Category Archives: Tough Questions

What’s Our Code?

good samaritan

One of my favorite movies is the film A Few Good Men.  I like it because it is an awesome courtroom drama in which a hot-shot JAG lawyer (played by Tom Cruise) has to defend the actions of two marines who are on trial for murder.  Over the course of the film he learns what it means to respect and defend his clients, even though he disagrees with their actions.

In one scene he offers them a plea bargain in order to avoid the trial.  However, the two men do not want to take it because they felt that they were doing right in following orders and seeking to discipline their fellow Marine for breaking the chain of command.  They said that he violated their code.  When Cruise’s character asks them what their code is, one of the Marines responds:

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“We Pledge Allegiance to the __________________?”

cross flag

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
~1 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

Early this month we, as a country, celebrated the Fourth of July and I have to admit that, since becoming a Christian, I have struggled with how best to honor this holiday.  The reasons why are multiple, but perhaps the biggest reason is because of the tendency, in many American Christian circles, to blend nationalism and faith.  The most recent example of this was Holly Fisher’s 4th of July Twitter post of her posing with a flag, an assault rifle, and a Bible.  Over the years I have heard too many of my brothers and sisters in faith parade out Bible quotes in support of a nationalist political agenda and question the faith of those who don’t hold those particular political views or whose theological conclusions seem to challenge or question conservative political values, especially on issues of social justice, racial reconciliation, poverty, war & peace, and immigration.

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Losing Our Religion

Losing Our Religion

walking-away

Recent studies are showing that there are a growing number of people in the United States who, when asked about their religious identity, are classifying themselves as “None”.  In light of this growing trend National Public Radio has begun a series entitled “Losing Our Religion” in which several young people who classify themselves as “Nones” share their stories about losing faith or becoming disenchanted with organized religion.

I’ll be honest, listening to these stories was heart breaking.  It reminded me of something that David Kinnaman once said in a talk he was giving:

Today’s young people live in an increasingly complex world.  They want complex answers to complex questions.  And honestly, we as the church are failing them.

Much of what these young people shared was how their churches and religious communities never helped them find meaningful answers to their deepest questions.  Their stories were stories of heartbreak and disillusionment.

As hard as it was for me, as a pastor, to listen to these stories, I was really glad I did.  The truth is, when stories like this go up many evangelical Christians tune out; writing them off as another example of liberal bias in the media and as indicative of the press’s oppositional stance toward religion.  I think this is a sad trend.  We need to listen to these voices.  We need to hear other perspectives.

So, I wanted to ask a question to those of you who have found yourselves turned off by the church:  what caused you to lose your religion?  What is your story?  I genuinely want to hear them and will not judge what you share.

Sound off in the comments below or in the comments section on my Facebook page.

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Tough Question: “A Selfish Creator?”

Recently I have been dialoguing back and forth with a student who has been raising some really good questions.  So, with his permission, I have decided to post his most recent question and my own response to it.  However, I would love it if others would weigh in as well or even offer their own follow-up questions.

THE QUESTION

Recently I have been trying to figure out why, if there is a God, he would create humans. I mean it seems that there would be no point in creating humanity. Not only are we constantly doing what God would not want but it also just seems selfish. If I were to have a child and then say to it “Your purpose is to serve and worship me forever” I would look like a tool.

MY ANSWER

Your question is a really great one.  Actually, this was a question that I wrestled with myself before I became a Christian.  I remember talking with some of my Christian friends about it and being unsatisfied with the idea that our primary purpose in life was to worship God.  The idea that God would create us just so that we would sit around for all eternity telling him how great he is seemed selfish.  So, I definitely understand where you are coming from.

The short answer to your question is that God is, by his very nature, a creative and life-giving God.  Furthermore, he creates humans as his children, to live in relationship with him and to partner in enjoying his creation and continuing his life-giving work.  His commands to obey him and worship him flow out of his fatherly love, for they are designed to protect us and help us live up to our fullest potential.  When we live in this kind of dynamic relationship with God, we end up worshipping him with our very lives as an expression of our love and thanksgiving to him.

To help illustrate this in more depth, I’d like to try and tackle your question in three parts.  I know that sounds like a long way of going about it, but I think they will all tie together in a way that really gives a well-rounded answer to your questions

God as Father

First, I think it is important to examine what the Bible reveals about God’s character.  You asked why God would create humans, especially when they mess up constantly.  One of the big themes of scripture is that God is both a creative and relational God.

Paul highlights this fact in his presentation of the gospel before the Areopagus in Athens.  He tells the gathering of philosophers that God “himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:25-28).

What Paul is emphasizing is that it is in God’s nature to create.  As the source of all life, he naturally begets life.  Creating brings him pleasure and delight.  We see this illustrated in Genesis 1 when, after each act of creation, God calls what he has made “good”.

Furthermore, when he finally creates humankind he calls them “very good”.  His purpose in making humanity was to create a being in his own image that would not only understand his creation, but enjoy it along with him, as his children.  It is for this reason that his very first commandment to them is to fill the earth and multiply.  It was always his intention that we would enjoy what he had made and reflect his creative nature within our own relationships and through our work in the world.

The Purpose of Obedience

It is with this in mind that we turn to your comment about human disobedience and serving God.  You said in your question, “if I were to have a child and then say to it ‘your purpose is to serve and worship me forever’ I would look like a tool.”  To help address this point, I think it is important to take a step back and think about human parent-child relationships.  For example, my daughter loves to run.  Having recently learned to use her legs, it is a delight and a pleasure for me to watch her zoom around in our front yard as she explores the world around her.

However, sometimes she runs to places that are dangerous, like the street.  Now, is it selfish for me to tell her not to run in the street?  No.  Why?  Because I’m not telling her this for my benefit, but for her own.  I know that if she runs in the street she could get hit by a car and I want her to obey my command so that she remains safe and continues to run around and play.

It is important to see the same principle at work when we look to God.  God does not give us commandments to make our lives less enjoyable.  He gives us commandments in order to protect us from the things that would actually rob us of life.  His call to obey him is not for his benefit, but for ours.  This is why, for example, God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden.  He tells them that the consequence will be death.  Sure enough, when they disobey him and eat from the tree we see the utter breakdown of their relationships, their environment, and ultimately of their very lives.  His command was meant to protect them.

The Definition of Worship

This brings us to our final point about worship.  Too often I think we define worship as sitting around telling God how great he is.  However, this is not at all how God defines worship.  In scripture, there are a variety of ways that God defines what it means to worship him.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • Isaiah 58:  God defines worship not as fasting or sacrificing, but as loosing the bonds of wickedness, letting the oppressed go free, sharing food with the hungry, and clothing the naked
  • Micah 6:8:  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
  • Romans 12:1:  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.
  • 1 Cor. 10:31:  “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.

What we see here in this brief examination is that worshipping God is not necessarily about music (though it can be a part of it), but that worship is fundamentally about living the life that God has called us to live and to partner with him in the work that he is doing. This is why Jesus ties together the worship of God and the love of neighbor when talking about the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40.  Worshipping God means living for God with our whole being.  Additionally, we worship God when we love others as ourselves.

This idea that worship is about living life in relationship with God and in a manner that reflects his purposes is echoed throughout scripture.  We see the earliest command to worship in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 when God tells the people to fill the earth and commands Adam to tend the garden.  Here, worshipping God involved being a part of God’s creative act.  In the New Testament, Jesus calls his disciples to be his witnesses throughout the world (Matt. 28 & Acts 1), a command that echoes Genesis 1 & 2, but now with an emphasis on being a part of God’s redemptive work in the world.  This is also echoed in the passages from the prophets listed above.  Worship, therefore, is defined as living life in accordance with God’s will for the world.  It involves participating with him in that work, for this was why we were created and it is through this calling that live we, in fact, end up living life to its fullest.

Conclusion

Again, to summarize, what we see is that God is, by his very nature, a creative and life-giving God.  Furthermore, he creates humans as his children, to live in relationship with him and to partner in enjoying his creation and continuing his life-giving work.  His commands to obey him and worship him flow out of his fatherly love, for they are designed to protect us and help us live up to our fullest potential.  When we live in this kind of dynamic relationship with God, we end up worshipping him with our very lives as an expression of our love and thanksgiving to him.

Tough Questions: Concerning Heaven and Hell

Here is a question that one of my students asked about heaven and hell.  It is a pretty common one:

“How is it considered that we have free will to choose God, if when I don’t choose God I go to Hell? It doesn’t seem like I have a choice but rather only can decide to follow God.”

Again, I ask these questions both to give you a snapshot of the kinds of questions that students are asking on campus, but also to hear any feedback that you might have.

A Doctrine of Ignorance?

I know it has been a while since I’ve posted, so my apologies.  Things have been pretty busy on campus with the end of the school year approaching and our chapter getting ready to head up to Cedar Campus for Chapter FOCUS Week.  So it has been difficult to be active on the web.

That being said, there is something that I have thinking a lot about in recent weeks.  This issue first cropped up surrounding the release of Rob Bell‘s new book “Love Wins”.  Bell has been a pretty controversial figure in both Christian and non-Christian circles, often because of questions that have arisen regarding his theology and methods of teaching.  So the fact that people started arguing about this book did not surprise me.  What surprised me was how few of those shouting had actually read the book.  In fact, several of my fellow seminarians asked me what I thought about the book.  I told them honestly that I didn’t have one because I had not read it.  The questions kept coming, so I ended up purchasing a copy and reading it on my trip to France back in March.

However, when I returned to campus and tried to engage these fellow students in discussion I was shocked to find that many of them were basing their opinions not on the book, but on the blog posts that had been written about it.  Others had judged the book based on the two minute and fifty-eight second promo video that HarperOne created to market it.  In fact, when I had inquired about the book at our seminary’s bookstore I was told that they would not be carrying it because of what it teaches.  (Nevermind the fact that they carry plenty of copies of Bell’s other works including his Nooma videos as well as his other book, “Velvet Elvis”).

What is so disconcerting about this is not simply the fact that these detractors have chosen willful ignorance over informed engagement about this book, but that this is happening at one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the country.  And we wonder why people call evangelicals narrow-minded?

This doctrine of ignorance worries me on a variety of levels.  On a theological level I am concerned because one of the things that Scripture tells us is that when we are saved through Christ we become one body, brothers and sisters in God’s family.  However, when Christians begin to judge and deride a fellow believer, as some of my classmates have done to Bell, based on second-hand opinions and conjecture they betray the unity of Christ.  They have turned upon a fellow sibling.  While there might be reason to correct some of Bell’s assertions and challenge his point of view, this should always be done out of a sense of humility and love for our brother or sister in Christ.

On an intellectual level I am worried because of how illogical this posture of willful ignorance is.  One of the great criticisms of Christian faith is just how unreasonable and unintelligent it is as a tradition.  By refusing to intelligently engage with those with whom we disagree we simply add more ammunition to this charge.  Furthermore, there is something to be said for being teachable and open to learning new ideas or refining old ones.  When we choose to avoid ideas or arguments that we might disagree with, we close ourselves off to this possibility.  I have found that it is when I am most challenged that I have found true reasons for faith.  In addition, these moments of disagreement have often been the doorway to true evangelism with those who have intellectual problems or objections to faith.

Finally, on a pastoral level, this doctrine of ignorance hobbles the growth of our congregations.  When we model an attitude of narrow-mindedness and fail to engage with the diverse religious and philosophical perspectives that are present in our world we do a disservice to those entrusted to our care.  For those believers in the pews, we teach them that it is acceptable to have blind faith and fail to equip them for the real challenges to belief in God which they encounter beyond the walls of our church buildings.  To the unconvinced we fail to minister to their deepest questions and objections to faith because we have shut the door to open conversation.  We also present a picture of the “mature” Christian as a person who ignores, attacks, or shuts down those with whom he or she disagrees.  Such a picture hardly points to the image of Christ, who was never afraid to engage, relate to, speak with, and even debate those with whom he disagreed.  May we live up to our calling as Christians by embracing challenges with faith, intelligence, and humility, for this brings glory to God.

So what did I think of “Love Wins”?  I’m not going to tell you.  Rather, I would encourage you to go out and read it for yourself.  My hope is that you will engage with it critically, wrestle with it honestly, and walk away with a much deeper and more reflective faith than you had before.  This is what it means to pursue discipleship of the mind and in doing so my hope is that you will overturn the doctrines of ignorance that continue to prevail in our world.

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Tough Questions: Why Isn’t the Bible in the Fiction Section?


Working on a college campus you come across lots of tough questions from students and professors about faith in God.  So, I am beginning a series called “Tough Questions”.

These are just little snapshots of some of the questions that have been raised on campus.  I invite you, the readers, to comment on these.  How might you respond?

So, without further ado, here is tough question number one:

“How can you believe in a story about adam and eve talking to a serpent and eating this magical fruit that makes everything go bad…Why isnt the Bible in the fiction section??”

 

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