Monthly Archives: April 2006
Something I’ve noticed in the blogosphere, particularly among the Christian blogs, is the consistent portrayal of Islam as an evil and wicked religion. This phrase was coined by popular evangelist Franklin Graham and has sparked much controversy in the media over the past few years. Given the increased polarization in the world today, I think it is necessary to restore some intellectual honesty to the issue.
What do I mean by intellectual honesty? First, let me start by saying that the radical Islam of the terrorists is nothing short of demonic in inspiration. I have no problem with saying that the likes of Iran’s current president and Osama Bin Laden are the moral equivalent of Hitler in our generation. The Islamic-fascist movement is the most serious threat to the world’s population in the 21st century. Having said that, I feel that Christians need to approach the moral question of the Koran with some honesty. One of the harshest criticisms of Islam by Christians is the fact that the Koran advocates the spreading of its religion through military struggle. To be sure, this is an unavoidable aspect of Islam regardless of what moderate Muslims and the Western media has to say. Anyone who believes that the Koran does not advocate theocracy is missing a few nuts and bolts in the brain.
My question is-is the concept of theocracy in the Koranic sense necessarily evil? Here is where the intellectual honesty comes in. How can we as Christians say that Islam is evil and wicked for engaging in military struggle, suppressing freedom of religion, and seeking to establish a theocracy when the God in our Bible basically did the same thing in the Old Testament? The answer is-we can’t. But we can say that the Islamic concept of theocracy is a step backwards in God’s plan for the human race and is out of step with the values that Jesus introduced to the world. When Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” and “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”, He forever did away with theocracy as a legitimate form of government. More specifically, He forever did away with the idea that the sword is a legitimate means of spreading religion. Through his life and teachings, Jesus introduced to the world the concept of freedom of consciousness. The idea that man should be free to make his own decisions regarding his eternal fate uncoerced by the state is what eventually led to our Western concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights. For the sake of world peace, let’s pray that the values of Jesus beat out the competition in our generation.
I was reading the Book of Acts the other day when a verse of Scripture jumped out at me and upended a theological pet doctrine that I have had for years. Perhaps you can relate. Have you ever had a passage of Scripture seem to nail you in the forehead and you wonder, “How could I have not seen that before?” Well, that’s what happened to me when I read Acts 15:18 which says, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”
For years I have said that God knows what He chooses to know, implying that God limits His own foreknowledge. You might say, “Well duh Aaron. How could you believe such an obviously nonscriptural doctrine as that.” Not so fast. You see, there are numerous examples throughout the Bible that seem to indicate that God did not know beforehand an action that a person or a nation would take. One example is God’s dealing with Saul in the Old Testament. Even though God chose Saul to be king, He seems to be taken by surprise when Saul took a turn for the worse. The Bible says, “The Lord was sorry that He made Saul king.” God also tells Saul that if he would have obeyed, He would have established His kingdom forever. Also consider that in Jeremiah, God tells the children of Israel that “it never entered His mind” the sins that they would do. Consider as well that, when Christ was on earth, He did not exercise His attributes of deity which would have given Him unlimited knowledge and power while on earth.
The last argument is fairly easy to refute. When Jesus ascended into heaven, His earthly nature was reunited with His divine nature (in the sense that He was reunited with the Father and was able to fully operate His rights and privileges as deity again). The first two arguments are not so easy. After all, how could something “never enter God’s mind” if God is all knowing and never limits His own foreknowledge in some way? That’s a good question. The answer is that, in the above examples, along with many other passages in the Bible where God is relating to finite human beings, He accomodates to their finite understanding. To say that God accomodates to human understanding may sound a little blasphemous to those who take the strictest possible literal interpretation of every word in the Bible. Such an approach is untenable especially in the light of the fact that the Bible is progressive revelation. God did not reveal Himself to first century Jews in the same way that He revealed Himself to a group of rag-tag slaves in the Sinai desert centuries earlier. Why? Because that would be like trying to explain trigonometry to a five year old.
So how do we know how to interpret the Bible? Here are a few quick rules. Always interpret the unclear in light of the clear. Never throw out numerous verses in favor of a few. Consider the people to whom a certain passage of Scripture is written in its historical context. And lastly, when it comes to understanding the nature and character of God, Jesus is always our starting point. One last comment. Always be willing to change your theology in light of further reflection. Never be afraid to say, “Oops! I was wrong.” God already knows that you don’t know everything, so why not just admit it and move on?
This post is dedicated to all of God’s children who have been bewildered at one time or another by the following statement: “The church is full of hypocrites.” In order to satisfy my conscience I must humbly admit that ,if the Church is full of hypocrites, then I myself must be in that category. You don’t believe me? Confession time. I can not even count how many times I have passed judgement on people who like to gossip and criticize others when I myself have done the same thing. To make it even worse, often the very people whom I consider the worst at passing judgment on others are often the people I love to pass judgment on when talking about them to other people. If that is not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.
I think it is rather amusing that, in our culture, the title of “hypocrite” is so nefarious that most would rather be called a liar, a thief, or a coward than to be called a “hypocrite.” I imagine there are some who would rather be called a murderer or a child molester than a “hypocrite.” The assumption is that hypocrisy is a rare sin reserved for the most despicable of the human race. Even for most Christians, I bet it would come as a real shocker if I said the Bible teaches that there is an inner hypocrite in all of us.
Here is God’s indictment on the human condition. Read carefully. You may find yourself described in this statement: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. ” (Romans 2:1)
Therefore I am in full agreement with the statement “the Church is full of “hypocrites.” But I say, why stop there? Isn’t it further true that the entire world, both inside and outside the Church, is full of hypocrites? The Church is full of hypocrites precisely because the Church is full of people. The problem with most people is not hypocrisy, but blindess to hypocrisy. Jesus said “If you were blind you would have no sin, but now you say ‘we see’ therefore, your sin remains.” According to Jesus, the problem with man is that he thinks so highly of himself that he fails to see that he is blind. If find it interesting that the very people who throw the “hypocrite” accusation against Christians often see themselves as morally superior to the ones they are accusing. Now that’s blindness. Or should I call it….hypocrisy?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Jesus were to be interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show? My wife was watching Oprah yesterday and I just happened to overhear a conversation on the show between actress Kathy Bates and actor Billy Bob Thorton. Of course you know that , as a guy, I could never admit to watching Oprah, so I will have to leave it to your imagination as to whether I was actually engaged in watching the show or not-but I digress. Billy Bob Thorton asked Kathy Bates an interesting question. If she could interview a historical person, who would she want to interview? Kathy replied that she would like to interview Jesus and ask Him who He really was. That caught my attention.
I imagine that if Jesus were to be interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show today, or the Today show for that matter. It doesn’t matter. Pick your favorite media personality and imagine him or her asking Jesus “Who are you really?” I imagine Jesus would say something like this:
“I am the bread of life.” “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
“I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And he who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit. For without me you can do nothing.”
“I and my Father are one.”
“Before Abraham was, I am.”
Given the fact that this is an imaginary media personality steeped in a Western materialist worldview, I can imagine that the interviewer would then promptly reply -“Come on Jesus, tell me who you really are.”
I can remember the first time I heard the song “Drugs or Jesus” by country recording artist Tim McGraw. I was driving a U-haul from Farmington, New Mexico back to Missouri where my wife and I currently reside. Unfortunately, I only made it about an hour outside of Farmington when we noticed that the Honda Element which we were hauling was smoking out of the rear exhaust. Bad news! We had forgotten to read the owners manual which stated that the Element can only be towed with all four wheels off the ground. It turned out that we burned our rear differential (whatever that means) and it cost us over two thousand dollars to fix.
I find it interesting that I first heard this song while driving down the road with my rented U-haul completely oblivious to the damage I was doing to our vehicle because of a failure on my part to read the owners manual. The premise of the song is that the same human emotions that lead people to drugs also lead people to Jesus. While that may be true, there is an underlying assumption that I think needs to be challenged. And that is the idea that following Jesus is simply a matter of personal preference. In our me-centered society, this is a message that resonates with most people, even many Christians. For many people, Jesus is simply a coping mechanism to get through life’s struggles and perhaps add a little meaning along the way. Sadly, even in most of our churches, the gospel is presented in terms of “come to Jesus and let Him solve all your problems.” It is a sad day when Jesus becomes a mere substitute for Prozak.
In our me-centered culture we forget that, according to Jesus, following Him is not merely a matter of personal preference, but of life and death. Jesus said “He who is not with me is against me”, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the Father except through me”, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Or how about the words of John the Baptist-“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him.” Following Jesus is no more a matter of personal preference than me choosing to read the owners manual to avoid severe mechanical damage to my vehicle. Given the credibility of His character, the historical fact of His resurrection, and the eternal stakes of His claims, following Jesus is just good common sense.
There has been a lot of hooplah lately over a so-called lost gospel of Judas. Of course, this doesn’t really surprise me. It seems that those who refuse to believe the historical gospels will accept almost anything as a substitute. What is this so-called lost gospel? In reality, it is not at all different from all the other so-called “lost gospels” that were rejected by the Church as heretical during the fourth century. It is important to understand that the historical gospels that are included in the New Testament were all written in the 1st century either by those who either personally followed Jesus, or by close associates of those who knew Him. The historical gospels all present Jesus as a real flesh and blood human being descended from King David and the rightful heir to the Jewish throne. Also, every historical gospel shows Jesus as performing healings, miracles, and exorcisms showing that Jesus cared very deeply about the human condition. This is very important. Because the basis of every gnostic gospel portrays Jesus as a ghost-like being who, although appearing to have a physical body, was not truly human.
Even if the gospel of Judas was to be dated around the same time as the historical gospels (which that is highly unlikely, according to http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospeljudashtml, the likely date is A.D. 130-170) it still doesn’t change the fact that the gnostic portrayal of Jesus has little to nothing to do with the Jesus of history. To understand Jesus, you have to understand Him within the context of 1st century Judaism, not 1st century gnosticism. Jesus saw Himself as the fulfillment of everything that the Old Testament prophets had written before Him (see Luke 24:44). Whereas gnosticism claimed that matter is inherently evil (or at best illusional), Jesus understood the material world as a reality created by a loving personal Creator. Since the early gnostics saw matter as evil, they cared little about the historical Jesus who offered His body to die for the sins of humanity. To them, what mattered most was secret knowledge or hidden revelation. Why would history be important if the entire material world was an illusion? This is why we can not trust any gnostic gospel to reveal to us anything useful about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Interestingly, the New Testament epistles of Colossians and I John were both written to combat this first century heresy. It’s a shame that people are so eager to take the word of someone writing on behalf of a thief and a traitor than the words of those who sacrificed their lives in obedience to the Jesus of history. How easily misled we gullible humans are. If we’re that easily duped, perhaps there’s a Judas in all of us.
My wife and I just happened to catch a glimpse of the Today Show this morning where Katie Couric was interviewing women in their late 50’s and 60’s who made major changes in their lives to better themselves. While some of the stories were inspiring, there was one that really troubled me. And not only me, but my wife Rhiannon as well. One story followed a woman who supposedly had the life that most women want-a good husband, beautiful children, and financial security. Unfortunately, in our narcissistic age, for many women nowadays a loving faithful husband is simply not enough. Although the woman in the interview admitted that her husband was a nice man (which would rule out abuse and most likely infidelity on his part), she said that after 40 years of marriage, they had lost much of their intimacy. After talking with her therapist, she decided that her daughter would respect her much more by leaving her husband and starting a new life than by staying in an unhappy marriage. In the mind of this woman and her therapist, the act was considered courageous. Even more troubling, there seemed to be no inclination on the part of the producers of the show to even suggest that what this woman did was morally wrong.
To be sure, I am in no position to judge this woman. Jesus said “Judge not lest you be judged.” Perhaps if I knew all the facts, I would feel differently about her decision. What troubles me, however, is the way this woman’s decision to leave her husband of 40 years was portrayed as an act of courage simply because the man had failed to meet her needs in a way that fully satisfied her. My question is “Since when did infidelity become a virtue?” Furthermore, I wonder if it was the man who decided to leave his wife of 40 years citing “lack of intimacy” as the reason, would you see his story portrayed on The Today Show as an act of courage? Doubtful. Most people, men and women included, would probably describe their feelings about the man in no uncertain terms decrying his moral character. So why the double standard for the woman?
Lest you think I am a chauvinist (which I am not, those that know me well know that I am a strong advocate of equality between the sexes in marriage, the Church, and society ) my loving faithful wife also agreed with me. It seems that “from death do us part” has largely been exchanged for “till death do us part-as long as you meet my needs” in our culture. Is this the Biblical view of marriage? Hardly. Marital love is a picture of Christ’s love for the Church-a love which happens to be unconditional. As corrupt and worldly as the Bride of Christ might be, it seems that our heavenly bridegroom (Jesus Christ) is stubbornly determined to love us despite our imperfections. It is this unconditional love that Jesus has for us that provides the basis for us fickle human beings to love each other unconditionally as well-especially within the bonds of marriage. I am thankful that Christ’s love for me is not determined upon me meeting His needs. If it were, I am afraid my beloved Savior would come up with the short end of the stick. I feel that the least I can do is return the favor by loving my wife in the same way that He has loved me. As a moral virtue for the betterment of society, I’ll take fidelity over selfishness any day.
As I write this post, I am still in Pakistan. I just finished three days of preaching the gospel and doing interviews for a documentary coming out next year. My friends Stephen and Nate who are here with me told me that, up a couple of nights ago, they were watching a pirated version the new movie King Kong on local Pakistani television. So much for copywrite laws in the developing world. But that’s another subject. Mentioning the film jogged my memory to write about the beauty in this blockbuster remake of the old classic. So here goes.
The tendency is to compare King Kong to the three Jurassic Park movies. Action scenes and special effects aside, I think that King Kong is a much better movie because it contains a message that is largely absent in Jurassic park. And that is that there really is beauty in a fallen world. In the world of King Kong, although it may seem like nature is random, violent, and indifferent, there is also beauty, substance, and meaning. And it is precisely this beauty that kills the beast inside of King Kong. When King Kong is staring at the sun setting over New York City while sitting on top of the Empire state building, he experiences the profound spiritual experience of reflection and appreciation.
Of course, in the real world, an ape or a gorilla is never going to reach the epiphany that King Kong experiences. But maybe that is the point. After all, what really separates us hairless bipeds from the rest of the animal kingdom? Anatomically speaking, there really isn’t much difference between us and apes, gorillas, and chimpanzees. In fact, when it comes to brute strength, they’ve definitely got the upper hand. It’s probably not intelligence either. After all, haven’t we all heard that dolphins are intelligent in many ways that humans are not? What separates us from the animal world is not our strength nor our intelligence, but our ability to reflect on the beauty in this seemingly chaotic world that we live in. It is precisely this reflection on beauty that points to the beautiful maker who created us. Regardless of the mechanism that God may or may not have used to bring us humans beings into existence, the fact that we can reflect on our actions and appreciate the beauty of nature points to the fact that ,although our anatomy may be of the dust, our essence is truly spiritual. Thank God for that. If it were not so, we’d be swinging in the trees and throwing our dung at each other like our primate cousins. But by the grace of God we are what we are. So the next time you see the sun set or a beautiful flower, take a moment to reflect on the humanity within you that can appreciate the wonders of God’s grace.