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.
I feel sheepish. I think I learned “sheepish” from Joseph Heller in Catch-22. Anyway, through an unexpected coordination of similar lessons in my Koine Greek class and my Christian Apologetics class, I was introduced to text criticism last week.
Text criticism is the term for analyzing all things written and copied by hand prior to the invention of the printing press–such as the New Testament. Have you ever heard or thought about this? It’s kind of fascinating if you take the time to dig into it a bit. The reason I feel sheepish after learning about text criticism is because I’m a sucker who fell for the theory that the recently discovered hidden gospels/epistles had something to contribute to (possibly were even able to refute) orthodox Christianity’s claims that God created the universe, Adam and Eve sinned, and Jesus Christ died on the cross and on the third day rose from the grave thereby offering forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life to all comers.
Long story short, I have a friend at work that is a conspiracy theorist. I know, I know. Many of you think Christians are simply conspiracy theorists. But that’s not true. Here’s why. This man is in his 50s, is divorced, and he believes the Illuminati are running the world. He believes that they wrote the Bible and are interested in having the Christians and Muslims kill each other off, after which the Illuminati, themselves, will finally begin overt rule. He shows me websites and proudly reads off lists of unremarkable names as if he’s reading scripture from a pulpit. The other day after a song came on the radio, he began espousing how there is some psychological training facility in England which is funded by the Rockefellers (an Illuminati family) that trains bands to wage psychological warfare on America, bands like the Beatles. I pointed out to him that the wikipedia entry had a paragraph that began, “Conspiracy theorists believe…” about the facility. It had no effect. The reason I bring him up is to illustrate specifically what a conspiracy theorist is. He’s the definition of a conspiracy theorist. They are people who believe profoundly fascinating, yet ultimately baseless theories founded upon theoretical evidence, not empirical evidence.
What about Christianity? The recent archaeological discoveries of non-canonical “hidden” gospels/epistles seem to suggest/confirm the theories that orthodox Christianity is the product of plotting conspirators manipulating the historical record in order to advance their agendas.
Books such as the “gospel of Thomas” capture so much History Channel attention that even Christians themselves need be given some clear guidance about these books and their claims.
Specifically, there is a theory that argues that the church fathers adopted the New Testament canon for their own secret (or apparently not so secret) reasons. The trouble with this theory is that none of these recently discovered hidden gospels were even brought to the church father’s attention for consideration. Put inversely, the church fathers (early Christian leaders) did not consider the “gospel of Thomas” for inclusion in the 27 book New Testament Canon. We know this because we have empirical evidence of the their decisions, which books they did consider and reject, and their reasoning that led to their decisions.
Therefore, it is academically irresponsible and I’d go so far as to say unthinkable to discard the New Testament and its 5300 plus fragments/copies that are nearly perfect matches of each other on the basis of a few fragments of other writings. Does that make sense? It’s simple math. If you have 5300 pieces of evidence for one conspiracy, and 20 pieces of evidence for a competing conspiracy, and no evidence (leaving only a theory) of a conspiracy to ensure these numbers vary so greatly, then in order to favor the 20 pieces of evidence over the 5300 pieces, you must believe in a conspiracy theory, not a conspiracy based on empirical fact. Because the fact is there are no empirical facts that support the theory that early Christians, beginning with the apostles, manipulated the truth. Instead, there is only a plethora of empirical data that supports that early Christians, beginning with the eye-witnesses to Jesus Christ’s resurrection, believed a conspiracy–that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God.
So you have to decide. Do you want to believe/create theories about life on planet earth as conspiracy theorists do, or do you want to examine the empirical facts of recorded human history as conspiracy empiricists–Christians–do?
If you want any empirical books about my claims, comment below or email me.
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 email@example.com and we’ll see about letting God transform your life.