Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chrislam: Finding Common Ground & Losing Common Sense

The following is an online dialogue, concerning Islam and Christianity, with a gentleman who attacked the beliefs of a friend of mine, and was attempting to make the case for the popular belief that Islam and Christianity are essentially one and the same. For clarity, my opponent’s words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

The Quran is as loving and vengeful as the Bible.”
This statement of yours is entirely simplistic or reductionistic. When I read such statements I can only conclude that the person making the assertion has studied neither the Qur'an nor the Bible in any depth whatsoever. It displays a total lack of understanding. (This is the kind of sophomoric analysis one finds in an introductory "comparative religions" class.)

Indeed, the Bible contains passages of horrific violence. However, such passages are descriptive, rather than prescriptive. That is, the Bible describes such things but it nowhere prescribes such behavior on the part of believers in Jesus Christ. (And do not fallaciously equate or confuse church history with biblical theology.)

The Qur'an on the other hand, does indeed prescribe such behavior. For example, the followers of Islam are exhorted: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned...” (Surah V, 33). [Any attempt to parallel such teaching to the case law found in the Pentateuch is nothing more than contrivance.]

Further in Surah V we read: “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people” (51).

Passages such as these are found throughout the entire Qur’an. I know because I’ve read it from cover to cover. Jihad [often translated as “striving” for Islam/Allah] is a constant theme. Moderate Muslims attempt to soften the concept of Jihad to mean “internal struggling.” But this goes against the plain reading of the text itself. Jihad [understood and applied in a very broad context] is a central tenet to those who follow Islam.

I believe that your motives are pure. I’m sure you’re a very loving and peaceful man. Most people are. But the pluralistic philosophy that all religions are equally true and valid or that they’re essentially the same is little more than naiveté or wishful thinking.

Whether you like it or not, it comes down to one's own interpretation of what one is reading.”
There you go again. You are making an authoritative statement. With magisterial authority you pronounce that everything “comes down” to private interpretation, whether I “like it or not.”

And yet again, you are mistaken. The Bible itself is clear: no scripture “is of any private interpretation” (2Peter 1:20). According to the Bible, God is the originator and interpreter of His word. That is, the Bible is self authenticating, authoritative, and perspicuous.

The Bible is not to be treated as a “wax nose” to be twisted or formed according to personal whim. Upon what logical or rational basis do you assume that the Bible means what the individual says it means or that the individual is the final arbiter of truth? You are making authoritative statements based upon nothing but personal opinion. With no ultimate authority other than yourself, what can you possibly offer us other than your own personal dogmatism?

Why is it that many of us can't seem to remember both religions came from the same damn family?
Well, friend, many of us find it difficult to remember things that never happened.

Christianity is a revealed religion. That is, it didn't come from man. Rather, God revealed Himself specifically in His Son and through His apostles and prophets in scripture. Now, you may reject this truth statement of Christianity. This is your prerogative. But please don't offer simplistic and ahistorical nonsense that Christianity and Islam come from the same source. You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Both Christianity and Islam came from God, or Allah if one so chooses to use this name. However, you've made my point for elitist babble.
No. Christianity and Islam did not both come from God. Christianity and Islam each make absolute truth claims concerning the nature of God and of Christ; truth claims which diametrically oppose each other. To claim that God has revealed Himself in contradictory truth claims, is tantamount to believing a = -a is a true mathematical statement. In other words, such a claim is illogical and absurd.

Islam vehemently denies the Trinity. Christianity is rooted in Trinitarian theology. Islam vehemently denies that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. That God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Islam vehemently denies the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity affirms the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Islam denies that Christ died and resurrected for sinners. Christianity upholds this as the central tenet of the Faith. I could go on and on. (But I don't want to bore you with facts and "elitist babble.")

The "similarities" between Christianity and Islam are contrived by people who know next to nothing of either religion.

Interesting, Steve, that u speak for god and that u know Christianity and Islam both don't come from god.....wow, do u know in advance winning lotto tickets as well.....???
I don't presume to speak for God. God has authoritatively and sufficiently spoken for Himself in His Son and in scripture. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

You may refuse to listen to God in His word and in His Son, but this doesn’t mean He hasn’t spoken. As for winning lottery tickets...why don't you try to argue with the state that truth is relative and that your ticket is every bit as true and valid as the winner's? Insist that it is narrow minded bigotry to assume there could be only one set of winning numbers. See how far this gets you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Zionist Creed: Give us Your Money but Keep Your Jesus

The Roman amphitheater hosts some of the wildest concerts in Israel, but it rarely sees a crowd as excitable as this one. After all, this was no mere musical act, but the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck.
The former Fox News talk-show host was joined on stage by the American evangelical icon John Hagee, who, in a twist on Kennedy's famous "ich bin en Berliner" comment had the crowd chanting "ani yisraeli," which means: "I am an Israeli."
Today was the first fixture, a rally attended by 3,000 people, mostly Americans who traveled to Israel especially for the Beck events. It took place at Caesarea Amphitheater, an impressive venue built in the first century by Herod the Great.
Sunday evening, I chanced upon this event as it was being televised on TBN. (Obviously I chanced upon it because who purposely watches TBN?) I watched 4 speakers, including John Hagee.

I heard “Jesus Christ” mentioned only one time--by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The context? "Christians are standing with us [Jews]. We believe Jesus was a good Jewish teacher, but not God or the Messiah." (This is not an exact quote, but with these very words he SPECIFICALLY and FORTHRIGHTLY denied Jesus was and is God the Messiah.)

And all the Christians were cheering. It made me sick. Shame on Hagee and every Christian mindlessly "standing" with Christ deniers--on the mistaken notion or basis that they [Jews and Christians] are worshipers of the same God. "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son" (1Jn 2:22).

The Bible couldn't be more clear: Those who deny the Son do not have the Father and actually call "Him [God] a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son" (1Jn 5:10).

Hagee and others consistently referred to the writings of Moses--as though this is common ground. But what does JESUS our LORD say to the Jews [and everyone else] who deny Him? "If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me" (Jn 5:46).

Ultimately, the only biblical thing, the only truly loving thing, is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our Jewish friends. It is utterly unloving and unchristian to tell Jews “You’re okay” or “You’re God’s chosen people"--APART from faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of all men.

Rather than follow Christian Zionists, let us emulate the attitude of the Apostle Paul.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved…For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1,3-4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The End of All Learning

When asked “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Honesty, and perhaps some humility, demand that we admit that not a single one of us has kept this great commandment, for even one day of our lives. Thus the law of God drives us to the grace of God, and it is in the grace of God that we find rest and salvation.

But though we do not find salvation in the law of God, we do find direction there. Specifically, we find direction as to how it is that we are to love God. We are to love God with all of our being, and a large part of our being is our mind. Hence, we are commanded to love God with all of our mind.

How often have I lamented that a great number of Christians fail to love God with their minds? The Christian may fail to love God with his mind in many ways, but I wish to speak here of two--one being obvious and the other not so obvious. We begin with the deplorable condition of biblical and theological illiteracy so rampant in much of the church world today. The Christian, persistently ignorant of the faith, cannot be loving God with all of his mind.

I dare say that never in the history of the Protestant faith, has the evangelical church been more shallow and superficial in its theology. Some of this theological ignorance is due to laziness in the pulpit. I am put in mind of Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherd feed the flocks?” (34:2). How much of the institutional church is comprised of weak, anemic, starving sheep languishing under idle shepherds?

Yet, much theological ignorance is not due to laziness in the pulpit, but laziness in the pew. To the Lord’s “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), the lazy pew yawns, “Oh, it’s Sunday, the day of rest. Don’t make me think too much.” Then of course, the lazy pew is quick to add, “But don’t bore me either!” Alas, the lazy pew is shallow and superficial and cannot love God with the mind. Sadly, the church is never more like the world than when she is weak minded.

Theological ignorance is one way, the most obvious and the most prevalent way, that Christians fail to love God with the mind. But there is another way, less obvious and less prevalent, yet more insidious than theological ignorance; and it is the way of theological arrogance. We could stress the difference thus: The theologically ignorant fail to love God with their mind; while the theologically arrogant fail to love God with their mind.

I have met Christians who are theologically sound in many ways, yet paradoxically, in their arrogance; it appears that they love theology more than they love God. Theology is not God. We must never forget this. It is altogether possible to be more excited or proud concerning, or to love more, the doctrine of God, than God. When I love the doctrine of God more than I love God, theological arrogance ensues. This is the import of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “Knowledge puffs up...if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him” (1Cor. 8:1-3).

Now, it should be understood that one cannot love God apart from doctrine or theology. How can we love God if we do not know Him? But it should be equally understood that we can love theology with the mind without truly loving God with the mind. Respected theologian, J. I. Packer, writes,

What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. (Knowing God, p.p. 22-23)
Is there a remedy for theological ignorance on the one hand and for theological arrogance on the other? I know of only one: Love God with all your mind. This is our duty and should be our delight. To conclude, I leave you with the words of John Milton: “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Analogy of the Rowboat

Picture yourself relaxed and reclined in an unassuming rowboat, just offshore, on a secluded and placid lake. The lake with its pristine magnificence, promises tranquility for as far as the eye can see. Then, it seems almost unconsciously, you are transported into another world. You are transported into another world because you are in your rowboat and because you are in your favorite novel. What is time and space when one is afloat in a boat and absorbed in a book?

But then your reverie is ruined as reality breaks in upon unreality in the form of a distant clap of thunder. There is a storm on the horizon. The world, the real world, has changed. The placid lake promising tranquility has broken her promise. The real world has changed and you have changed. You have changed because you are no longer “just offshore”, but you are presently far removed and distant from land.

Unbeknownst to you, you were two hours into a book and now you are two hours into a lake. This is at once both startling and confusing. The world looks different from here than it did from there. Yes, the world has changed and you have changed, but as your mind clears and adjusts, it is abundantly clear that something has remained unchanged: the shore. The shore is precisely where and as it was. The shore is precisely where and as it was because the shore is anchored. The shore is anchored and you are not.

There is a coming storm and its furious approach will not delay. You are afloat in a boat but you are no longer absorbed in a book, and now time and space take on a renewed significance. You have a window of opportunity. What must you do? Pray and hope that the storm dissipates or pray and row for the shore? One is the way of uncertainty, the other is the way of certainty. One is the way of pretense and madness, the other is the way of courage and wisdom. Which is the way for you?

I wanted you to picture this scenario in your mind because this picture captures, metaphorically, the scenario, the real scenario, in which the United States finds herself. How did the United States get from where she was to where she is? The journey from where the United States was to where she is, is not merely a journey of progress, but we must say that it has been a journey of certain progress marred with tragic regress.

It is said, and generally agreed to, that the United States is a post Christian nation. How did the United States become a post Christian nation? When did the change take place? We would say that the transition from Christianity to post Christianity did not take place punctually, or at a specific or appointed time; but rather, the transition from Christianity to post Christianity has transpired incrementally, gradually and over time.

Like our make-believe rowboat that slowly and steadily, and imperceptibly, floated away from the shore; the United States has slowly and steadily, and imperceptibly, drifted away from her Christian heritage. This is incrementalism. While we as Americans have been absorbed in the unreality of postmodern philosophy, we as a nation have incrementally drifted away from that which offers security in the face of the storm.

In our allegory of the rowboat, the shore is absolute Truth. The shore is absolute Truth anchored in the Christian theistic worldview. The shore is absolute Truth anchored in the understanding of God and His world. The world has changed and we have changed but the shore remains unchanged. What will we as Americans do?

Will we take the way of uncertainty or certainty? Will we take the way of pretense and madness or will we take the way of wisdom and courage? Shall we row towards the shore or shall we row away from the shore until we can no longer see the shore, and then pretend that the shore doesn’t exist and never did?

Excerpted from my book, “God & His World,” p.p. 177-179.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

By What Standard? pt. 4

Our discussion of theonomy concludes in a debate with an indignant unbeliever. You will notice how quickly the dialogue turns from theonomy, per se, to worldview. And this is to be expected. For disagreement between a believer and a non believer is, in reality, a collision of worldviews. Thus, the angry agnostic/atheist inevitably refers to “evidence” and “evolution” and “reason,” etc. These are all issues of worldview.

Why does the non believer sneer, “Theonomy is simply ridiculous”? Because from within his penurious worldview, theonomy and the like is ridiculous. Of this, the Bible is quite clear. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). When the non theist rejects the authority and veracity of biblical principles, he is thinking and reasoning exactly as scripture says he will.

According to the Bible, the unbeliever cannot appreciate or understand, he cannot obey from the heart, the teaching of scripture. Hence, God’s Law is a necessary deterrent to, in one sense specifically designed for, precisely this kind of rebellious, God denying person.
The law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, (1Tim 1:9-10).
For clarity, my opponent's words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

Theonomy is simply ridiculous.
This is simply an “appeal to ridicule” [a logical fallacy], and offers nothing meaningful to the conversation.

We know that morality began with society, humans interacting together, and evolved therefrom…
Here you are simply begging the question. That is, you are simply assuming what you have yet to prove. Who is “we”? And what is the epistemological justification for such a knowledge claim?

If you believe the Bible, then you will know that violence constantly comes from the depicted deity.
This is simply a red herring. God is not the subject of my thesis, man is. I am discussing civil government.

There is no evidence for theonomy.
Again, you are simply begging the question. The “evidence” one sees or does not see, the “evidence” one allows or disallows; depends entirely upon one’s worldview. For example, the theist “sees evidence” for the existence of God, and the atheist does not “see evidence” for the existence of God; all the while living within the same universe. This disparity of “seeing” has nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with worldview.

Any system of belief…can be invented ...by human imagination.
Do you mean imaginative systems of belief such as: “morality began with society, humans interacting together, and evolved therefrom…” Is this what you mean by “any system of belief”? If so, then I am inclined to agree with you.

The Bible's laws are judged by humans…
Ultimately, you have this precisely backwards. In the final analysis, according to scripture, humans are judged by the Bible’s laws. God is the final arbiter of truth, not man.

"There is NO final arbiter, no arbiter at all."
I find it more than just a little ironic that you proclaim with magisterial authority: "There is NO final arbiter, no arbiter at all." (It makes me want to ask you, "Are you sure? Is that your FINAL answer? From where does this knowledge of yours come?)

"There is only real evidence and following what is reasonable, here with history, etc. which provide hard evidence."
Yet again, you are merely begging the question. What constitutes "real evidence"? Isn't "following what is reasonable" determined according to one's worldview? Do we not all think and reason from within our own worldview, viz. our own grid and filter or network of presuppositions? When you attempt to "reason" aren't you doing so subjectively? Or, are you accustomed to "reasoning" apart from your own mind?

"You begin with world-view..."
Well, present one person who has no worldview. Please present one thinker who has no worldview from within which he cogitates. Give me one thinker void of presuppositions. I'll take just one.

The fact is, all "facts" must be interpreted. Bare facts must be interpreted in order for them to be meaningful. And, friend, there are no neutral interpreters of facts. [This includes judges, journalists, scientists, and theologians.] As CS Lewis memorably penned, "What we learn from experience depends upon the philosophy we bring to experience."

"Forming one's own world-view should be based on evidence, reason, respect for other people, not hurting others, and living the way one chooses, not being told."
Says who? You? By what authority do you make such pronouncements? You say we should "not be told" and yet you cannot resist telling us these things.

Furthermore, you say you have no presuppositions and then presume to tell us the things upon which a worldview should be based! (Wow.) You talk out of both sides of your mouth. You are a walking contradiction.

"No world-view controls me...There is no need for presuppositions, and I have none."
When I read your comments, I realize that I am dealing with a person who has both feet firmly planted in thin air.

Thank you for reading and commenting, but before you attempt to debate others, perhaps you should finish the debate you're having with yourself.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

By What Standard? pt. 3

The conversation concerning theonomy continues with a pastor who belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denomination (ELCA). Regrettably, many within this denomination do not believe God’s Law should govern the church, much less the state. Evidence of this? In August of 2009, against the abundant and clear teaching of scripture, ELCA delegates voted 559-451 to ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy.

Martin Luther, whose courageous conscience was captive to the Word of God, without question, would vehemently disapprove. Recognizing this blatant departure from biblical principles and Luther, a faithful and heartbroken ELCA minister bemoaned, “My denomination is ‘Lutheran’ in name only.”

Given the milieu within this embattled denomination, I am not at all surprised or offended that an ELCA pastor would find my treatment of theonomy to be distasteful, if not laughable. The following is our respectful, but lively dialogue. For clarity, my interlocutor’s words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

"I disagree with your premise that Theonomy or whatever name you call it cannot lead to violence. In my opinion, it's an extreme view and not many scholars agree with it. I used to be Calvinist BTW. I know there are some good reformed scholars but Reconstructionism/Dominion/Theonomy is out of the mainstream."
Can you please present from my blog where I said "Theonomy cannot lead to violence"? I think one would be hard-pressed to find any system of belief of which it could be logically said, "this CANNOT lead to violence." Wouldn't you agree? (Do we not find "extreme" views in nearly all camps?)

Yes, there are "some good" Reformed scholars. And, I think there may be "some good" Lutheran scholars. But, I'm really not interested in what may be termed as the logical fallacy of "appeal to authority." (People all too easily throw around the phrase "scholars say....")

Similarly, the notion that "Theonomy is out of the mainstream" is also unconvincing to me. What constitutes "mainstream" is most often quite subjective.

I am more interested in this question: Is theonomy--as I presented it in my article--biblical? I'm not speaking of violence or of any particular form of government. I'm simply asking, by what standard should the civil magistrate seek to govern, according to scripture?

So by who's interpretation? Your interpretation of God's law which is Reformed?
This is nothing but an attempt at obfuscation. To demonstrate the foolishness of your queries, I shall answer you with questions. 1)Would you please give me the “Reformed interpretation” of YOU SHALL NOT MURDER? Can you now give me a “non Reformed interpretation” of the same command? Is the “non Reformed interpretation” essentially or significantly different from the “Reformed interpretation”?

2)Please answer these same questions in regards to YOU SHALL NOT STEAL. 3)Now, let’s try the same questions in regards to YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS. 4)Please answer the same questions with reference to “YOU SHALL NOT LIE WITH A MALE AS WITH A WOMAN.”

I don’t suppose I need to continue my reductio ad absurdum any further. The silliness of the proposition-- that God’s Law is unclear--should be apparent. For not only has God revealed His Law in scripture, but also in the heart of man. As Lewis argues in “Mere Christianity,” every man knows the law.

C.S. Lewis would not agree with you. Sorry.
This, of course, is a non sequitur. I do not appeal to Lewis in my article. (I did quote him, fairly, if not verbatim--from memory--in my comments to a reader.) Nevertheless, Lewis would completely concur that there is a higher Law than man’s “law." And while I can understand why you would wish to invoke Lewis (though improperly); I cannot understand why you would use the term “Sorry,” upon so doing.

Thomas Jefferson who was a Deist would disagree with you. LOL
This is yet another non sequitur. I make no appeal to Jefferson in my article. I remind you of what I wrote to you earlier: I'm simply asking, by what standard should the civil magistrate seek to govern, according to scripture? (Jefferson, like Lewis, was a brilliant thinker; however, neither of them are in the Canon.)

However, since you seem more interested in Jefferson than in scripture on this subject, I shall indulge you in a quote from an early American.

God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever. (Thomas Jefferson--LOL).
Don't get me wrong I do not believe in relativism but invoking God and country is dangerous and idolatry which is ironic.
Yes, invoking “God and country,” wrapping the Bible in the U.S. flag, etc. is at worst idolatrous; and at best perilously close to idolatrous. (I’m not exactly sure how this is “ironic”?) But I think we may be in agreement on this particular, narrow point. (That IS ironic.)
Next week: We shall conclude our series on theonomy with a debate from a disgruntled unbeliever.