Accommodations

In his history of the Christian church from the 4th to the 14th centuries, Fletcher points out that organized Christianity targeted the most powerful individuals in a society first.  The reason they did so was because they needed protection, monetary support, status, and access to royal power of coercion.  [1]

The first question we must ask is why Christianity needed all this help from the secular world.  Was not Christianity able to survive based upon its own merits?  Why did Christianity need help from the political, financial, and cultural elements of a society for it to be accepted?  Or did those Christians just want quick success without all the hard work of convincing people of the validity of Christianity and of actually putting Christianity into practice?

Because of our limits, it is understandable why Christians would band together and use all the elements of a society to accomplish some purpose such as fulfilling the Great Commission.  However, once we form any organization, there is the temptation to consider the organization as more important than the mission; to make accommodations to our belief system and actions to promote, preserve, and grow the organization.

In the 11th century, the Archbishop Wulfstan of York told the king of England Canute that he should express his gratitude to God for his good fortune and remorse for the blood he shed by lavish gifts to the church and acts of piety. [2]  Did Jesus ever say such a thing to the political leaders of his day?  No, Jesus was more interested in a change in the life of each individual he met.  The existence and maintenance of any organization was secondary.  We like to think that Christianity is growing when more people join more churches or when we build more churches, bible schools, seminaries.  Is that really true?  Or is Christianity growing when we see a change in peoples’ lives, when they become more like Christ?

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[1]   Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion, New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 1997, p.236-237.

[2]   Ibid., p. 408.

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Comanche

In his book Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne describes the Comanche’s world on the Great Plains.  They were a no-name tribe until the arrival of the horse.  For some reason, the horse and the Comanche clicked and they became a very powerful military force.  In fact, the US military of that time considered them to be one of the finest light cavalry forces in the world.  They controlled an area, and the other Indian tribes in that area, from Kansas to Texas and west into Colorado and New Mexico.

The Comanche’s obtained their wealth and influence through raids on other Indian tribes and then on the white men who entered their area.  The treatment of the people they captured varied greatly from adopting them into the tribe to torture, gang rape, and killing.  Their actions were shaped by their view of the world.  They had no unified religion and no belief in one God.  Life had no meaning because life was just a set of isolated episodes; there was no ultimate good because life was just a set of actions and their consequences. [1]

The Comanche were not savages, at least not any more than the rest of humanity.  Within their family there was a deep and abiding affection. [3]  As mentioned above, some of their captives were treated like family.  They were also free in a sense that we in this “modern” society long for but cannot obtain.  They had no official chief.  If someone wanted to mount a raid, they had to convince enough warriors to go; there was no majority vote that determined if the entire tribe went on the raid.  There was no one to tell them what to do—no God, no religion, no religious leader, no tribal government.

The Comanche existed for hundreds of years on the Great Plains.  Their belief system and the actions that followed from that system, like ours, had its good points but its problems as well.  What we know for certain is that they knew nothing of Jesus and his death for our sins.  If Jesus is the only way to salvation, why did not God send someone to tell the Comanche of Jesus?  God let the Comanche remain in their beliefs and made no effort to change them.  Why?

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[1]   S. C. Gwynee, Empire of the Summer Moon, New York:  Scribner, Kindle edition, p. 45

[2]   Ibid., p. 51.

[3]   Ibid., p. 107.

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Small Deeds, Great Deeds

Peter Marshall has stated:  “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned”.  Actually doing something is greater than speculating or dreaming about something.  Is our salvation any different?  Is it not greater to make small changes in how we live our lives or in the way we conduct ourselves than to just believe the incredible story that Jesus died and rose again for our sins?  This is not to minimize the gospel story for it is profound but not putting that story into practice is to denigrate it.  It means we think the gospel is so inconsequential that it is not even worthy of spending any effort to participate in the new life about which it teaches.

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Christian Creeds

I was at a wedding a few days ago.  While I was waiting for the ceremony to begin, I looked at the hymnal this particular church had selected.  In the back of the hymnal they listed several Christian creeds.  There are many creeds of the Christian faith such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Creed of Nicaea, the Athanasian Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Nicene Creed.  I am sure there are others.

The word creed comes from the Latin term credo which is translated as “I believe”.  It is a statement of essential or core beliefs.  These multiple creeds raise several questions.  If a creed is an essential belief, why are there so many different creeds?  Which creed should one believe?  How does one know which creed is valid?

While the various creeds have much in common, there are differences.  For example, the Nicene Creed mentions baptism and the Apostles’ Creed does not.  Is baptism an essential belief?  Will our belief on the topic of baptism determine where we spend eternity?  If not, why is it listed as an essential belief?

Jesus said all the Law and Prophets were fulfilled in one simple sentence:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:40).  Should not our creeds be equally brief?  Why do we want to make Christianity so complicated?  I think God has made things much simpler.

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God Becoming Human

Reading about the tenants of Christianity or the rational for the doctrine of the trinity, we often hear about how God in the person of Jesus fully participated in this experience we call human life.  God took upon himself our human nature and identified himself completely with us.

Why would God need to become human?  Does this not imply that God was lacking in some aspects of his knowledge, particularly his knowledge of us?  Does not that contradict our belief that God is all knowing?

The human condition teaches us that we need to personally experience something for ourselves to truly understand it (see our blog of May 16, 2012).  In understanding other people, it is often said we should walk in another’s shoes before we criticize them.  Did God need to walk in our shoes before he could understand us?

Asserting that God needed to become human to fully understand or identify with us is just our attempt to make God in our own image.  Once again we try to reduce God to our level.  If God is who we say he is—he is all knowing—then he would be able to totally understand us without becoming human.  We might not understand how he could do that but our lack of understand does not mean he is unable to do so.

Let us not make God in our own image.  Let God be God.

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Computers

There has not been a post to this blog in two weeks because of the truth of the following statement:  It is not a matter of if your computer hard drive will crash, it is only a matter of when.  A hard drive crashing is not a major issue provided you have properly backed up your files.  However, in my case my computer was eight years old so it was time to upgrade.  Deciding what computer to purchase, deciding what software to install, and then doing both took some time.

It is incredible how dependent we have become on computers.  My life felt totally disrupted because for a short period of time I could not access the information upon which I had become dependent.  But in spite of the positive impact computers have on our lives, it is important to remember the words of Pablo Picasso:  “Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.”

Computers can serve many important functions such as provide us with virtually limitless information.  However, computers cannot tell us what information we should acquire and they cannot tell us if the information we receive is valid.  That we must decide and we do so by questioning the information we receive.  The importance of asking questions is greater now than it has ever been but unfortunately asking the right questions is a lost art in today’s world.  We want to skip all the hard work of asking questions; all we seem to want is the answers.

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Why Is God Good?

Someone once told me about an episode on TV (I think it was a “Twilight Zone” episode) in which aliens came to earth and addressed the United Nations.  They demanded that we change our ways and left.  The nations of the world got together, made peace, and rid the earth of most of the weapons.  Well, the aliens came back to earth to see what we earthlings had accomplished and were outraged—they had wanted us to become more warlike.

This episode raises a question in my mind—why is God good?  Why should or why would the ultimate authority of the universe be good?  Is good something that is greater than God and God had no choice?

Why should we be good?  Is it just that God is the most powerful force in the universe?  That would mean “might makes right”.  Are we willing to accept that premise?  If we do, then if God was evil, we also should be evil.

Most of us do not believe that “might makes right”.  If we do not, then being good just because God is good is not a valid reason for being good.  So why should we be good?  Is there something about being good that is inherent in itself that should make us want to do what is right?

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Dreams, Visions, and Goals

I have been reading Dave Ramsey’s book EntreLeadership.  In his chapter “Start with a Dream, End with a Goal” he emphasizes that we must have dreams and a vision of where we want to go.  However, there comes a time where we must put those dreams and visions into action.  Having dreams and visions accomplishes nothing other than to occupy our time.  It is only when we take action that we turn those dreams and visions into reality.

Do we think it is any different in our spiritual lives?  Do we think that the only thing God cares about is our belief system?  Is God totally unconcerned about turning our belief system into reality?  Does God care whether we actually implement our belief system or not?

If you have been following this blog, you will have noticed that we have pointed out several areas in our lives were our actions are considered to be just as important as our beliefs.  Do we think this is true in all areas of our lives except for our spiritual lives?

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Better Questions

The title of this blog is “A Christian Dialectic”.  A dialectic is the “discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation”.  It employs the Socratic technique of relentlessly asking questions to expose false beliefs and with the goal of discovering beliefs that are valid.  The purpose of this blog is to ask questions about our Christian faith in order to better understand it.

Some might think it is not necessary to ask questions because the Bible gives us all the answers we need.  However, that statement is demonstratively false.  First, it is obvious that we are finite.  Being finite means that while the Bible in infallible, our interpretation of it is not.  Second, all the different Christian religions and denominations that exist are evidence people interpret the Bible very differently.  Therefore, we must ask questions in order to determine the correct interpretation of the Bible.

I like the way John Mark Reynolds addresses the issue of asking questions about our faith:  “Knowing revealed truth leads to better questions, not to the end of questions.” [1]

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[1]   John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 253.

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The Purpose of Life

Why do we exist?  What is the purpose of our lives?  Everyone one of us asks this question at some point in our lives.  Philosophers have proposed that the purpose of human existence is to be happy or to live the good life.  However, the question then becomes: What is happiness and what is the good life? [1]  Attempts to define happiness or the good life—hedonism, wealth, honor, wisdom, and virtue, to name a few—have not been satisfactory. [2]

As Christians, we evidently think that having the correct belief system is the most important aspect of our lives because that is how we are saved.  While knowing what is true is a critical part of our existence, is the ultimate goal of our lives to believe in certain ideas?  God made us finite.  He made it difficult for us to know what is true.  Why would he structure our existence in this fashion if knowing what is true is the ultimate purpose of our life?

Others propose that living a life according to God’s principles is the purpose of our lives.  Another way to name this purpose is virtue which is defined as “moral excellence, goodness, righteousness”.  While being virtuous is required by God, it is not the reason for our existence.  We do good or evil because through those actions we will obtain a particular result that we desire.  We do not do good or evil for their own sake.

As Christians, the reason for our existence is not to be happy; it is not to live the good life; it is not our belief system; it is not being virtuous.  These are just means to an end, not the end itself.  The purpose of our lives is to become like God.  As C. S. Lewis states:

What [God] cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way. [3]

And God can and will use everything else in our lives to accomplish that purpose.

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[1]   John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 210.

[2]   Reynolds, pp. 204-218.

[3]   C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York:  The MacMillian Company, 1952), p. 113.

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