Knowledge vs. Experience

In the last blog we noted that we must live something to really know it. There are multiple examples of this truth in our lives and we will discuss a few of them over the next few blogs.

I have just finished reading the science fiction novel The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir. It is about an astronaut (Mark Watney) who is stranded on Mars with no way of communicating with earth and no means of getting back to earth. When Mark went to retrieve a RTG unit which was four kilometers from his living quarters (the Hab), he was out of sight of the Hab for the first time. He had been alone on Mars for 66 sols (Mar’s days) and had the intellectual knowledge he was alone on Mars. However, seeing “nothing but dust, rock, and endless empty desert in all directions” [1] and losing sight of the Hab which was his only evidence of civilization caused him to experience his loneliness in a way that mere intellectual knowledge could not. As Mark states: “But there’s a difference between knowing it and really experiencing it”. [2]

As I mentioned in my book, this was brought home to me when my wife’s sons gave us gift certificates to go sky diving. Reading about sky diving, watching videos about sky diving, and talking to people who had been sky diving was helpful but all this knowledge was nothing compared to the actual experience of sky diving.

So why do we think Christianity would be any different? Knowledge of Christianity (our beliefs about Christianity) is so very different from actually living the Christian life. We all know that the Bible teaches that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:33). That is knowledge. However, until we actually take some action that demonstrates that love toward our neighbor we truly do not know what it means to love our neighbor.

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[1]   Andy Weir, The Martian, New York: Broadway Books (Random House LLC), 2014, Kindle edition, p. 74, location 1233.

[2]   Weir, p. 75, location 1244.

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Live It to Learn It

I have just finished reading The 33 by Héctor Tobar. It is about the 33 men who were trapped in the San José mine in Chile and how they were rescued.

One of the miners was Franklin Lobos who was formerly a soccer star with the nickname of “The Magic Mortar” for his ability to kick missile-like free kicks into his opponent’s goal. As he got older, his soccer career faded and he had to take other jobs including being a miner at age 52.

The miners even while they were still trapped underground were famous the world over. Franklin’s soccer career showed him how fleeting fame can be and he wanted his fellow miners to recognize that the “heady sense of being at the center of everything, will disappear quicker than they could possibly imagine”. [1] He tried to communicate this to them but he recognized that “the only way to learn it is to live it”. So all he could do was to watch “as his fellow trapped miners’ obsession with their public image drives them to pettiness”. [2]

It is the same with all of us. How many of us learn from the mistakes of others? How many of us learn by reading or hearing what someone else tells us? Most of the time, we must live it to learn it.

That is why Christianity is more than a belief system. Christianity is putting a belief system into practice. It is only when we actually live what we say we believe that our beliefs come to life. “. . .faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17 NIV).

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[1]   Héctor Tobar, The 33, Kindle edition, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux ebook, Kindle location 4089.

[2[   Tobar, Kindle location 4100.

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Arena of Ideas

How should Christians handle those with whom they disagree? In the past, Christians have killed those they considered to be heretics (e.g. the Inquisition). While we no longer resort to such barbaric practices, we still resort to character assassination by calling into question the motivation and intelligence of those with whom we disagree.

Martin Luther had higher aspirations for Christianity. He argued:

. . . the path to progress is through change in ideas and beliefs, rather than through forced social revolution or reaction. In Luther’s thought, the most significant warfare was ideological, not material, so he emphasized dissemination of ideas through publication and opposed attempts to destroy opposing ideas through burning either books or authors. “Heretics,” he said, “should be vanquished with books, not with burnings.” Luther wanted an exchange of views, not sword thrusts. He described printing as “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” [1]

However, if Christianity is to compete is this arena of ideas as Martin Luther suggests, then we must deal with any contradictions within our beliefs. If we do not, then we should not be surprised if our ideas are rejected. In this blog, we have identified three contradictions within our beliefs, specifically within the doctrine of salvation. Will we deal with these contradictions or ignore them?

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[1]   http://www.worldmag.com/2015/10/a_theological_and_journalistic_reformation

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Political Correctness

What is it about us humans that we think everyone should think and believe as we do? We see it in religion—every religion thinks it is the one true religion. We see it in science—if you don’t believe global warming is caused by humans than you are unscientific and are a (gasp) denier or a crook or a kook.

History is full of examples of people who used political correctness to deal with their opponents. An example is the faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain in the late 1600’s who used “the machinery of censorship to silence a dissident colleague”, a professor who questioned the Copernican system (the earth revolved around the sun). [1] It is a well-known fact that people who supported the Copernican system were also silenced or had their thinking “corrected” (e.g. Galileo).

It is unfortunate but political correctness is as old as the human race. I see two reasons for this. First, our position is short on facts and brow beating someone into submitting to our way of thinking is all we’ve got. Or second, we have the facts but it will take time to explain those facts to someone and we are in too much of a hurry to spend the time.

Using political correctness as a method of persuasion just illustrates how weak our position really is.  It also illustrates our ignorance of the human condition–we are all finite and not infallible.

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[1]   J. L. Heilbron, The Sun in the Church, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 217.

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Looking for Answers

John R. Erickson, the author of the Hank the Cowdog book series, recounts his struggles with reconciling his Christian faith with what he was taught at a secular college. He states that typically Christians responded to the assertions of the secular world by turning:

. . . inward, looked for guidance in the Scriptures, focused on personal salvation, and made few attempts to engage the wider culture.”

That might have solved the problem for pastors and church leaders, but it didn’t solve mine. To me and a number of other young people who were coming of age in the early 1960s, it appeared that Christians were talking only to themselves, and were sending their children off to college poorly prepared to defend their faith against students and professors who considered the Bible a book of fairy tales. [1]

Things had not changed much in the 1970’s because John’s experience was essentially the same as mine. Today Christians are much better at responding to the assertions of the secular world as is evidenced by, for example, the courses in apologetics offered by Biola University (see my blog of February 27, 2013).

However, there are still questions about Christianity which the Christian community has ignored and an example is the questions we have raised in this blog. Why? Is our faith so fragile we cannot deal with these questions? Or are we so content with our current life and belief system that we are not interested in resolving any questions that arise?

Questions and contradictions within our belief system are simply a signal that we do not fully understand who God is and how he relates to us. Should not that motivate us to address these questions?

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[1]   http://www.worldmag.com/2015/10/mugged_by_nietzsche

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Politics

Politics has such a bad name these days that it is common for people to say they are not political or that they do not do politics. I wish it was that easy to avoid politics but it is not unless we are willing to let others, whose ideas might be directly opposite to ours, determine how we organize the society in which we live.

Webster’s definition of politics is about obtaining power and control but says little concerning the end of that power and control which is to structure a society in a particular manner.

We ordinarily do not think of Jesus as political but his entire ministry was political because it dealt with how a society should be organized, how we are to view and treat our fellow citizens, and how we are to live our lives [1]. Jesus’ involvement in politics was not, as Webster’s indicates, to gain power or control but to change people’s lives. When people’s lives are changed, then society will change.

Jesus wanted people to do more than have a correct belief system; he wanted them to change to be a new creation. Christianity has a limited influence on our culture because we are so focused on a correct belief system instead of the new life God wants us to live.

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[1]   Mindy Belz, “A policy of engagement”, World, July 12, 2014, p. 32.

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The Berlin Airlift

The Candy Bombers by Andrei Cherny is one of the best history books I have read and it is about the Berlin Airlift. You might ask: What does a history book about the Berlin Airlift have to do with the subject matter we discuss in this blog?

The Berlin Airlift was necessary because the Communists were attempting to take over the entire city of Berlin by essentially starving the city into submission. What if the Allies had responded by telling the people of Berlin to “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” (James 2:16)? Would that have provided any benefit to the people of Berlin?

No, we all recognize that in a case such as this, words, while nice, do nothing to help those who are in need. Instead, the Allies set up an aerial train that landed a plane every couple of minutes in Berlin to feed the city and they did it for months.

So why do we Christians think that we only need to express a belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins to be saved? We have so many examples in our lives, such as the Berlin Airlift, that show words alone are not sufficient and that we need actions to go along with those words. Why do we persist in holding to a doctrine of salvation that teaches the opposite—that words alone are sufficient?

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Theology

I recently read an excerpt from a book, The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson, in which he states:

We have this notion that theology is something that takes place somewhere “out there” in the seminaries or libraries. . . In many churches, theology is seen as purely academic, the lifeless intellectual work for the nerds in the church or, worse, the Pharisees. [1]

Well, that is probably most people’s opinion of theology. My wife says that the question she always had as a child when leaving church was: “what does this have to do with my life?”

Theology is the study of God and his relationship to the universe which includes us. Theology is important because it is essential we know who God is and how he relates to us. However, God desires that we do more than just know the correct theology he wants us to be a new creation, to be like him. If our theology does not move us in that direction, then our theology is of no value.

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[1]  Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015, chapter 4.

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ recent speech to the US Congress included an admonition for a “renewal of that spirit of cooperation which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States”. [1]

While I am a fan of Pope Francis, he is asking Congress to something that Christianity has not been able to accomplish. Look at all the different Christian religions and denominations. Do all these divisions show Christians have exhibited a “spirit of cooperation” or do they show a spirit of divisiveness? Jesus’ prayer to God was for his followers to be as one just like Jesus and God are one. The reason for this unity was so that the world would know that God has sent Jesus to our world and that God loves the world (John 17:11-23).

Has Christianity fulfilled this God-given task? The answer is obvious. Why not?

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[1]   Chris Casteel, “A call for unity”, Tulsa World, September 25, 2015, p. A1.

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High Winds

This past January 8th we raised a question in this blog about God’s involvement in our world. Specifically, we questioned Muslims who attributed to God the many lives that were spared at a mosque during a tsunami. In the past few weeks, there has been several news stories about high winds leading to a crane collapse which killed over 100 people at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. If Muslims give credit to God for sparing lives during a natural event such as a tsunami, why have we not seen Muslims blamed God when lives are taken because of a high wind.

All the religions of the world have this problem. In their effort to prove the validity of their religion, they resort to attributing events that have a positive outcome to God. The problem is that when negative events occur, who do they hold responsible?

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