Friday, September 10, 2010

Compassion, Peace, Tolerance

That's what, on this morning's news, a pastor in Florida said Jesus was about.  This was in reaction to Pastor Terry Jones and his apparently "intolerant" plan to burn the Quran Saturday.

Now, I am not a fan of Jones.  I think he is way over the edge and that burning the Quran is a unbiblical idea. But what about Jesus?  Was he all about peace? He did say that he came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34).  Was he about tolerance?  It doesn't sound like it when he spoke of those who do not believe in the Son standing condemned (John 3:18).

This popular conception of Jesus expressed by the Florida pastor, which a brief search on the Internet will reveal to be widespread, is simply inaccurate if not fatal.  Compassion, yes, Jesus was compassionate. But peace? Peace with God for those who would come in humility and repentance, yes. But peace in the world or with the world. No.

From the beginning, the world hated Jesus. And Jesus told his disciples the world would hate them too. Why? Because Jesus reveals in the cold light of his holy character as well as his words that we all are sinners.  As he said in John 3, "men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil."

Peace? No.  Not the kind of peace the world means, peace at the cost of truth.

So what about the Quran? Pastor Jones is right.  That book and religion has not brought men closer to God. It has replaced the God of the Bible with a false god.  That's the plain and simple of it. Mohamed created an alternate way.  And it is a way that leads to hell.

That does not mean our response should be to burn the book.  Our response ought to be to proclaim God's mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Our response ought to be to pray for those who are bound in darkness.  Our response ought to be to love them, to love them to Jesus.

As for tolerance, that is the PC watchword of the day.  It implies that there is no truth that matters.  It leads just as surely to hell as preaching a false peace. It is the exact opposite of compassion. Compassion reaches out to the lost because they are desperately lost and hell bound.  Tolerance says let them be.  Jesus was not tolerant. If he had been he would not have come to us and died to save us.

Can you imagine Jesus saying of us,  "They're okay.  They're doing the best they can.  God will overlook their sin." I can not.  

There is only one way to God. It is Jesus. It might sound intolerant, but it is the most compassion thing we can say because it is every man's only hope.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Grand Design

Stephen Hawking's latest book in which he argues for an eternal universe (or universes) and against the need for God as Creator has received the usual notice from press and theologians.  Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is one who has weighed in. (Don't you like that metaphor, like two fighters weighing in before the fight.) Link

Mohler's critique of Hawking's deficient understanding of God - a sort of God of the gaps" deity who only has a role when more rational and scientific based explanations fail - is well taken. His caution for Christians to avoid the "God of the gaps" trap in doing apologetics is also wise.  But Mohler does not go far enough. He fails to suggest a positive response.

So what is the response?  One logical response is that an eternal universe is logically illogical. I think it is fairly well agreed that an infinite series of real things (things that are matter or energy, such as are the physical stuff of the universe) is not possible. And that is what there must be for the universe to be eternal. It does not make any difference how many other prior universes might exist or have existed, as Hawking speculates, there still must be an infinite progression of real things if his hypothesis is to be correct. 

The other response is simply this. Who cares what Hawking speculates.  He has limited himself to matter and energy, to the merely physical. He  denies what is the universal apprehension of the human heart, that there is more to this existence than mere matter.  (Ironically, it is this very universal quest to find out what is really real that seems to energize him. But it leads him to a dead end because he fails to consider all the evidence.)  As most neo-atheists, he relegates everything spiritual to the pre-rational stone-age  or explains it away by evolutionary sleight of hand. All such is whistling in the dark. It is making believe that what is intuitively so is not.

St. Augustine had the answer: "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee." Though I enjoy the repartee of a good apologetic debate, the fact is that God reveals himself to the human heart that is receptive to Him, and no argument to the contrary can speak more powerfully or persuasively than the still small voice of God. No argument can bring the satisfaction or peace that God speaks to us in His presence. So Hawking can hide in his self-created darkness and embrace his nihilistic speculations, but he does not persuade the one who has sat in the presence of God.  

 But God is gracious.  Hawking may yet see his need for more than his speculations provide. May God help him.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What's Up with the Church?

I guess everybody has noticed the new churches with intriguing names showing up in coffee shops (Praise at the Ike in Salem, Oregon) and meeting in idle theaters on Sunday morning (Mars Hill in Olympia, Washington). My own home church, Neighborhood Alliance Church, is changing our name to Sojourn Community Church. Top those observations off with the many books on missional, post-modern, or emergent churches, and the church scene does seem to be in revolution - or confusion.

Now in a new book, Why We Love the Church, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck login with a celebration of the traditional church.  After all the excitement of of the new revolution in churches this book may sound like lukewarm oat meal. It isn't.  It is a good read, though not without its faults.

Kluck's anecdotal writing in alternate chapters is honest and humorous.  DeYoung is the pastor theologian. He analyzes the current scene and follows up with a good readable theology of the church.  His point is that the traditional church is healthy and fulfilling the mandates given in the scriptures.

In general, I like the book.  It is a good defense of the organized church in America.  Its weakness is that the varied colors of the emergent church are painted in black and white.  That means the book, and DeYoung in particular, exaggerates or chooses extreme examples of the "revolution" for the sake of making his case for the traditional church.

My suggestion is to get out of the United States and visit some churches in other parts of the world. The fact is, the church is healthy and biblical in many different forms, from small house churches to huge congregations.

So with that one reservation, I recommend the book.