. Once again, we sadly do find that a lot of Christians are arrogant. However, it does not have to be that way. Being right and being arrogant are two different things.

I can be right in saying that 2+2=4 without being rude. In the same way, I can point out the problems we have in society due to our rebellion against God without coming across and holier than thou. After all, we are all in the same boat. We all have the same problem of sin and are all dependent on God’s gracious forgiveness to experience the Life that He has for us.

And exclusivity is not arrogance. Truth is truth. It is not something that one group possesses or controls. As Believers, we do not have a monopoly on truth. It exists for all to see who are willing to look. However, truth, by its nature, is exclusive. Saying 2+2=4 is not an arrogance over someone who wants it to be 5. It is 4 and not 5, not because someone decides for it to be, but because it is simply so.

To say that Christianity is arrogant because it believes its truth over others’ is silly. All religious systems propose differing and exclusive claims on reality. To say they are all valid is, once again a ridiculous assertion that only works if they are all false. They are either indeed all false, or one of them is true. And when we look at the claims of Christianity, it is the most internally consistent worldview and the one that makes the most sense in the reality in which we live.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (1: Life)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Life

Jesus, unlike all other religious leaders in history, did not just teach us about right living, He showed us life as it was supposed to be lived. And He showed us a glimpse of what He called the Kingdom of God. A World where things would be the way that they were supposed to be. That is the hope that Jesus offered us. Here He tells His disciples that He will be preparing them a place in the eternal Kingdom of God. A restored creation where Heaven and Earth are together and man again has a relationship with the Creator and where purpose is experienced. And, His followers live life here in this sinful, fallen world where death rules with that Kingdom already in them. We are to be a continuing taste of real life.

Many other religious systems, especially since Christ, have also taught about such a life. Secular Humanism today tries to teach the sort of ethical, loving life that Jesus offered, only they try to offer such a life without Christ and without God. In their case, such a life is inconsistent with their worldview. There is no convincing motivation to live a selfless life without eternity or God. In fact, many Secular Humanists try to offer reasons for love, selflessness, and sacrifice by appealing to selfish motivations. But these inconsistent arguments all fall apart when examined closely.

Intolerance: One argument often raised against Christianity when we read John 14:6 is that Christianity and Jesus are Intolerant. This is far from true. In fact, the idea of tolerance the way it is taught today is intolerant.

Today tolerance is taken to mean an acceptance of everything. However, the way that it is practiced, demeans everything that is “tolerated.” We don’t give differing viewpoints the respect of meaning anything. Once again, when everything is equally valid it just means everything is equally invalid.

What Jesus modeled was true tolerance. He demonstrated and taught real life. He also gave people a real choice to embrace that life or to reject it. He loved everyone and He interacted with everyone. He ate with the sinners that the religious people of His day rejected. He did not tell people that they were fine the way that they were. He called for repentance and change, but He respected people enough to allow them to reject His calling. Admittedly, sometimes Christians are intolerant. But Jesus was not our example of this. We need to be tolerant the way that He was tolerant.

That truer form of tolerance is for people to believe what they believe and respect other beliefs enough to acknowledge that they are different. What is more respectful to difference: To say that everything is basically the same ignoring what they are saying or living? Or to say that people are different, perhaps even wrong, but respect their right to be different and wrong? In truly tolerant society there would be animated but respectful debate. There would be an acknowledgement of difference and a respect for the rights of people to think differently without kidding ourselves into thinking we are all saying the same thing.

In fact, tolerance implies disagreement. We accept things that we agree with. We can only tolerate things we disagree with. (And then there are ideas so wrong that we do not tolerate them, and no one should.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (Introduction)

All human culture is an attempt to deny mortality. Ernest Becker first came to this conclusion in his Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Denial of Death.” Religions have existed ever since humanity sinned to get back to the life we had before sin and death entered the picture. We know deep inside of us that death is wrong, but since we all face certain mortality we have created systems to overcome death.

However, every culture has developed different answers and symbols to deny death. When these different cultures encounter each other it creates conflict. When we are confronted with a different idea of how to overcome death, it threatens our belief and we want to destroy that other system.

The problem in our modern age is that people have seen the wide variety of religions and, with our modern scientific understanding of the world, religions no longer offer convincing solutions to our problem. Becker stated in his book however, that science is no helpful system in this case either.

Even today we encounter this reality. Psychologists have proven again and again that, when we are reminded of our own mortality and then exposed to belief systems other than our own, we react quite negatively.

We occasionally do surveys here in Dresden where we ask people whether they find a single word positive or negative. Things like Religion, Politics, Jesus, Church, etc. When we ask them about death, we were surprised to find a strong tendency for that to be seen as positive. It seems that in post-Christian materialism, part of the “myth” has been to try to convince us that death is a good thing.

Another aspect of our current, modern, cultural denial of death has been to say that all the different systems are equally good. All religions and philosophies are ultimately equally valid and good.

The only way for that to be possible is for them to all be equally false. If every cultural idea is merely a humanly created lie to make us feel better, then yes, they are right. And, in most cases I think they are such untruths. When we compare all religions, we find vastly divergent ideas about God, the World, and how to solve our problem. And they all also have internal inconsistencies and obvious shortcomings that make us realize that they are all equally good in that they are equally false.

That is until you come to the answer that the Bible gives us in Jesus Christ; what has come to be known as Christianity. (Although we have to be careful because not everything that calls itself Christianity really follows the teachings of Christ and the Bible.) Christianity is unique.

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Dirk Gently" (Season One)

2016 was a great year for American Television. A large part of the reason for that was the way that American producers discovered the British manner of doing shorter seasons of shows that tell a story and then get out, not trying to artificially fill 22 or more episodes whether the plot calls for it or not. Things like “Stranger Things” and even “The X Files” to a lesser extent are shows that I relished in 2016.

One of the real gems was “Dirk Gently.”

Now, I must acknowledge right up front that the show was tailor made for someone like me, and it is likely not for everyone. It is based on the writings of Douglas Adams, more well-known for his Hitchhiker to the Galaxy series of novels. If you aren’t into his absurdist take on things, this very strange plot will likely drive you crazy. Also, it is a bit irreverent in humor and comically extreme in its violence, so again, not everyone’s cup of tea.

However, for those who do like this sort of abstract intellectualism, there are treasures to be found. In particular, I love the way this story explores the nature of faith. It is truly a presentation of the idea that often truth is something we simply accept without understanding. In fact, if you are too insistent on understanding reality you are often driven to throwing your hands up and calling the universe absurd. That is, ironically, the position that Adams took in his real life. Too bad he couldn’t embrace the sort of leap of faith that his stories called for.

Without giving too much away, Dirk Gently is a strange man who claims to be a “holistic detective.” He claims that everything happens for a reason and that all events in the universe are tied together. His special talent lies in the fact that he is able to “ride the current” of the universal cause and effect to his advantage. His purpose is to set things right by being in the right place at the right time. The audience is slowly convinced of the truth of his claims as we follow Tod, another character whom Dirk coerces into helping him on his quest.

It is no mere fatalism that we are dealing with in Dirk Gently. Choices still need to be made, and courage and danger are still required. But, since the story being told is being orchestrated by a story-teller (Adams) the free will and decisions made by characters in this story serve the overall plot. There is purpose and meaning to life in the Dirk Gently universe.

And in that way, this serves as a rough parable for the way that free will and divine sovereignty work. People have free will and make choices, yet the storyteller of the universe is in control and works things out to His purposes. For those with the ability to trust the creator, we have assurance of purpose and meaning in life.




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