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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Why the Post-Christian Culture Can't Understand Us

Since its beginnings in first century Judea, Christianity has always been a proselyting faith. Jesus's followers, having been charged by their master to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (English Standard Version, Acts 1:8), effectively followed his command for centuries. But while the Great Commission has been understood to begin at evangelism, it shouldn't be understood to end there. Christian evangelists spreading across the Roman Empire shared not simply a way of salvation, but an entire worldview that was so strange and foreign to its hearers, it was labeled a "deadly superstition" and "hatred for mankind." 1 Larry Hurtado explains how the Romans saw the Christian belief system as "a dangerous development that challenged what were then accepted notions of religion, piety, identity, and behavior.2"

Of course, Rome wasn't the only culture in which Christianity was deemed anti-social and dangerous. Across the centuries and across the globe, a similar theme would play out: Christian missionaries seeking out unreached peoples to save with a message deemed most peculiar. From Patrick in Ireland to Jim Elliot in Brazil, the struggle to communicate the ideas foundational to the Christian faith met significant resistance. Even so, Christian evangelists were successful in penetrating so many pagan societies that the adoption of their weltanschauung ultimately transformed the world.3

The Need for a New Communication Strategy

Evangelism in the Western world today faces a similar issue. While the West has been built upon the Judeo-Christian worldview, it is increasingly abandoning its heritage. Growing more and more secular, basic Christian tenets now sound foreign and are not well understood, especially among the young adults.4

However, today's culture in which Christians now find themselves as outliers has one significant difference. To turn Chesterton on his head, most secularists believe Christianity is not something new and untried; it has been tried and found wanting. They oppose not just Christian belief, but formal religion as an idea while pagan cultures reviled Christianity because they felt it undermined religious piety. Tacitus, Seutonius, and Pliny all used the word superstitio to describe the burgeoning Christian sect. 5 Robert Wilken notes this is a significant term, communicating groundless and irrational beliefs as opposed to a "pious worship of the gods" that gave justification for Christian persecution.6

Unlike the ancients who sought to protect their religious practices, young people today are more likely to hold religious belief as superstition in the modern sense of the term. The Barna Group's recent study The Bible in America - Six Year Trends found:
  • Millennials (22%) and Gen-Xers (18%) are significantly more likely to say the Bible doesn't qualify as a holy book, even as they reject other books as holy.
  • There is rising skepticism about the Bible as a sufficient guide for living a meaningful life.
  • Trust in the Bible's reliability is dropping. Barna first asked American adults in 1991 if they agreed or disagreed that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches." The percentage of those who strongly disagree has nearly doubled in six years.7
One need only look to the best-selling titles of Hitchens and Dawkins to see how the charge that religion poisons everything or how characterizing God as a "sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" 8 are attractive to millions. Or, as the Barna Group summarized, "the steady rise of skepticism is creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly to claims of faith; the adoption of self-fulfillment as our culture's ultimate measure of good is re-orienting moral authority."9

While those hostile to all religion may be in the minority, another problem exists in communicating Gospel truths to a post-Christian culture. People are less and less likely to understand broader Christian concepts. The explosion of moral relativism offers one example, but it isn't the only one. Even the very idea of personal responsibility can be questioned and justified. In his The Secular Age, Charles Taylor offers an example of how actions are now interpreted not as consequences of personal failure, but as signs of missing fulfillment:
[Religious Sociologist Wade Clark] Roof points to new approaches to dieting, and the control of obesity, in contemporary spiritual culture. On the older "deadly sin" understanding, obesity comes from gluttony, a temptation which must be rigorously controlled. Medicalization resituated this temptation as a kind of abnormality, the kind of thing which arises with deviant kinds of development. The contemporary understanding will often look beyond the craving to the deeper unmet spiritual needs that trigger anxious eating.10
Taylor clarifies that the dieter's missing spirituality referenced above sits in contrast to "religion," where the latter is rejected as institutional and authoritarian instead of self-fulfilling, subjective, and feelings-based. Such concepts are barriers to sharing one's faith, as the very vocabulary one uses is no longer effective. Taylor concludes:
Whatever the level of religious belief and practice, on an uneven but many-sloped playing field, the debate between different forms of belief and unbelief goes on. In this debate, modes of belief are disadvantaged by the memory of their previously dominant forms.… They are even more severely disadvantaged by an unintended byproduct of the climate of the fragmented search: the fact that the falling off of practice has meant that rising generations have lost touch with traditional religious languages.11
In order to reach the next generation effectively with the Gospel message, the church must communicate in a way that can relate the big ideas of Christianity but also won't be disadvantaged by negative bias the listener has toward religion.


1. Wilken, Robert Louis. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print. 49, 60.
2. Hurtado, Larry W. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016. Print.
3. See  Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print.
4. Barna Group. "The Bible in America: 6-Year Trends." Barna Group, 15 June 2016. Web. 01 Oct. 2016. .
5. Wilken, 1984. 49-50. Print.
6. Wilken, 1984. 60.
7. Barna Group. 2016.
8. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 51. Print.
9. Barna Group. 2016.
10. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. Print. 507.
11. Taylor, 2009. 533.
Image courtesy Brian Talbot and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Maybe Our Churches Need More Comic Books

A lot of believers shy away from theology and worldview discussions. They all seem so heady and boring. A lot of people don't feel "smart enough" to engage in wrestling with issues of theology. Others feel the whole thing is too abstract. That's why it should come as no surprise how researchers from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research found evangelical Christians hold to some heretical beliefs. In a recent study, 70% of those who would be defined as evangelical agreed with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God.1 That's a heresy that separates Christians from non-Christian sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.

So, yes, theology is a big deal. But sometimes it isn't the concept that's difficult or boring; I find a lot of people are interested once we're in a conversation about theological issues. It may be the presentation that's problematic. If we added a bit of fun into our question, it may become more engaging.

Would Nightcrawler be blue in Heaven?

As a recent example, I offer a question a friend asked me the other day on Twitter: "in his glorified body, would Marvel's Nightcrawler still be fuzzy & blue?" For those unfamiliar, Nightcrawler is a character from the Marvel X-Men franchise, all of which are defined as genetic mutants that give them super abilities. One byproduct of Nightcrawler's (his given name is Kurt Wagner) mutation is his decidedly unhuman-like appearance: blue fur, three digits on each hand, and a tail among other things.

Here's the thing, though. When we start thinking through the question, we begin to learn something about what it means to be made in the image of God. For example, if Kurt's mutation is a genetic defect, either natural like the skeletal dysplasia that causes dwarfism or environmental, like the damage thalidomide inflicted on developing babies, then one may assume it is a consequence of sin. When the heavens and earth are renewed (2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1), those consequences will be removed (Rom. 8:21). I believe one can infer from these passages that thalidomide babies or those suffering from dwarfism will have perfectly healthy bodies as they would have been without their afflictions.

There's another possibility. What if this "mutation" is given to Kurt by design? In other words, what if it isn't a bug but a feature? For example, height doesn't run in my family. I'm only 5'6". I don't at all expect to be 6 feet tall in my resurrection body. My height has been given to me by God and it has contributed to the person I am today. If Kurt's blue, fuzzy appearance falls into that kind of category, then one would expect him to be blue and fuzzy for eternity!

Of course, one of the benefits of the new creation is that people won't be so shallow as to judge others by their physical appearance first. We will relate to one another in perfect relational love (John 17:20-21) and we will be "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We will see one another much more like the way God sees us.
The question isn't as strange as it first appears. In the comics, Wagner is actually a Roman Catholic priest and holds to orthodox positions on salvation and redemption. Making the connection from Wagner reading "I am the Resurrection and the Life" to "what kind of resurrection body would this individual have if he really existed" is a small step.

What Does This Mean for Me?

These are the kinds of thoughtful discussions one can engage in even starting with a "silly" question. But we don't have to stop even there. Here are few more thoughts given the framework I've laid out above: how does something like plastic surgery fit into one's resurrected body? If surgeries are corrective, then they fall into the former category. That may not be the case if they're simply trying to fit some current standard of beauty, though. Just as I don't believe I'll be six foot tall in heaven, I find it hard to hold that someone's breast augmentation would become a permanent part of their anatomy. As I said, I don't think the physical will be the primary way we judge one another. But then, what does that say for tattoos?

I'll let the reader wrestle with those issues. I do want to encourage you to think about ways you might be able to make theology a bit more fun by asking "silly" questions. You might get a surprisingly good conversation out of it!


1. Lindgren, Caleb. "Evangelicals' Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

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