To recap the last couple years: After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of 2016, I read the Koran. I was attending a Christian Seminary, and enrolled in a Master’s of Divinity degree. After that shooting I needed to read for myself just what the heck that book said about violence.
Instead of merely seeing the passages which call for violence, I saw something worse. Lies. Lie after lie after lie. But all the lies centered upon one big lie: the lie that Jesus of Nazareth was not the resurrected Jesus the Christ–the very Son of God.
So I blogged about the experience. Several of you were reading along, and one of you even asked, “Well, how should I address these issues with my Muslim friends?” I offered suggestions. But I also admitted that I had yet to know any Muslims myself, so I didn’t have first-hand experience.
Fast forward two years now and I randomly (or not) ended up working at a job with a lot of African immigrants, many who are Muslim.
One man in particular has engaged me in discussion about such things, but the conversations were always brief. Then, one day as we sat down on break, he said, “So you believe in Jesus Christ?” I got ready to finally chat on topic for a few minutes, only to be disappointed when another co-worker appeared and killed that conversation. But I invited my co-worker over after work. He accepted and a few days later he came over.
A- is his name.
The following is a highlight reel. It is intended to show you one example of how conversations can go. Keep in mind that we are co-workers. Not that I would do it much different if we were strangers, but this situation added pressure, I felt, to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would make the next day weird. And the next and the next and the next.
Pete: Oh, man. Thank you so much for coming over. It’s after midnight, and you came. I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Thank you.
A-: I said I’d come. I just had to finish up a few things.
Pete: No worries. Come in, come in. Don’t worry about your shoes. Can I get you some ice cream? I had a dinner party recently and one woman brought the best desserts ever and left them with me, and I was thinking you could help me finish them.
A-: Sure. It would be my pleasure.
Pete: Actually, do you eat ice cream? I had lunch with E- and his wife recently (another Ethiopian couple from work–Christians) and they went with H- and me to ice cream after, but they didn’t really like it. I don’t know if that’s all Ethiopians or just those two.
A-: I would like ice cream. I will eat it.
Pete: Cool. Oh, by the way. Answer me this. Sorry, I’m just so curious. How many white people’s homes have you been in since living here?
A-: (Smiling) Why you ask this?
Pete: I just am curious. I feel like everyone comes to America and then never mingles. How many?
A-: You’re my third.
Pete: Wow. Three? Crazy. We’ve got to do this again. Only three, huh? That’s no good. We’re not all the white devil, you know?
(Skipping ahead to good stuff).
A-: (Pointing at my white board with Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet, Hebrew alef-bet, and Greek alphabet written on it) Why do you study all this stuff?
Pete: Because it’s important to know about the people who wrote the Bible and what kind of life they lived and such.
A-: Well, I want to tell you I really appreciate that you study all this. You know, one of the five pillars is to believe in Holy Bible.
Pete: Hmm. That’s confusing to me. How can you believe in “Holy Bible” if it says that Jesus is the Son of God? And that Yahweh is the name of God? I was under the impression that these were not things that Muhammad wrote.
A-: You know, that is big confusion. We don’t really believe in Muhammad. He is not that important to us.
Pete: (Raised eyebrows in shock)
A-: You know, allah–or god–is so big and mysterious that we cannot know much about him. (Picking up a crumb from the brownie) It’s like we are this teeny-tiny thing. (Dropping it on the kitchen table) And god is everything else. How could the tiny crumb possibly know about everything else?
Pete: That’s what the Bible is. That’s what revelation is. Yahweh, the LORD, has been revealing himself to us through those prophets in the Bible and eventually in Jesus himself. It’s not like we know everything there is to know, but we know enough to know his name.
(Skipping a bit)
A-: I was raised in Adventist missionary school in Ethiopia.
Pete: I remember. You told me.
A-: But I came back to Islam. Have you heard of (some name I can’t remember or pronounce)?
Pete: No. What does he do?
A-: I could show you YouTube video. He used to be Christian, but as he learned more and more he converted to Islam. Can I show you video?
Pete: A-, here’s the thing. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I hate watching YouTube videos. They send them to me all the time. “Pete- watch this.” I refuse. Ha. But if you want me to watch something, I will. But I’ll tell you this. I’ll make this prediction. I’ll try my hand at being a prophet here. The guy in the video is going to set up a straw-man and knock him down, but he is not going to talk about what the Bible says. Your man, these men, will not touch the Gospel. He is going to destroy the straw man, and then say Islam is the truth. It’s his only play. But he will not be destroying what the Bible says. He will not be talking about how Jesus got up on the third day. He will not be talking about how the war is over, how sin is defeated. He will not say anything about Jesus being the son of god.
A-: Holy Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god.
Pete: (Eyebrows raised even higher this time) ((And here, reader, I ask you, what would you say? Keep in mind, I’ve never seen a conversion in my entire life. Never ever. Not once. But I believe I’m prepared to preach the Gospel and to finally get in the game.)) Tell me, what happens next if I go get a Bible and show you that it does?
A-: (Looking at his watch) Ah. It’s getting late. I should be going.
Pete: It’s okay. You don’t have to go. No worries. We’re just talking.
(Some half-hour later)
A-: Well, what about Mary?
Pete: (Simple confused look that grows to frustration) The Bible- Ahhhh, see I’m telling you. You have to read the Bible. You cannot go off of Christians. It doesn’t work like that. The Bible never says to worship Mary or that she is worthy of worship. That’s just a traditional thing that has no biblical foundation. Of course she is special because there is only one mother of Jesus and she was it, but she is not a god. Okay. It’s late. I’m kicking you out. A-, it’s almost two in the morning! Jeez. I have to get some sleep.
A-: Please let me help you clean up. When I am guest I help clean the dishes.
Pete: You really don’t have to. I have a dishwasher here. I can do it.
A-: Please, let me do this.
Pete: Okay, man. If you must. I won’t stop you.
Alright. There you have it. Biggest takeaways for me were:
- He’s been here for years. And only three white people (presumably “regular joe Americans”, whether Christian or not) have invited him into their homes? How’s the Word going to get into his ears if no one talks to him? Where’s the love?
- How many times do you think he’s told someone that “the Bible doesn’t say Jesus is the son of god” and that person has subsequently called him on his baloney? Will you be bold enough when the time comes? Did you notice how I did it without being arrogant? And did you notice that he didn’t get weird. At no time did it get weird or awkward. I was me. He was him. It’s called a conversation. You don’t like fake people. Muslims don’t either. Our job is not to be fake, it is to get the Holy Spirit in the game via the Word.
- Mary?! Mary?! MARY?! Shame on you, Catholics. Shame, shame, shame. Read your Bible. You are feeding evil.
- Did you notice that he used a defense of god that Christians teach each other, that Christians use to answer their children’s questions? I’ve never seen the “crumb defense” but I have heard it as, “Well, we’re 2D and God is 3D…” Did you notice that? Stop it. The Bible says no such thing. At best, you’re wasting time. At worst, you’re participating in evil. Instead of making foolish analogies that ultimately help no one, Preach. The. Word. Speak the Bible into people’s ears. They do not need an argument, they need the Word of God.
1. Somebody once wrote (believed) that only the fool has said in his heart, “There is no Triune god.”
2. If we deny claim 1, we devalue whoever it was that wrote it (believed it) to an inhumane level.
3. A human being is more than flesh, a human being is capable of belief.
4. Therefore, (a) if we admit claim 1 above, we necessarily endow the human who wrote it with their humanity and we realize the Triune god lives.
5. Therefore, (b) the Triune god is worthy. We should glorify the Triune god.
How tolerant are you? I think I’m very tolerant, but I’m pretty sure I would be viewed by most Americans as being very intolerant. Here’s a litmus test for tolerance that I think is worth considering.
Last week we explored Islam and Allah. The biggest take away was that Allah is not the personal name of Islam’s god. Allah is merely the Arabic word for God.
In the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag, there is a line that declares, “One Nation, Under God”.
My tolerance test for you is the following question. Are you tolerant enough to show the refugees that we love and welcome them by changing the pledge to declare, “One Nation, Under Allah”? After all, Allah is just the Arabic word for God.
Or how about when the president closes his national addresses with the phrase, “God Bless America.” Are you tolerant enough to not voice an objection if he were to say, “Allah Bless America”?
Here’s President Obama’s self-absorbed response to Mr. Trump’s self-absorbed bombas-ticary.
Assuming you don’t have 25 minutes to spend on the above video, I’ve done my best to clarify the arguments below.
Mr. Trump is arguing that
A – American leaders need to use the label “Radical Islam” in order to stop terrorism.
B – Implicit to Mr. Trump’s argument is the argument if we don’t label the enemy accurately (know who/what the enemy is) then we cannot possibly defeat the enemy.
C – If we don’t elect Mr. Trump as president, then no one will say “Radical Islam.”
A + B + C =
D – Without using the label “Radical Islam,” we cannot defeat the enemy (whatever the enemy is).
Since B and D are the same, then Mr. Trump is using circular reasoning. All Mr. Trump has actually argued is, “Without me, we cannot defeat the enemy.”
In response, President Obama is arguing that
A – If we use the label “Radical Islam,” we don’t really mean the adjective “radical”. In other words, if we say “Radical Islam,” people only hear “Islam.”
B – Extremists successfully recruit new extremists by telling the lie to young Muslim men that the West believes Islam is the enemy.
C – If the number of extremists grows, we cannot defeat the enemy.
D – If he were to say, “Radical Islam is the enemy,” then he’d be doing the recruiting for the extremists (ISIL/ISIS).
A + B + C + D =
E – If we use the label “Radical Islam,” we cannot defeat the enemy (whatever the enemy is).
Since C and E are the same, then President Obama is likewise using circular reasoning. All President Obama has actually argued is, “Without me, we cannot defeat the enemy.”
In sum, Mr. Trump believes we must use the label “Radical Islam” to defeat the enemy and President Obama believes we must NOT use the label “Radical Islam” to defeat the enemy. But each man clearly believes that without him, the enemy cannot be defeated. Can we agree that besides being self-absorbed and redundant, their argument is depressing?
For a different, encouraging argument, try mine.
I am arguing that,
A – I wanted to fight or I did fight terrorism (Wait. Terrorism? Who are we kidding? We’re at war with Allah) with violence from Sept. 11, 2001 until March 1, 2012.
B – It’s now 2016. 4 years after stepping off the violent path, it is apparent that terrorism (Allah) is still a growing threat.
C – Terrorism (Allah) cannot be defeated by violence because it is an idea.
D – Only ideas can defeat ideas.
E – Due to internal inconsistencies not much different than President Obama and Mr. Trump’s circular reasoning, neither naturalism, nor deism, nor Buddhism, nor scientism, nor atheism, nor Mormonism, nor Tom Cruise-ism, nor patriotism, nor nationalism, nor globalism can defeat terrorism (Allah).
A + B + C + D + E =
F – Christianity’s Triune God, in all of His mystery (tell me again, how was Jesus fully human and fully divine at the same time?), in all of His reality (the concrete resurrection of Jesus as proclaimed by the New Testament writers and its subsequent 2000 year witness of manifest grace) is the only idea that can defeat terrorism (Allah).
In other words, A + B + C + D + E =
F – We can defeat terrorism (Allah). And we can defeat terrorism (Allah) without me! We just need to submit ourselves to the will of Christianity’s Triune God.
In sum, my argument (Christianity’s argument), unlike Mr. Trump and President Obama, is, “Without me, the enemy can be defeated”–emphasis on “the enemy can be defeated” and “without me.” There is hope people. His name is Jesus.
Do you see?
Driving to work yesterday, I heard the radio broadcast use the label “Muslim-American.” Muslim-American? Sorry, but no. Hyphenation works when employed on similar categories in order to be more specific. Moreover, it usually involves the speaker and the listener knowing why one word won’t work. The prime example, of course, is African-American. It’s difficult to track down who coined the term, but my own investigation into the matter has lead me to conclude that it was Malcolm X. Why did Malcolm X begin to use “African-American” as a label? Because he felt like it was rhetorically powerful to remind blacks and whites that blacks did not voluntarily immigrate to the USA. In other words, if you desired to be an American, you’re an American. If you didn’t, let’s tell the truth. (The value of the hyphenation being in its ability to convey truth.)
But Muslim-American? This hyphenation is categorically different and has an agenda based on deception, not truth. If we’re going to bring a person’s religion into the forum (by all means, when it’s appropriate please do), the very nature of their being religious means that for them there is no greater truth than their religion. For example, I am a Christian. This means I am loyal to the triune God. I am loyal to the triune God over and above any loyalties to man-made governments whose rule I find myself under. I am an American surely, but I am not a Christian-American. Do you see? The same for the killer. He was a Muslim. He was loyal to Allah over and above the laws of Florida.
Naturally, if the killer would not have associated himself with Islam during his rampage, we wouldn’t be talking about his religion. I’d put money that we’d be talking about his race or his ethnicity–anything to distance himself from our own reflection–but because we rightly value freedom of religion so highly, we would not tolerate speaking of his religion. However, since he allegedly did mention his religion, it is very appropriate to discuss Islam and violence. It is very appropriate to discuss that contrary to Malcolm X’s truth enhancing label, “African-American,” the label Muslim-American only attempts to hide the truth. Therefore, not only did a Muslim for self-purportedly religious reasons murder Americans, Americans are willfully being untruthful in their reporting of the massacre. The fact that secular authorities do not see how “Muslim-American” is deceptive is the first indication that Allah is not going to submit to secular America.
The second reason why Allah is not going to submit to secular America is in the same vein. I saw someone on the White House lawn holding a sign that read, “Stop Gun Violence and Stop Homophobia.” Stop homophobia? Have you totally lost touch with reality? Who exactly was homophobic during the tragedy? The nightclub? The killer? The patrons? The bartender? The mourning friends and family and surrounding communities and nation?
Homophobia is something limited to suburbia. Homophobia is when parents cover their child’s eyes when two men kiss on the television program they’re watching. Homophobia is when suburban American churches have an unwritten rule that homosexuals are really not welcome, despite Jesus’ call for all humans to repent and submit themselves to the triune God. Mowing down over a hundred people in cold blood is not homophobia! It is evil–pure evil.
To be clear, I was homophobic. And I have never, not once, never have I ever killed anyone. Heck, part of the reason I wanted to work at a strip club is I did not like that I was homophobic and wanted to force myself to get over my fear. Do you see the difference between homophobia and evil? If we accept labeling the killer a ‘homophobe’, we again miss the fact that he was a Muslim. And as we lose sight of the truth, we devalue the atrocity and the worth of the victims’ lives. Furthermore, we devalue our own lives. We miss the fact that his Muslim-ness and his understanding of Allah are at the root of his calculated perpetration of evil upon his fellow humans. If he would have been a Christian, I’d be arguing the same thing. But he wasn’t. It wasn’t homophobia that slaughtered 50 people. It was a Muslim man who apparently was at once delusional and not delusional regarding his ability to help ISIS wage war on the godless (Allah-less), secular West.
Should homophobia be stopped? Absolutely. Is stopping homophobia something that needs our attention today? Absolutely not. Today, it’s time to look at the facts. The deadliest terror attack on American soil was perpetrated by Muslims identifying Islam/Allah as their motivation. The deadliest mass shooting was perpetrated by a Muslim identifying Islam/Allah as his reason.
Even one of America’s favorite blockbuster films, The Matrix, identifies “denial” as the most predictable response we have to a reality that conflicts with our desires. You may desire that gods do not exist. You may desire that America is what we were taught it was as we grew up in the 80s. You may desire “separation of church and state” to mean that church has no value to the state. You may desire religion does not matter. But desiring these things does not manifest them. This (our unwillingness to accept the killer’s religion, not his homophobia, as the reason for his actions), then, is the second indication that Allah won’t submit to secular America. Secular America does not want to believe religion matters. And Muslims know Allah matters.
Christians, after prayer, the next step is to befriend Muslims. Do you know any? I know one. (We stopped talking after we stopped working together.) If you do, then become better friends. The easiest way I can think to do this is simply to share meals. Invite them to your dinner table and get yourself invited to theirs. Additionally, in an effort to meet more Muslims, we need to have “church” functions that appeal to Muslims who are looking to distance themselves from Islam right now. Again, I’d suggest potlucks open to the neighborhood. I’ve seen Muslims in bowling alleys as well. Maybe have a bowling night/potluck combo event. I know it sounds silly to treat them as if they’re different and hard to find, but social-awkwardness hasn’t stopped me in the past, so I’m not going to let it now. (And this is my blog…) We worship the triune God who, in sending Jesus, took the form of one of us so that we might be free from the bondage of sin, and surely Muslims need to be around intentional Christians as much as we need to be around each other.
The only other thing I ask of you is for you to begin to incorporate “triune” as you see I try to do when describing the Christian god. Throughout most of human history, people knew the Israelites (via Yahweh) and Christians (via Jesus) were worshiping another god than theirs. These days, however, non-believers (secular Americans especially), want to lump all gods into one god. This is simply not true. It’s time to clarify the difference. Christians serve the triune God, Muslims serve Allah. If Christians continue to use the ambiguous, impersonal noun “god” to describe the triune God, then we, ourselves, dilute the truth and allow the secular culture to define our reality.
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.”
I’ve got a killer short story in me that is just needing a few more days to ferment. In the meantime, I wanted to share that I finished my semester today.
Walking down memory lane, last semester I was working full-time and had four finals on my last day of the 15 credit hour semester. I think that day felt amazing because of the difficulty of the task. Tonight, I don’t feel as relieved or accomplished or whatever. Partly, I confess, it’s because I am a bit upset with one of my final’s scores. I read so much for my theology survey class. The problem is that I think I would have gotten the same grade on the multiple choice part if I didn’t read anything. It’s frustrating.
But I think the real reason I feel different this semester is that I’ve hit the sweet spot of learning that is at once joyous and terrifying. I’ve hit the spot where I realize how little I know and how much work I have ahead of me in order to get the degree. It’s also the spot where I realize how my life is at a significant crossroads. I started this seminary thing almost as a joke. I’m not laughing anymore, and that scares me.
Tonight, H- and I went to the second to last (15 of 16) Colorado Symphony concert of the season. They played Dvorak’s 9th symphony. One of my professors describes Christianity as glasses. Would you understand what I mean if I said that after two semesters of seminary I have come to see music more clearly? I originally bought the season tickets to force myself to take a break from studying last fall during the insanity. But tonight was something much richer than a break or an escape. I don’t mean something intangible, quite the opposite. I mean that I am starting to see life clearly. The creativity. The fragility. The hope. The despair. The will.
Without God, drowning in Trump, Clinton, netflix, news at 9, work, diapers, dishes, football, email, texting, sexting, fb, tweeting, snapchat, instragram, drudge report, isis, obamacare, processes, nothingness, illusions, spirituality, marijuana, alcohol, and most poignantly, without God, drowning in me seems worthy. Alas, I am not worthy. The triune God, however, is worthy.
Pray; pray that God has mercy on us.
Submitting to the will of Almighty God while living in America is nearly nonsensical.
“Submit,” God says.
“Never!” we answer. “We broke free from all yokes forever when we left England!”
“Submit,” God says.
“No, thank you, Massa. No, thank you, Uncle Tom,” we answer. “We’ve ended slavery.”
Are you still thinking clearly? Or has lizard brain taken over? Because I submit to you here that my study and heavy attempt at Christian humility has recently opened my mind to the value of submission. You might say it has “freed my mind“.
The crux of humility is recognizing that we’re already and always enslaved. It’s not a question of how to escape submission. The real question is, “To whom should we submit?” Think about it like this. Is there ever a time when you’re not an example? Do you see that no matter how you behave, even if you become a recluse in a cave, you’re an example? Like gravity, it is inescapable. Christian humility, demanded by the triune God, bases itself on the fact that you’re enslaved to sin. This is especially relevant to Americans, of which I am one.
You see, I thought I was free. I believed I had freedom. I thought the rest of the planet was in darkness and America was the light of hope to show the way. I thought that science had displaced God. I thought human slavery was over.
Now, it turns out slavery might have just moved to the underground. Now, it turns out science is an inadequate worldview, not just a method of studying life. Now, it turns out the majority world doesn’t really consider America in its decision making rubric and no matter who wins the election, everyone knows she’s a ridiculous example of a person and in no way worthy of emulation.
Moreover, Americans, so-called educated Americans, love living outside of submission to God. That’s because God doesn’t exist, they say. And yet the unifying principle behind the strongest, most terrifying street-gang in the world is a god-based religion called Islam. My trouble with using this fact like some suggest as merely evidence that we need to remove God entirely from life because *clearly* the concept of God is too dangerous, my problem is that I can’t get a read on what’s happening in Europe. Is Islam over-running Europe? By what standard should I (we) measure the facts? Can we concede that Islam is over-running Europe if/when one formerly western country adopts Sharia-law in the coming decades? Stopping the spread of Islam seems to require more than asserting “God doesn’t exist.” Maybe it can be stopped by asking, “Which god is God?”
The reality of current events seems to contradict the idea that American Individualism is worthy of our submission.
“Submit,” says God.
“I don’t know,” we answer. “I think we still have more to lose.”
“Submit,” says God.
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.