Today the Washington Post published an interview with Russell Moore (head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) which can be read here. The interview touched on everything from the Zimmerman trial to Religious Liberty for Muslims. One part that really stood out for me though was when Moore essentially said good riddance to the typical Andy Griffith small town Christianity that a lot of the SBC’s base is built on.
“When it comes to people who say they have “no religion”, in some ways that is the collapse of Bible Belt America, of this sense of Christianity as being something that is part of a normal American life. In some areas of the country, it meant someone was a good citizen by being part of a church. That is collapsing, and as an evangelical Christian, I say good riddance to that.”
– Russel Moore
I almost fell out of my seat when I read this. Not because Moore is wrong, but because I was shocked that Moore was going on record as saying this. For years the Southern Baptist Convention has been probably the biggest advocate of “Bible Belt America.” How can Moore just blatantly dismiss his core demographic so easily.
“I don’t think that sort of American dream plus Jesus represented biblical Christianity at all and in many ways hindered it and the advance of the Gospel, which is dependent upon the freakishness of Christianity. We’re saying some things that are extraordinary — that a dead man has come back to life! That reconciliation with God is possible through forgiveness of sins. Those things aren’t just the application of moral American life. The “Veggie Tales” phenomenon in evangelicalism, the taking Bible characters and making cartoons out of them and teaching moral lessons from those things really represented a lot of what was happening in Bible Belt Christianity that I think was bloodless and Gospel-free in many ways. That’s changing so you don’t have nominal young Christian church members who are going to church because they think this is what’s good for their families or their businesses or to find a spouse or to make partner at the law firm. Those days are over.”
– Russell Moore
I’ll admit I was practically cheering the first time I read that. I think Moore hits the nail on the head and in a big way. It’s pretty refreshing to actually hear someone from the SBC admit the simple truth that Christians are weird! We aren’t just a social club of conservative busy bodies who tell each other happy tales that teach good moral lessons when we aren’t having a pot luck or meet and greet. We are (or rather should be) a radical rag-tag bunch of self proclaimed sinners who believe they have been washed clean in the blood of the Son of God.
We believe in more than Brady Bunch and Andy Griffith style life lessons. We believe in miracles, resurrection, sin, and a coming judgement. We believe in repentance, mercy, and forgiveness. We believe in a God who died and rose again, who defeated death and sin by becoming sin and dying on our part. We are (or rather should be) a strong and radical force for evangelism and revival. We should be a force for social justice and for renewal. We should be so much more than what we have settled for. We have good news that is bringing life and light to a dark and dying world.
Maybe it’s time to put the Veggie Tales Christianity away and start living like we actually believe what we preach. We aren’t meant to fit into normal society. From the beginning, Christians were meant to stick out like a sore thumb. We aren’t supposed to look like the world, we don’t belong and we never will if we actually try to live like Jesus commanded us to. I’m with Dr. Moore on this one, it’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t strange. It’s time to stop living like what we believe isn’t radical, miraculous, and life changing. If you are a Christian then you are a freak, but that’s a good thing. Jesus was too. Embrace it!
This is going to be a short post, but I thought it was worth sharing. Today I started re-reading the “Gospel of Luke” and something stood out to me in the first few pages.
The account begins with two big announcements. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah first and tells him that he will have a son to be named John. After Zechariah manages to calm his nerves from the shock of seeing an Angel in the temple he says the following:
“How can I be sure of this? I am and old man and my wife is well along in years?” – Luke 1:18
The answer he got is kind of humorous:
“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” – Luke 1:19
Because Zechariah doubted he was not allowed to speak words until the time the baby was born.
The next big event is almost exactly the same situation, but with totally different results. Gabriel appears again, this time to a young virgin named Mary, and tells her she too will have a son. Gabriel reveals many wondrous things that will be said and done by this child and he instructs Mary that his name is to be Jesus.
Mary responds in a way that at first glance seems a lot like Zachariah’s reaction. After overcoming the fright that angels seem to cause in people she responds by saying:
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” – Luke 1:34
Mary’s question, however isn’t met with any punishment or penance. She just get’s a pretty straight to the point answer.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35
So what is the big deal? Why does Zechariah get the punished and Mary just has her question answered? Well I think there is a subtle, but important difference to note in the two questions. Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure God would act. Mary knew God would keep his word, she only wished to know how he would keep his promises.
Zechariah, though he was a high priest, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered if God could move it. Mary, though she was young, saw an impossible obstacle and wondered how god would move it.
We should all strive to be more like Mary in our faith.
So I came across and article entitled “40 Questions To Ask A Christian” which was meant to be a thought exercise on behalf of the Atheists to be taken up by Christians. As the author wrote:
“Asking a difficult question can achieve better results because it taps into the Christian’s desire to share the wisdom they perceive themselves to have. Any reflex for angry disagreement is quashed and replaced by an obligation to think their answer through. Ultimately, thought is what an atheist should be trying to elicit. By asking the right questions, one can determine the direction that such thought takes.”
So I have copied the article’s 40 questions below and I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability. I have not prepared or done any research before or after reading these questions. I wanted to be as genuine in my answers as possible, and try to respond as I would if I were asked these questions by a random stranger on the street.
40 Questions for Christians
- (Global Religion)
If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist?
Not necessarily. Let’s look at it this way, if a hundred different accounts of a historical event have to be wrong for yours to be right, does that show that people all over the world like to invent historical events that don’t exist? The answer would be no. Most all cultures have some grasp of God or gods no matter how isolated they may be. The problem is usually not “Does God exist” as much as it is “What is God like.” Having said that I don’t think anyone has to be wrong for something else to be right. I believe Christianity to be true, and by saying that I am also saying that what contradicts Christianity is not true. If a Muslim or a Hindu were to come and say something about God that contradicts Christianity then I would assume they are false. If they says something that is not contradicted, or even perhaps supported by Christianity then I would say they are true. I think that other religions may have false beliefs and an incomplete view of God, but I don’t think thousands of different cultures all over the world just made up God on their own.
If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too?
Maybe. It’s really impossible to say since I did not grow up in a home of another faith. I would certainly hope that someone would present the Gospel to me and that I would accept it no matter what religion I was born in. I can say that I believe I would probably always seek after God regardless of what culture I was born into. I would certainly hope that God would not allow me to return from my quest empty-handed.
If people from the five major religions are each told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed?
Yes. Just because there are conflicting views on something does not negate that one of them could be true. If I say grass is green and four other people disagree with me we shouldn’t just assume that none of us can be trusted.
- (Communication with God)
How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?
Does this voice ask you to do anything that would conflict with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles? Does this voice move like a holy fire through your very soul? Does this voice point you towards more loving service or spreading of the Gospel, or is it more self-serving or pointing to sin?
How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?
My answer is the same as the above.
Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?
No. I don’t think I could ever kill easily even if there was a divine command behind it. Killing should never come easy. Also I don’t believe I would ever be commanded to kill another human being by God. In the Old Testament Israel and God’s people were used as a human representation of God’s judgement and so God did use them to kill. The thing is that God’s wrath and judgement on sin was completely poured out on Christ at the cross. We are in a new age of mercy where the old is fading and the new is coming.
If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?
I already pretty much answered this in the previous question.
When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to?
Yes and No. An atheist who does a kindness in order to get a warm and fuzzy feeling or to feel good about themselves is really no different in motive than a religious person who does good simply to please his God. Christians however don’t believe in doing good to appease God, but rather we do good because we are so filled with love for what God has already done that we cannot help but let that love overflow onto others.
If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events?
Maybe. It depends on how vocal I was.
If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way?
I’m pretty loose in what I consider a Christian. If they believe Christ was fully divine and fully man, the messiah, and that he died and rose again for the sake of sinners so that they would be forgiven then I consider them a Christian. Any other interpretations are secondary and are not “deal breakers.” I don’t know the beliefs of my ancestors. I also don’t know whether they would condemn me.
Rape wasn’t always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why `do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments?
Well it was. Also if you notice a lot of things weren’t mentioned in the Ten commandments. I would say that the 7th commandment “Though Shall Not Commit Adultery”, the 8th Commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal” and the 10th “Thou shall not covet” could all be applied to condemn rape.
Do lions need `god-given’ morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we?
No. Morality can exist in a secular sense. My problem with secular morality is not that it doesn’t exist, but rather that it is entirely dependent on the individual and the ever-changing opinion of the mass. Secular morality is dangerously close to mob morality. This doesn’t mean it cannot be right or true, but I simply don’t find it sturdy enough for me.
If organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make us civil?
I’m not sure I understand this question. I think religion is one of the first steps any primitive people experience before forming a civilization. Historically civilizations tend to come from and form around temples and religious structures.
- (The Characteristics of God)
An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him?
He doesn’t. Worship is a means for us to show gratitude. He knows our heart, but we enjoy celebrating what God has done. Worship is a mutually beneficial act.
If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen.
When we tell stories we are limited by our language. There re truly no words that I believe can accurately encapsulate God. For the narrative structure to work God must be humanized to an extent so that we can fathom what is happening. We anthropomorphize God to better relate to him.
An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell?
Hell is the result of man’s free will. God desires that all men would be saved, but he forces no one to follow him. Apart from God there can be no good and complete rejection of God is the absence of good, or Hell. God wants you in heaven one day, but he doesn’t force anyone to come home. God created us to love us and be loved by us, love however requires a choice, and a choice means that it must be possible to reject love.
If God is all-knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?
All things for the glory of God. Jesus was not plan B. Jesus was plan A so that God could tangibly demonstrate his love for us and show us grace and mercy while remaining true and just.
Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day?
It’s a narrative story. It’s meant to show the passing of time. In English the word “rest” usually is the result of becoming tired or exhausted. This is a translation problem. The original Hebrew text used a word which simply meant that on the seventh day God stopped creating. It is not that God was tired after six days of work, but rather that his creation was complete.
Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?
As I stated in the previous answer, when the creation was complete God stopped working. I don’t see how a larger or more dense universe would be any more or less necessary than the one we live in. I’m still a little confused by what this question was supposed to be saying?
- (The Bible)
Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away?
You should come visit my church. But on a serious note all things are for the Glory of God. Wealth used to honor and glorify God is a way to put God above money. We are to give to all who are in need, and most churches do. Also I’ll point out that those elaborately decorated cathedrals this question was probably pointed to are usually built by donations from the poor that the church supports. If churches never ran shelters, food and clothing drives, hospitals, or orphanages then I could see the problem, but that is not the case.
While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn’t censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring many Earthly temptations?
Christ did not openly embrace or allow the devil to prosper either. He tolerated evil only so far before he shut him down. What good could possibly come from allowing evil to go unchecked.
Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word for word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu?
No, but perhaps Anu the supreme sky god and Yahweh are the same God seen through different cultural lenses. Remember my point about how different religions can still all testify to the existence of God? It’s a similar thing going on here. The story of Noah is particularly interesting because it occurs so often in so many different cultures and legends from around the world. It’s a really fascinating tale that seems to have roots all over the world, leaving me to believe that there is truth to it.
- (Religious Conversion)
If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you; do you think that you’re currently better than them?
My desire to convert atheists is so that they can be with me in heaven one day and come to know the joy and peace that comes from knowing Christ and having a relationship with the father. I do not think I am better than atheists, in fact I don’t know how a Christian could. Any holiness seen in Christians comes not from their own work or merit, but from the holy spirit and the gifts and blessings from God the father. To God be the glory.
If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion at a time when they’re able to make that decision, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion?
Well that’s a loaded question. A Christian parent should not respect their child’s rejection of Christ because that is the most hateful thing a parent could possibly do. That is literally tolerating someone right into the gates of Hell (God forbid). Any Christian who actually believes Christ meant what he said cannot easily allow any loved one to reject the truth without putting in a great deal of prayer effort to convince them otherwise. If I love my child I must hate what is harmful for them, and nothing should be hated more than the complete and total rejection of all things good. Notice this is not me saying the child should be hated, but the parent should do whatever is in their power to dissuade their child from what they know is a path away from what is good.
If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country?
That’s up to them to decide. I’d love to talk to them.
If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught in schools for thousands of years?
Not really. Religion was taught because it was believed to be true. Although there have always been atheists, the cultural movement has only really been around since the 18th century. For most of history there was not secular education. Churches were the centers of learning and the Priests were the educated people of the day. The shift of separating religion and education and religion and politics is a pretty recent occurrence in the grand scheme of history.
When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions?
I’m not sure what you mean. I know of no rich prophets.
When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?
No. When I say something is a miracle it means I cannot see how God was not involved in this. Even if I know how something happens it can still be a miracle.
If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely?
This is a strange question. If we didn’t know how it happened then I don’t know how science could hope to replicate it.
If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to fire another lightning bolt into the forest?
Fire is pretty miraculous when it is really though about, but I say no. The scientific method was invented by a catholic priest. Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, and Galileo were all deeply religious people who believed in miracles. These men were spurred on to discover because they believed that God created an ordered and understandable universe. Miracles doesn’t mean science stops. Miracles means that God still works, whether we understand how or not.
If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn’t a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual?
God has worked through the Devil (see the book of Job) and he has worked through non believers countless times in the Old Testament. If God gave a man cancer and then chose to remove it then it doesn’t really matter to me how it was removed.
Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility?
We aren’t threatening you with hell anymore than the person who sees an eighteen wheeler bearing down on you is threatening you with the eighteen wheeler. We simply see the danger and wish to save you from it. To do anything else would be extremely cruel.
Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not?
Yes. No man deserves eternal paradise and communion with God, yet God saw it good to give us admittance into his family free of charge. If a kind doctor rejects this offer and chooses hell then his decision will be honored. If a mass murder chooses repentance and grace then God is good to forgive.
Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven?
I certainly hope so. I also hope their victims have found a home in paradise along side them.
How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell?
This question is written as if good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. There are no good or bad people. There are only redeemed and unrepentant people.
If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die?
That’s not my call to make, but I would assume no. The reason a man goes to heaven or hell is because of his eternal soul. Unless and alien was given an eternal soul by God I’d assume their fate is the same as a dog or a whale.
- (The Promises of Religion)
If someone promised you eternal life, the protection of a loving super being, a feeling of moral righteousness, a purpose for living, answers to all the big questions, and a rule book for achieving the pinnacle of human potential… and all in exchange for having faith in something that wasn’t proven, would you be suspicious?
Yes. I was very skeptical before I became a Christian. I was a very difficult person to convince.
If someone promised to give you a billion dollars after ten years, but only if you worshiped them until that time, would you believe them? If someone promised to give you eternal life upon death, but only if you spent your life worshiping a god, would you believe them?
Worshiping a man for money is not a worthy endeavor. Maybe, obviously I said yes to Christianity though I still think you misunderstand the point of worship though. I also think these questions focus way too much on the next life and not enough on the life we have now. Christianity is not just a religion of the future, it is a life to be lived out now.
Why does religion appeal more to poor, weak, vulnerable, young, ill, depressed, and ostracized people? Could religious promises be more of a temptation to these people?
It appeals to these people because they understand what it means to need grace, mercy, healing and a savior. A person who is extremely blessed in this world has many things he can make his God, whether it is money, power, influence, pride, approval, or what have you. The poor and needy are closer to God because they know what it means to cling to him for their needs.
When looking at Jesus Christ one has to wonder why this poor carpenter’s gospel spread became the worlds largest religion. If you examine Jesus from a purely historical and secular mindset it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Andy Stanley (author of “Deep & Wide”) put it this way:
“At the center of this grassroots movement, originally referred to as The Way, was a Jewish carpenter whose message centered on a “kingdom” that wasn’t directly connected to this world. He spoke mostly in parables that few could understand. He insisted that those who followed him love the Romans and pay those onerous taxes. He alienated the influential and the powerful. He offended practically everybody. His family thought he had lost his mind. After only three years of public ministry, he was arrested, publicly humiliated and then executed. Sounds like a strange way to start a movement…”
– Andy Stanley
I have to agree with Andy on this one. Jesus was not only hard to get behind, he also openly criticized and challenged a religious system that had existed for thousands of years. His claims to be the “Son of God” and “Lord” were not only offensive to his Jewish audience, but also to the Romans who claimed Caesar to be a “Son of God” and a “Lord of Lords.” The way this Jesus guy carried himself it’s surprising he wasn’t caught and killed sooner. If Jesus was not who he claims he was then he definitely had one of the most arrogant and self destructive religious careers in history.
So what was it about Jesus that made him a success? Why didn’t his movement die off right after his death? The answer I point towards is that his followers were absolutely convinced that he was not dead.
We all know the resurrection story, and how Christ appeared periodically to his followers for 40 days following his death before finally ascending into heaven. Some struggle with these accounts, but I have to believe them. These cowardly disciples who were in hiding all suddenly abandoned all fear and became missionaries to the ends of the earth. Peter, who denied Christ three times during his death, chose to be crucified upside down instead of denying the risen Lord. These men were convinced that they were not carrying on some dead guys legacy. These men had seen the risen son of God, and in doing so they had lost all fear of death.
The reason Christianity thrived and survived was because it’s first preachers, teachers, and missionaries were not promoting a philosophy or a theology… they were attesting to a Gospel that they had witnessed first hand. Despite the brutal oppression the church of the first century would endure at the hands of various famous persecutors, the movement would not die. Death had no sting for those who had seen the resurrected Christ!
I hate to think what the first century church would think of the twenty first century one. While we have grown huge in our scope and numbers, we have also grown more dormant and complacent. A lot of established churches have change from a movement into a weekly meeting. We pass on opportunities to share the Gospel because the timing isn’t right or because we don’t want to be awkward. I’m guilty of this myself to my great shame, and I hope to avoid repeating my past mistakes.
If the early church was willing to be stoned, burned, tortured, mauled, and slashed to death for the sake of the Gospel I feel like I can maybe risk an awkward conversation for the sake of my neighbor’s soul. Christ has risen, death is dead, spread the good news.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:19-20
I think it is pretty safe to say that repentance is a major theme in Christianity. While we are saved by faith, we demonstrate that faith by repenting of our sins. Something I realized recently is that there are a lot of different notions about what repentance means.
Is repentance just saying sorry?
How do we know if we have actually repented?
How do we know that God has forgiven us?
I hope to answer these questions in this post and hopefully give a more clear view of what it means to have a truly repentant heart.
The Bible makes it clear many times in scripture that we are saved by our faith and trust in God rather than in simply doing good or not doing bad. This comes from the belief that man is not worthy of salvation, but that God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving. God is willing and able to forgive you of your sins, but there is some ground work that needs to be done first.
Before anything can be done a person has to believe. Repentance and Belief are two cornerstones in Christianity when it comes to our understanding of Salvation. The Greek word that we translate into “Believe” is “Pisteuo” and it means “to place one’s trust in.” When we believe in God we are trusting him, and when we believe in Christ we are putting our trust in him and the power he has to save us.
By placing our trust in God we can say that we have trusted him to save us. We can take rest and find peace in the knowledge that God can and will save us, but what about Repentance? If it is our faith/belief in God and what he did through Christ that saves us, where then does Repentance come in?
The Bible makes it clear that if we hope to find salvation then we need repentance:
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
– Luke 13:3
So what does it mean to repent and how can we know for certain that we have repented?
When we look at scriptures Belief (Pisteuo) is often paired up with the idea of Repentance (Metanoeo). “Metanoeo” is the Greek word that we often translate to mean “repent” and it’s meaning conveys a “change of mind.” This is not a purely intellectual change, but also a change in the direction of one’s life.
When we Repent (Metanoeo) we are in a sense turning from our allegiance to self, sin, and unbelief. We are abandoning our old ways and making a conscious effort to change our direction. This is where our Belief (Pisteuo) comes in. Our new direction and focus in life shifts from the self, sin, and unbelief, and is instead is replaced by a focus on service, righteousness, and trusting in Christ.
When faith or belief is mentioned, repentance is implied (if not directly stated.) The opposite can also be said that repentance implies that belief and faith are already present.
Repentance then, is more than just saying “I’m sorry.” It is a conscious effort turn from the old ways that drew you away from God and turn your life in a direction that seeks the Lord.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
– 2 Chronicles 7:14
Just like the parable of the Prodigal’s son in Luke 15:11-32 our heavenly father does not want us to try to earn his love, and he does not expect us to be able to pay for our sins. Instead he patiently waits for us to turn our hearts back to him, and once we do he is quick to run to us, forgive us, and bring us back home.
Repentance is not some elaborate sanctification ritual, but it is also goes a lot deeper than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Repentance is a heart change and a desire to come home. Just like the Prodigal’s son, we can often times wander far away from the father, but he never stops waiting for us and he is willing to run out and welcome us home when we call out to him with genuinely repentant hearts.