Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Things Never Change

April 18, 2010:
“Tale-Yax was walking behind a man and a woman on 144th Street in the Jamaica section of Queens around 6 a.m. April 18 when the couple got into a fight that became physical, according to police, who pieced together what happened from surveillance footage and interviews with area residents.

“Tale-Yax was stabbed several times when he intervened to help the woman, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. She and the other man fled in different directions, and Tale-Yax pursued the man before collapsing. Authorities are searching for the man and woman.”

“The homeless man lay face down, unmoving, on the sidewalk outside an apartment building, blood from knife wounds pooling underneath his body.

“One person passed by in the early morning. Then another, and another. Video footage from a surveillance camera shows at least seven people going by, some turning their heads to look, others stopping to gawk. One even lifted the homeless man's body, exposing what appeared to be blood on the sidewalk underneath him, before walking away.

“It wasn't until after the 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant had been lying there for nearly an hour that emergency workers arrived, and by then, it was too late.”


Approximately 30 AD:
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Luke 10:30-37


I wish I could remember who said it, but there is a quote that says something along the lines of the following:

“The fallenness of man is at once the most independently verifiable fact and yet the most willfully resisted truth.”

As this story shows us, some things never change. I wonder how many people who are lambasting those who walked by would actually have done any differently if they were in that position. We all like to think we would do better, but usually when we are put to the test, we fail.

In this case, I guarantee you that most of the people who walked by convinced themselves that this person was simply drunk, or had chosen that place to fall asleep and therefore did nothing. In fact they are probably still justifying their actions to themselves this morning. The fallen human soul has an incredible ability to justify some of the most atrocious acts we carry out, acts that we would condemn if we saw them in others.

Everything about this story is tragic. But the sad ending is that most people reading this story will condemn the actions of the passers by without realizing that this is but one more example of mankind’s fallen nature, and this event really should cause them to look inside themselves. People don’t like self-reflection, at least not when it leads to self-condemnation. But that is often the first step in the Christian gospel.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Crossing the Boundary Stones

“And here at the outset I must deal with an unpleasant business. It seems to the layman that in the Church of England we often hear from our priests’ doctrine which is not Anglican Christianity. It may depart from Anglican Christianity in either of two ways: 1) It may be so ‘broad’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘modern’ that it in fact excludes any real Supernaturalism and thus ceases to be Christian at all. 2) It may, on the other hand, be Roman. It is not, of course, for me to define to you what Anglican Christianity is – I am your pupil, not your teacher. But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.”
(C. S. Lewis, Christian Apologetics in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics)

This advice applies far broader than just the Anglican Church. What makes you a "Christian"? In order for that word to have any meaning there must be boundary lines that define it. If a Christian is "x", then by definition that means he or she is not "not x." Truth is by definition exclusive. We must heed Paul's warnings in Ephesians to maintain unity, but the quest for unity cannot go so far as to make us universalist. Many of Christ's claims were exclusive. He is the way, the truth and the life, not a way, a truth and a life. We must be unified within certain boundaries, but a boundary-less Christianity is no Christianity at all.

There are pastors in Christian denominations today who deny the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the exclusiveness of Jesus' atoning death or even the existence of a real, personal God. Echoing C.S. Lewis, I ask these pastors why they maintain their affiliation with Christianity? There are organizations (such as the Unitarian Universalists) who would openly welcome their theology. Why continue to affiliate yourself with an organization whose precepts you do not accept instead of joining one with which you do?

Unfortunately, too many Christian denominations are tolerating this type of behavior. In our effort for unity we refuse to hold people accountable when they step over those boundary stones. We can have an open and honest discussion of what those boundaries should be. But the postmodern approach taken by many Christians today is simply to let everyone define their own boundaries, until we end up with a hodge podge group of people all claiming unity but with no uniformity whatsoever.

What makes someone American? They must have been born in the United States or gone through the citizenship process. What makes someone a lawyer? They must have gone through law school, passed the bar exam and been licensed by their state. What makes someone a member of a fraternity? They must have gone through the pledge process and been accepted into the group by the brotherhood. What makes someone a Christian? Do we have an answer? Every label requires a definition. Why are we so afraid to talk about the definition of Christianity?

This isn't insensitivity. It is common sense. I am not saying that you must believe the precepts of Christianity. What you choose to believe is up to you (although you must also accept the consequences of your choice). Believe what you want. I will defend your right to your honestly held beliefs. I may disagree with you and would love to have the opportunity to discuss it, but I am not going to force you into anything against your will. But I am saying that if you want to call yourself "Christian," then you are declaring that you accept at least the basic precepts that the term is supposed to evoke. If Christianity has no boundaries then it is only a synonym for "humanity." It seems that many "Christian" churches today want to be the Church of Humanity rather than the Church of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you think this is desirable. Perhaps you believe that anyone who calls themself "Christian" should be entitled to use that label. But as I mentioned before it is unbiblical. It also makes true evangelism impossible. How do you tell someone about Christ? Which Christ? If we cannot even agree on the answer to that basic question then we cannot agree on our message. This leads to confusion and eventually the death of your group identity.

Jesus welcomed sinners, but he still required that they come to Him on God's terms, not theirs. As his emmissaries, we must do the same. Where will you set the boundaries?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The New Age Dilemma

For anyone who does not know, "New Age" refers to a loosly structured collection of beliefs that finds its roots in many of the doctrines of eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism. It also has a pantheistic or panentheistic focus. I do not intend to go into a prolonged discussion of the many nuances of the New Age, but a few summary points are needed in order to understand the points I would like to make.

"New Age" is a broad term that can refer to many different beliefs systems that share a general common foundation but may differ on quite a few particulars. Basically, they adopt the eastern belief that "all is one." When you look at another individual you believe that there are two persons there. There is an "I" and a "you." In reality, according to New Agers, all of reality is only "one." This whole perception of differences between you and another person or you and a tree or anything else in the universe is really an illusion. In reality we are all part of this one unified divine nature. Through various techniques we can escape this illusion of individuality. Most New Agers believe in some form of reincarnation, such that this escape from individuality can come over several lifetimes. Also, a new age of enlightenment is coming, sometimes referred to as the "Age of Aquarius" (hence the title "New Age").

That is a very broad outline of a diverse system, but it will do to illustrate two points I would like to make.

The first point deals with a logical test for truth called the test of "undeniability." Basically, this test says that if it is impossible to deny something, then it must be true. The classic example is the denial of your own existence. Think of the freshman philosophy student who asks his professor, "How do I know that I exist?" The classic response from the professor is, "And whom shall I say is asking?" You cannot make the statement "I do not exist" without using the word "I." But the moment you say "I" in formulating your question, you are assuming there is an "I" asking the question. You assume your own existence in your attempt to deny it. Therefore, your existence is undeniable and must be true.

A slight twist to this analysis applies to the New Age. New Agers deny that they are individuals, instead believing that everyone is part of of the same unified whole. The deny the "I"/"you" dichotomy. But again, in saying "I am part of a unified one" the New Ager is assuming that there is an individual "I" making the statement. Even if we were to rephrase the statement as "I believe there are no individuals but rather just one unified whole" the statement still assumes the existence of an "I." New Age beliefs fail the test of undeniability. They attempt to deny something, not realizing that in their attempt they are affirming the very thing they are trying to deny. This is a fundamental problem with New Age philosophy at its core. The same could be said for other eastern religions that invoke the same concept.

A second problem stems from the pantheistic aspects of New Age beliefs. It is not just that all is one, but that "one" is divine. Therefore, if all is "one" and "one" is divine, then all is divine. In more lay terms, everyone and everything is God.

In this respect New Agers deny that they are atheistic. They may have a different concept of God than theists, but they still believe in God. Logically, though, their position amounts to atheism. Atheists deny the existence of God because they do not believe the evidence supports that there is a transcendent being; i.e., a being that exists above the rest of us. The theist would say that reality is like two floors in a building. We live on the first floor and God lives above us on the second. The atheist denies that there is a second floor. The ground level is all there is.

Now look at the logical ramifications of the New Age position. They claim that there is this higher level to reality called the "divine." But by making everyone part of that divine, they elevate all of reality to that higher level. In essence they take everything from the first floor and move it up to the second. But in the end all of reality still exists on only one level. There is no transcendent God because no aspect of reality transcends any other. Logically speaking, then, New Age belief is the equivalent of atheism. This is not a realization that most New Agers would accept, but it is the logical outworking of their philosophy. In their quest for spirituality they actually deny the very thing they claim to be seeking.

Far more could be said abotu New Agers than is included in this short post, but ultimately their other beliefs make little difference if the foundation upon which they are built collapses. The New Age movement is growing in America today. Therefore, Christians must make an effort to understand its beliefs and logically evaluate its position. God bless.