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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Finding Christian Hope in This Election Cycle



Today is the National Day of Prayer and I know a lot of Christians who are praying for this country more than ever before. Principled people are faced with two choices for leading our country, each of whom has acted in ways demonstrating a complete lack of moral grounding. As one young evangelical mom told Senator Ben Sasse, "I want to cry. I disagree with Hillary Clinton on almost every single thing – but I will vote for her before Trump. I could never tell my kids later that I voted for that man."1 As I said yesterday, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift where the abandonment of truth and community standards for individual desires is coming home to roost.

Like the lady above, a lot of people I talk with are feeling more and more hopeless. They don't want their daughters sharing a bathroom with a grown man, yet even the courts are demanding we ignore the reality of biology over something that is not yet defined or testable. They worry about their kids and the kind of world they will inherit. For people of faith, it will definitely get harder. What's a Christian to do?

There is hope to be found in the events we see today. It's a very specific kind of hope, one that comes about as the result of hard times. Paul explained to the Romans how hope is developed in the Christian:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is the hope of the New Testament. It isn't a hope of changing circumstances. Because of our great blessings, we've mixed up the hope spoken of by the apostles with hoping that easy times are ahead. But that isn't the way the Bible uses the word.The Bible teaches that this world is corrupt and needs to be judged. It isn't a hope in a political figure who will move things in a particular direction. We know that no one is good but God alone. The hope we have is that even as the world gets darker and our struggles more difficult, God will use those to develop our reliance upon him alone.

As the world gets darker, I do have more hope. I can see how the lines are being more clearly drawn than before. I can see how it may soon cost every Christian something to claim the name of Christ. That won't be easy and I don't wish pain upon anyone, but it will make people take their beliefs more seriously than it has in the past.

The hope we have is a hope that God will at one point put everything right again. In the meantime, I cling to the fact that God will be working in me to produce the endurance and good character he desires me to have. I trust in him and my hope drives my ministry. Not simply hope for a future event but faith in his providence leading each of us today and every day, even when it looks crazy out there.

So rejoice today, Christian. If God is real then there is hope to be found.

References

1. Sasse, Ben. "An Open Letter to Majority America." Ben Sasse Facebook Page. Facebook, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 May 2016. https://www.facebook.com/sassefornebraska/posts/593031420862025

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Another Sign It's the End of the World as We Know It, Christian



You've just heard the news. That announcement about the thing that you would never imagine would have happened but did. That decision from the judge or the store or the selection of that candidate. The nation is seemingly crumbling before your eyes. How should the church respond?

It is now cliché to note the world is changing. That's a testament to just how quickly and how radically the world is changing. No matter with which group you may identify, the shifts that have taken place in the last decade are staggering, and for the most part they haven't been for the better.

Yesterday, we dismissed procreation as the nucleus for the institution of marriage. Today, we claim anyone can simply speak his/her/zer sexual identity (or non-identity) into existence. With religious liberty in the sights of activists, who knows how long it will be before people are not simply fined for holding to their religious convictions, but jailed for them. That very well may be our tomorrow.

Christians that I speak with are confused and bewildered. The culture has mutated around them so quickly that they really don't know what to make of things or how to react anymore. I don't pretend to have all the answers. However, I do want to take a moment and point out two observations I see that may serve as guidelines for Christians to take new steps forward.

1. Christian beliefs fall increasingly outside the mainstream

I tread carefully on this first point, but it is one that is important. It is very easy to claim victimhood today in the West. We live in the freest, most prosperous time of human existence where lifespans are longer, waistbands are wider, and gadgets are smarter than ever before. It may even be because things have become so easy for people, they interpret any resistance to their wants as victimization or persecution. That simply isn't true.

That being said, Christian beliefs are not being accepted as they once were. The Barna Group recently reported the number of people who are skeptical about the Bible is equal to the number of those who engage with it regularly.1 As the huge resistance to RFRA laws demonstrate, matters of conscience and faithfulness to one's God have been dismissed as of secondary importance. The grounding on the equality of all men no longer rests in our bearing the image of God, but rather in human beings being able to make choices.2 Further, Barna reports that “nearly half of non-religious adults perceive Christianity to be extremist,”3 and that category is growing.

All this means Christians should not expect any of their moral values or understanding of the human condition to be shared by the larger public. Nor should anyone think that just because people attend the same church as you they therefore share all your values. Most folks don't think about the messaging they receive from pop culture. They don't take the time to think through key issues. People base truth on their feelings today4, which explains the moral vacuum that exists in the most popular 2016 presidential candidates.

2. Churches need to engage minds as well as feelings

In its first few centuries, one of the things that set Christianity apart from the pagan world was its ideas. Christians thought very differently about quite a lot of things. They held women in much higher esteem, they saw the Roman practice of infanticide as deplorable,5 and they shunned loose sexual mores of their day6. That means pagan converts were converted in their moral understanding as much as their belief in God and salvation. Once they held to new convictions, they would then live by them.

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians today don't hold to Christian convictions. The Barna group reported in 2002 that only 32% of born again adults and 9% of born again teens believed in moral absolutes, a number that has surely dwindled in the last decade and a half.7 This is a failure of discipleship. The Church isn't transforming minds as Romans 12 commands. We've been so steeped in the vernacular of asking Jesus into one's heart that we've forgotten to ask him into our minds as well.8 That's why so many professed Christians can support a candidate who stated he would kill even the family members of those who commit terrorist acts.9  The church needs to return to making fully-formed disciples and that means teaching Christians how to think properly.

Ideas have consequences. The consequences of an overly-individualistic, morally relative, and senate and materialistic culture are showing in the complete collapse of Christian values in our culture. The church doesn't look that different from the secular culture in this regard. But the early church changed their world because they changed people's minds as much as they offered compassion and the love of Jesus. In fact, it was their renewed minds that allowed them to put their beliefs into practice. If the Church doesn't do a better job in discipling minds, I cannot see how it will be able to withstand the resistance it will soon face. 

References

1. "Year-in-Review: Barna's Top 10 Findings from 2014." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/701-year-in-review-barna-s-top-10-findings-from-2014
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Losing Human Dignity Through the Culture Wars." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/11/losing-human-dignity-through-culture.html
3. "Five Ways Christianity Is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist." Barna Group. Barna Group Inc., 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 May 2016. https://barna.org/research/faith-christianity/research-release/five-ways-christianity-increasingly-viewed-extremist
4. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." Barna Group. Barna Group, Inc., 11 Feb. 2002. Web. 04 May 2016. https://barna.org/component/content/article/5-barna-update/45-barna-update-sp-657/67-americans-are-most-likely-to-base-truth-on-feelings.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "How Will Children Be Valued If Christianity Is Lost?" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 12 June 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/06/how-will-children-be-valued-if.html.
6. Esposito, Lenny. "Http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/07/how-did-early-christians-influence.html." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 2 July 2015. Web. 4 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/07/how-did-early-christians-influence.html.
7. "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings." 2002.
8. Esposito, Lenny. "Why Our Culture's Value of Feelings Will Be Its Downfall." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 04 May 2016. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/09/why-our-cultures-value-of-feelings-will.html.
9. LoBianco, Tom. "Donald Trump on Terrorists: 'Take out Their Families'" CNN. Cable News Network, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/politics/donald-trump-terrorists-families/.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Evil of Scientology (podcast)


You've probably seen the commercials for Dianetics or walked past some folks offering a free personality test. Both are ways to entice you into the Church of Scientology. But the sheen of the commercials hides a deadly secret that we must warn our friends and family against. Join us as we expose the darkness of Scientology.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stop Dismissing Feminine Values



By any account, Mia Hamm is considered one of the all-time great soccer players. Twice an Olympic gold medalist and twice a World Cup winner, Hamm held the record for most goals scored in international play by a woman until fellow American Amy Wambach broke it in 2013.1 She was even named Female Athlete of the Year at the ESPY Awards.2 When Hamm stepped onto a FIFA football field, she was considered a force to be reckoned with.

However, what if the field that Hamm stepped on wasn't playing by FIFA's rules but those proscribed by the NFL? How would all of Hamm's skills and abilities be judged as she faced off against 250 lb. linebackers? Certainly some of her talents, such as her speed and playmaking vision would be valued, but her standout skills like scoring and dribbling ability would be seen as worthless. No one could see the real value in Hamm's abilities here.

The NFL and FIFA are both called football. Both have great athletes and offer fa participants wonderful opportunities to express their skills. They are, however, two completely different games and to be great in one but not the other doesn't mean you aren't a great athlete. One may be a different kind of player, but equally great at one's chosen sport.

Equality Isn't Everyone Playing the Same Game

I offer this illustration to underscore a point often missed in the gender wars. Lately there has been a lot of noise made about how women are treated unequally. Articles continue to appear complaining about the supposed wage gap between women and men, the lower percentage of women in the sciences, and even how U.S. women's professional soccer players earn only a fraction of their male counterparts. There's also much talk about how media needs to do a better job in portraying women as not simply domestics but warriors who are equally capable of taking out the bad guys in the story.

It strikes me as glaringly obvious that these efforts are using a masculine-tainted yardstick in measuring the worth of women. Alistair Roberts recently made the same point in his article "Why We Should Jettison the 'Strong Female Character'." Roberts focuses his complaint on today's media fascination with portraying women protagonists as action heroes that basically out-man men. He writes:
What is perhaps most noteworthy about most of them how much their supposed 'strength' and independence and their narrative importance often depends upon their capacity to match up to men in combat, requires the foil of male incompetence, villainy, and weakness, or involves the exhibition of traits and behaviors that are far more pronounced in men.

...Herein lies a tragic failure of imagination that weakens both men and women. Women are measured according to an unfair standard that encourages frustration and resentment, as they are pressed to play to their relative weaknesses; men, on the other hand, are ill-served as their strengths must be either pathologized, stifled, or dissembled in order to make women appear equal or stronger. Kickass princesses are an invitation to young girls to pursue their strength in a zero-sum gender game.

...The problem lies with the lack of corresponding films for women, especially films that explore what it means to be a woman who achieves full agency playing to female strengths and according to women's rules. The problem also lies with the lack of female characters that teach men to respect women as women, not only to the extent that they can play to male strengths. Without denying that some women can and do effectively play to male strengths, they should not have to do so in order to be valued as full agents. 3
Roberts goes on to offer a couple of examples to show that women can be valued for those traits where they themselves excel. He leverages Proverbs 31 to underscore his point.

What if Value Is Measured Differently?

When discussing issues of equality, I have often questioned why economic benchmarks are usually the only ones offered in the discussion. Is professional success the only valuable activity? I could just as easily say we need to measure importance by the amount of trust we place on those who are responsible for shaping and molding the most valuable assets we have: our children. Anyone can be indentured to someone else for eight hours a day, schlepping off to do another's bidding just to earn a few dollars for a scrap of bread. The true value lies in the relational bond and power that comes in teaching those who will one day shape our world.

Of course, the example above commits the same error in the other direction. Both men and women are valuable and neither should be considered replaceable. They each have strengths that by and large the other lacks, which is why we decry anyone stifling the voice of either. But let's stop claiming women are equal by telling them they must stop emphasizing those things that differentiate them from men. That isn't equality, is demanding conformity and elevating a man's playing field to judge by.

References

1. "Mia Hamm." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. http://www.biography.com/people/mia-hamm-16472547
2. Bio.com, 2016.
3. Roberts, Alistair. "Why We Should Jettison the 'Strong Female Character'" Mere Orthodoxy. Mere Orthodoxy, 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. https://mereorthodoxy.com/why-we-should-jettison-the-strong-female-character/
Image courtesy Mark Ramelb Flickr source, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

We Don't Need to Recreate the First Century Church



The world in which we live is loud, distracting, and difficult. Attention spans are decreasing and the influence of secular society seems to loom ever larger in our lives. Many believers feel it is becoming harder and harder to honestly live out their Christian faith properly.

Moreover, the Christian church as an institution isn't immune from the influence of the culture. Churches today struggle with balancing a proper worship time with congregational participation. Pastors worry about how much theology they can present in their sermons before it becomes too "heady" and a "turn-off" for the congregant. They also want to figure out just which ministries they should be offering and how much technology should play a part in the worship service.

Given these stresses, it shouldn't be surprising that a common refrain heard in Bible-believing churches is the church needs to simplify. It needs to go back to its roots and look a little bit more like the first century churches. After all, those churches were started by the apostles, making them somehow more pure than the rather complicated practices the modern church adopts in the 21st century.

In fact, there was a big push to return and do church "the way the apostles did it" in the early 19th century, a movement known as Restorationism. It spawned several denominations such as the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ1. More recently, the Jesus People movement in the 1960s sought in some way to do the same thing, and the very recent house church trend claims to be "a return to first-century Christianity in its simplest form."2

The Problem of Purity

Perhaps you have heard someone say something like "we need to return our church experience to the way the first Christians did it." I've heard the statement from both pastors and the laity. But, I think there's an awful lot being assumed in such a statement. In fact, the first century churches were no more pure than those of today.

Let's begin by looking at what we know about the first century churches from the Bible itself. Several of our New Testament books are letters written to Christian churches of the first century and they give precise details on the real world problems those churches wrestled with. The church at Corinth, which was founded by the Apostle Paul himself, seems to be an absolute mess. There was a scandal rocking the assembly since one of its members had begun sleeping with his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1). Further, because different members thought the pastor they liked best was the one who should be authoritative. Paul said this caused "jealousy and strife" among the congregation (3:3). Doesn't that sound pretty familiar?

The Corinthians had other struggles, such as the more "mature" members believing they were somehow better than their newer brethren on the matter of what they could or couldn't eat (8:1). Pride and selfishness had even crept into even the celebration of the Lord's Supper (11:21-22). They had already reduced communion to something it was never meant to be, even getting drunk during the service.

Problems Throughout the Churches

Let we believe that Corinth was some singular exception to the rule in the early church, the Bible gives us ample evidence of other churches wresting with various problems of their own. The Galatians were teaching some bad doctrine and thought only those who followed certain Old Testament precepts would be considered true Christians. The letters that Jesus dictates to John in the book of Revelation outline a slew of problems facing the churches in the first century, including wooden doctrinal adherence without love, accepting false teaching without discernment, allowing the cultural heresies to infect the church, operating on only dead works, and even being completely spiritually dead, holding on the only the name of Christian. James rebukes the church for quarreling, gossiping, and showing partiality. Even ion the book of Acts, the church continually wrestled with what to do about the divisions between those who were Jewish converts verses those who were Gentiles.

Main Thing Stays the Same

All of these examples serve to show that the first century church wasn't a panacea. Christians of the first century had as many struggles, complications, personality battles, and confusion as the church does today.They battles issues of sexual sin within their ranks as well as without. They had problems with pride. They mixed up what was cultural convention with what was essential doctrine. The first century church was very much like the 21st century church. Their problems were simply couched in the milieu of their time.

This shouldn't be a surprise to us. The Christian church of the first century was comprised of people and people are very, very fallible. I recently heard one non-believer say one of the reasons he isn't a Christian is because there are so many divergent opinions and practices within Christian denominations and secondly, there are many examples of injustice done by Christians on their fellow man. I cannot argue with either of these points; both are true.

However, as Christians we understand that it isn't the practices of the church we hold as the standard for life, but the example of Christ. It is our love and devotion to the one who sacrificed himself for our salvation that knits us together as a community. In that aspect, Christians of the first century and Christians of the 21st century are identical. We both worship the Son of Man who alone becomes the propitiation for our sins and who rose again on the third day. We recognize that we are sinners deserving to die but we have been reconciled to God. In that, we are as close to the apostles' teaching as the first century church was, and we can walk confidently forward in our faith knowing that is the model one must follow to be authentic.

References

1. Mallett, Robert. "Restoration Movement." The Christian Restoration Association. The Christian Restoration Association, 2003. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
2. Henning, Jefferey. "The Growing House-Church Movement." Ministry Today Magazine. Charisma Media, 31 Oct. 2000. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

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