Archive | . . . and other stupid statements

“Good Question . . . I Will Find the Answer and Get Back to You” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

The other day I was listening to a radio program. The speaker is someone who is very popular in Evangelical apologetics. He is someone that I have learned a lot from and whom I respect a great deal. However, he propagated something that I think is a very poor apologetic response to questions for which the individual does not have answers. It goes like this:

Apologist teacher: “We need to be ready to give an answer for our faith.”

Student: “But I am scared. What if someone asks a question that I don’t have an answer for.”

Apologist teacher: “Don’t be scared. It is okay if you don’t know. Don’t feel bad about your lack of knowledge. You just need to remedy it. Tell them that it is a good question and that you will go find the answer and get back with them about it.”

However, I find this sort of carte blanche response disturbing and quite demeaning.

I am not saying that it could not be a good answer in certain circumstances for certain questions. But when it comes to our defense of the faith we had better be more prepared and more reflective. What do I mean by this?

Think about it. Let’s put this in a particular situation. You are an enthusiastic Christian who believes deeply in the Gospel. You are talking to a co-worker about Christ one day. They begin to tell you about why they don’t believe in God. The crux of their issue is the problem of evil. “How could a good God allow evil?” That is their question. You respond, “I don’t know. Good question. I will research this some and get back to you next week.” Continue Reading →

“Calvinism is the Gospel” . . . and Other Stupid Statements

high_five_sunset There is quite a bit of celebration among us Calvinists about our particular beliefs about God’s sovereignty and our salvation. Well . . . maybe not at first. Most go through a pretty intense time of confusion and even despair as attempts are made to integrate so many non-intuitive doctrines that give us far more than a knee-jerk reaction. But as the unnatural becomes natural, the rejected becomes accepted, and the confusion becomes “selah,” a new attitude sets in. Normally, this attitude provides an ugly facelift that is about as unnatural to Christianity as what might have come before. An arrogance sets in and grabs a warm seat in the (mostly empty) bleachers of Calvinistic celebration. No longer is Calvinism this ugly aspect of Christianity that might have been the Achilles Heel of your faith, now it is central to everything you are. A celebration of Calvinism finds its place in your daily spiritual conversations. Some find themselves talking more about Calvinism than anything else. The spiritual stance of others soon becomes judged by one’s acceptance or rejection of the blessed five points. Why? Because what was anathema has now become central. “Calvinism is the Gospel” you will hear people say with great pride. As hard as it is for me to resist, I won’t be given anyone any high fives when this epiphany is called out.

Yes, I hear it all the time. In fact, I think I have said it a few times in the past. It just sounded profound to my newly formed reformed ears. But not only do I think this is an unfortunate saying, not only do I think it is off-putting and unnecessarily decisive, in the context it is usually said, it is truly wrong. Calvinism is not the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I did not say that I believe the particular doctrines of Reformed theology that Calvinism adheres to is unimportant. Nor did I say that I don’t care whether people accept it. I simply do not believe that a belief in the five points of Calvinism is either necessary to becoming a Christian or becoming a good Christian.

Continue Reading →

Are you “on the wrong side of history” (and should you be worried)?

It’s time to take a closer look at a phrase you’re probably tired of hearing by now. Words and phrases come into and go out of style just like everything else. I remember when Devo and Spandau Ballet were tearing up the FM airwaves. In recent years there has been a surge in popularity for the phrase “on the wrong side of history.” An article at the end of 2013 claimed that this “rhetorical two-step,” as it called it, has seen a statistical swell across published articles. It cites the Yale Book of Quotations, which counted 524 articles in 2006 in which the phrase was used, compared with 1,800 articles featuring it in 2013.

 

So it’s all the rage, but what does it mean? If you didn’t know any better, you might think that it means going against history or disagreeing with those who went before us. But of course that is not what those who use the phrase are wanting to say. But let us examine briefly both possibilities. Let’s ask first about being on the wrong side of history as we now consider it (i.e., that which in our past), and then let’s look at being on the wrong side of what will someday be history (i.e., that which is in our future).

 

On the Wrong Side of What We NOW Call “History”

 

History is that which is in the past, quite obviously, so the most literal understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” would be just what it sounds like: to be on the wrong side of history, in this sense, is to hold a belief or position that goes against what those in the past believed or held. Knowing as we do the general thought-patterns of our own culture, we might reasonably ask whether the dominant perspective represented in pop culture, media and entertainment finds agreement with the majority of significant voices from our history.

 

And it would not require a lot of reading from history to come quickly to the conclusion that nearly nobody from the generations of the past would find agreement with leading contemporary social and political voices in the Western world. History is a long tale full of clues about how our present culture came to look, speak, think, and act the way it does. If you familiarize yourself with the story you will come to see that the contemporary notions Americans have about religion, ethics and politics are mostly novelties, appearing just a few ‘chapters’ ago.

 

Historical ignorance and the move away from traditional religious and moral beliefs are undoubtedly tied together. “History is a hill or a high point,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “from which alone men see the town in which they are living and the age in which they live.” So many today are confused and lack perspective because they have no vantage point from which to see their own tiny plot of time and place.  To borrow the analogy from James the Apostle, we never look into the mirror that would show us a more accurate reflection of ourselves and our surroundings.

 

Reading the words or biographies of prominent people from our past would likely shock – and maybe offend – many contemporary fans of the “progressive” left. A lot of young people who encounter the voices of the past while reading for college courses are given to the foolish habit of rejecting them with a knee-jerk reaction that assumes that everyone who lived before iphones was backward and just didn’t get it. In most cases they read just enough to condemn everyone in history of being ignorant, racist, puritanical religious nuts. This childish view of history says more about our own culture than any of those from the past. We’ve become too inept even to know how to process the predominant ways of thinking of those in our history. “To be ignorant of the past is to remain a child,” wrote Cicero, and he had so much less history from which to learn than we do all of these centuries later. Our confusion is of our own making. We have libraries of brilliant teachers to tutor us, but we’d rather get our wisdom from our peers, from Hollywood, from jaded comedians, or from the twittersphere, all within 140 characters.

 

I challenge anyone to begin reading biographies of the American founders, and see how long it takes to start re-adjusting everything that you thought you knew about the moral and political debates of our time. For all of the specific and distinct differences between them, they all seem to have shared a general worldview that many young voters today would hardly recognize. As far as I can tell, none of them – to a man – could get elected to any office today with the views they expressed in their writings and speeches.

 

Poor Washington, Adams, Jay, Hamilton, Jefferson & Madison, if they discovered a time machine & visited us today, would find themselves in a bizarro-world of contemporary political correctness, and they would quickly find that instead of principled disagreement and substantive debate, our present political culture would offer them only petty mockery and slander for their views. They would be castigated as right-wing religious wackos. They would be called war-mongers, too vicious toward criminals, way too accommodating toward churches and religious organizations, not nearly compassionate enough with the government spending, and generally too uptight. Their views of marriage and family would elicit angry, sarcastic laughter from the entertainment community.  They would feel like the guy from the movie “Idiocracy” after he woke up from a few hundred years of cryosleep to a society steadily degraded in every way to the point of being completely debased morons.

 

My point is that the literal understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” would not suit those are most fond of the phrase. Since they tend to lean leftward toward modern p.c. sensibilities, they would be horrified to discover just how far on the wrong side of our history they have placed themselves.

 

On the Wrong Side of What FUTURE Generations Will Call “History”

 

This second understanding of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” is what most people actually mean to suggest when they use it. They mean to say that the present direction and flow of ideas and events points one way (typically “my” way), and those of you who disagree are simply moving in the other direction – away from the direction that things appear to be headed. It is as if the current of the cultural river is moving along, and a few traditionalists uncomfortable with its direction are trying to turn back against it. The implied argument is that, first, the traditionalist is in denial regarding the way things are actually going, and second, the deniers are impeding the forward progress of things and hindering the natural flow of history toward what we have discerned is its destination.

 

So again I ask:  Is this a fair charge by those who are pushing society away from the traditions of the past? Will people in future generations look back with shame at those who were not on board with direction that cultural progressives are moving society at the present moment?

 

Keep in mind first that this understanding of “history” (the present time that will be considered history to future generations) differs from actual “history” (the times that preceded the present) in one very important sense: actual history has already happened and is thus set, whereas the imagined history as future people will see it is sheer guesswork. In other words, when asking whether you’re on the wrong side of actual history, you at least can address the question to events that are final and cannot change. The thoughts, beliefs, and deeds of the people before us already happened.  But asking whether you’re on the wrong side of what future generations will think, believe, and do is a presumptuous (and usually self-serving) leap.

 

And not only are those who use this phrase over-estimating their knowledge of what the mindset and beliefs of people in future generations will actually be, they are being equally presumptuous that those supposed beliefs of future people are correct beliefs. Either they invest way too much confidence in the superior wisdom of people yet to be born (which may involve the ridiculous idea that we will ‘evolve’ over a couple of generations), or they have a mystical view of history’s unfolding that places faith in the inevitable move upward toward utopia (something akin to the views of men like Hegel or Marx).

 

Because of all of this, when I hear someone respond to an opponent in a debate over a heated moral or political topic with “You’re on the wrong side of history,” (assuming that the person means it in this second, most likely sense) II immediately want to ask two questions of that person: (1) How do you presume to know the collective mindset of millions of people yet to exist? And (2) even if you are right about their views, so what? What makes them any more correct than anyone living now or in the past?

 

What I think is really going on when people use this phrase is that they are hoping that the idea of being “on the wrong side of history” will register some kind of negative feeling that puts pressure on those who disagree with them to change their point of view. It is a  rhetorical ploy. Instead of a legitimate argument, it is a personal pressure strategy. The opponent is supposed to have a sense that he or she is, after all, on the “wrong” side and therefore should change. It is by no means a new tactic. In 1960 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was so confident in the Marxist view of history in which the superiority of communism was set inevitably to overthrow capitalism that he told his opponents with full swagger, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.”

 

The real issue: Are you on the right or wrong side of the TRUTH?

 

In an age of social media group-think and public cowardice this may sound revolutionary, but it’s high time people today muster up enough common sense and courage to say, “I don’t care what people think or say.” Only someone willing to think outside of the narrow parameters of the immediate culture’s myopic perspective can have any hope of arriving at sensible conclusions on important questions.

 

We seem to care so little about the wisdom of all of the generations of the past, why then concern ourselves so anxiously about the projected opinions of the generations of the future? I submit that if those who are so fond of declaring who will (in the future) end up on the wrong side of history would themselves learn some actual history, they might gain just enough insight to realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about, which may just be the golden key of truth that opens the gates of wisdom for them.

 

All of those who have gone before were flawed and limited just like we are. They weren’t omniscient. In plenty of cases we are confident to call certain of their opinions wrong. But that isn’t the point. As the Chesterton quote in the previous section indicates, the point of hearing the views of people outside of your time and place is that they may help you see outside of your own immediate influences and biases. Or as Tim Keller has famously put it, “”When you read one thinker, you become a clone. Two thinkers, you become confused. Ten thinkers, you begin developing your own voice. Two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise.” We could elaborate this to say that when you are completely submersed in one specific culture, you are a clone of that culture. You have to hear the contradictory opinions of people outside your echo chamber.

 

Truth should carry more weight than the shared feelings or passing opinions of a given majority within a single subculture. The mistake of the dominant media and entertainment culture of the present moment is that it arrogantly and immaturely allows itself to suppose that its current views on religious, moral and political issues are so obviously right that opposing views need not be seriously considered. No time need be wasted, they seem to be saying among themselves, on making legitimate arguments for our current views or engaging with dissenting opinions. Instead we can just ride the wave of our own subjective confidence and attempt to put pressure on our critics to get on our bandwagon and at least pretend to agree with us. And one of the ways we can try to apply such pressure is to taunt them with “You’re on the wrong side of history.”

Why “I believe in logic and reason” is a Nonsense Statement

I’m exposed more than the average citizen to regular discussions and debates of ‘off limits’ subjects like religion, partly by circumstance and partly by choice, which is to say partly because I’m in classrooms every week where these topics are on the agenda and partly because I go out of my way to observe or listen when they are hashed out in larger public forums.

You are likely to hear something today that people in generations gone by would have thought strange, which is the following: In the context of disagreement about religious beliefs (like what a person believes about God, the afterlife, etc.), someone who doesn’t believe in any such things will announce his or her belief in “logic” and “reason.” This declaration of allegiance to logic and reason is typically offered with boastful superiority, as if to say, “Well as for the rest of you, you can believe this or that, but as for me, I believe in logic and reason.” The implication that is given by this simplistic credal statement is that belief in logic/reason is unique to the person making the confession of belief in it, as though it is the exclusive alternative to the other people’s beliefs. They believe x-y-z, but I believe in reason.

What Think Ye of Reason? Whose Son is He?

Nobody likes an ugly custody battle, but in the recent era of boisterous “in your face” internet debate styles, we’ve seen an attempt to co-opt the favored terms and claim them as the natural and exclusive property of the self-appointed champions of reason and logic. When you see any particular individual or group lay claim to “reason”, you should get suspicious. Anti-religious atheist groups are the most glaring culprits when it comes to this. They love to name their groups things like “The United Coalition of Reason” and grab media attention by naming their events things like “The Reason Rally.”

Not that this is entirely without precedent. In the early 1790s some radical Enlightenment-loving French revolutionaries dismantled the altars of Paris churches as a display of their contempt for the Roman Catholic clergy of their time, erecting new displays to the symbolic goddess “Reason.” Their cause was more political and social (and in their context, more dire). Today’s cavalier use of “reason” is more of a self-serving PR strategy. By claiming “reason” as my own, I imply it is on my side only and that those opposed to me are clearly unreasonable. This is why Al Gore decided that his 2008 book lashing out at Bush & all of this political opponents should be entitled The Assault on Reason. As strategies go, it’s completely self-congratulatory but probably as effective, at least, as other similar political statements we’ve often heard, such as “The difference between me and my opponent is that I am interested in the truth.

Unfortunately most of the matra-like repetition of the words logic and reason amounts to posturing and nothing else. Few people care to understand just what we are talking about when we employ these words, which in common use are mostly synonymous.  The late Dallas Willard once wrote that “Reason is a voice that all of us hear.”  Reason is nobody’s child. Nobody has sole custody. Nobody has the market cornered. Logic is inescapably embedded in all of our thinking and discourse. Everyone who has thought about it very long has realized this. Aristotle was one of the earliest to elucidate it clearly in writing. All human thinking and discourse, if it is coherent in the least bit, is employing and relying upon basic logic. The only way for any person or group to jettison reason entirely (and remain consistent in doing so) would be for that group or person to utter words totally at random or remain completely silent. For that matter he (or they) would not be able even to think in propositions without making use of reason.

This is not to say that human beings are rational in all of our deliberations and decisions. We are influenced by and subject to all sorts of other influences too. And not that even the smartest people among us don’t occasionally violate the canons of reason. We’re no more intellectually perfect than we are morally perfect. Christian theologians have long alluded to what they call the “noetic” effects of our fallen nature, meaning our imperfections and limitations are not only in the ethical domain. Our minds are flawed enough all the way around to cause us to be foolishly illogical in specific ways on certain occasions.

But these limitations apply to everyone across the board. Nobody is immune. The thought processes of the most devout believers are the same basic combinations of factors as those of the least religious. For everyone the mental life consists of a regular mixture of common sense, ignorance, insight, oversight, at times pristine logical thinking, at other times glaring errors or blind spots, biases, confusion, emotionalism, etc. Where disagreement exists between two points of view, the wrong approach is simply to hail everyone who agrees with you as reasonable and brand everyone who doesn’t as illogical. When you apply the words “illogical” and “unreasonable” to people it is generally in order to insult them . Apply the terms instead – and appropriately – to the arguments themselves if you can demonstrate why they apply.

A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

When you hear the casual tossing around of the words “logic” and “reason” in this usual contemporary way (i.e., claiming them for my side) you should ask some basic questions of the person using them. What does he or she take those words to mean? What is their definition? Are they the same thing? Different?  If the person is claiming that someone’s view or position is “illogical”, can he or she point to exactly where logic is being violated? Most people who speak this way don’t realize that something is not “illogical” simply because it is strange, outlandish, hard to believe, or even empirically false.

Another question I ask is, does the person (claiming to believe in “logic and reason”) suppose that the most reasonable and logically astute thinkers of history agreed with him/her? Alexander Pope’s immortal poetic line that “a little learning is a dangerous thing” tends to apply here. Pope’s advice was to “drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring.” In a similar vein, and more to the point regarding basic religious belief, the great Francis Bacon wrote, “It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion” (Of Atheism). This is why C. S. Lewis had his fictional senior demon Screwtape advise the novice demon Wormwood to keep it shallow and superficial when trying to mess with his victim’s head. “Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the church,” writes Screwtape, who adds a few lines later, “By the very act of arguing you awake the patient’s reason, and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?” (The Screwtape Letters).

The culture of the internet with its dizzying array of endless media is vastly different from the one Pope and Bacon knew, yet it demonstrates their principle well. So many people today know just enough to be “dangerous.” They suppose themselves to be so eminently reasonable and scientifically literate when in fact they are typically less knowledgeable than people were in generations past.  Note I did not say “less informed” about events in the world or having less access to information. But they’ve thought so little and in such fleeting, candy-sized media-wrapped sound bytes about the issues they are discussing that they are closer to being enemies of reason than friends.

The majority of those on whose shoulders Western Civilization stands would have been baffled by the attitudes of those talking such a big game about logic and reason. Had they been put in a time machine and dropped in the middle of the recent “Reason Rally” they would have thought they were in a different universe where “reason” must mean something else. What, after all, would someone like John Locke have thought of the advice of Richard Dawkins, arguably the intellectual spokesman for contemporary atheism, to the crowds at the “Reason Rally”? What would such a preeminent thinker as Locke – so massively influential in shaping British thought at the time as well as upon the American framers, a man who wrote, among so many other things, an essay actually entitled “The Reasonableness of Christianity” – what would he think upon hearing the leading voice for popular atheism urge his throngs to employ the strategy of contempt, ridicule and mockery against religious believers? So much for “logic” and “reason.”

There are atheists who do understand the meaning of reason, and they do their cause at least the favor of rising above the foolishness of throwing those words around without comprehending them. One such example is Robert Paul Wolff, a philosopher whose textbook About Philosophy is among those on my shelf. In it Wolff writes that although he identifies as an atheist, he is incapable of contempt toward those who believe otherwise. He knows too much. He has drunk deep from the spring. Depth in philosophy, to paraphrase Bacon, keeps bringing this atheist’s mind back around to the theological possibilities.  In his text Wolff praises the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, calling the melancholy Dane “the most gifted” of all the important thinkers in our history. Wolff writes candidly that although he is an atheist, “as a lifelong philosopher, I am forced to recognize that almost every great Western thinker for whom I have profound respect thinks that I am wrong.” This, Wolff admits, often makes him “a little nervous.”

 

Faith and Reason

As old a topic as it is, the contemporary abuse of words like “logic” and “reason” begs for us to revisit the discussion of the role of reason in the realm of faith. And while we’re chastising those who wave the flag of reason like they are its sole custodians, we need to remind a certain segment of the faithful and devout that reason is not a weapon of darkness. I said above that reason is nobody’s child, and that includes Satan. Reason is not a tool of the Evil One that you should resist. The truth is that you can’t resist it anyway as was explained already. To make a case against reason you must use it.

Christians do not idolize reason, nor do we scorn it. When the Gospel of John employs “logos” in its opening line, you can be sure that the writer does not despise the voice of reason, which he no doubt recognizes as the voice of God, imperfect as we are at hearing and discerning it accurately.  All revelation presupposes rational agents – even if imperfect ones –  who can comprehend basic communication. Truth is dependent upon the most basic principles of logic. Otherwise the written word is just markings and the spoken word (“rhema”) is just noise. Show me a Christian who claims to be opposed to reason and I’ll show you someone who (a) doesn’t understand the nature of reason to begin with, and (b) is probably failing miserably to achieve the kind of wisdom and discernment toward which a disciple is supposed to strive.

Faith and reason are not cosmic foes fighting on behalf of God and Satan, respectively. That is as idiotic a parody as the parody of faith itself in which it is naive assent to patently false propositions, a la “believin’ what ain’t so”. C. S. Lewis once called faith “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (Mere Christianity). It is a kind of trust that endures through the tumultuous and fickle emotional roller coaster of life. It is the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) where “hope” is understood in the biblical sense of being tethered to something solid but beyond your immediate vision or grasp, not mere “wishing” or escapism.

The mind is not murdering reason in order to make room for faith. Reason cannot be killed, and if it could be, any meaningful concept of faith would die with it, and no contemplation or discussion of anything would be possible from that moment on. For the opponent of faith to thump his chest and announce that he believes in logic and reason is as useless as if he said, “I believe in saying words out loud that express my views.”  My response to either one is, “Uh, .. OK. Me too. Now what is your argument?”

“You Can’t Use the Bible to Prove the Bible” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

I have heard this statement many times. It can come from Christians or non-Christians, but mainly I hear it from unbelievers this idea that the Bible is inadmissible as evidence for itself. If I were trying to use the Bible to prove the validity of the Bible (from the perspective of many outsiders), this is circular reasoning. This statement is not only wrong, but completely misunderstands its own argument; ironically, it makes the exact circular assumptions that it accuses believers of.

1. The “Bible” is not one book

When we are talking about “proving” or evidencing the truths of the Gospel message, we have to put our historian hats on (not our religious hats). The argument is meant to place Christians in this rather odd situation where they sound like they are saying the Bible is true because it says it is true. But the Bible is not one book. In fact, the term “Bible” is not in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of works that spans over a thousand years, written by dozens of authors, some who are connected, some who are not. All together there are sixty-six books in the Protestant Bible.

When we are talking about the claims of the “New Testament,” we are talking about the story of Christianity, the very foundation and apex of Christianity as it deals with the incarnation of Christ, who he was, and what he did. But even then, to say one can’t prove the New Testament with the New Testament is quite ill-informed and unreflective. The designation “New Testament” (along with its list of books) is not even in the New Testament. Like with the whole Bible, it is just a name given to a certain related corpus of writings that speaks about the story and implications of the advent of Jesus Christ. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament.

If one were to look at this with a historian’s eye, to say we cannot use the Bible to prove or evidence the Bible is about the most misguided thing one could possibly say. What does that mean? Are you saying that we cannot use the testimony that the book of Matthew gives to evidence Mark? Or that one cannot attempt to piece together Galatians with the Book of Acts? Of course you can. In fact, you must. These twenty-seven documents, all written around the same time, all telling similar stories, must be used to prove or evidence each other. If not, the historian is not being a historian, but something entirely different. Continue Reading →

If procreation is part of marriage, are infertile couples unmarried? And if human beings walk on two legs, are amputees not human beings?

Simple logical errors sometimes pass by undetected, and in a few cases a persistent fallacy becomes so frequent in the wider public conversation that we don’t even think to analyze and question it. One such mistake that I’ve noticed involves definitions of things and a kind of mistaking of the exception for the rule. Before you stop reading because this just seems like uninteresting academic nitpicking, let me assure you that this rational error is relevant in some of today’s most heated topics of debate. It makes a difference whether we recognize it or not.

To explain:  definitions of things are basic to all of our understanding and communication. In any debate on any subject, terms have to be defined. Additionally, things have natures, which is part of why we define them as we do. In other words, there are things that are generally true about, for example, a tree. It is part of the nature of a tree to have roots, to have branches, to grow upward, to have foliage, to use the sun and water for growth, etc. I wouldn’t say those things about a dolphin, since it has a very different nature. Some people may deny that things have natures, since they may not like the implication of design (teleology) that this idea implies. But such objectors are a minority and I will not deal with them at present.

Nothing I’m saying here is novel. We could go back through the centuries all the way to the Greeks and let Aristotle explain this, but I want to be brief and succinct so I’m trying to give you the Cliff’s Notes (Clint’s Notes, to be exact). Christian thinkers have certainly always understood this, and all the more since they recognize that the natures to which things conform are definitely by design. Think, then, about how definitions of things involve their natures, and ask yourself: Are there ever exceptions? And of course you will recognize that there are. Rarely does a definition of something in this world apply to every member of the class or category being described. When you think of birds, for example, you think of flight, since it is generally in the nature of birds to fly. BUT there are a few exceptions.  There are a few species of flightless birds. And even if there were no species of flightless birds, there will always be the individual cases of birds that cannot fly because of developmental deformities in their wings or having been wounded.

Human Nature

This brings us to one of the examples in the title of this post. One thing we usually talk about as having a nature is a human being (as in the term “human nature”). When discussing the definition of human beings, we do our best to consider what is part of the nature of humanity – physically, mentally, and otherwise. Our definition of what it means to be human is, like others, general. It is not meant to say that every single human being will always have all of the traits we ascribe to human beings. It is meant to say, rather, that, all things functioning properly and in accord with what is the nature of a human being, the definition will apply.
Continue Reading →

“You Can’t Out-Give God” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

It was my first semester in seminary. Kristie and I were already living hand to mouth, trusting in the Lord for his provisions. With Katelynn just born and Kylee on the way, we looked with hopeful anticipation for the provisional hand of the Lord. Yahweh-yireh, “the Lord will provide.” If the Lord wanted me there, he would have to daily open his hand to our needs. Truly, it was a wonderful experience that I would not wish upon anyone. Does that even make sense?

Our income consisted of four sources: 1) My part time job at the DTS Library. I shelved books. Not big pay. 2) My Indian scholarship ($2100 per semester). Yes, I am 1/8 Cherokee, believe it or not. 3) My family who gave what they could. 4) My home church. This is where the majority of our support came from, but it was very sporadic. Some months there would be nothing. Other months, people would give in abundance. Throughout this time, I tried to remain faithful in giving to the Lord. He was the one who provided and I was determined to exercise my Christianity in a way that gave me more opportunity to trust in him.

At one point we had gotten very far behind on many of the bills. We did not have any money to buy groceries. Things were not looking good. We prayed and prayed and then resorted to begging friends and family for a few more dollars. They did what they could. However, what they gave was not near enough to get our heads above water. Our bills were stacked up to just over $5000. At the end of our rope, salvation came through a $5000 check we got in the mail from just one donor at our home church. Just in the nick of time!

Take a detour with me for a moment. I have heard many Evangelical sermons on giving. I have listened to testimony after testimony from those who had prioritized the Lord in the tightest financial circumstances. I had read the passage about the “widow’s mite.” You know, the one where the lady was commended by Christ for giving her last two dollars to the Lord. I knew all the clichés: “I just keep shoveling out, but God has a bigger shovel!” Or, my favorite, “You can’t out-give God.” And, yes, how about our Evangelical go-to passage in Malachi 3:10: ” ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'” Test the Lord and see if he does not bless you.

Now, back to my story. I tested the Lord that day. I gave to him of my first fruits. I gave to him before the late electric bill, the car payment, and the bread box. I prioritized Him above my children, wife, financial integrity and all else. I had just enough to catch up on my bills so long as I put his claim on hold. But I gave to him part of what I needed. Why? Because he is faithful. Why? Because you can’t out-give God. Why? Because he called on me to test him.

However . . . Two weeks later, threats of collection, electricity cut-off, and growling stomachs of my family made me wonder: Did he just fail the test? Did I just out-give God?

Ten years later, I don’t have any “success” stories concerning the size of God’s shovel. There are still no lack of stories from people (which I don’t doubt) concerning how God blessed them with great financial abundance due to their sacrificial giving. But no matter how I try to manipulate my own story, it always seems that my shovel is bigger than God’s. Continue Reading →

“Christianity is Dependant on Your Character Witness” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series

I was discussing religion with a gentleman not long ago. It was a very interesting conversation in which he recounted to me how he used to be a Christian in a Baptist church. But he left Christianity for Buddhism not too long ago. He explained that the reason why he left Christianity was because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In short, he felt that Christians were on the wrong side of this issue.

This is representative of so many in our cultural Christianity. This gentleman’s argument was simple:

Christianity is determined as valid or invalid upon the character of its adherents.

In other words, if Christians do not act a “good” way, then Christianity itself is discredited. In this man’s mind, Christians were on the wrong side of the conflict, therefore he left Christianity for something more suitable in keeping with the character that he supposed should accompany those who follow the true God.

I am going to make a statement here that I suppose is going to make many of my readers upset. Here it goes:

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

Did you get that? Let me repeat.

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents. Continue Reading →