Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I wrote the following post around December of last year, but was hesitant to publish it.  Uni and I had left the church we had attended since moving to Oklahoma.  We were at the time searching for a church home, although I felt I'd be more comfortable staying home on Sundays.  We have since joined a more "traditional" non-dispensational, though still evangelical, church where we feel more at home than we had for a long time.

I was moved to publish this after reading an article by Rachel Held Evans, "Why millennials are leaving the church."  Near the end of the article she stated "these trends are true not only for millennials, but also for many folks from other generations."  This pair of 75+ers can't help but agree.

The following is what I wrote:

Sometimes people grow apart in a relationship, and there are times when this leads to a separation.  For a number of years I have found myself growing more and more distant from a tradition that I have been involved in most of my life.  I have finally separated myself from it, though it has not been easy.

Don't worry; I'm not speaking about my relationship with my wife Uni.  We are if anything, closer to one another than ever.  Rather we have been totally together in this move.  I'm speaking about church tradition.

And don't worry; we're not apostatizing.  We haven't left the faith.  As a matter of fact, I believe our faith has never been stronger.

However, it seems that as we have grown in our faith, we have found ourselves more and more alienated from the church tradition we have been involved in.  We have felt ourselves the objects of discrimination even among long-time friends in that tradition -- and most of our closest friends have been within that tradition.

We have not been the only ones who have moved; we've found that this tradition has been moving as well -- only in the opposite direction.

This tradition is that branch of evangelical Christianity that is known as Dispensationalism - especially as is taught in Bible churches and other closely related churches.

My problem isn't with Dispensationalism as such; I still hold some of its principles as a method of understanding the Scriptures.  My one big disagreement is with its extremes -- especially in the area of eschatology, the doctrine of the last things.  Another disagreement is with where these doctrines often lead to politically.

Dispensationalists believe, as do most Christians, that Jesus is going to return some day to rule on earth in His Kingdom.  However, Dispensationalists have a whole scenario affixed to this belief, some of the details of which can be demonstrated from the Scriptures, some of which are only conjecture and many of which seem pure fiction.  (See the Left Behind series of novels.)

Some of the details which we're told must occur preceding the 2nd coming:

·       The nation of Israel will be back in the land, although in unbelief.
·       A great world ruler -- the Antichrist -- will arise and bring about what is known as "The Great Tribulation" -- a 7 year period during which the nation of Israel will suffer greatly and ultimately be converted.
·       However, before The Great Tribulation, all true believers in Jesus will be "raptured" bodily to heaven and those who have already died will be resurrected.
·       At the end of this period Jesus will return in triumph to reign on earth for a thousand years, followed by His final judgment and eternal Kingdom. 

I am not here trying to dispute these various teachings.  I even agree with some of them, although not with the certainty that I once held.  My problem is the other inferences that are drawn from these, as well as those added to them.

·       A "Christian Zionism" that supports the present nation of Israel and demands that the U. S. government support Israel financially and militarily.  A great part of the pro-Israel lobby is in fact not Jewish but "Christian."  There are even "Christian" organizations that promote sending Jews back to the land.
·       A fear of "globalism," which often demonstrates itself in a sort of pro-American isolationism.  After all, President Obama may not be the Antichrist, but he's setting things up for his coming and acceptance.
·       A hand-wringing fear that our "Christian" nation is sliding downward into a "last days" immorality, which also is setting matters up for The Great Tribulation.

Though many Dispensationalists are rational, educated people, there seems to be an underlying fear among many, promoted by TV preachers and the social media.  Many seem to live in some sort of alternate reality.

All of these beliefs are somehow tied to the politics of the right.  The irony is that if we hold to a core belief that Jesus is coming back we should have nothing to fear.

So I must say goodbye to this tradition.  I still have many friends who are Dispensationalists, with whom I hope to remain friends.  We are brothers in Christ.  However, I also have lost a few friends and feel estranged from some.  What  seems sad to me is that most of this estrangement is not due to my theological views, but to my political views (or lack of the same).

Monday, July 22, 2013


"(The lady) doth protest too much, methinks."
Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene II, 242

Dear Mike:

I've come to realize that Atheism, as you often express it, is not simply a disbelief in God, but what seems to be a genuine hostility against all things religious, and especially Christianity.  You seem to delight in pointing out our "superstitious" ignorance and the superiority of your beliefs (Oops! lack of beliefs).  Sometimes I wonder if the above quote is applicable to you.

You also delight in pointing out the sins and evils committed by those who claim to be followers of Christ.  I regret that I must agree with you that the church has often been right there with the rest of humankind in perpetrating evils.  I offer no excuses.  When evils are done by those who name the Name of Christ, I believe I feel it more than you, as I feel my own propensity to evil.  I believe that Christ Himself grieves more than I.

I think you said something once on your blog about how we should work to make the world a better place (sorry I can't find the reference).  Perhaps you haven't noticed that many Christians are involved in doing just that, even though we don't regard this world as our permanent home.  Christians around the world are involved -- often taking the lead -- in bringing medicine, education, food and disaster relief to those most in need.  They are involved in fighting human trafficking and in restoring its victims.  Check out the faith of those serving in your local soup kitchen.  When the tornados devastated our area of OK, the churches were some of the first there aiding in the cleanup and rebuilding.

So back to your Atheism, I propose that you think through a simple flow chart.  These seem to me reasonable alternatives to decide on.

1.  Either there is a God or there isn't.  If there isn't, then you can continue in your Atheism correctly and you don't have to waste your time fighting Him and His followers.

2.  But if there is a God, then He has either revealed Himself or He hasn't.  If He hasn't, I would suppose that Atheists would still be reasonably defensible in their attacks on those who believe He has.

3.  But if God has revealed Himself, then I would suppose you'd be under some obligation to examine the various claims made concerning His self-revelation.

I, along with others, happen to believe that God is real and that He has revealed Himself in the Bible and especially incarnated Himself in the person of Jesus.

I consider you still my friend and am hoping for more reasonable dialog.  However, if you persist in snipping line-by-line at everything you find on this blog, I'll not be publishing any more of your comments.

Your friend,

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Uni and I have been reading Philip Yancey's book, The Jesus I Never Knew.  Though the book was published in 1995 and I have been an avid reader of Yancey, I had never read this one until I found a copy in a used book store.  I've read excerpts from the book and even recommended it to others, but for some reason unknown to me I have simply overlooked it.  Perhaps it's best that we have waited to read it.  Perhaps at an earlier stage in our Christian life we would have been troubled by Yancey's statements.

[We have not yet finished reading, so this post is not intended to be a thorough review.]

Yancey's thesis in the book is apparently his "rediscovery" of Jesus.  His statement, "The Jesus I got to know in writing this book is very different from the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school.  In some ways He is more comforting:  in some ways more terrifying," informs us that reading this book will be an account of his voyage of discovery.  However, as Uni and I read aloud each morning from the book, we are not often startled by Yancey's claims.  Often we have made similar discoveries with having come from a similar background.  So our reaction to Yancey is a simple "Yes!" or "Amen."  We have read and compared the four Gospels many times and it seems that every reading adds details to our mental portrait of Jesus.

I believe that the typical picture of Jesus in most people's minds is incomplete, whether or not they claim to be His followers.  In my experience I have found that a major factor is ignorance of what the Bible itself, especially the four Gospels, says about Him.  For many the Gospels remain unread or only cursorily read; most of their knowledge comes from secondary sources -- sermons, devotional studies, books claiming to give us the final word on who He was or is.

One incident that spurred me to write this post was a guest interview on The Daily Show (7/17/2013) with the author of a new book about Jesus.  During the interview the author explained about how we really need to know the context in which Jesus lived in order to really understand Him; he talked much about Jesus as a man.  At first Uni and I found ourselves in agreement but I could almost predict what was coming:  Jesus is only a man!  Much of what was written about Him contains moral or spiritual truth, but isn't really fact.  The host was practically drooling with enthusiasm over this new portrait of Jesus, who was not at all similar to the ghost-like Jesus that he had heard of in his youth.

Well, yes, of course.  If our mental portrait of Jesus is of some surreal spiritual being, we might be attracted to this rugged non-conformist portrayed by many modern books.  Who wouldn't be?  The problem is that neither picture is complete.  It seems that many feel that they have to choose one or the other.

I believe that orthodox and evangelical Christianity has often overemphasized Christ as deity while ignoring His humanity.  We may fail to see that.  He lived His life on earth as a man and looked little different from the other Middle Eastern Jews He associated with (although Uni believes He probably looked like our friend Ahmed, a dark handsome Saudi Arabian).  He did not wear a halo.  He did not talk in King James' English or in red letters.

Our one-sided picture is not a new thing invented by 20th century fundamentalist Christians.  As Yancey notes, "The Apostles' Creed hustles through Jesus' life in one paragraph, beginning with His birth and skipping immediately to His death ..."

But Jesus' contemporaries saw Him as a man.  That's what made His claims so scandalous.  It was not a theophany - a ghost-like divine character that said things like:

"You have heard that it was said (i.e., in the Mosaic Law) ... but I tell you ... " ( Matthew 5:21, 22, 33, 34, etc.).

"... anyone of you who doesn't say goodbye to all his possessions is not able to be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).

"... before Abraham came to be, I am" (John 8:58).

"... no one comes to the Father, except through Me" (John 14:6).

It wasn't simply His radical political statements that got Him into trouble; it was His claims to authority, even deity.  His opponents understood Him better than many of our modern day "authorities."

"For this reason then, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also saying God was His own Father, making Himself equal with God' (John 5:18).

They caught on!  We can't have Jesus as only a man no matter how we may admire Him.  He didn't leave His contemporaries that option.  If we accept His humanity, His manhood, then we also have to accept His claims.  Either that or reject Him altogether.

Friday, July 19, 2013


My previous post (CHRISTIANITY AND MORALITY?) brought forth comments that spurred my thinking further on some issues raised.

Bob's thoughts on God's judgment of nations were especially thought provoking: "Don't misunderstand; I believe that if a country (or an individual) follows God's principles, it can only benefit them. But God is not in the business of moral reform. He's in the business of creating new creatures in Christ Jesus

Sin surely causes death, and God warns about that. Jonah warned Nineveh that in 40 days their sins would cause Him to destroy them. The Canaanites' sins had reached the point of destruction during the time of Moses. And Sodom and Gomorrah had clearly reached the saturation point (though for reasons other than what we've often been taught).

But what sense would it make for God to prompt a culture to moral reform without the message of eternal life? It seems clear (at least to me) that his warnings were given so that people would remain alive to hear about His grace.

However, we can't warn of impending doom because we're not God. We have no idea, for example, where the United States stands on God's spectrum of sin (though we hear about it all the time)."

Of course Canadian Atheist's comment on Bob's comment was as would be expected: "Sounds extremely superstitious to me."

Bob's parenthetical remark that "... though we hear about it all the time" is so true.  Preachers, especially those on the right and those who fancy themselves as experts on biblical prophecy are often heard ranting on this topic.  Every natural disaster is interpreted as a sign of God's wrath, usually in regard to sexual sins, especially homosexuality.

Of course, those on the secular left often have similar sounding messages, only without God being mentioned.  Global warming, the gun culture, racism are often invoked as signs of the downfall of America.

But does God hold nations accountable?  Does He hold the United States of America accountable?  Will God judge America?  If so, by what criteria will our nation be judged?  I do not believe these are simply "superstitious" questions.  I do not believe they are only on the minds of preachers on the far ends of the spectrum.  Questions like these were on the minds of some of America's great leaders and thinkers.

"Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just" -- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia (1784).

"Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'" -- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (1865).

Both were pondering the horrible sin of human slavery.  It is doubtful, of course, that Jefferson's Deistic thinking led him to imagine an apocalyptic judgment on America.  And Lincoln's enigmatic faith seemed to lead him to believe that the Civil War itself could be God's judgment.

The prophets of the Old Testament pronounced judgments on the nations around them, often seeing those judgments worked out by other nations.  Even God's covenant nation of Israel was not exempt; in fact, judgment seems more pronounced against that nation.

The New Testament does not seem as concerned with the nations as with the human race as a whole and with individual human beings.  However, there are a few passages that do stand out, most having to do with the end of this age.

One that I have written on before is Matthew 25:31-46 (SHEEP OR GOATS).  Jesus is speaking of His return in glory to reign on earth.  The nations are to be gathered before Him and are to go either into His Kingdom or into eternal fire.  The criteria are not given as their sexual conduct or their violence; they are judged solely on their treatment of those whom Jesus terms "the least of these" -- the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the prisoner.

Is the good old USA going to be there?  Which way will they (we?) be sent?

So Bob, I agree with your comments.  I'll not attempt to ascertain "where the U.S. stands on God's spectrum of sin."  But I do believe that God holds this nation accountable.

My task, however, as a follower of Christ is primarily to follow Him, to hold myself accountable and not be preoccupied with America's destiny, but the destiny of the people of America that I am in contact with.


Friday, July 12, 2013


Those who seek to present Christianity to people who don't believe do so in various ways.  One advantage of Christianity that is often proclaimed is its superiority as a moral system.

Now I agree that Jesus' teachings as described in the Gospels do challenge us with a superior code -- the Sermon on the Mount, the Greatest and the Second Greatest Commandments (Love God, Love your neighbor).  But somehow I feel uncomfortable with using these as evangelistic tools -- especially the way they are often presented, as though simply having this code is enough.

How can we argue the superiority of Christianity as a moral system, when those who profess to follow Christ don't seem to be practicing this system?
·       Child molesting priests and those who cover up for them.
·       Adulterous preachers; greedy preachers.
·       Sports stars and politicians who parade around with their thick black Bibles when they are caught in some crime or sexual sin.

Then of course, there are all those surveys and studies which demonstrate that the behavior of Christians in various areas doesn't differ that much from the behavior of other groups studied.

For most of my life as a follower of Christ, I've heard this stuff and sometimes had my face rubbed in it by my unbelieving friends.  It's humiliating!

Apparently this sort of disjunction is nothing new.  The Old Testament prophets had to deal with it; Jesus had to deal with it; the New Testament writers had to deal with it.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans gives what seems to be the most scathing attack on those in his day who felt that possessing a moral code made them somehow superior to those who did not possess it.

Please note that Paul is not giving an "anti-Semitic" tirade.  Paul himself was a Jew (as was Jesus).  He is speaking to the Jew as the one who possesses God's Book (the Law).  Perhaps we could grasp his argument better if we'd substitute our own particular denominational label.

"But if you are called a Jew (Christian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, ________?) and boast in God ... being confident of yourself that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, having a form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law.  You then who teach the other, don't you teach yourself?  You who preach not to steal, do you steal?  You who say don't commit adultery, do you commit adultery? ... For God's name is slandered among the Gentiles (i.e., unbelievers) because of you ..." (Romans 2:17-24)

A bit before this Paul makes a radical claim.
"For not the hearers of the Law are right before God, but the doers of the Law will be counted right.  For whenever the Gentiles who don't have the Law do by nature the things of the Law, these who don't have the Law are a Law to themselves, such ones as show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences testifying together and their reasonings between each other either accusing or defending" (Romans 1:13-15).

Paul appears to be saying some things that contradict the preachers of a superior moral code -- that there are some who don't have a biblical code whose morality is superior to some of those who do!

But Paul's argument in these first chapters of Romans is not about who has the superior moral code or who has the superior moral behavior.  His point is that there is no one who measures up whether to a God-given moral code, or even their own conscience, that " ... all sinned and are coming short of God's glory" (3:23) and that we can be "...justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (24).

Christianity is not primarily a moral code.  It is a religion of rescue for those who can't live up to a moral code.  Yes, it has a moral code, but this code is not given in order to impose it on others.  It is presented as the way of life for those who find forgiveness for their failures.  And there are many who do attempt to live by that code -- and they find forgiveness when they fail.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


It is refreshing to read a modern thinker who admits that he doesn't have all the answers.  Thomas Nagel is one such thinker.  Though he is a confessed Atheist, he does not come across as a know-it-all like Richard Dawkins and the "new Atheists."

Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and School of Law at New York University.  He is the author of a number of books, only one of which I had previously read, before picking up his latest, a slender volume entitled, Mind and Cosmos, Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford, 2012).  Although the book is only 130 pages, it took me a while to read as it was not (for me) easy reading.

The title of the book tells us quite a bit about where Nagel is headed.  Though Nagel accepts the findings of evolutionary science, he contends that naturalistic evolution in itself is inadequate to account for mind - consciousness, cognition and value.  He is seeking some alternative which will unify our understanding.

Nagel feels that the forces at work in nature are ultimately teleological, by which he seems to mean that the laws of nature have purpose built into them and are directed toward an end.  He is skeptical about what he refers to as "the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life" (page 6).

However, he also makes it clear that his "skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative" (page 7).  He discusses the alternatives of what he describes as Theism.  While he rejects a materialistic explanation for the origin of mind, he also rejects theism as doing the opposite, making "physical law a consequences of mind."  He dislikes the desire "to understand ourselves from the outside" whether this desire expresses itself through theism or "evolutionary naturalism."  His arguments here seem a bit less confident and possibly inspired more by what he referred to in a previous volume as his "fear of religion itself."  Then he even says, "I want atheism to be true...  It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief.  It's that I hope there is no God!  I don't want there to be a God, I don't want the universe to be like that" (The Last Word, 1997, page 130).  He appears to have not yet gotten over that fear.

Nagel breaks a taboo held by those who hold to the evolutionary views he questions.  He actually considers the thinking and writings of those who hold to intelligent design as worthy of consideration.  Not that he feels that their arguments for a Designer are valid, but that he feels their arguments against "the orthodox scientific consensus" need to be taken seriously.

A quick Google search will find a number of articles on this book -- so many that I feel that any attempts by me at a review would be woefully inadequate.  Though I have read very few, I must confess that I was amused by the attacks on Nagel -- not just amused; I actually felt a bit of sadistic pleasure at the displeasure of the writers.  Though much of what he said is in agreement with current scientific thinking, he apparently is regarded as a heretic and iconoclast by many.  Dogmatism is not limited to religious thinkers!

When my search led me to articles written by creationists, I supposed Nagel would also be anathematized by those of that persuasion, especially those of the 6-day variety.  I was pleasantly surprised.  They seemed content with his rejection of a materialistic/evolutionist explanation.

As one who is a believer in a Designer/Creator God, I found the book fascinating, even though I am disappointed that he rejected the conclusion that to me was obvious.  His conclusion that there is more to life than can be explained by materialistic evolution is enough to make this book a satisfying read.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


On Sunday mornings this summer, I have been leading a class on the BOOK OF JOB.  This past Sunday we looked at the speeches of Job's friend Eliphaz.  As I had pondered earlier on how to relate these ancient speeches to people in the 21st century, I came to realize that I have met this guy a number of times in my life.  In fact, I suspect he has commented occasionally on this blog. 

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story:  Job was a man who was going through nearly unbearable sufferings which we the readers know were totally undeserved.  Three of Job's friends come to comfort him and sit silently with him until Job spills his guts -- a series of whys? directed, it seems primarily at God.  From here on Eliphaz, along with the other two, shows little sympathy with Job; he has a theory about Job's sufferings that is quite simple: Job's sufferings are deserved; Job has sinned against God and must repent to gain restoration.  The greater part of the book is occupied with their debate; neither is listening to the others' tirades; they are simply talking past each other.

I had long thought of Eliphaz as an example of what Job terms a "miserable comforter," one whose attempts at solace only added to the suffering.  But I realize that while this is correct, Eliphaz is more than that.  His failures as a comforter are merely symptoms of something more -- what has been termed "motivated reasoning."  Chris Mooney explains thus: "motivated reasoning... builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: reasoning is actually suffused with emotion.  We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close....  In other words, by the time we're consciously reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing our prior emotional commitments.  We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers."

Eliphaz was not as concerned with helping his friend through his crisis as he was  concerned with defending his theological position.  He wasn't listening to Job.  In fact he may have felt that Job's complaints were challenges to his closely held convictions.

As I look at some of the comments that appear on my blog, I suspect that occasionally I  find Eliphaz speaking.  The readers who comment seem at times more concerned about asserting their own position and rebutting mine than engaging in a positive discussion.  What bothers me more than this, however, is the temptation for me to do the same, which sometimes happens.

A friend of mine re-posted my previous post on facebook and described it as "a healthy debate."  I thanked her and I'm always glad to have my posts shared, but I felt uncomfortable with referring to it as a debate.  I've always been uncomfortable with that word, even though, or especially since I've often been referred to as a debater.  I'd rather consider my writings and my discussion as dialogue.

Though the words "debate" and "dialogue" are often used interchangeably, there are some genuine differences in meaning.

A debate seems to concentrate on points of disagreement.  There appears to be more of a concern about winning, about determining who is right.  The presidential debates held last year were a good example.  At the end of each debate the commentators and talking heads would give us the "score" and tell us who had won (it would usually be the one they were in agreement with).  There was little discussion about the validity of the arguments presented but much discussion about how they were presented.

A dialogue, however, as I understand it, is concerned more about points of agreement.  It is not as concerned about determining who is right as it is about determining what is right, that is, the truth.  Of course, there will be points of disagreement and those involved will be attempting to convince, but hopefully the truth will be the winner.

So I ask my readers to continue to comment, whether you agree or disagree.  I'll keep publishing your comments, whatever they are; but please consider the things I've written as challenges to your thinking, not simply challenges demanding rebuttal.  Thanks!