Worldview

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 3)

Nativity-of-Christ-St-Patricks-Cathedral.jpg

By Dr. Ron Galloway

In Part Two, I spoke of a certain graduate student who imagined that by showing me parallels between Christian symbols, beliefs, and objects and those of other religions, she refuted the originality of the Christian faith. But I have argued that all the religious parallel symbols she presented simply pre-figure the reality of Christ; they simply foreshadow the concrete reality. In all of her examples, the student was really presenting sacred objects or mythical stories that try to unite the profane with the sacred. All of them ultimately fail because they are all partial incarnations. Yes, they can all be seen by their very attempt, to point to the ultimate sacred one, the Christ, to whom all fragmented or partial understandings of the sacred point. Therefore they can be seen only as shadows, not the reality. There are a great many other parallel symbols and objects that the graduate student did not have on her list. Common among religions and mythical stories are sacred mountains, cosmic trees, annual renewals of the universe, sacred skies, seas, skies, earth, rivers , even sacred vegetation of every imaginable and unimaginable variety. The extent of such symbols is well documented in Mircea Eliade's Patterns In Comparative Religions, Cosmos and History, and his very engaging work titled Images and Symbols.[1] But as we saw in Part 2, all such symbols were seen by Eliade, and can be seen by us, as abortive attempts at incarnation. Only the incarnation of Christ fulfils these abortive attempts at uniting the profane with the sacred.[2]

Only the Jesus of Scripture was ever described as fully man and fully God, yet born as we are born. He is the God who, before His birth as a man, brought the whole of the universe into being. He is the true source of earth and sky. His death, resurrection and transfiguration are the true sources of the transfiguration of the whole of the cosmos. Christ can be viewed as the true cosmic tree, and the true tree of life that brings new heaven, earth, and humanity. Indeed the cross of Christ was a tree, symbolizing the dying and resurrected Christ who by His death and resurrection ushers in the opportunity for all to be reborn by the indwelling of Christ, who is both truth and life. The tree of life in the historical garden of Eden can be seen to foreshadow Christ Himself. In scripture He is the reality that is pointed to by the tree in the Book of Revelation whose leaves heal the nations. He is the true source of the knowledge of good and evil. As Saint Paul says: "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him."[3]

In Scripture, He is the true living water, and true source of rebirth and regeneration. He is the true meaning of Eden in the transfigured garden of Eden that we find in the Book of Revelation.[4] Revelation chapter 21 speaks of a fully perfected, transfigured heaven and earth, yet it points to that which is beyond itself, and which fulfilled the transfiguration's own perfection, Jesus the risen Christ who overcame the power of death. All the related symbolisms of human religion will one day find their "yes." Even the horror of religions that practice human sacrifice, point out from their darkness to the true and freely given human sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, He who was fully God and fully man.

Once we understand these symbols, whether they be pagan or Judeo-Christian, the nations of the earth have a bridge to draw them close to the one who came down into history for them, and is coming again. For surely, in the myths and symbols in sacred objects across the world, there is some part of humanity in the image of God crying out for God, however dim their understanding, to come down and save them. In longing for a centre of the earth—where God meets with humanity—are not their spirits crying out for their creator? In longing for a new world, and their own rebirth, are they not crying out for something their heart and conscience long for? With all their talk of sacred mountains, do they not truly desire Mount Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth? With the vast range of liberator and redeemer myths, and the myths of a virgin birth, do not all these point to what people long to have in reality? Do not the vast number of liberator or redeemer myths that talk of a King who will one day be born and will overcome the dark King, all refer to a true King who will one day be born in real history? This King is Christ. Do not all the fears, hopes, and yearnings that are expressed in myth and legend speak of a promise to come?

Are they not all deeply fulfilled where the Scriptures say that the "Yes" has come in the good news of Jesus Christ? [5] Does it not say in Scripture that all the promises of God to humanity have their yes in Christ?[6] Do not the Scriptures say that Christ will unite all things into Himself?[7] Do not those wondrous words in the Christmas song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," well express the deep longing in the human heart through legend song and ritual, to draw close to God?

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the birth of Christ, all that man has longed for in his lost state, and separation from God, comes into history with a finality of promise. For then God, our Lord Jesus, completely took the part of man by fully becoming one. He thus brought all the blessings of eternity into time, and into the human heart. Now all that came before can be seen as shadow, and all the perverted ways of expressing the longing for rebirth of heaven and earth, of renewing the earth, and of renewing man can be seen in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Him we see the reality in its uncorrupted, ultimate form. This does not suggest that either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit were responsible for the perverted ways of people whose understanding of sacrifice often came because of their contact with the spirit world through mediums, spells, or incantations, a form of contact strongly forbidden by the God of Israel.[8] They would do this and still do this in order to draw upon the powers of heaven, and receive its blessings. Such individuals only succeeded in contacting Satan and the spirit world. These evil practices enslaved them to a perverted lifestyle—child sacrifice, self-mutilation, ritual torment and slaughter. And yet, we continually see when Christ is preached, on mission field after mission field, that the very message of Christ, and the Bible itself, fulfil symbol after symbol couched in pagan myth, ritual and story. All their sacred mountains, temples, and objects, find their true fulfilment in the person of Christ. For here, the sacred one—the truly sacred one—comes and overcomes the power of darkness forever.

The battle that is even now bringing death to an end was won at the cross of Christ. Now in a very short time, Christ will come to claim His bride[9]. The end of sorrow and pain is very near, and all who know the Lord will live happily ever after. That is the essence of what J. R. R. Tolkien is getting at in his famous essay on myth and fairy story.[10] To Tolkien, what man invents in fantasy and myth is called secondary reality; but, as Tolkien explains, secondary reality longs to bring itself into reality. Only in Christ is that longing fulfilled. It happens because of His authentic coming down to man in the city of Bethlehem, authentic death and resurrection, authentic indwelling in the human heart, and His real and authentic return to come in a time that may not be too far away. At that time fantasies of secondary reality will all be understood as shadow, shadows that point to Christ Himself. It is He who will unite all heaven and earth in Himself. As Tolkien said of the story of Christ, it is the fairy tale that came true,[11] and those who belong to that Prince of Peace will live happily ever after on the day of His return.

This is the wonder of the Christian faith. It is such a precious reality that even the hopes and fears, and fantasies and myths of man, announce unawares—at some deeper level of the human self—the incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration of Christ and eventually of all things.

[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, tr. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954); and Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. P. Mairet (London: Harvill, 1961).

[2] See John 1, including "the Word Became a human being and lived among us" (1:14).

[3] Colossians 2:3.

[4] Revelation 22:1-2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 1:16-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Colossians 1:8-12.

[8] Deuteronomy 18; Revelation 21:7.

[9] Revelation 21:1-2.

[10] J. R. R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964), 65.

[11] Ibid., 64-66.

Without God, Nothin': Why Atheists Steal from their Creator

By Warren Leigh

Back in 2001, the popular Christian hard rock/rap band P.O.D. released a song on their album Satellite titled "Without Jah, Nothin'" featuring guest vocalist Eek-A-Mouse. Although from a musical standpoint the song was even worse than it sounds, it made a massive theological and philosophical point, a point that I don't believe was even fully realized by the band members themselves. The name "Jah," of course, is an abbreviated form of God's own personal name, Yahweh, usually translated "LORD" in the vast majority of English Bible translations. The song's lyrics proclaim the fact that without God, Christians are no different from the unbeliever—everything good about us is entirely the work of God. This is absolutely true, but I want to argue here that, if we are to be both biblically faithful and truly effective in our apologetic method, then we must take the statement "Without God, NOTHING" and apply it to the whole of reality.

Stealing from God, by Frank Turek
Stealing from God, by Frank Turek

At the recent Be Ready 2016 conference, Frank Turek delivered a message titled "Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case," based on his book of the same title. In both the talk and the book, Turek demonstrates that even the most articulate and well-educated atheists (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the like) cannot argue their case without constantly stealing ideas and terminology from theism, particularly Christian theism. Other Christian apologists and thinkers, such as Greg Koukl, have observed the same thing.

While arguing that there is no such thing as evil, Richard Dawkins writes his famous laundry list of adjectives in The God Delusion describing how evil and horrible the God of the Old Testament is.[1] However, the question that almost never seems to get asked is, "Why must atheists do this?" "Must" they do it? In order to answer these questions, we need to ask another one: without God's prior existence and revelation, what is the very basis for reality, especially for that of those immaterial gods of knowledge, reason, logic and so forth that atheists love to worship so wholeheartedly?

To put it another way, what makes argument even possible in the first place? Is the atheist going to argue that argument, logic and reason are material entities made up of elements that can be found on, or at least added to, the Periodic Table? But the atheist's problems are not limited to immaterial realities. Either matter is eternal, which has been shown to be impossible, or it suddenly popped into existence out of nothing. And by nothing, I mean nothing, be it time, space, laws, forces or even raw elements themselves. There was not even enough space for the matter to be condensed into a dot the size of a period, from which it could then expand, nor were there any forces or laws in existence to cause such an expansion, even if it were possible for matter to suddenly appear. As Cornelius Van Til, that great 20th-century Reformed apologist, once said, "Unless God is back of everything you cannot find meaning in anything."[2] And yet, Richard Dawkins, as a human being made in God's image, must live in God's world and must therefore also take His existence for granted while simultaneously suppressing this truth by his unrighteous thinking (Romans 1:18), thus stealing that which only rightfully belongs to God and those He has redeemed.

Both God's existence and His revelation are necessary if we are to have any basis for reality. Paul writes in Colossians 2:3 that it is Christ "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."[3] This is not just referring to spiritual knowledge and wisdom since "[a]ll things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). At creation, the Father spoke through the Son (John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:1,3), whose word was then carried out by the Spirit (Gen. 1:2). Creation was, therefore, a Trinitarian act. In fact, all of God's revelation, whether creative (general) or redemptive (special) is explicitly and thoroughly Trinitarian. This is because in order for God to reveal himself, He has to be able to relate Himself to his creation. He must therefore have relational qualities in and of Himself. This in turn means that there must be a plurality of distinct persons within God Himself, all of whom are nevertheless united in essence and in will. General theism, therefore, is not what believers are called to defend, for it destroys the very notion of God's self-revelation and therefore causes the rest of reality to collapse.[4] Thus, our apologetic defense, like the God whom we are defending, must be Trinitarian from the outset. Otherwise, we are defending a god who doesn't exist.

Warren Leigh is a volunteer with Faith Beyond Belief, who was a member of the original organizing committee of FBB's first event back in 2009, featuring Greg Koukl. He is a graduate of Liberty University (with a BSc in Religion), and is working on a book titled The Reality of Our God. Warren is passionate about doing apologetics in a biblically faithful manner.

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 269-283.

[2] > Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed: 1998), 122.

[3] Emphasis added. Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[4] K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 48.

 

 

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 2)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

While I was in process of doing a Master's degree in Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, I was amazed at how very little my fellow graduate students knew about the Bible. They were quite familiar with other religions, and for the most part, they emulated the typical, unreflective student who thinks that all religions basically teach the same truths, and that none of them are really unique.

I remember the day one of these graduate students approached me in a very nice, but slightly triumphant manner. She knew of my Christian faith. To refute it, she placed in front of me a list of religious symbols and myths—common in the Greek and mystery religions. There it was, a long list showing me that other religions, anywhere from three to four hundred years before or after the birth of Christ, also believed in sacrifices, holy temples, baptism, a communion feast, a dying and rising saviour, a messiah to come, a virgin birth, the regeneration of heaven and earth, and the birth of a special king. It seemed to me that, in her mind, this finished the matter. As far as she was concerned, she had now fully proven that the Christian faith was, in no sense, unique.[1] Actually, when my fellow graduate student showed me these similarities, I was encouraged. For I saw in them—and still do—foretastes and foreshadowings of the Christ who has already come into history and was born to Mary, after being conceived by the Holy Spirit. This particular graduate student failed to understand that the virgin birth reveals the decisive difference between the Christian faith and the polytheistic religions that surrounded it. Unlike the myths of rising Gods and other such symbols and mythical events—the living God came into real history.

Answering the Student with Pre-figurations

Had time and circumstances permitted, my response to my fellow graduate student would go something like this. All the varied symbols, events and varied myths she showed to me can easily be seen as stories, beliefs and intrinsic human longings that prefigure the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In what follows, we shall further explore and unwrap what is meant by the term prefigure.

I have always appreciated C. S. Lewis's understanding of myth. It is his suggestion that what we call myths are often legends based on real events or persons. Irving Hexham and Karle Poewe argue that mythical stories contain events that integrate the life and conduct of individuals and their world.[2] One great myth, they argue, is sufficiently inclusive to integrate a great many other myths. Yet, they point out that myths could have no such effect if they were not believed to be true or at least based on truth.[3] After all, who would seriously model their lives after a story known to be false?[4]

But if myths, religious and otherwise, have the power to integrate all life, then they must involve ideas and themes that are absolutely at the core of the human condition, and the human longing for healing and restoration. This requires, then, that myths continually recur in cultures around the world because of their intrinsic power to integrate humanity.

Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions, introduces us to the integrative power of what he calls partial incarnations. By this he meant certain temporal objects that can only prefigure the incarnation of Christ. Pre-figurations are partial incarnations which seek a total union between the divine and the temporal, that is, the sacred and profane, but can never complete that union. Rather, they act as foreshadowing in their attempts to fulfill the innate human longing to completely unite, in utter fullness and harmony, the sacred and profane.

Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil

Eliade observed that archaic religions (meaning religions ancient and modern, untouched by science), as well as modern and ancient religions in general, were characterized by a separation between the sacred and the profane. Yet, objects considered to be divine or sacred could affect the profane. By the profane, Eliade meant the normal, temporal form and environment of human life and existence.[5] He observed that in the cultural perceptions of various tribal, rural and urban-based religions, a stone or even a vegetable can suddenly become a sacred object.[6] One very common profane object that frequently becomes a sacred object is a tree. Normal trees become sacred cosmic trees. Many such trees become sacred, because of their connection to some kind of myth about creation.[7] For this reason, cosmic trees are often able, in the mind of those who think they are sacred, to annually renew the universe.[8] The practical concern of such believers is whether or not these trees will have the power to bring a rich harvest, a good hunting season, or the end of a famine. In this way, the tree becomes an object that has the potential to put them in touch with a power existing in sacred, non-historical time.[9] The normal cosmic tree myth usually tells of the death and rebirth of heaven. To the believers in cosmic trees, their annual ritual imitation of the mythic story brings about the actual death and rebirth of the universe and humanity itself.[10] As such, Eliade views Cosmic Tree myths as one of many partial incarnations, that is, the attempt to unite the sacred and the profane, or the mortal and the divine.[11]

Eliade viewed all objects in history that seek to unite the divine and the human as pre-figurations—seeking in vain to fulfill the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[12] On the other hand, the coming together of God and man in Jesus Christ was what he called the supreme incarnation.[13] It was also Eliade who maintained that the Christian story of incarnation totally fulfills all other human attempts to fully integrate the divine and the human. He calls every other attempt to do this, abortive.[14] He called them abortive because none were able to bring to birth the reality of the union between the human and the divine. We have already seen how the Eastern doctrine of Karma prevented the Hindu avatars from being fully God and fully man. For this reason, they could not configure a total unity of the divine and the human, in which both the human and the divine are preserved intact.

Therefore, we, like Eliade, can see the logic of viewing all attempts of culture and religion to unite with the sacred as foreshadowing what is finally fulfilled in Christ.

We can then view Jesus Christ Himself as the true and concrete rescuer of humanity and the universe. In cosmic tree myths, for example, we then see a foreshadowing of Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and creation through His incarnation, death, and resurrection. By faith, the Christian believer—when he gives his life to Christ—imitates Christ in His death and in His resurrection, thus becoming a new creation.[15] It is this child of the Virgin Mary that fulfills the depths of myth and symbol. For Jesus Christ in His birth, fulfills the longing of the profane to fully unite with the sacred. To satisfy the profane, He is fully man. To satisfy the sacred, He is fully God as well.

Thus far we have surveyed Eliade's description of cosmic trees and abortive attempts to imitate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Eliade also maintained that whenever objects in profane time are used by the world's religions to represent things in sacred time, the objects are only sacred because of what they point to or represent.[16] It is the power believed to inhabit the object that counts.[17] That power is like a part of the sacred trying to enter historical time, and the believer wants so badly for it to do so, so that it may assist him in his life.

Christ then can be viewed as the true fulfillment of all the sacred symbols and places of the world's religions. They are the shadow, but He is the reality. In recognizing the need for rebirth, the Hindu sees deeply into reality. Here is a bridge of communication that can lead many Hindus down a road toward a true rebirth in Christ. The religions that see the need for a sacrifice to bring a new world are right in this understanding, but now there has been one true sacrifice that occurred in history that makes null and void all the other religious sacrifices—present and past. For only the sacrifice of Christ on the cross truly renews humanity, heaven and earth. Only His sacrifice on the cross truly began the death of evil and death itself.

Therefore, all of the symbols that the graduate student presented to me by way of the book, were, as I said, causes for rejoicing, not despair. They can be viewed as attempts to unite the human and the divine, as pre-figurations of the incarnation. Indeed, when thus understood, all such similarities show that the Christian faith is indeed unique among all the religion of the world. They are a shadow and foretaste, but Christ is the concrete reality to whom these shadows and prefigurations point.[18]

[1] Of course many of these alleged similarities are fallacious, for example the Virgin Birth of Horus. For an interesting refutation of the Horus myth and similar fabrications see the Lutheran Satire Horus Ruins Christmas.

[2] Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, New Religions as Global Culture (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1997), 79-80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mircea Eliade, Patterns In Comparative Religion (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1958), 1-37, 82.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[9] Ibid., 3.

[10] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 26, 29, 30.

[13] Ibid., 26, 29 158.

[14] Ibid., 26, 29.

[15] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 273-274, 387, 431, 448.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 26, 29 30.

[18] For further insight into Eliade and Pre-Figuration, see also his Kosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: New American Library, 1958).

The Joyless Worldview of the Pro-Choice Movement

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By Scott McClare

If you watched the Super Bowl a few weekends ago, you might have seen the ad for Doritos. It got a lot of attention because in the ad, a pregnant woman chastises her husband for eating Doritos during her ultrasound appointment, only to discover that her unborn child (visible on a monitor) also craves the chips and is reaching for them inside the womb. Though goofy, it was one of the more memorable ads from this year's game.

Apparently, the humour was lost on the folks at NARAL Pro-Choice America, however. They tweeted, after the ad aired:

That's an interesting choice of words: "humanizing fetuses." It assumes that a fetus is not human. But if it is not human, what is it? Canine? Porcine? No one can "humanize" the unborn. They are, by virtue of their human parentage, human beings. Humanity is intrinsic to our natures. It's not a title bestowed upon us because we happen to be "wanted" or made it through all nine months of gestation. Therefore, neither is our moral worth determined by these things. We have moral worth because we are human beings, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And it is because we are made in the image of God that taking another human life without justification is evil (Genesis 9:6).

Still from the Doritos "Ultrasound" spot that aired during the Super Bow, Feb. 7, 2016.NARAL also calls out stereotypes of "clueless" dads and "uptight" moms. But that invites the question: what are they the mom and dad of? if that fetus ought not to be "humanized"—if it's only a potential human being, and not an actual one—then why call them parents? Are they the human parents of non-human offspring? Of course not. In writing this tweet, NARAL assumes the very thing they are denying: the humanity of the unborn. This is incoherent, even for Twitter—and for NARAL.

It is NARAL and other abortion-rights advocates who commit the error of dehumanizing the unborn. It's easy to see why: if the unborn are not human beings, then no defense of abortion is necessary. On the other hand, if they are human beings, then no defense of abortion is possible. It is the unjust taking of a blameless human life.

Of course, it is the technology used in the Doritos ad that strikes the pro-choice position a mortal blow. Sonograms show what was hidden away for millennia: the visible humanity of the unborn, even inside the womb. The late Bernard Nathanson was once the director of the largest abortion clinic in the U.S. after New York legalized abortion in 1970. In his career as an abortionist, he oversaw more than 60,000 abortions, estimating he performed 5,000 of them himself. Like many abortion activists, he wanted to destigmatize the procedure. However, when he began using then-new ultrasound technology as a tool in his clinic, he saw the effects of abortion in real time. Over time Nathanson was compelled to reconsider his pro-abortion stance, and became a significant pro-life advocate.[1] Ironically, one of Bernard Nathanson's other claims to fame was co-founding NARAL in 1969.

Since Nathanson's time, what was once a relatively minor diagnostic tool has become a major influence on how we view pregnancy and childbirth. The millennial generation, those born after 1980, are significantly more pro-life than their parents. This is at least partly due to advances in technology, such as the widespread use of ultrasound in prenatal care.[2] Sonograms have become commonplace. Millennials have seen ultrasound images passed around by their pregnant friends, or pictures of their as-yet-unborn siblings taped to the fridge as though they were just another baby picture. (They have also seen abortion take away a third of their generation that never got a chance to live.) We can't conclude from this that the pro-life side is winning. But we can say that activist groups like NARAL don't have the option of preaching at us that we shouldn't "humanize" the unborn. We have seen the sonograms, and what they depict is undoubtedly human.

Aside from disputing the propriety of bringing Doritos into an ultrasound appointment, the on-screen couple appears happy to welcome their unborn child into the world. I like to imagine this reflects the real-life joy of the filmmaker, Peter Carstairs: the "beautiful baby" in the ad is played by an actual ultrasound of Carstairs' then-unborn son, Freddie, and given a taste for tortilla chips with a little digital trickery.[3] It's a humorous take on a routine event in the life of an expecting couple.

Compare that to the humourless worldview expressed by NARAL's Twitter complaints. Throughout the Super Bowl, the person using their Twitter account found fault with this or that advertisement for not toeing the line of their particular variety of feminism. For example, in response to an ad in which comedian Kevin Hart plays an overprotective father following his daughter on a date, they tweeted:

Maybe they don't understand that we already get that it's inappropriate. That's why it's funny!

NARAL also retweeted this remark from one of their state affiliates, after an ad celebrating "Super Bowl Babies" who are supposedly conceived on game day, hinting that they're no happier about born babies than unborn ones:

Most of us would take a healthy ultrasound as a joyful event. However, in the dour worldview of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who view everything through the lenses of their own radical ideology, even an ultrasound appointment is political. The fictional joy of an on-screen couple, as they see their unborn son on a monitor, "humanizes" the fetus and supposedly threatens the rights of women. Our cultural commentary can do better than this joyless approach.


[1] Emma Brown, "Bernard Nathanson, Abortion Doctor Who Became Anti-Abortion Advocate, Dies at 84," Washington Post, February 22, 2011, accessed February 17, 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022206507.html. See also Bernard N. Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979) and Nathanson, The Hand of God (Washington: Regnery, 1996).

[2] Ken Blackwell, "How the Abortion Tide Turns," Washington Times, August 2, 2015, accessed February 17, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/aug/2/ken-blackwell-americans-becoming-more-pro-life/.

[3] Tiffany Dunk, "Aussie Filmmaker Peter Carstairs May Have a Big US Break Thanks to the Superbowl," News.com.au, January 5, 2016, accessed January 17, 2016, http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/aussie-filmmaker-peter-carstairs-may-have-a-big-us-break-thanks-to-the-superbowl/news-story/bb221ab85850d1299ff4ead86a056aed.

The Meaning Of Christ In Other Religions: Myth, Symbol, Pre-Figurations and Promise (Part 1)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

This is the first of a three-part series. The first part revolves around a discussion with a Hindu convert to Christ. The second part will circle around an encounter with a post-graduate student in religious studies, and the final part will consist of further reflections on the same theme.

Could it be that the symbols, myths rituals, insights, and teachings of religions—past and present—might reveal a partial understanding of Jesus Christ, the God-Man? Might this not be the case even in the populations of humanity that are still distant from Him, and do not know Him as He is? Could it be that symbols from other religions and cultures—ancient and present—might, in some way, foreshadow Christ's incarnation, resurrection, and even the day when Jesus Christ will transfigure the universe? Could it even be that symbols found in myriads of other religions have, in some real sense, their fulfilment in Christ? The Bible itself is full of foreshadowing and promise. It is also rich in the symbols, events, celebrations, and traditions of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Might not there be something of the same thing in the symbols, events, celebrations, rituals and traditions of other religions? Might they not act as a bridge to point cultures to Christ, and to His incarnation, resurrection, transformation, and transfiguration? Might there not be a way that these kinds of symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions are meant to foreshadow Christ, and even to reveal that Christ is the concrete reality to which they point, just as they did for Israel?

ichthus-symbol
ichthus-symbol

I know of a Hindu convert to Christ who once said that it is not only possible, but that it happened to him. The idea of other religions' symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions pointing to Christ was, for this convert, a reality. But before we hear more from him, I should clarify what is being suggested in this discussion and what is not.

We need not argue that non-Christian beliefs receive such foreshadowings, symbols, events, and traditions through direct revelation, as in the case of Israel. It seems to me, however, that one can reasonably entertain the possibility of at least some parallels. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the hearts of all people. God has made people in such a way that there will always be something in their religions, their myths, and their self-understanding that causes them to yearn for a transcendent realm. By transcendent, I mean a realm of reality that human beings would never be able to invent or imagine as it really is. Yet this realm is nevertheless attuned to the deepest yearnings of human hearts and minds for peace with God and with all God's creation. People sense that this transcendent realm can aid them in their struggle for survival, yet it also causes them to yearn for a new and better world free of the toil, struggles, and evils in themselves. Yet even though the yearnings are there, the Bible makes clear mention of a universal evil in the human heart and mind before encountering Christ. This universal evil is the unregenerate heart of a humanity that wants nothing to do with God. This leads human beings to purposely suppress the eternal yearnings in their hearts.

Mircea Eliade, Paul Ricoeur, and Martin Buber—all respected religious thinkers—explored this suppressed reality of the human condition: particularly as it plays out in story, myth, mythic symbol, rites, celebrations, and traditions.[1] Are there things that humanity will normally deny at the cognitive level that are revealed in myth and symbol at a level of deeper awareness? Aided by some of the insights from Mircea Eliade, I am going to suggest that myth and symbol and other religions at this deeper level of suppressed awareness all seek an answer, and resolution, and that the answer is Christ alone. This said, I now return to the Hindu convert whom I was speaking of before.

Many years ago I attended Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and there I meant a Hindu convert who explained that when he became a Christian, he realized that Christ had fulfilled many central symbols of his Hindu belief. He said, for example, that the Hindu belief in reincarnation involved the understanding that, for man to be healed, he must be reborn. As a Christian, he now believed that the countless rebirths demanded by Hinduism were merely shadows whose fulfilment was our one-time rebirth made possible through Christ's death and resurrection. He went on to assert that Jesus Himself was pointing to this birth. For it was Jesus who said that "unless you are born again you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (John 3:3-4).[2] However, Jesus made clear that He alone is the source and power of that new birth. My Hindu friend understood that the myth of reincarnation finds its true object in Christ. In Christ we are born again, but only once (Hebrews 9:27). In Him, concrete reality comes into history and time.

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With respect to the incarnation of Christ—i.e. His coming down to us as a human child in a manger—there is something very different, yet, in some ways, very similar in the Hindu doctrine of avatars. Undoubtedly, my Hindu friend was more than aware of it, but at the time I did not think about discussing it with him. Had we discussed it, he would, I suspect, readily explain how Hindu avatars, serve as a near-perfect foreshadowing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Avatars, as understood in Hinduism, are human beings indwelled by Brahma at certain times in history. Brahma, for a time, inhabits a mortal body that is enslaved to the wheel of life and death. But when the human being dies, Brahma departs. In Hindu teaching, when an avatar comes to earth, he takes the form of an illusion—i.e. a person. In Hinduism, we will recall, the human being is only Karma, an illusion. Now in some Hindu teachings, there is a soul in the person, but the soul is without human content. It is devoid of all the attributes that belong to the person. So then the soul that departs is simply Brahma.

Even when the soul in the individual person is considered separate from Brahma, nothing really changes, for the soul is still wholly identical with Brahma in every respect. It shares nothing of the finite human personality. So, then, avatars do not really come into history at all, for history in Hindu teaching is an illusion as well. Hinduism is forever helpless to bring God into relationship with real human beings. At death, Atman—the higher self—Brahma in finite human beings—leaves the illusory finite self. So while Brahma can visit a human being, he can never be one. But the Christ who became a man is no avatar. He is fully God and fully man, able to represent fully both God and Man. He is the reconciler—the one who truly reconciles humanity with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Hindu convert now knew something far more wonderful than an avatar. He now personally knew the God who, unlike Brahma, does not wish to annihilate the human finite self, but to love and preserve it.

The Greek name Iësous, transliterated Jesus, means salvation or saviour. Jesus came into history and became a human being. He died and rose again, fully representing humanity in His life, death and resurrection. At present, He is seated at the right hand of God. Further, He is in a position of equal power with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As the gospel of John so beautifully says: "In the beginning was the word (Jesus Christ), and the word was with God, and the word was God. All things were brought into being by him, and without him, nothing was brought into being, that has been brought into being (John 1:1-6).

Ironically, the coming down and visitation of avatars finds its concrete fulfilment in Christ Jesus. All the avatars who come and will come down can be viewed as pale shadows of the one who was concretely born in Bethlehem. They are mythic shadows of the one to come. This concrete fulfilment in Christ reaches its wonderful culmination after Christ ascends, and descends again in the final judgment. Then the fullness of the New Heaven and Earth is brought into being, and God, at last, has His dwelling with men.

In Christ, humanity, God, and the universe are real, and can be known and loved. On that final day—the day of Christ's return—authentic joy will flood the galaxies and utterly fill those human beings who are in a deep and eternal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, And God the Holy Spirit, the three in one.[3] All this will take place amidst a true and authentic history, where in the end, peace, joy and love will prevail. In Part 2, I will explore this discussion of the meaning of Christ in other religions further, amidst my encounter with a postgraduate student who presents to me a religious list that she supposes devastates the credibility of the Christian faith.

[1] See Freud, Totem and Taboo; Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections; Buber, Good and Evil, 73-74; Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil; and Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions and Cosmos and History.

[2] All Scripture quotations are the author's translation.

[3] See Matthew 11:27, 23:9, 28:19; John 1:14, 3:35, 5:18, 6:27, 8:27, 10:15, 10:38, 13:3, 14:28, 16:15, 17:5; Romans 8:15, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 1:3, 8:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17, 2:18; 1 John 2:24; Revelation 3:21.

I'm Sorry! But the Church Needs Apologetics

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By Scott McClare and Jojo Ruba

An elderly Christian woman once told me that she didn't need to learn apologetics. She said she knew enough to be convinced that Christianity was correct, and didn't need any more information. In response, I asked her a question (something we at Faith Beyond Belief train a lot on). I asked her, "I'm glad you know enough to be convinced of Christianity. But do you have non-Christian friends who might need to know a little more in order to be convinced to become Christians? Couldn't you learn more for their sake?"

She said I made a good point.

Unfortunately, her initial resistance to apologetics is something too many Christians adopt when we share what we do at Faith Beyond Belief. Christians raise all kinds of objections to why they shouldn't have to learn about how to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile culture.

francis-schaefferThat's why we created this series. We want to examine some of the top arguments from Christians who think apologetics is unnecessary or, worse, damaging to the cause of Christ. Many of these arguments are ones we've heard from friends or family or Christian critics. Many of these arguments are also left unspoken—they are lingering doubts we hear between the lines when we introduce FBB to Bible college professors or pastors or Christian students at Christian schools.

Interestingly enough, simply defining apologetics helps dispel many of the critics' arguments. It's important to start here because there is so much confusion and ungrounded prejudice against apologetics because of how it is defined. And of course, if we want a biblically-minded Christian to listen to the case for apologetics, we should look for a definition in Scripture.

The word apologetics comes from a Greek word, apologia, which means "to give a verbal defense." This is the word Peter uses when he writes, "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis added).[1] Christian apologetics, then, is the defense of the Christian faith. Generally, apologetics focuses on answering objections from non-Christians. Hence we can contrast apologetics with polemics, which is the refutation of false ideas within the Christian faith.

When the apostle Paul writes about fighting spiritual battles, one of the two "weapons of our warfare" he tells Christians to use is effective apologetics: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The other weapon is practical holiness, and as Peter writes, that in itself can also be an apologetic: "even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (1 Peter 3:1).

One of my pastors used to be fond of saying that everyone is a theologian; it was just a matter of how good a theologian you were. Similarly, everyone is an apologist. Muslims and Mormons begin their training as youth; Jehovah's Witnesses practice how to have conversations with people at the door. And every atheist I've met seeks to get Christians to adopt their worldview. We all have a belief system we believe is true. As Christians in particular, we want to persuade others that our beliefs are true, as well. Hence, the goal of Christian apologetics is to persuasively answer honest objections that keep people from faith in Jesus.

Why do apologetics? Again, scripture has the answer. We do apologetics because God commands it (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3-4). We live in a society whose institutions, such as schools, media, popular culture, and government, are increasingly hostile to faith. That's nothing new, of course. The first generation of the church fathers, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian, were largely apologists who saw a need to appeal to the authorities who were persecuting the church, and tell them not to believe the false rumours that circulated about what Christians believed and how they behaved.

We do apologetics because we want to persuade non-Christians to repent and believe in Jesus. Skeptics have many barriers to faith: the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the Resurrection, the reality of miracles, and others. Reasoned apologetics can remove those barriers.

We do apologetics because we want to help other Christians strengthen their faith. Unfortunately, many Christians are not well-informed about Christianity and cannot clearly define even its core tenets: for example, the Trinity, the relationship of Christ's two natures, the meaning of the Atonement, or the difference between justification and sanctification. This is increasingly worsening as the Internet steadily provides false information that causes further confusion. It's no wonder Christian teachers and youth pastors agree that the average age for a young person to face a crisis of faith is now 13. They don't have to go to university to hear all kinds of false ideas about Christianity—they can just hear them on YouTube.

Apologetics helps define the truth of the Gospel. Other Christians may also hear the answers given to the objections of skeptics, and be encouraged and emboldened themselves. We then become role-models for how we can engage and teach the truth of the gospel of believers who may have no one else to help them.

We do apologetics to protect the church from harmful influences. There are many cults and new religious movements that call themselves "Christian," but they promote false doctrines. These need to be answered and refuted so that they do not lead the church astray. John warned his readers not to even invite false teachers into their homes, because it gave the appearance of approving their message and giving them a base from which to spread it (2 John 10-11). In addition to false religious influences, the church also needs to be protected from secular influences, such as immorality and worldly thinking. We need to clearly articulate God's will that God's people be holy, in both their bodies and their minds. As apologist Matt Slick has written:

The fact is that Christianity is under attack in the world, and we need to fight the good fight of the faith without shrinking back. We need apologetics to give rational, intelligent, and relevant explanations of Christian viability to the critics and the prejudiced who would seek to undermine the teachings of our Lord Jesus.[2]

With all the clear biblical commands, why, then, does it seem like many Christians and churches are indifferent, or even hostile, to apologetics? In this series, we'll examine some of these arguments and excuses to reject making the case for Christ. We've asked our FBB writers to take the most vocal Christian critics of apologetics head-on and provide some solid responses to their concerns.

Ironically, many people not familiar with the term apologetics thinks it refers to apologizing or having to say we are sorry for doing something. Through this series, we want Christians to realize that when they engage in Christian apologetics and defend the faith with "gentleness and respect," they have nothing to apologize for.


[1] Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] Matt Slick, "Eight Reasons Why We Need Apologetics," CARM, accessed September 1, 2015, https://carm.org/eight-reasons-why-we-need-apologetics.

How Is Everything So Messed Up?

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By Nic Bertsch

How many times have you heard someone say something like this?

"This world is so messed up."

Or:

"Human beings are so messed up."

If you have never heard anyone say something like this, just ask the next person you talk to if they agree with either of the statements. The answer will almost always be yes. Those who would identify themselves as atheists, especially when their guard is down, will likewise agree that there is a massive amount of dysfunction in both people and the planet. Beliefs like these, however, are not compatible with atheism. In this post, I want explore this problem and shed some light on the inability of atheism to explain the real world.

Debris on a beach in Sharm el-Naga, Egypt. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)Take environmentalism as an example. Those who would deem themselves environmentalists, would definitely agree that the planet is messed up. After all, they are constantly petitioning people and governments to reduce pollution and increase conservation efforts. They look down with disdain on those who don't believe in global warming. There are even some of the more radical types, who actually favour reducing the population in order to help conserve animal and plant life and cut down on pollution. The question for anyone holding this view, if they are an atheist, is why?

To spot the confusion, we need to take a step back and start at the beginning. In the worldview of atheism, specifically naturalism or materialism, all that exists is matter. The universe came from nothing, by nothing, for no reason. The fact that any kind of life exists defies all probability. Humans, along with every other life form in the universe, are an accident. There is no creator, just particles. Now that we have that established: why should we think the planet is messed up?

Things can only be messed up, if there is a way they ought to be. If everything is an accident, if there is no design or purpose in life or the universe, then there is no "ought." There just is.

Think about it for a second: The temperature of the earth has been both warmer and colder than it is now. The majority of species of animals and plants that have ever existed have gone extinct. This is what happens on earth. Why should we think, especially from the viewpoint of an atheist, that there is any reason to preserve the earth in some arbitrary state that environmentalists determine is the way it "ought" to be? The earth and the universe just are, remember? There is no design or meaning or purpose. We are an accident. We all will die, the earth will die, the universe will die, and no act of environmentalism will change that in any ultimate sense.

This is a big point of inconsistency amongst atheists, as they desperately want to affirm the need to preserve the environment, even though it makes absolutely no sense in their worldview. I say again: If the planet is messed up, it can only be because it was designed, and that design has been disrespected or abused in some way. Well, a design needs a designer. I have a feeling that the idea of a designer is not something many atheists would be quick to embrace, yet they can't help but think in those terms. It's almost like they are fighting against reality.

The same problem exists when dealing with human beings. To say that a person is messed up, also implies there is a way they "ought" to be. Where does that "ought" come from? If we all evolved from lower life forms through an unguided natural process that didn't have us in mind, then who are we to judge the evolution of another human being?

Think about the kind of person that pretty much anyone would classify as "messed up": people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ted Bundy, Darth Vader, Oscar the Grouch, etc. (Okay, those last two may not quite be on the same level as the others, but they're still very messed up.) To what, or who, are we comparing them to when we refer to them this way? By what standard are they messed up, and us closer to the way humans "ought" to be? If atheism is true, then there is no standard. There is no way humans "ought" to behave. No one is messed up, we are just different.

Here we see once again where atheism runs contrary to reality. Check any atheist blog, website, or podcast, and you will undoubtedly hear a surplus of emoting on the evils of religion and its adherents—especially Christians. Indeed, human beings cannot help but think in moral terms. Moral "oughtness" is a hard concept to escape from, because reality is built that way. The implications of the atheistic worldview don't match up with the way the world really is. If your worldview has no standard to judge humans as "messed up," especially when they clearly are, then it seems to me that your worldview is false.

In the Christian worldview, there is no logical conflict with affirming either of these views. We believe the planet is messed up because we believe it was designed a certain way. The entire Christian worldview is built upon the foundation that at the Fall of mankind, disorder and brokenness entered creation, and since then the world has never been what is was meant to be. There is no conflict or category switching necessary for the Christian to be consistent. Moreover, we believe we do have a responsibility to care for the environment, because we were placed as stewards over what God created. We can explain our obligation to the environment and each other by grounding it in our God-given responsibilities. Atheism cannot ground such responsibility in anything other than personal preference.

Likewise, we believe that people are messed up because there is a way they were designed to be. Our moral compass is something we have from being created in God's image, which is why we cannot avoid—whether as an atheist or theist—speaking in moral terms. We know there is an "ought," when it comes to morality, and a designer is the only logical explanation for that.

The inability to be consistent within one's worldview is a good indicator that the worldview in question is not an accurate description of reality. The planet, and humans really are messed up, and an honest atheist will admit as much. What they will lack in the end, is any logical reason to believe such a thing. Maybe, just maybe, there really is a way things are supposed to be. Perhaps it's no accident at all we feel the way we do.

The Consequences of Relativism from a Christian Worldview

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By Dr. Ron Galloway

The origins of relativism in North America and abroad arose from worldviews that worship nature as the ultimate reality, such as evolution, for example. The Roman letter of Paul warns in the very first chapter that any nation that begins to worship the energy, spirits, or processes of nature are in great peril. Paul explains that they becomes senseless in their reasoning and are en route to destruction if they do not turn away from the worship of the creature and creation, rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.[1]

North America and Europe have it all now: the worship of nature, contact with the spirit world, and hearts filling to overflowing with all the evils that the Roman letter says will fill the human heart when it exchanges the truth about God for a lie.[2] Once a society claims that truth and morality are relative, there remains no limit whatever to the heights and depths, or breadths, that evil can go, for there is no longer any basis for objection or protest against anything. If there is no truth, then who can object? If all that exists is no more than a random product of nature, there can be no evil. Therefore, who can consistently object to any evil of any kind? Evil has been ruled out of existence.

Consistency and Relativism

This is why I find it slightly comical when dyed-in-the-wool moral relativists object to injustice and discrimination. This is more than just a little inconsistent with their doctrine that truth is relative, and right and wrong a matter of taste and preference. Thanks to the continuance of their own God-given human conscience, many relativists still do not know what a hole they have dug for themselves and for the free world. Relativists often say that homosexuality is okay, but that child abuse is a horrible thing. It they are consistent, they must simply admit that they must sanction both, since, according to their own doctrine, right and wrong is simply a matter of taste and preference. Some relativists are already becoming more consistent and starting to advocate that maybe certain adults can have sexual child companions of the same or opposite gender.

Morality is not a preference; you can't choose it like you would a flavour of gelato. (Photo by Alex Gorzen, via Wikimedia Commons)At that point, less consistent relativists protest out of their revulsion at what they view as horrid conduct committed by horrid people.[3] But it should be remembered that a relativist protesting in this way is not practicing what he preaches. How can he or she object when according to their doctrine, all such practices are simply a matter of taste, and each person is entitled to generate his or her own unique set of values?

The more consistent relativists become, the more they will have to allow anything people other than themselves wish to do or believe.

This same kind of vapid and wishful thinking is still being carried on today, by the "powers that be" in our universities, media, and public schools. With all their talk of survival of the fittest, and the relativity of right and wrong, they blissfully assume that with proper guidance students will make the right choices. However their talk of right choices is logically inconsistent. A true relativist cannot talk of right choices at all. He can only talk of preferred choices, but can make no judgment as to what should be preferred and what should not. It just so happens that some students, under their tutelage prefer knives, machetes, and guns.

Relativists, The Great Affirmers

By saying that no judgment can be made about what others choose, moral relativists must affirm whatever another person chooses and thinks is right for them. As long as it satisfies that person, it is automatically right for that person. As John Dewey, the neo-Marxist founder of modern education and co-originator of instrumental pragmatism (along with Charles Pierce and William James) would say, it is true for him.[4] In this way the relativist sanctions what the other person or child chooses for himself. He or she must also admit that objecting to what they choose would be to impose their own values on someone else. This is the great and only sacred taboo of relativists.

When All Is Said and Done It is Simply a Matter of Power

Wedded to their perpetual faith in, and fondness for, saying that no one has a right to impose his or her idea of right and wrong on anyone else, is their passion to fervently preach that morality cannot be legislated. They should, of course, admit that even that belief is simply a product of their own personal values, and therefore must not be imposed on others. Instead of making this admission, they force this belief on others, thereby turning it into an absolute.

Of course relativists might argue that people must co-operate. They might argue that humans have an instinct for survival even though there is no such thing as intrinsic right and wrong. But such a move simply means that the relativist is imposing his or her belief that instincts must be obeyed. That of course is only their value. Besides which, a consistent allegiance to instinct gives licence to any manner of conduct whatever, such as rape, murder, and mass serial killings, to name only a few. After all, the relativists' talk of the instinct for survival really translates to the survival of the fittest in evolutionary doctrine. Then, it is just a case of who is the strongest. Hitler felt the Jews threatened the progress of what he called the Master Race, so he tried to exterminate them. In this way he simply exercised his instinct for survival.

This is always the inevitable outcome of relativism when it is consistently applied. Life becomes a struggle for power, and whoever gains power is able to impose his values on everyone else.[5] This, in theory, is opposed to the dogmas of relativism, but it is the reality of what happens.[6] This is because relativists are generally quite selective about the times they choose not to impose their values on everyone else. There are times when relativists could easily be mistaken for the most dogmatic of absolutists.

No Intrinsic Value to Survival and No Intrinsic Human Worth

There is yet another problem with the relativists' attempt to justify co-operation by reference to the need to survive. For the self-consistent relativist must preach that there is no intrinsic value in surviving or co-operating because according to the relativist no intrinsic values exist. There is then no intrinsic value to human beings, and no such thing as true human nature. Therefore, this is another reason why the relativist cannot impose his value of the need for co-operation on others. Ironically, a consistent relativist cannot even object to the genocidal horrors of Rwanda or even advocate any reason why these people might have averted the horror if they had learned to co-operate with each other. All the relativist can say is what he always must say. Here it comes again: Personally, I don't feel that the slaughter was a good thing, but I wouldn't want to impose my personal values or my preference for co-operation on anyone else.

Political and Collective Consistency On The Rise

Sadly, collectively and politically North American law is becoming ever more consistent with the implications of relativism. After listening to so-called "Progressive Educators" molded in the image of John Dewey, the Father of Modern Education, I can effortlessly see why, in ever-increasing numbers, our teenagers feel no remorse whatever when they rape, lie, steal, or kill. Indeed, the court system all but sanctions these evils as the court itself increasingly transitions away from its Christian heritage into the embrace of moral relativism. I am not at all surprised to see the rising level of hate and violence in the free world. After all, the powers that be in our universities, courts, and social institutions have told our people and their children that truth is relative.

In the words of Paul's letter to the Romans, we have exchanged the truth about God for a lie. If we do not soon see the insanity of the indoctrination our children and teens and young adults have received and are now receiving through Hollywood, the media in general, and the cultural relativism that has long been taught through the public school system (that has so betrayed them), we will soon see evils beyond what we could think or imagine when the youth of today become the leaders of tomorrow. When we listened to Jesus our nation grew. He spoke of the great worth of all human beings, a worth so great he died for us. Now He lives within those who love him and teaches them to know the difference between good and evil. In Him we see true goodness and true humanity, apart from Him and by their own choice alienated from His love and mercy, we see increasing dehumanization and the relativism that ever accompanies it.


[1] See Romans chapter 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] It is well known that Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary relativist, commits this inconsistency on a regular basis in his high-sounding moral objections to the God of "The Old Testament."

[4] The co-creators of the philosophy of Instrumental Pragmatism were William James and John Dewey. See James' The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, 1917) and Pragmatism and Four Essays from the Meaning of Truth (New York: Longmans, Green, 1907), and Dewey's Experience and Nature (Chicago: Open Court, 1926) as well as Democracy and Education (New York: Free Press, 1916). See also the Humanist Manifesto I and II.

[5] On this matter, see C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man.

[6] We witnessed this power struggle under Lenin and Stalin, as well as under many militant neo-Marxist regimes. If the neo-Marxism that characterizes our schools and our culture gain sufficient political clout, we may find that North America follows in the train of the former Soviet Union, complete with the Christian purge that took place. We of course witness the same thing in the form of communism in mainland China. All that need happen in Canada for a purge is for the subtle form of relativistic neo-Marxism that presently permeates our culture to abandon subtlety once its proponents are sufficiently representative of the North American political and social and judicial consciousness. We have examples all over the world that show us how very militant relativism is by nature in direct contradiction to its alleged freedom from dogma.

A Christian Evaluation of Conspiracy Theory

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By Scott McClare

A few decades ago, conspiracy theories were the exclusive domain of a few Americans with fringe beliefs and a shortwave radio. However, in the last few decades, they've become mainstream. I credit the Internet for this: it was much more difficult to get a hearing for unconventional ideas before Web sites, blogs, and social networks gave everyone a nearly equal voice.

Theorists used to spread their views through typewritten, mimeographed mailings and late-night radio programs. Today, they are a lot more sophisticated, understanding the power of social media to broadcast information. The most infamous conspiracy theory is so-called "9/11 Truth," the belief that the American government allowed, or even caused, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Truthers have made extensive use of video to present their case, sharing it on YouTube. New theories crop up all the time: a recent one alleges that convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was framed. It was spread last year by a Twitter hashtag campaign.

Unfortunately, the church has not been immune to buying into conspiracy theory. Prophecy study is awash in rumours of one-world government and new technology that will be the "mark of the Beast" foretold in Revelation 13:16-17, which will prevent anyone from buying or selling unless they give their allegiance to the Antichrist. These dark days are always just around the corner, especially when a major crisis occurs (the Gulf War, Y2K, or 9/11, for example), but never actually come to pass.

Of course, I am not denying that conspiracies exist. A conspiracy is simply a secret plan formed by two or more people. Some are bigger than others. 9/11 and the Boston bombing were conspiracies, but so is a home invasion. Conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is a worldview. I define it as a philosophy of history, based on fear, that claims secret alliances of evil men are manipulating world events to create a totalitarian world government. In this worldview, nothing ever happens by accident: wars, assassinations, depressions, and elections are all planned in secret by an intellectual or political elite. Someone can be persuaded by the occasional conspiracy theory without buying into the entire worldview. After all, some conspiracy beliefs have become mainstream, such as the various JFK assassination theories. (I believe Oswald acted alone, which puts me on the lunatic fringe!) However, many other people have allowed their thinking to become more and more conspiratorial, and ended up swallowing the whole system, hook, line, and sinker.

I can imagine that in a time of crisis, it might sound plausible. However, when viewed through the lens of the Bible, conspiracy theory seems like a less and less realistic way of interpreting world events.

During the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had a combined total of 13 kings. It was a time of uncertainty and instability. No doubt, many people felt that events were spinning out of control, or that someone was secretly plotting to bring about the nation's downfall. Their time was not terribly different from ours in that respect. Yet, God warns Isaiah not to live in fear:

[T]he Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread." (Isaiah 8:11-12)[1]

Conspiracy theory may sound like a plausible worldview, but it is not a biblical worldview.

Conspiracy theory is based on fear. Popular conspiracy theorists give the impression that every crisis is a step toward totalitarianism, and that wars, recessions, and even natural disasters are a means for powerful people to take control. The powerful people may be government, the police, the wealthy, foreigners, or someone else. Sadly, scapegoating of this kind has been used to justify genocides such as the Holocaust.

But a biblical worldview is not based on fear, but confidence. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." Thirteen times the New Testament says to "fear not." As Christians, we need not fear for the future because God cares about us; we know it will work out for the best because Romans 8:28 tells us so: "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Conspiracy theory says that conspiracies are the driving force of history. As I said earlier, conspiracy theorists don't seem to believe in accidents. In 1999, when John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed his plane into the ocean, killing himself along with his wife and sister-in-law, the authorities ruled that the accident was due to pilot error. Nonetheless, assassination theories started circulating within 24 hours. The assumption is that important or famous people never have bad luck or make mistakes—especially if their name is Kennedy.

But if grand conspiracies drive history, why is the Bible silent about them? Instead, it puts them in their proper place: conspiracies are an occasional spectacle in history.

Conspiracy theory says that despite Biblical assurances, men, or Satan, are in control. However, the Bible says that despite present appearances, God is in control. Read the book of Daniel. Every chapter virtually screams this out. God, not men, determines who rules the nations, as Nebuchadnezzar learned (Daniel 4). The handwriting on Belshazzar's banquet-hall wall pronounced the end of his kingdom, and Babylon was conquered by the Medes the same night (Daniel 5). The prophecy of the seventy weeks shows that God has a definite plan for history (Daniel 9:24-27). God even shut the mouths of lions so that Daniel would not be executed unjustly (Daniel 6:22).

Finally, conspiracy theory says that our only hope is escape. For some, this means sitting tight and waiting for the Rapture. For others, it means stockpiling food and weapons and living in the wilderness. But both of these attitudes are defeatist. Our real hope is in victory. If God is in control, if He is the real mover behind history, and He is working for our good—and He is—then in the end, God wins! John wrote that for everyone who is born of God, faith is the victory that has overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It has not been overcome by it.

The manipulations of the grand conspiracy supposedly go on in secret. If so, they are the best-kept secrets in history. But God does not work in secret; He works in the open. Amos writes, "the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). While the Bible doesn't tell us everything about God's plan, we can catch a glimpse of it through the prophets.

Neo takes the red pill in The Matrix (1999).Conspiracy thinking is not Christian thinking. There's a strong element of pride in claiming to have insider information. (Ironically, conspiracy buffs are rarely in a position to be insiders.) In that respect, conspiracy theory is less like Christianity than Gnosticism: those in the know possess the key to understanding the world, and offer enlightenment to those willing to take the red pill, so to speak, and join them. However, God mocks those who claim they can interpret history on such a grand scale. "Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome," He demands of the idols (Isaiah 41:22), which are, after all, only human inventions.

After telling Isaiah to disregard conspiracy theories, God tells him: "But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread" (Isaiah 8:13). We can't tell the whole future. We don't know what God has in store for us, or whether it will be easy or hard. Yet we have no need to be afraid of men who have no real control over history. But we should be in awe of the awesome God who has determined the path of history from beginning to end.


[1] Biblical quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Scrubbing the Sin List

RFRA_Indianapolis_Protests_-_2015_-_Justin_Eagan_02.jpg

By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person's free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

 Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

The shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,"[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because "several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn't decree." In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can't explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni's next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners "prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing." By contrast, he recommends the views of "gay Christian" authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is "scattered" and "sparse," we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, "God Hates Shrimp?")

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines' argument that people in the apostles' day didn't know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung's examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato's Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of "gay pride."[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni's secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must "take homosexuality off the sin list." However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).[5] The church can't take homosexuality off the sin list. It's not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold's assertion that "church leaders must be made" to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government's authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world's most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni's op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: "Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, 'gay Christian' authors, and myself, or else." Or else what? I'm not an alarmist. We don't need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. "[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, "Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana's," The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana," New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, "Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato," 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).