A Time To Change

(image credit - fightthenewdrug.org)

(image credit – fightthenewdrug.org)

In Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, James Emery White details how the western world became thoroughly secularized. White points to the following characters and events as leading to key shifts in thinking at the time …

  • Copernicus – “The Cosmological Attack” stated that the universe is heliocentric as opposed to Earth-centered.
  • Darwin – “The Biological Attack” stated that the origin of mankind came about by natural selection.
  • Freud – “The Psychological Attack” stated that God is merely a projection of human desire.

White said the combination of such thoughts was something of a “perfect storm” for an attack on Christian faith.

If it’s true that a combination of events and ideas can derail us from considering God and the authority of his Word, it would stand to reason that another combination of events can swing the pendulum back the other direction. In fact, if you study the history of spiritual Great Awakenings in our country, you notice some common threads. First, there is some sort of collective social despair due to recognition of moral indecency. This is followed by a higher standard for self and social institutions. Certain articulate leaders begin to encourage a repentance of the old and present a vision for something better, leveraging technology and inspiring communities in the process. This leads to a new appreciation of grace and subsequent joy follows.

I’m not sure the following events qualify as Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, but arguably the three largest news items of the past month share something in common – they point out the fallacy of humanist (i.e. man is the top of chain, not God) thinking.

Brian Williams

blog - brian williams

(image credit – thewrap.com)

The NBC Nightly News anchor acknowledges that he lied about a helicopter journey in Iraq. Then he made an apology that was perceived by many as weak. Military personnel were offended. The American public was offended. Stories kept popping up about other items Williams had drastically exaggerated or blatantly lied about. Damage control took over. Several weeks later, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams has become NBC Nightly News. The celebrity anchor is gone.

So what? Everyone has been guilty of lying at some point. Why should Williams be held to a higher standard? Well, Brian Williams, the man, should not be unfairly ridiculed. However, Brian Williams the news anchor probably should, because he’s supposed to be hosting THE NEWS. By definition, the news is supposed to be factual reporting, not fiction. When you present fiction as news on a national level, this is called propaganda. It’s the dissemination of false information to the country, and, left unchecked, it’s the behavior that ran rampant in the early twentieth century which culminated in two World Wars.

Certainly, Communist countries were subjected to this as the government sought to control the way people thought. But the temptation is there in the capitalist West as well. “Media” here is ultimately a business, a commodity to be sold. If you’re not producing something that people want to buy, you won’t stay in business. Combine that capitalistic mindset with the idea that media, almost by necessity tends to lean towards sensationalism. For instance, you would never report that everything was status quo within Christian churches, you only report when there is a “newsworthy” scandal. Consequently, people are conditioned to only see the bad in the world, but think that it is an accurate snapshot of reality.

So….when we find out that the news really isn’t the truth, that’s alarming. It’s disconcerting in the same way that discovering you can’t trust everything in your classroom textbooks is. “Facts” aren’t always real facts. The news isn’t just the news, but sometimes just biased lies and propaganda used to sell a product.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: We can’t fully trust what the media reports. 

ISIS Beheads 21 Coptic Christians in Libya

For the past six months, Americans haven’t exactly known to what extent ISIS is a threat. With the recent slaughter, it’s now clear that the militant Islamic State is deeply entrenched in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond.

(image credit - thegatewaypundit.com)

(image credit – thegatewaypundit.com)

This comes on the heels of President Obama having just taken a great deal of criticism for his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast Address. Obama compared the terrorist acts of the Islamic State to those committed in the history of Christianity – e.g. the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials. Historians didn’t like it. While there are wicked acts in the history of Christianity, and Christians need to own that, it’s simply false to say that they’re on the same scale as acts done in the name of Allah or those done in the name of “no god.” For instance, Henry Kamen’s scholarship on the Spanish Inquisition has proven that significantly more people were killed on 9/11 than in the entire 350 years of the Inquisition! That both were sinful is without doubt. Suggesting that they are on the same scale of social impact, however, is just bad history. To our credit, Americans have picked up on this. Many are not buying the comparison.

Even fewer are buying the comments of State Department Deputy Spokesman Marie Harf, who said that Islamic jihadists can only be dealt with by creating more job opportunities and education programs. Americans, including Hardball host Chris Matthews, on whose program the comments were made, are collectively gasping, “What?!?!”

This is a significant shift. For a long time, the western world has been saying things about religions like, “They’re all basically the same, they just use different terminology” and “If it works for you, great, but don’t push your beliefs on others.” Obama has been the embodiment of that type of ideology. But the evidence in front of Americans is now telling them otherwise. Where is the Christian Al-Qaeda? Where is the Christian ISIS? Who is the Christian Bin Laden? The clear indications are that all religions are NOT fundamentally the same, but actually quite different.

So we’re left with a deeply spiritual conundrum. If we try to stamp out religion entirely, we end up with the mass slaughters brought about by Communism (Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Pol Pot, etc.), the failed godless experiment of the twentieth century. Doesn’t work. So, the next option might be to say that all religions are basically the same. We’re now clearly finding out that’s not true either. Rather, we’re collectively becoming convinced that there is something deeply spiritual about mankind, and there is, in fact, such a thing as a right and wrong spirituality.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: All religions aren’t the same. Some are better for the world than others.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Last but not least.  The film adaptation of E.L. James best-selling book opened this week with record-breaking numbers. That’s not really newsworthy. That was to be expected given the success of the books. What indicates something of a societal shift is the negative backlash that the movie has received – movie critics are generally some of the more liberal voices in society. So the fact that Fifty Shades currently has a 4.1 (out of 10) IMDb score, a 46/100 Metacritic score, and a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score, this is all perhaps a bit unexpected. And this is with several critics suggesting that the film is arguably better than the book. One of the critics who actually gave the movie a positive score said, “The film never pretends to be other than what it really is: soft-core porn for the ladies, diluted with an ‘R’ rating.” (Sara Stewart, New York Post)

(image credit - wikipedia.org)

(image credit – wikipedia.org)

I haven’t read the books or seen the movie, so I’m going to be careful about sweeping generalizations. But many secular groups and prominent writers have lamented the distorted view of sex and romance that the movie presents. Make no mistake, that too is a MAJOR societal shift.

For many years, sex was considered a rather undefined act between two consenting adults. While something may not be my personal preference, I wasn’t free to tell anyone else what is/is not appropriate. The basic societal stance was, as Jerry Seinfeld and his friends, fearful of sounding closed-minded, famously quipped, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

But now, lots of people are saying there is something wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Secular mental health professionals are saying this glamorizes and promotes abuse. Large media groups are acknowledging this is dangerous. Even the stars of the film struggled to verbalize positives that can be taken from the movie.

So here’s the point. In the wake of this movie, people are now saying that sex, even consensual sex between adults, can, in fact, be wrong. The American public hasn’t said that much since the 1960s.

Sara Stewart’s “porn for the ladies” comment is a scary one. That sounds like anything but sexual liberation. I’m not even going to get into how much secular research has suggested that porn has crippled young men. It’s more of an imprisonment that tortures addicted victims. And the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s a sad day when “even women” have distorted God’s design for sex.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” (Rom. 1:26)

SOCIETAL TAKEAWAY: Consenting adults does not equate to healthy sexual behavior. 

So what we’re seeing right now is a bit of a “perfect storm” that could potentially open a world to spiritual reformation – renewed clarity about the bias of information distributors, renewed understanding in the uniqueness of Christianity against other religions, and renewed ethics about the design and purpose of human sexuality.

Remember what I mentioned earlier are the points historians have traced in the Great Awakenings?

1) Recognition of moral indecency.

2) Higher standards for “truth” in social institutions.

3) Leaders encouraging a turn from false, harmful ways to a vision of something better.

4) The grace of God.

All I’m asking now is that you say a prayer that God might reveal his grace and goodness to mankind – a better way.

Please pray with me. Yes, please pray, don’t just read along 🙂

Heavenly Father, so much has happened recently that leads us to lose confidence in humanity and therefore lose confidence in ourselves. While such things are discouraging, we also realize that you often use such lows to prepare human hearts for the message of greater truth. Make us bold, humble messengers of this truth. Open the hearts and minds of the world around us to see the good news of your Son Jesus – an honest, self-sacrificial, pure alternative to our fallen race, who loved us enough to take the punishment for our sins so that we could receive his eternal glory. This is a better truth for the world that can shape a better reality. Help us live it out.

Show us grace. And help us show grace. Amen.

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The Conflicting Theology of NFL Quarterbacks

blog - quarterbacks 1 Does God care about ___________ or not? And who’s to say? Regardless of whether or not previous thought was given to the topic, whether or not religious disciplines have been previously practiced, whether or not one has had connection to a faith community or not, or even whether or not one has actually researched the documents that claim to be God-given, EVERYONE has an opinion about God and the way God operates. In some respects, this is perfectly justified and natural. According to the Bible, humanity was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 9:6), so it’s biblically accurate to say that every human has some innate semblance of God’s will and desire. This is the reason why every human recognizes to some extent that murder is wrong and stealing is wrong and cheating on your spouse is wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). God’s will is written inside us, it’s part of us, and therefore we all, in a limited way, understand God’s will. This becomes problematic, however, when we think we know more of God’s will than we actually know. This was brought to light recently after the Seattle Seahawks dramatic playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.

Russell Wilson’s Take

After the game, respected Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King quoted Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson as saying,

“That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special. I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day.”

This comment was made in response to King’s question about Wilson’s four prior interceptions on the day, and going from the worst game of his life to the biggest throw of his life in the span of eight minutes. blog - quarterbacks 2Wilson has had a rough week, so I don’t want to pile on. But he is a fairly outspoken Christian. I definitely applaud his willingness to use his unique platform to share the grace of God. But in the same way that all his other behavior, as a celebrity, is put under a microscope, his theological convictions are subject to examination too. Is that fair? Well, he’s disproportionately influential due to his status. In other words, realistically, Wilson’s statements about God sink into a 12-year-old boy’s heart probably deeper than the weekly statements that boy hears from his pastor. So….humbly, I want to ensure that this boy’s father and mother, the only influences bigger than these sports heroes, are able to correct the boy’s misconceptions. Consequently, I’m not trying to be nit-picky and hypercritical, but I do think it’s a learning opportunity. As NBC Pro Football Talk analyst Mike Florio noted, Wilson’s statement is, at best, well-intentioned, but a bit dismissive of the believers on Green Bay’s team. At worst, it’s horrifically narcissistic, assuming that every event that happens in life merely happens for my personal glory. I have no idea where in that spectrum Wilson’s comment fits, but at the very least, albeit in the heat of the emotional moment, it wasn’t the tightest statement on God’s involvement in our lives.

Aaron Rodgers’ Take

In response to this, Green Bay quarterback, Aaron Rodgers (a self-professed ‘more private’ Christian) said on his weekly radio show,

“I don’t think God cares a whole lot about the outcome. He cares about the people involved, but I don’t think he’s a big football fan.”

So, I’ll resist the urge to comment on the validity of theological comments from a guy who openly and unapologetically acknowledges his extramarital sex life, or at least is okay with his girlfriend doing so.  (Although I guess I just did.) Let’s just take Rodgers’ words at face value and see if they’re consistent with the biblical stance. Does God truly not care about what takes place in a football game? Is professional football even just a “game?” The NFL is a multi-billion dollar corporation that generates higher television ratings than anything else on TV year after year. At certain times of the year, it’s arguably the most influential thing going, on the most influential mediums available. blog - quarterbacks 3Since God cares deeply about the affairs of human hearts, what influences human hearts would obviously be of interest. Furthermore, the vast majority of these football games take place on Sundays, the day previously famous in our country for public worship. And now these churches are largely vacated by the God-designed spiritual leaders (i.e. men) who are more interested in publicly gathering together with lots of other guys, in the presence of food, loud music, and female cheerleaders, to praise the efforts of other humans. In other words, if an alien spaceship came down from Mars and observed an NFL game, I’m assuming the captain/leader/guru (whatever ranking system said Martians have) would observe the football game and declare, “Hmmm. Their pagan worship rituals are highly entertaining!” CLEARLY, this activity is tremendously important to many, many people. By the way, I say this as someone who rarely, if ever, misses a Packer game and is convinced that Rodgers will one day be known as the greatest quarterback of all time. That doesn’t change the fact that I believe Rodgers, again, perhaps in the despair of defeat, is greatly misguided about God’s concerns, or lack thereof, regarding professional football. Additionally, even if the NFL wasn’t ludicrously popular, something’s insignificance does not leave it out of the watchful eye of an omniscient God either. Asked by reporters about Rodgers’ retort, Russell Wilson replied by saying,

“I think God cares about football. I think God cares about everything he created.”

While God’s commentary on professional sports is limited in Scripture, biblically, Wilson’s right. God consistently gives the impression that he cares about ALL of his Creation. For instance, making the case that we have no cause to worry, Jesus tells us to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matt. 6:26) The lesser to greater argument here suggests that, while God proportionately cares more deeply for humans than birds, he still does, in fact, care about the birds, to such a degree that he goes out of his way to “feed them.” ALL Creation belongs to God and God therefore knows personally, observes carefully, and directs lovingly ALL OF IT. God cares even more deeply and intimately for humanity, the crown of his Creation. Jesus explains this when he says that “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matt. 10:30; Luke 12:7) The point, in context, is not God’s vast knowledge (even though it is unsearchably expansive – Rom. 11:33). The point is God’s extraordinary concern for humans. Consequently, would God be interested in what interests humans? If God desires our hearts, would he be the slightest bit affected by what raptures human hearts? Of course.

Forming Your “Take”

blog - quarterbacks 4Discovering truth about God, guided by Scripture, is a bit like bouncing a ball in a room where the four walls are closing in. The ball bounces wildly in one direction until it hits the obstacle that cuts it off. The ball then returns back in a similar direction to where it first came from, but doesn’t go back as far as when it first started. The trajectory is slightly modified and it caroms in another direction. As each of these walls get nearer to one another, you come closer and closer to the ball coming to a fixed position, i.e. the point of truth. As an illustration of this, ask the question “Why do humans suffer?” in a Bible Study. Someone will give their opinion, perhaps even based on one account from the Bible. But they will likely grossly overstate the case on one side of the argument. Someone else will respond with another opinion referencing yet another account. The pendulum swings, the ball bounces back and forth. And so it continues. With each new statement and each new biblical reference, the debate is navigating closer to home. Similarly, with every NFL quarterback you ask about God’s opinion of football, you’re probably getting some aspects of truth, but not a comprehensive truth. The moral, then, for the day? Perhaps don’t get your theology from YAHOO! Sports, post-game interviews, or guys whom Olivia Munn currently and unrepentantly brags about sleeping with (Shoot. Did it again.). All of this might sound obvious, but these things and comments from these people tend to be surprisingly and disproportionately influential in our lives (not to mention young minds). They do matter because we do care about them. So God does too. If I really wanted to figure out how God feels about something, I probably wouldn’t start with someone saying, “I think God….” I’d probably go to a more credible source. Jesus says,

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

and

“even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:38)

To validate such claims – authoritative claims to know God’s will –  this man rises from his grave after he voluntarily sacrifices his life for our sins on his cross. This suggests to us that he’s smart enough to know the will of God, powerful enough to carry out the will of God, and loves us enough to share the truth of this God with us. So who’s THE authority? Whatever Russell Wilson says about God, Aaron Rodgers says about God, or, for that matter, Pastor Hein says about God, it’s only authoritative insofar as it latches on to truth about God that Jesus has already said. We all have opinions about God’s will. They’re not all right. But there’s only one measuring stick against which we can hold those opinions and sort out what’s what. That’d be the opinion of God’s Son.