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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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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why is the Church Hemorrhaging Adherents?

Fox News reported on their web site today that “Christianity is plummeting in America, while the number of non-believers is skyrocketing.” Entitled “Where Have All the Christians Gone?”, the story summarizes some finding from the American Religious Identification Survey which includes the following:
  • The number of Christians has declined 12% since 1990, and is now 76%, the lowest percentage in American history.
  • The growth of non-believers has come largely from men. Twenty percent of men express no religious affiliation; 12% of women.
  • Young people are fleeing faith. Nearly a quarter of Americans in their 20’s profess no organized religion.
But these non-believers are not particularly atheist. These individuals have a belief in God but no interest in organized religion, or they believe in a personal God but not in a formal faith tradition.

The article goes on to draw a couple of conclusions from the survey, namely that attention in churches needs to turn from older people to the youth, who are leaving in droves and America remains a spiritual country, but organized religious institutions are fading as the way to draw closer to God. These are probably valid insofar as they go, but I wanted to add a couple of thoughts myself.

1) We’re living in a society that’s become a post-Christian culture

This is becoming more and more evident. It used to be that even if one wasn’t a true believer in Jesus, you would accept things like the Bible was a source of authority and the general principles of Christian morality were applicable for all people of the society. However, that’ s no longer true today. Moral relativism is becoming more and more prevalent. Accepted cultural norms are being challenged all the time. Marriage is being redefined. These show that Christianity is no longer the de facto worldview for many people and this means that more people will no longer label themselves as Christians simply because they live in a “Christian nation”.

2) Many people no longer classify themselves as Christians simply because they were raised in a church.

In the past, many people when asked what their religious affiliation was would look back on their childhood church experiences and say “Christian” since the church of their youth was such. But our culture is changing to one that is post-Christian, and people no longer see these childhood experiences to be valid in their process of self-identification. It is as much a by-product of the modern generations’ desire to forge their own identity as anything else. We don’t want to be forced to follow the crowd, but have been taught that we can be anything we want. People are taking that view seriously.

3) Mainline Denominational Approach to Christianity is Dying

Declining attendance and membership at mainline protestant denominations is a fact that has been well-documented in recent years. Even as mainline groups become more and more liberal, those who continue to follow their teachings are becoming fewer and fewer. I personally believe that once you give up the concept of the Bible being the authoritative source of truth in spiritual matters, but try to shape Scripture to fit the moral framework of the existing culture, you’ve lost any need for church as a guide. Some people will continue with their affiliations because of the social services churches provide or the relationships the church fosters, but others can find those things in different types of institutions and therefore won’t need a church anymore.

4) The youth of today do not see value in traditional models of church

Of course, given the above, it’s no surprise that many young people today will not see value in church at all and will stop going when they are first given the chance. Their social network provides them with interactivity and relationships. Also, I think kids get it when they see someone just going through the motions as so many in mainline protestant denominations are. Kids want absolutes. They want to know what’s right and what’s wrong. If our churches aren’t providing that, then they will be viewed by the younger generation as mere facades of authority.

5) Theology is for “professionals”

A big problem I see is the general ignorance of Christians to the basics of their faith. We live in a culture where all the information we would ever want is at our fingertips, but we’ve never felt it necessary to develop a critical mind in weighing it all. Talk show pundits tell us how to think on political or cultural issues, and Wikipedia passes for research. This is no truer than in the church, where we rely on our pastor as the paid professionals to study the Bible for us and then tell us what it says. This is a sin as we are commanded to “always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is within you” (1 Pet 3:15). We should study and understand ideas like the nature of God, what the Trinity is, and what moral framework the Bible really does present. That means we will also need to understand proper ways to study the text – hermeneutics and exposition – so we can rightly divide the word of Truth. But that means work. Are we willing to study to show ourselves approved for Jesus?

I think as we continue to move to a post-Christian culture, we need to prepare ourselves to face some of the difficulties that the early church faced. We’re going to be challenged about our beliefs more. Our moral basis is going to be questioned. Ridicule and persecution will probably increase. And we’ll face more and more moral stances that deviate from what we saw as the norm. Lack of morality is what the world does – I’m not surprised at that. But just as the pre-Constantine church had to struggle to get their ideas across to a world that saw them as foreign, so we may also have to work harder at being better followers of Jesus - even if the opposition increases.

Image courtesy Sleeper141 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catchphrase Christianity - A Troubling Trend

This morning, a friend and I met to catch up at Starbucks. While we were talking a lady sat down at the table next to ours and was reading The Shack by William P. Young. Having read snippets myself as well as many reviews (one of the more balanced and substantive may be found here), I was interested in understanding how she was processing the story.

The lady told me she is enjoying the book and liked how it "focused on relationship. It doesn't over-complicate our approach to God and make it all about religion. I think that people try to make things too hard, when it's all about relationship. Just like any other relationship, it depends on how you view the other person; if you spend time with them. Religion is about all those things you have to do, the stuff you have to obey."

Now, this may sound pretty traditionally Christian, but I had a couple of red flags go up in that statement. Upon asking further, I found out she attends a "pretty laid back church", more contemporary than its denominational roots. She also said that the church was taking a purpose-driven model in its approach. None of that is a concern in and of itself. I know that there can be really strong churches that are purpose driven. However, it seemed that all I was getting in my conversation with her were these 21st century Christian catchphrases. So I wanted to dig a little deeper and see if she understood any of this.

"So, how do you understand what Christianity is?" I asked.

"Well, it's like I said at the beginning. It's about having a relationship. Like in this book where the character of the Holy Spirit says 'It seems you view your life as a pyramid with God at the top. I don't want to be at the top of the pyramid, I want to be in the center. I don't want you to focus on Me one or two days out of the week, then have all your other things, I want to be in the center of everything you do.' So, it’s a relationship where God it a part of everything, not just a side thing."

I pressed again, "But WHY do you need a relationship? Why is that important?"

"Well," she answered "I... I... I'm really not good at explaining things like this."
And that was my sneaking suspicion. You see, in all the talk of closeness and relationship, there was no mention of sin or a fallen nature. She didn't have a concept of someone who has been rescued from a destiny of judgment.

I think that as Christians, we need to have sound reasons for why we believe what we believe. That includes reasons for the necessity of this relationship with Jesus. If we're going to have a relationship with someone, we'd better get to know who they are and what they did as much as we can! Unfortunately, sound theology is being supplanted by quick taglines and Christianese.

We find the subject of sin and a destiny in hell an uncomfortable idea. A lot of churches today would rather just talk about having a relationship with God but leave out the sinner part of the equation, since it makes people uncomfortable and may drive "seekers" away. My position is that true seekers are looking for answers and not just feel-good platitudes.

Our relationship with God is not the same as any other relationship – it is unique. We are sinners saved by His payment on the cross. The message of the Gospel cannot be preached without this vital point of information, but it was wholly absent in my conversation with this woman.

The reason I point this out is because many people we run into through the course of our lives may look Christian and say all the right things, but they may be missing a big piece of the puzzle. I’m still not sure if this lady had a saving relationship with Jesus. She agreed with all I brought up on how Christianity is the only faith that effectively answers the sin problem and that Jesus did pay the penalty for sin, but how much she holds of that is still a bit of a mystery.

So the next time you meet someone who you think is a Christian, don’t be afraid to engage them further. They may very well understand that becoming a follower of Jesus is just that - pledging your life to Him because of what He did for us. Or they may just know the lingo, or be simply unclear on the whole matter. Whatever the case, being clear yourself and helping others see things clearly is a good start in correcting a church that increasing is infected with easy-believism.

Image courtesy Adam Fagen and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

How to Get Wisdom Without Drinking Vitameatavegamin

Recently I was asked what my favorite scripture is. Now, this is a hard question, because I tend to approach the Bible not as a monolith, but apply different passages to different circumstances. I like to keep the context of the passage in focus, so there really is no "one size fits all" for me.

However, if I had to point to one passage that has spoken to me most strongly in my ministry - the one that I feel is how God calls upon me to do his will - I'd have to point to Proverbs 22:17-21. Most people are surprised by this, figuring that 1 Peter 3:15 (the classic apologetics passage) would define an apologist. But I think this Proverbs passage is pretty strong. Let me just touch on it for you:
Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge;
For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
That they may be ready on your lips.
So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I have taught you today, even you.
Have I not written to you excellent things
Of counsels and knowledge,
To make you know the certainty of the words of truth
That you may correctly answer him who sent you?
Just a couple of points here:

v 17 - "Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise And apply your mind to my knowledge;" - We are first commend to apply our minds to the knowledge of God. We need to study! Learn about God's Word. Learn the arguments.

v 18a, 19a "For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you", " So that your trust may be in the LORD" - There is a blessing for us if we have looked into these issues. I know everyone goes through trials. The absolute WORST time to intellectually wrestle with the tough question about the existence of God, the problems of evil and such is when you are in an emotionally vulnerable state, Yet, trials force us to think about these issues! However, because I've spent time previously thinking through these issues in a calm, rational manner - my faith isn't overthrown. I may not understand why God doesn't answer my prayers, but I know that God exists and that He will provide a way through it all. Those are already settled in my mind, so I don't have to rehash them when I'm the most frustrated or scared.

v18b "That they may be ready on your lips." -We need to be ready. 1 Peter 3:15 shows up in Proverbs. Amazing.

vss. 19b-21a "I have taught you today, even you. Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge" - God provides us with the Truth. - these excellent things of counsels and knowledge. Just like He provides us with strength. However, just like strength, in order to get more of it we need to determine that we're going to exercise those muscles.

v 21a " to make you know the certainty of the words of truth" - There's comfort in God's Word as certain. The Bible is without a doubt the single most scrutinized, picked-apart book in history by academics, skeptics, and doubters. And it still stands.

v21b "That you may correctly answer him who sent you" - Who is this who sends you? Is it your teachers, your pastor, your parents? In context, this passage of Proverbs is a Father instructing his son. So who is our Father who sends us? It is God the Father who sends us. But here's the kicker - the verse says we are going to have to answer "Him who sent you". So, God challenges us not to only answer those who may challenge our beliefs, but to answer the Father who supplies us with these "excellent things of counsels and knowledge.

I hope this passage will bless you and challenge you to " be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) If you'd like to hear more about this verse and practical ways to prepare, click here.

Also, comment and let me know your favorite verse! I'll look forward to reading about them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Wife Beheaded Barely Registers for the Press

I found an interesting article on the GetReligion blog dealing with Muzzammil Hassan. Hassan is probably not a familiar name to you – and that's precisely the issue. Hassan is a Muslim-American who is very active in trying to dispel negative Muslim stereotypes in the media. As the blog post notes, "Muzzammil Hassan had received some fantastic national media coverage a couple of years ago - NPR, Chicago Tribune, etc. - as the founder and CEO of Bridges TV. Bridges was founded, he said, to counter negative Muslim stereotypes."

So why the interest in Hassan now? Well, a couple of weeks ago his wife filed for divorce and asked for an order of protection against her husband. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as days later Hassan summarily beheaded his wife and then reported her dead body to the police.

It's an understatement to say that beheading your wife is a shocking crime. So, why haven't we heard more about it? The story has received some press, but not to the level one would expect for this type of action. As the GetReligion post goes on to say:
So just on the irony or hypocrisy angle alone, I figured the story would get quite a bit of media coverage. But it kind of just floated out there - getting some coverage but nothing terribly substantive. Normally I would chalk it up to the news maxim that only violence against young blond women gets coverage but even with the domestic abuse situation involving Rihanna and Chris Brown, no one seemed interested in a particularly gruesome murder….
The thing was that Hassan was a prominent Muslim who had been championed for his efforts to dispel Muslim stereotypes. So while, very sad to say, even if he were simply accused of killing his wife in a more common manner as opposed to beheading her - something that is extremely uncommon in America - this story might not have had as much news value.
The stories that were out there seemed to lack substance. They didn't explore why beheadings are more common in some cultures and what, if anything, that has to do with various religious values.
These are good questions and I hope that our culture and the "watchdogs of justice" aren't afraid to at least ask them. The blog post does highlight at least one Associated Press article that begins to explore these questions. You can read the whole Get Religion piece here.
Image courtesy E.C. and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Don't Let Your Eyes Deceive You!

In my devotion this morning I found myself in Ezekiel 12 - a prophecy about Israel and Judah going into captivity. In this prophecy, the Lord tells Ezekiel:
"The prince who is among them will load his baggage on his shoulder in the dark and go out. They will dig a hole through the wall to bring it out. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land with his eyes. I will also spread My net over him, and he will be caught in My snare And I will bring him to Babylon in the land of the Chaldeans; yet he will not see it, though he will die there." (vv. 12-13)
This prophecy was fulfilled during King Zedekiah’s reign. After trying to form a revolt against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had previously put him in power, the Babylonians came into Judah, besieged Jerusalem and leveled the city. Capturing Zedekiah, they slaughtered his sons before his eyes and then put his eyes out – making that the last thing he would ever see. Once blinded, they carried him in chains to Babylon.

This story got me thinking about how the Bible treats the eye symbolically.
  • In Genesis 3, Eve saw the fruit of the tree was good for food, so she took it and gave some to her husband to eat.
  • Sampson had eye trouble - he saw a daughter of the Philistines and wanted to marry her (Judges 14:1) and he saw a harlot in Gaza (Judges 16:1) which led to his fate with Delilah. The Philistines put out Samson’s eyes. Only after this did God use him again.
  • Jesus once taught "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matt 5:39).
One of Israel and Judah's problems prior to the exile is they trusted too much in what they saw – their temple, their walls, their chariots and their alliances – instead of their relationship with the Lord. Symbolically, God is showing the entire rebellious nation that their eyes are deceiving them and leading them away from Him. So he allows them to be "put out" the king's eyes are put out, the temple is destroyed and the nation is put out of the land so they can no longer trust in their surroundings.

The interesting thing in all this is how we can be reconciled through Jesus. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind by making clay or mud from the ground and putting it on his eyes. I've always read that with a nod to Genesis 2 - since God created us out of the dust of the ground, could it be that this man's condition was he was born without his entire eye? Perhaps Jesus is creating that part of him that the man lacked in the same way that God made Adam.

Whatever the case, Jesus has the ability to heal us of our deepest sin issues. The eye is the source for all kinds of sin. If we voluntarily admit our sins and give them to Him, He can restore us to a proper state. If we continue in rebellion, God just may have to deal with us more strongly in order to keep us from sinning so we can again make the main thing the main thing.
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