Last week I found myself in a fairly odd conversation with a nonChristian friend. For good reason, he has been hired to advise preachers how to keep Christians in church. Naturally, this is something we seminarians talk about in class all the time. I say naturally to both illustrate that the seminary is fully aware of the reality that many, many “Christians” are leaving their churches, and also to own up to the interrelated facts that most seminary students are hoping for a professional career in ministry after graduation and that they see that the future isn’t exactly promising.
Church attendance is clearly down in America; that’s just a fact. My problem with this is that my conversations with nonChristians have led me to believe that I think they are rejecting Christianity for invalid reasons. These reasons stem from simple ignorance about the purpose of church attendance all the way to people claiming that they are so educated, so informed, so wise that they can see all the holes in church and Christianity.
As a white American, as a firm believer that Christianity is the only religion that is true, and as a seminary student, I am most concerned with your soul. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re white and not exactly impoverished. Chances are you’re not a Christian. Chances are you used to attend church. And chances are you stopped believing for weak reasons. Spending eternity in hell because you didn’t bother to investigate why The Da Vinci Code is fiction, or because you can’t see how evolution and Genesis aren’t at odds is unconscionable to me.
Bluntly, I am most concerned with heaven and hell. The Bible makes it clear that hell is a reality. Some people are going to end up there. My goal is to ensure that no one is surprised upon their arrival. So what follows is my best attempt to give you as many valid reasons to spend eternity in hell as I have developed over the last two semesters in a Masters of Divinity curriculum. I can only think of two so far. I’m sure I’ll share more as I discover them.
First: You are not a sinner. Hear me clearly. I am not saying that a valid reason to reject Christianity is that you do not believe in the Christian doctrine of “sin.” That would merely be circular reasoning. However, I am saying that once you understand the Christian doctrine of “sin,” if you believe you are not a sinner, then you have no reason to convert. So don’t.
Second: You serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God. Again, hear me clearly. When surveying some Roman Catholic theology, I came across the idea that it seems to be impossible to believe that Jesus of Nazareth concretely rose from the dead after his crucifixion and then not convert to Christianity. Put another way, I recently wrote to a friend, “I am not expecting you to convert, I am asking you to admit that the historical record demonstrates that Christianity began because Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead.” (I wrote this because I do agree with my Catholic brother and do want my friend to convert).
All this to express that if I was asked to figure out a way to prove the Catholic theologian’s assessment that 100%-of-people-who-believe-the-resurrection-occurred-are-Christians is wrong, the only idea that I can come up with is the following. If a person believes that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, but that the triune God which this event reveals is actually not the most powerful God, then don’t serve the triune God. Again, if you serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God, there is no reason to convert. So don’t.
I left Christianity because of misinformation and misunderstanding. I also left because white suburbanites drive me crazy. These days I’m better informed and white suburbanites still drive me crazy.
If you left because of white suburbanites, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because no one could or would answer your questions, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt God still exists, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt the triune God is powerful enough to forgive you, it’s time to reconsider.
Maybe all of this is simply the result of spending a lot of time on Psalms 26 and 27 recently. So be it. But in Psalm 26 we discover God has unfailing love and that God is faithful. The triune God does not break his promise or his character. And Psalm 27 tells us, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
Ever since working at the strip club, I’ve been really struggling with the idea of freedom. For countless reasons related to the nature of the adult industry I began employment there assuming that it exemplified freedom. As a concrete example of this supposed freedom I’ll share with you the following conversation I had with various other men after I became a manager.
“Wait, say that again, you cut out.”
“Sorry. Okay. I was saying that as a manager you’re the one who auditions the strippers. I had never considered that that would be a part of the job.”
“So how do you audition them?”
“Well, they just get up on stage and do their thing and then you tell them yes or no.”
“That doesn’t sound bad.”
“It’s actually just bizarre. The way the whole society is so litigation happy actually affects the way I have to turn them down. I can’t just say “no”. I have to give a reason.”
“Yeah. Like I have to say, ‘No, because you’re too soft in the middle, not attractive in the face’ or some other true but horrible thing.”
“You’re telling me besides getting to be around naked women all day, you get to tell people the truth? I have to work with people I don’t like and am pretty much unable to tell them the truth all day long if I want to keep my job.”
“Ha. I never thought of it like that. But yeah, I guess it’s nice to not have to lie.”
The question you must ask yourself, the question I had to ask myself after time, is, “Who is more free?” Was it me as the truth-telling strip club manager or my buddies in their seemingly deceit-requiring jobs?
Fast forward to now. I’m finishing up my second semester at an Evangelical Christian seminary that is being funded by the marvelous privilege known as the post 9/11 GI Bill. Over the last seven months I have read enough and experienced enough to pronounce to you here that the Christian claims and beliefs are more real than even the feel of these keys on my fingers. I proclaim this reality with the understanding that it is precisely through honestly admitting the facts of life as being real (that I’m typing this into the internet, or that H- really is in another city with her grandparents because her school has a ridiculously long two-week spring break, or that I feel longing for H-) that allows me to give assent to there being an actual transcendent, though personal, God of the time-space universe.
On the other hand, an acquaintance of mine (possibly many of you) won’t convert because he says modern science has confirmed through quantum entanglement that the laptop isn’t there. We’re not here. The conversation isn’t happening. Words are the scissors that cut through the oneness (nothingness) that is God, he says.
Who is more free? This acquaintance of mine or me?
As I began to reengage Christianity aggressively a little over a year ago, I had the question, “What are we even talking about? What would it mean for me to be a Christian or live a Christian life?” Here’s an example and then I’ll stop for today.
I served as a pilot in the Air Force for eight years. (Hence my Captain-ness.) During that service, I actively took part in combat operations in Iraq (Babylon). I took part in these operations in Iraq because that’s where you sent me. What should I think of this? Should I take pride in my service as most of you think I should? Or maybe I should give in to the remorse I feel over the fact that it is now without a doubt that the men over there who are plotting to attack the West daily, are doing so not because they are freely choosing to, but because I kidnapped or killed one of their buddies or brothers (or at this point dads, really).
And where is God in my war-fighting past? Since I did in fact serve and since part of orthodox Christian doctrine believes God is sovereign, does that mean God wanted me to serve and continue the bloodshed?
Here’s where I come down on freedom. Instead of believing that I have no choice in the matter (which is what those of you who think that modern science tests and approves worldviews categorically believe), I am going to admit that I choose what to believe. Further, I submit that my choice, the option I have chosen, demonstrates the nature of freedom itself. My choice is Christianity. My choice is to repent, to turn, from my inadequate beliefs and their resultant actions. My choice is to submit to the will of God as revealed in the sixty-six books of the Bible. My choice is to relentlessly insist that you–the reader–are a special being created in God’s image and likeness and crowned with glory and honor. My choice is to keep God in all my thoughts as I forge through the journey ahead. My choice is share my life, highs and lows, with you peacefully and truthfully because I want you to consider precisely what it means to exercise freedom and whether it’s true that Christianity, through the resurrection of the god-man Jesus Christ, is the only worldview that offers mankind the ability to be free.
In the end, it seems God won’t allow me to stop fighting for your freedom. From now on, however, I won’t force you to submit at gunpoint. You’ll have to choose to accept freedom as the gift that it is. For your sake and for mine, choose wisely.
So…yeah…about life. I have an assignment involving interviewing a non-believer (non-christian, heathen, pagan, atheist, nihilist, child of wrath etc.) about their worldview. I have a few local friends in mind, but I can’t get an episode of The Dog Whisperer out of my head. Rather than the normal format of Caesar showing up to people’s homes containing a problem-dog squatter, the episode was about Caesar going to breeders to pick out dogs upon which he would demonstrate the universality of his training method. Long story short, he surprised audiences when he picked the most docile puppies. His choices were surprising because audiences believed that the greatest evidence of his method would be the greatest turn-around in dog behavior. But Caesar, being the Dog Whisperer, knew the score and saw the opportunity to teach a greater lesson, I think.
So here, I would like to use Caesar’s thinking for this paper. Are you considering Christianity and repentance? Maybe you’ve feel like repenting but aren’t convinced how Christianity’s truth claims hold up in the intellectual world? Let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see about letting God transform your life.
I recently responded to a friend’s seemingly angry comment to my favorable views of Christianity by suggesting she calm down. She did. Then she asked that I watch a presentation (that you can find here) in which a speaker essentially claims that my asking this friend to calm down was an example of me unwittingly antagonizing the social change movement known as atheism. News to me.
The presentation, by a woman named Greta Christina, is very generalized and therefore incapable of doing much more than rabble rousing. However, I would like to address one topic that I find fascinating. Here’s her claim:
“I get angry when believers say that the entire unimaginable hugeness of the universe was made entirely for the human race, [whereas] atheists by contrast say that humanity is this infinitesimal eye-blink in the vastness of time and space. And then religious believers accuse atheists of being arrogant.”
As I see it, we’re all guessing. We’re all looking at the data and drawing conclusions. More than that there are two levels at play here that she doesn’t seem to recognize. One level is the idea. The other is the proponent of the idea. If I expound the believers’ idea, I can also humbly admit that it’s just my best guess. No different than an atheist can admit that they are not certain. However, when the atheist or believer declares that for certain they are right, there is naturally, in both cases, an additional off-putting arrogance. And I am no more a fan of religious zealots who prematurely end the dialogue with claims of certainty than I am of atheists who do so. But in my experience, including this woman, while believers can be annoying in their certitude, atheists rue the day when it comes to arrogance. It’s inherent to their argument, the argument that goes something like,
“There are objective, scientific facts to be known. I know them. As facts are synonymous with truth, I know the truth. Moreover if you disagree with me, you’re disagreeing with the truth and consequently you are wrong. (And stupid).”
Does anyone remember the end of The Matrix Revolutions? (That’s the name of number three). The machines are trying to once and for all defeat humanity. Their agent, Agent Smith, asks our agent, Neo, who won’t stop fighting, “Why? Why, why do you persist?” Neo’s answer: “Because I choose to.” Smith’s question embodies the same argument as the atheist’s, just more eloquently. And it is arrogant. As if life is a computation to be solved and afterwards things will be normal.
Is it an arrogant idea that the unimaginable universe was created for little ol’ me? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like it. It’s just my freely chosen conclusion–as of today–after studying the historical record and living among you for thirty-three years. Is it an arrogant idea that an infinitesimal eye-blink or even a very numerous group of them have accurately and finally recognized a system of knowledge that answers, “Why?” or “What for?” in a way that demands unquestioning allegiance? Yes. Yes, I’m afraid it is.