Sunday, March 13, 2011

Learning to Live

I received a mailer yesterday from a local church announcing evangelistic meetings. I'm sure they mean well... Their mailer went something like this:

You are a sinner- Romans 3:23 says "All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God."
Sin leads to death - Romans 6:23 says "The wages of sin is death..."
You need a savior  - The rest of Romans 6:23 "But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Christ died for you - Romans 5:28 says "God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!"
 Believe upon Jesus and you too can be saved - Romans 10:17 says "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord  will be saved!"
The above is called the Romans road and is a common evangelism technique. Often this approach will go on to give a formulaic prayer that the person can say in order to get saved.

I'm a Christ follower. I believe in salvation. But I have some serious problems with the above message. So it makes sense that I might quote from an atheist right? :-)

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."- Christopher Hitchens.

And of course Carl Sagan...

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I would love to reply to such an approach as so:

"Whoever goes aright, for his own soul he goes aright; and whoever goes astray, to his own detriment he goes astray. And no bearer of a burden bears another's burden..." (Koran 53:38)
"Mohammad... is the messenger of God and the Khatam [seal, closure, end, or last] of the prophets..." (Koran 33:40)
"The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than Allah's apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary; a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His apostles and do not say: 'Three.' ...Allah is but one God...." (Koran 4:171)
...Allah forbid that He should have a son." (Koran 4:171)
 Those who "believe not in Allah and His Messenger, He has prepared, for those who reject Allah, a Blazing Fire!" (Koran 48:13)

*See for more information.

I am not a Muslim. But I would hope such a reply would garner this response from the well-intended Christian. "But the Koran is just a book and it is not the Word of God." I would hope that this well meaning Christian would see the folly of simply throwing out quotes from a religious text and expecting the reader/listener to accept their authority without reason.

I am a Christian. My faith starts with Christ and the evidence for who He is in the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You can say those books aren't inspired by God, but even if you do, you can't say they are the products of some human conspiracy, forgeries or collective delusion, given the historical evidence. What are you left to say about these books and their claims? How else would you explain four independent witnesses of Christ's life and ministry?

I also believe in Christ because I have found that when I obey His teachings, it benefits the Spiritual health of my life. I believe it is actually easier for man to measure health than to discern truth.

" is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health." - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, pg 11
And yes, I DO believe in the discernment of truth... But it is easier for me to say that following Christ will bring one blessing than it is for me to say that following Christ is true even though I believe in both and can make a case for both...

Notice how this proselytizing church focuses on "fire insurance". One quote I saw from them made this extraordinary claim:

You can know the truth about eternity!

What an extraordinary claim. Does it not make sense that when Christ taught that probably His first words in His first sermon were probably the most important ones?

Christ's "inaugural speech" is found in Luke 4:18-19:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I don't see anything explicitly about eternity in His statement. Christ is quoting from Isaiah 61. He establishes His authority, then uses that authority to proclaim the good news. The content of that good news is to set people free and to proclaim the "year of the Lord's favor."

The sermon on the mount is generally believed to be Christ's first public sermon. If you read Matthew 5-6, Christ's emphasis, is on blessing (spiritual health). Here is just an excerpt:

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God. "
Notice that Christ doesn't focus on behavior but rather attitude and mindset. He also doesn't focus on escape from hell and having eternal assurance of a heavenly afterlife. I believe in heaven and hell but it is very interesting how Christ doesn't simply reduce the good news down to the afterlife. Notice the FOCUS of His message.

Instead Christ capitalizes on our innate, often unspoken assumptions of "What is in this for me?" He leverages this human predisposition by presenting the good news in a transactional framework.

There are extremes found in reductionism. Christ's message should not be reduced down to simply "You can be blessed if you become a Christian" (the prosperity Gospel). But it should also not be reduced to "You can have a security blanket that helps you deal with death".

I appreciate the evangelistic church that I described because they have a heart for souls. I lament the fact that they have reduced the good news down to something that teaches us how to die but does not teach us how to live.

I am not ashamed of Christ but sometimes ashamed of other Christians. Dear reader, if you are not a Christ follower, I pray that you look at Him and His teachings DESPITE what you might see and hear sometimes from those of us who try to to follow Him. As a favorite preacher of mine, Steve Brown says, "We are just beggars showing people where we have found bread."

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