Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Ultimate Balance: Resting Faith in Christ & Taking Dutiful Action

Blake's depiction of Jacob's ladder, I have a print of this painting mounted on the wall above the spot where I fell to my knees in my disaster and cried out to Jesus (two years ago)

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works

In life there is often a balance we must seek after, finding good measures of various attitudes and actions to find a happy medium in life.  The struggle to find this difficult balance can best be summed in the shortened version of the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

This is a difficult balance for anyone to maintain in this world.  I've struggled greatly with this dilemma myself.  How much do I rest in God and his plan?  Conversely, how much do I take action and do the necessary foot work?  

These two questions will determine the level of peace I have in my heart.  If I step too far into the side of resting faith in God, my actions and activism begin to drop off and eventually that damages my faith.  If I step too far into the realm of action and attempting change I run the risk of losing my peace in the hopelessness of changing situations outside my control.  

What is the healthy balance?   

We're asking the question of balance.  This is fundamental, but how little it seems to be discussed.  What can I change and what can't I change?  How does peace of mind and calling to action play into the equation of daily life?  

This is a very difficult one for me.  Because I'm very sensitive to this kind of thing.  

When I read a news story about Monsanto pouring millions of dollars into ads to prevent GMO labeling, it just slays me.  It slays me because I know it's so wrong, on so many levels.  When I read about the 20+ lobbyists in the Obama administration, I just want to lay down in a corner and collapse internally.  It's terrible.  And most people just don't know, and they don't care, and they don't want to know.  When I see Christian organizations praising what a great president George W. Bush was, I feel sick to my stomach.  I recall the Iraq war, the Patriot act, the financial industry bailout, and the constant corruption bubbling out of that administration and my spirit just cries out to the Lord: "How can it be?  How can it be this lost?"  

It breaks my heart you see.  The United States, the Christian nation, having been so plundered inside and out, so corrupted in politics, in banking, in media, and in business.  It slays me every time.

Even further, the slanted news reporting the mainstream media news, Fox, CNN, all the rest.  It's scary, how the truth never comes out.  How lies become truth!  Even further, to the hollywood industry, how stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are used to turn the kids who idolize them into drug addicted, sex crazy immoral monsters.  Monsters that will later be wielded against the former Christian majority.  I can hardly handle it day by day.  

And still, even further, before my very eyes, where I work at the shelter, watching people stuck in the same old patterns, same old addictions, they leave, they come back, they get sober, they relapse, it's enough to drive a man completely insane with the existential horror of it all.  This is a very ugly world!  And I haven't even mentioned war, disease, genocide, or world hunger yet.  Wild!

What is peace?  How can we have it?  I'm known to go too far into action, and not far enough into resting trust.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who take too little action in response to their faith in God.  The Bible says such faith is useless (James 2:26).

There are many dualities in this world, and in ourselves, and even in our God:
  • Jesus came full of grace and truth.  
  • God the Father is mercifully forgiving, and a just judge. 
  • The Holy Spirit both comforts us and convicts us.
  • There is a time to love people and show mercy, and another time to explain the truth and give justice.  

What can I change?  If I can change it, then I will champion it as my cause.

What can't I change?  If I can't change it, then I must accept it as it is.

John 16:33 says I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” 

And as it says in Mark 6:31 "And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat."

There is a time to act, and a time to rest.  

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV) "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing"

Do you recall what Jesus said?  An often debated passage.  He said, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).  

Salt and light.  Preservation and hope.  Another interesting statement by Jesus is in Matthew 24:6 when he says "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet."

I find myself challenged by the teachings of Jesus over and over again.  I'm to be a man of good conduct, loving those around me.  But what of the corruption?  The Bible says to expose the deeds of evil (Ephesians 5:11).  So God likes whistle-blowers!  Yet when I see the evil, the wars and rumors of war, do not be surprised.  These things must happen.  And also recall that the end must come, as described in the book of Revelation.  So I should just let evil things happen and trust that it's part of God's plan?  What if Europe and the United States had taken that attitude in 1939 when Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan decided they wanted to conquer the world?  We'd be living under a Nazi government today.  And it could've easily looked that way to Christians in the 1930s.  Hitler would appear to be the anti-Christ, and the time had come for the end.  But that wasn't the case.  So it's difficult to understand the balance between action (James 3:13) and resting faith (Psalm 62:5).

Even more challenging are the words of Paul in Romans when he writes regarding the convening authorities being set up for your good, and to obey them (Romans 13:1-7).  That is one of the most challenging statements in the Bible to me.  Almost every authority figure in my life, since I was very young has not been out to protect me for my own good, but out to harm me for their own desires.  Paul himself suffered greatly at the hands of the convening authorities.  He would've known clearly in his own mind that they are not set up for the good of any Christian, but the good of the rich to the plundering of the poor.  But by that interpretation, the American Revolution was wrong?  That can't be the case, can it?  Were the British convening authorities working for the good of the colonists?  They weren't.  And the colonists rebelled, successfully.

I don't want to float too far from the topic of balance in faith and action, but it's an interesting question.  The point is there is a balance in scripture.  Some might jump to the conclusion that there are outright contradictions in scripture, but that is not the case.  The instructions and principles in scripture are multidimensional, and must be interpreted in the sense of looking at a 3-dimensional image, one side at a time.  While mercy and judgement may seem to be contradiction, they are not.  They are vitally linked.  Multifaceted.  Much like love and justice.  Everybody loves love.  At the same time, everybody loves justice.  They are both good things, but they are quite different.  Everyone wants mercy for themselves, and judgment for those that hurt them.  It's all about balancing the dualities in scripture.  

God, within his divine character has the perfect amount of mercy and the perfect amount of judgement.  He applies them in perfect amounts to fit every situation.  The unrepentant villain receives judgement, the sinner who comes to the cross receives mercy.  It's all contingent on our actions. 

Bearing that in mind, how can we choose resting faith, and also choose action?

James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 

We must sow peace.  For you gen z kids, "sowing" is when you plant a seed in the ground.  That's where most food comes from.  Dirt.  We plant our good deeds in the dirt, and they grow over time into a harvest of righteousness, bringing peace to our hearts.  Blessed are the peacemakers.  

Peace in the storms of life.  Who could hope for such a rare thing?  Most people I see today look half crazy.  Running through life, hurrying along from this to that.  Seems crazy.  Like I woke up in a nightmare or something.  The further I get from the world and it's values, the more I'm disturbed by what it does.  Have you felt the same thing?  I certainly have.  It's come to the point that I find it generally disturbing to just go about my days.  It's all so antithetical to what God would want a society to look like.  I feel so powerless against it.  The media is so powerful.  The companies, the advertisers, the sex industry, all so powerful.  It sucks.  I wish I could flip a switch and make it all ok.  But God is letting this thing play out.  He's letting it get real ugly before Jesus returns.  Why?  I'm not sure really.  I wish it was over today.  I wish the kingdom would come.  I'm ready, my faith in Jesus is here and I know with that faith, I am clean before my maker.  

Life is a balancing act.  In the past I've lived by the misguided motto "All things to excess."  Some people live there lives that way and never find out there is another way.  I've found out.  I've gotta unplug myself from the world, while still remaining in the world, offering the way out to those who could want it.  There are so few that seem to.  Yet there are many.  The remainder of an unbalanced equation.  With God all things are possible.  When the world drives me nuts, I need to step back and realize that God is in charge.  Some things I can change, most of it, I can't change.  So then I will accept them as they are today, as I am today, and rest in the knowledge that I live in the extended grace of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.  

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kenotic Christology: The Example Christ set in Communion with and Reliance upon the Father and Spirit (Academic)


Justin Steckbauer
November 24, 2014


            In the history of theology over the ages, many doctrines have been debated, disputed and fought over.  One area of particular importance to theology is Christology, the study of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.  Christology is to many the most important field of Theology, because it deals with the person at the very center of history, life, and divinity, the blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  At the very heart of Christology is the understanding that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully God.  This doctrine was first formally accepted at the Council of Chalcedon, in the year AD 451 (Boyd, 2009, p. 112).  The question of how Jesus Christ can be fully God and full man has puzzled theologians over the ages.  In present day evangelicalism, the debate has fallen into two broad categories: the classical view and the kenotic view (Boyd, 2009, p. 112).  The Classical view holds that while Jesus Christ walked the earth as the God-man, he carried with him his entire divinity and yet mysteriously also remained entirely human (Boyd, 2009, p. 113).  The Kenotic view holds that Jesus Christ relinquished, or emptied himself of his divine attributes while he walked the Earth, yet of course was still entirely holy and full of grace and truth (Boyd, 2009, p. 113).  The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary calls the interpretation of this theological issue “profoundly difficult” (Douglas & Tenney, 2011, p. 802).  A great deal has been written on the theological issue of the mystery of the Incarnation of the God-man.  Never the less, this essay will attempt to demonstrate that the Kenotic view is the correct understanding of the God-man.  

The Classic View

Philippians 2:5-9 (ESV) says “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In the way Christ lived, he fulfilled his own teaching recorded in Matthew 23:12 (ESV) which states “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Those holding the classical view have pointed to Paul's desire to describe the contrast between Jesus (the second Adam who overcame sin), and the first Adam who yielded to sin (Terry, 1901, p. 293).  Those of the classic view tend to believe that the statement “emptied himself” does not refer to a changing of Christ's divine attributes, but is an allusion to Christ's humbling himself in his life and his death on the cross (Terry, 1901, p. 295).  Those of the classic view hold that their view best explains divine humility (Pardue, 2012, p.271).  The primary debate centers around Philippians chapter two.  The Greek word “kenosis” actually never occurs in the NT, but the cognate verb “kenoo” does occur in Philippians 2:7 (Douglas & Tenney, 2011, p. 802).  The classic view holds to a more figurative interpretation of the Greek word “kenoo” (Douglas & Tenney, 2011, p. 802).    But there are many scriptures that must be taken into account.  The synoptic gospels give theologians the detailed facts on the ministry of Jesus Christ on Earth.  We must examine those gospels to understand the mystery of the God-man. 

Jesus the Man

The important question is: Was Jesus limited in his divine attributes during his time on Earth?  It is recorded in the gospel of Mark that in response to a lack of belief in certain areas Jesus was unable to perform but limited miracles (Mark 6:5).  Jesus also demonstrated an ability to be surprised (Mark 6.6).  Jesus was unable to prevent many of his followers from no longer following him (John 6:66).  A very powerful statement by Jesus Christ himself in Mark 13:32 (ESV) says “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Jesus did not know the time of his return.  He never ceased being God, but he did surrender certain measures of his divine attributes.  The lack of knowledge demonstrated by Jesus in certain cases is a clear indication that some sort of change took place in his nature (Loke, 2012, p. 583).  The limited knowledge of Jesus is perhaps the most important aspect of the kenotic view, because it shows a clear contradiction, one cannot have omniscience and limited knowledge at the same time, it doesn't make sense (Loke, 2012, p. 584).  Atheists have claimed that the incarnation, the paradox of the God-man is incoherent and impossible as described in the classic view (Loke, 2012, p. 584).  In that case, they would be correct.  It is a logical contradiction.  Therefore the Kenotic view provides a model that is not necessarily logically contradictory.  When Jesus came, he came as a man, entirely human, choosing to adopt the role of a servant, despite all of his glory.  As it was recorded in Isaiah 53:2: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus the God

Similar to Karl Barth's view of the God-man, there is no need for Jesus to be considered any less than God while relinquishing or veiling certain divine attributes (McCormack, 2006, p. 248).  Isaiah perceived the coming of the God-man in this way: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  John wrote of Jesus in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  John 1:18 (ESV) states “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”  While Jesus Christ seemed to be limited in his divine abilities during his time on Earth, he also performed many miracles (Matthew 9:2-8, 9:20-22, 9:27-30, 14:15-21, 14:25-27, Mark 2:3-12, Luke 7:12-15, John 11:38-44).  While the miracles were probably done through the power of the Spirit with the guidance of God the Father, none the less, Jesus Christ remained fully God, whether as a human, or crucified, or resurrected and glorified.  


The Kenotic view on the Incarnation can be broken up in to many variants and differing views (Elwell, 2001, p. 651).  It is possible that Jesus lived his human life entirely emptied of divine attributes and simply did miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit within him, through the blessing and guidance of the Father (Douglas & Tenney, 2011, p. 803).  It is also possible that Jesus exercised divine attributes specifically assigned to him by the Father and willingly gave up the rest of his divine attributes (McCormack, 2006, p. 246).  The doctrine that Jesus gave up all of his divine attributes can be considered strong ontological Kenoticism (Loke, 2012, p. 586).  This view is held and defended prominently by Wolfgang Friedrich Gess a German Theologian (Loke, 2012, p. 587).  The position that Jesus relinquished certain divine attributes while retaining others can be considered standard ontological Kenoticism (Loke, 2012, p. 586).  The third position would be that Jesus Christ entirely carried all of his divine attributes but did not exercise them during his earthly ministry, which can be considered Functional Kenoticism (Loke, 2012, p. 586).  The kenotic view began in the writings of Gottfried Thomasius in the 1800s, and was formed into a coherent theology in Germany and England in the late 1800s and early 1900s (Elwell, 2001, p. 651-652).

The Interaction of the Trinity during the Earthly life of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry came primarily for the reason of living a perfect sinless life, and dying on the cross for the sins of mankind (John 12:27).  But it can also be said that Jesus came to set an example of how his followers should live (John 18:37).  If that were not true, he would not have taught, but simply given his life at the appropriate time.  But instead Jesus Christ taught and performed miracles, and before his ascension delivered the Holy Spirit to his followers, commissioning them as missionaries to the world (Acts 1:7-8).  Along those lines of thinking, it is reasonable to believe that Jesus Christ was literally setting the example not only in his words, but also in his actions.  He demonstrated and spoke to his total reliance upon the Father while he was on Earth.  John 5:19 (ESV) says “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”  Since Jesus is God, why would he need to necessarily rely entirely upon the Father?  Jesus was setting a literal example of how believers studying the gospels ought to live.  In the same way perhaps Jesus interacted with the Holy Spirit much as the Holy Spirit uses believers today to continue to carry the message of Christ and perform good works.  Jesus himself did say that even greater works would be done by his disciples than those he did (John 14:12).  Of course Jesus was most certainly referring to his miracles and evangelism work, not his atonement for sins on the cross.    Jesus taught a great deal, and set the example for Christians by his perfect actions.  To fully embrace the act of being a human and setting that example must then include relinquishing certain divine attributes. 
Jesus did many miracles while on Earth.  Did he do those miracles by his own power, by the power of the Father, or by the Holy Spirit?  Did Jesus have the Spirit during his ministry?  Isaiah 11:2 (ESV) says “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”  Isaiah prophesied about the coming of Jesus Christ and the Spirit resting upon him.  In addition John 1:32 (ESV) says “Then John testified, "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him.”  Kenoticism rests upon the relinquishing of divine attributes by Jesus Christ, by choice.  It can be inferred that the God-man relinquished certain divine attributes, and performed his miracles by cooperation with the Holy Spirit, with the blessing and guidance of God the Father. 

Theologians and their Views on Kenoticism

Gottfried Thomasius was the founder of the idea of kenotic theology (Elwell, 2001, p. 651).  He was a Lutheran German theologian who lived from 1802 to 1875 (Elwell, 2001, p. 651).  Charles Gore was another one of the key defenders of the Kenotic view of the incarnation (Poidevin, 2013, p. 214).  Gore took the text from Philippians 2 as necessarily interpreted as an emptying of divine attributes so that Christ would be fully human (Poidevin, 2013, p. 215).  Karl Barth was a classic defender of the position, but he did not even consider his view to be kenotic necessarily (McCormack, 2006, p. 248).  Barth was absolutely set upon expounding the absolute deity of Christ, as God whether on Earth or in heaven (McCormack, 2006, p. 248).  Barth believed that nothing need be subtracted from the God-man for him to take on the role of a servant, and that he willfully veiled his attributes, but nothing was subtracted; a similar position to Functional Kenoticism (McCormack, 2006, p. 248).  The kenotic view of the incarnation is not necessarily an orthodox view, but it is a biblically sound position and does not invalidate the statement of faith made by the council of Chalcedron in 451 AD (McCormack, 2006). 


In conclusion, the wide range of Kenotic views regarding the Incarnation of the God-man provide a powerful theological understanding of the mystery of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.  The dimensions of interaction and humble reliance upon God the Father and God the Spirit, shown by God our Lord Jesus Christ during his time on Earth makes for a dynamic understanding of the mystery of the Trinity.  Jesus Christ is Lord, and indeed lived the perfect life as an example to all future Christians on how they ought to live: in total reliance upon God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, upon the forgiveness found in the cross of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:11).  As the writer of  Hebrews 2:9-17 (ESV) put it: “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”


Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.

Douglas, J. D., and Merrill C. Tenney. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011.

ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. ESV Text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2001.

Evans, C. Stephen. "Exploring Kenotic Theology: The Self Emptying of God." Oxford University Press Xii (2006).

Loke, Andrew. "The Incarnation and Jesus’ Apparent Limitation in Knowledge." New Blackfriars, 2012.

Lutzer, Erwin W. The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.

McCormack, Bruce. "Karl Barth’sChristology as a Resource for a Reformed Version of Kenoticism." International Journal of Systematic Theology 8, no. 3 (2006).

Pardue, Stephen. "Kenosis and ItsDiscontents: Towards an Augustinian Account of Divine Humility." Scottish Journal of Theology, 2012.

Poidevin, Robin. "Kenosis, Necessity and Incarnation." The Heythrop Journal, 2013, 214-27.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian square off on four qualifiers of a Worldview

Discussion and open dialogue are a wonderful aspect of a free society.  To that end, a friend and I have gotten together to address the topic of worldview.  Two worldviews will be examined, the Atheist perspective and the Christian perspective.

What makes up a worldview?  The prompt I suggested was on four central topics, the four qualifiers of a worldview made popular by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher and writer.  

The four areas were:
Origin - How does your worldview explain the origins of humanity?
Meaning - How is meaning described within your worldview?
Morality - What is the moral basis of your worldview? 
Destiny - What is the future of your worldview?

A good friend of mine by the name of Jennifer Sternitzky was kind and gracious enough to step out and explain her worldview by these qualifiers, upon my request.  Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Green Bay, with two degrees in Psychology and English.  Jennifer is a feminist and a well read atheist.  We've been friends for several years.

We decided upon approximately 750 words, one page, to describe the four points of worldview in a concise, direct manner.  Enjoy.

The Atheist Perspective:
Jennifer Sternitzky, University of Green Bay

Origin: I believe in evolution, human and social. I believe humans evolved from apes, and apes evolved from…whatever they evolved from. I don’t pretend to understand everything in science or how evolution works, but I don’t believe there is a God (Christian or otherwise) or in any higher power. I believe we are the product of a series of mutations, enabling the ‘fittest’ to survive, though I do not believe humans are the ultimate beings. I believe we are part of a larger ecosystem and no living creature is above the other, though people certainly act like humans are the dominant creature. I suspect that somewhere along the way we’ll find a way to destroy ourselves—maybe even our planet. If we destroy ourselves, I suspect vegetation and animal life will repopulate the earth; whether humans ever re-emerge again, who knows. 

Meaning: Plenty of people tell me that without God there is no meaning to life, and I disagree. Humanity is special, not because God created us all with a special purpose, but because we didn’t have to be. Through a series of mutations, humans evolved into what we are today, proving that we were better fit to navigate the world than previous humanlike primates. Still others ask if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys. And those people clearly don’t know how evolution works. It happens over millions of years, very slowly, mutating and branching off into new species. Other primates were equally good at surviving and so their species was sustained. The same with humans. But I digress. I believe humanity is special because we are sort of ‘happy accidents’; mortality makes it special too. We’re born with a certain, undesignated, amount of time to live and to create our own meaning. We find what means the most to us and strive to create a life around it. Most humans want to help others in some way—be it art, science, philosophy, psychology, civil service, etc. I believe humanity’s purpose is to look out for each other and to love each other and ensure the species’ survival. In the evolutionary sense at least. We find our own reasons to live and to make our difference in the world. 

Morality: I’ve also been told that without God there can be no morals, or that, as an atheist, I must have no morals. And I again disagree. I believe in love, hope, honor, loyalty, honesty, trust, respect, etc. Those things don’t come from God. They come from within and from human interaction. They are not imposed on us by some invisible spirit. To me, if you need God to tell you what’s wrong or right, and you can’t figure it out on your own, then you may be part of the problem. Also, I find that excessively religious people try to pass off their own opinions of morality as God’s will or God’s word or God speaking through them. It seems as if they’re trying to justify their own hatefulness. Also, basing morality off of an ancient text written by superstitious people who had vastly different values (slavery, women as reproductive beings only, myths about how crops appeared or weather changed, etc) seems absurd, as does picking and choosing the parts we agree with and want to practice. Do we still follow the Malleus Maleficarum? Of course not.  Because that’s of a time when people believed different things, superstitious, irrational things. They condemned things out of fear, because they didn’t understand it. I’m a firm believer in “Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean God did it.” 

Destiny: To be honest, I don’t know that I believe in destiny. It’s a nice thought to believe that everything happens for a reason and we all have some special purpose, but that also defeats the idea of free will. It may be comforting to believe that there’s a special plan for each of us, but it’s illogical and superstitious, and doesn’t allow for people to take responsibility for their own lives.

The Christian Perspective:
Justin Steckbauer, Liberty University

Origin: The question of origin has puzzled man kind for centuries.  How did we get here?  Where did we come from?  How did life come to be?  For the Christian, the action and the process by which life came about, the length of years it took, the exact biological functions that brought about the complex human life form are less important than the first cause.  Micro evolution, small changes in species that provide for adaptation, is beyond dispute.  That is something science can measure and observe.  In fact, I love science.  However, macro evolution seems highly speculative, and the processes by which a puddle of amino acids could become a highly complex life form like a human are not observable.  Given chance, matter, and time, a puddle of amino acids will never, ever become a human being.  It is simply impossible, statistically.  For the atheist, the first cause is a vacuum, an unanswered question: Where did energy come from?  For the Christian, the first cause is a loving architect of the universe, a necessary first cause who over 10,000 years or 7 billion years, crafted the universe into existence.

Meaning:  The question of meaning in Christianity is simple: We are children of the loving biologist, chemist, artist, writer, and architect, the designer of the human soul, who we call Father God.  In that context, every human being has value, incredible value, so much that God would come, Jesus Christ, to offer himself as a path of redemption for his wayward people.  In addition meaning, for the Christian, is a stark reality: The Earth is a very troubled place, and the problem is not outside ourselves, but within ourselves, and the only treatment is the indwelling presence of Jesus.  In the context of meaning, we find a treasure trove in the Bible of meaning, and inherent worth. 

Morality: What is the perfect moral code?  Who had it?  What does each moral code look like when put it into practical application?  For atheism, we see Nazi Germany, with Nietzsche's idea of the superman put into practice.  Genocide.  Again in Russia, Stalin a former seminary student turned atheist, what do we find?  The writing of Karl Marx used for the purpose of subjugation.  Genocide.  And what about the Christian worldview?  The most prosperous countries on planet Earth, in contrast: Europe, and the United States.  Now we see in the 21st century as Europe and the United States drift into post-modernism and naturalism, corruption begins to grow like a cancer.  

The teaching of Jesus Christ is the perfection of morality described in powerfully simple terms: Love God and love others, as you love yourself.  Jesus Christ provides the model for a life of humble service to others, that will always bring about the most peaceable and prosperous paradise, when practiced in truth.

Destiny: What future does an atheist have, after 100 years have passed?  After 1000 years have gone by?  The atheist passes out of existence into the natural and biological cycles of the environment.  What future does the Christian have?  Unending life, in community with a loving God and fellow believers who have chosen to fly in the face of everything the world says, and do it the way God says.  Jesus Christ provides the way, he is the road, a personal savior present, willing to show you the hard truth about yourself, and offer a way of total redemption and a future unimaginably wonderful. 

 Thank you for reading.  An open and respectful dialogue is vital to the ongoing discussions and debates between Christians and atheists as we attempt to navigate and make sense of things in a difficult world.  Respect, love, and mutual admiration can go a long way to healing wounds and bringing otherwise diverse groups into reasonable social harmony.  Take care and God bless.   

Related Posts:
Secular Views vs. Christian Truth
The Power of Love in Western Culture
Outlook for a Revived American Christianity
Questions on Salvation and God 
Processing the Past and Being Restored

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams

There's a little diddy by a band called "Populous with Short Stories" by the name of "The Holy See."  I was thinking about it tonight, listening to the lyrics as I drove home from a meeting.  Beautiful lyrics.  Truly wonderful.  The music I've listened to my whole life has hinted toward spiritual concepts.  The lyrics go: "
By the cross where you hang
Has buried my effigy
I don't think you'd hang for me
In a pond of your blood
Grand as the holy see
Drowns the antiquity
I'm looking for
With every single line you cast
I can't be bothered
I won't be bothered
With all the broken trust that's past
I won't be bothered anymore."

Fascinating.  Very fascinating.  We've lost more than we can imagine, if we can't see it.  No and no again.  I could never be bothered with the message of the cross.  The literal event of the cross, in such stark reality, devastating the antique aphorism I'd always held in my mind.  Such brokenness, I can hardly conceive of it.  It can hardly move me.  That's when one is truly lost.  Unable to perceive!  When one is unmoved by the powerful moments of life, by great sorrows and great joys, then one has truly been lost, and is experiencing soul death.  How many dead souls I see walking the streets.

Another song I was thinking of, again with probing spiritual undertones...  Fascinating.  It's like God was hinting toward me, or I was hinting toward God.  This was all pre-joining the team.  Way back you know, back in the years of confusion.  A song called "Hallelujah" by a band called "The Helio Sequence."  

The second verse of the song, and the final chorus went like this:
Still we could not conceive the call
The midnight fell, we felt the measure fall
And we were feeling down
Some eyes were looking down at us
And waiting pensive, sad, and look
Up to the stars and counting all the suns and all the moons
How sad it was that we could not believe

And everyone who believes
And everyone who believes
And they said,
We all said Hallelujah
We all said Hallelujah
And everyone move around with ease
And everyone fell right to their knees and then,
We all said Hallelujah
We all want answers anyway
We all want answers anyway

It exemplifies a very powerful era of my life.  Very, very powerful.  Reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's college experiences.  Just roaming, no particular direction, losing a job because his sleep schedule was crashing around 5:30 AM and waking up sometime in the PM.  I used to leave the house around 4:00 AM and walk the streets until sunrise, watch the sunrise, then go to bed.  
As Brandon writes in "Hallelujah" he could not quite conceive the call.  That was my experience as well.  I couldn't quite conceive of it.  I couldn't quite connect the dots.  Waiting, pensive, and always watching the stars wondering.  That was one way that I never, ever fell into the camp of outright atheism.  Like C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, wonder is a powerful doorway to the supernatural.  I could not spend so many nights walking, pondering and staring up at the stars and fail to recognize pervasive powers at work beyond the material.  
I couldn't make the leap either though.  As Dr. Ravi Zacharias says, the truth is often surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.  When considering Christianity I immediately pictured the pews.  I pictured the people at Catholic mass shouting "hallelujah!"  I'm sure at least some of them meant it.  But I didn't.  
I reflect on my Catholic upbringing sometimes.  Though I wouldn't call it that really.  As I've often said, I was raised in the practical religion of much of Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers (football).  That was the religion.  Catholic mass and CCD was something more arbitrary.  
But I do recall, very vaguely, one year at CCD, just one, we had this incredible teacher for the Wednesday classes.  She captured my imagination.  She talked about God as if he was really real.  I don't remember a lot of the details.  I was only in about 3rd or 4th grade.  What I do recall is a conversation with my mother.  It was the end of the Catholic programming for that year as far as CCD went.  And my mom had seen me going and actually starting to look forward to going.  But that year was ending.  I said Mom I'm afraid.  I'm afraid because next year we won't have this teacher anymore.  And the other ladies don't explain it like she does.  My mom told me "well honey maybe you'll have another lady next year who really cares too."  But the next year came, and sure enough, it was another lady who didn't seem to really believe it.  
Your heart aches at times.  Aches for moments when possibly maybe all the destruction could've been prevented.  But there isn't such a way, is there?  The past can't be changed.  It's there, and I must make peace with it.  Yet again, yet again, how can I prevent this from happening to future generations?  How can I prevent dead men and women from teaching dead doctrines to my children?  How can I prevent suffering?  That is the vital thought.  
You can create the perfect curriculum, the perfect catechism, the perfect book, or even the perfect form of government. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the person at the desk, and how much they care, and how much they pour into what they're doing.
I'm a sentimental man.  I think about stuff like that.  I love art and creativity.  I love writing, reading, philosophy, music, and discussing issues.  I like integrity, morality, and justice.  Dad has slowly encouraged me to love people as well, and to love mercy.  And even to walk humbly.  Big Dad.  Dad in the sky.  God the Dad.  God the Father.     

The journey is important!  It's super important.  It's of vital importance.  I think of something Carl Jung said, "The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are."  Let me tell, that one is the straight up truth.  How many can say that in this life they've come even close to becoming who they truly are?  So much pain gets in the way.  There are so many things that happen, so many addictions and problems that drive us off course until the true self seems buried forever in compulsion and fear.  

Then of course there is the sin nature upon the heart of every human.  So to project even further from Carl Jung's original statement; How privileged a Christian is, to one day become who they truly are, freed from sin, freed from death, flesh restored, and restored to community with God, Son and Spirit.  That is a rare privilege indeed.

I listened to a great deal of music in my time on the way here.  It was the soundtrack of my life.  In replaying work by Death Cab for Cutie, and Dismemberment Plan, there was a great deal of atheism smuggled in.  There was a great deal of skepticism in those tunes.  

Elliott Smith, Blur, Nick Drake, the Postal Service, Coldplay (I know, shut up), Sonic Youth, Boards of Canada, Radiohead, French Kicks, Filter, Foo Fighters, Thursday, Bon Iver, Deftones, The Walkmen, Spoon, Grizzly Bear, Mew, Clint Mansell, Bear McCreary, Pavement, The Album Leaf, Explosions in the Sky, Stereolab, Fourtet, Travis Morrison, Arcade Fire, Passion Pit, and on and on and on.  All these bands, diverse styles and sounds, all with one common thread: they awoke curious realities within my mind.  They triggered the creaking open of ancient doors, denied and rejected in the naturalism driven modern society that disallows anything that might lead away from consumerism.  I was inexorably drawn by wonder, complexity, and something that might just be.. beyond all of this.  Who could know it?  

I also was unwilling to believe that the truth was simply determined by my personal preference.  What kind of nonsense would that be?  I'd been told that, but it seemed like an extension of the dollar menu society I came from.  No, there had to be concrete truths independent of my own feeble preference.  

It may have started with romantic love, or sex, or lust, the demigod of fashion culture, the miraculous, all powerful, invisible, and all fulfilling sexual relationship.  Some will never go beyond that as their ultimate.  How sad for them!

It's a secret door, very hard for anyone to block out.  It's the secret door of the imagination, the secret door of wonder, of awe, of mystery, and curiosity.  One can battle for and build of brick house of naturalism, like the public school naturalism indoctrination centers.  They can cover the screens with sex, alcohol, depravity, and buy, buy buy.. but they couldn't stop me from reading A Wrinkle in Time.  They couldn't stop me from watching Donnie Darko, or The Fountain.  They couldn't stop me from searching out and finding bands like Radiohead and Mew.  Despite the megaphone, I found myself nestled in a corner reading 1984 by George Orwell.  

The God I understand, he loves to put little cracks in the system, for people like you and I to sneak through, and watch the stars, while the rest ramble on, sex obsessed, unwittingly addicted, and set upon oral pleasure induction at any cost, unending, penultimate.  That is the permanent office of so many, such unrelenting devotion.  Ironically, isn't that promising?  That kind of dedication takes special determination.  And how they love to be determined, don't they?

Sometimes I wonder at the culmination of popular philosophies and worldviews and it seems to be the ultimate unity in diversity of interrelated interdisciplinary architecture all designed and implemented to reject, resist, and run from God and place man upon the throne.  Think about it... post-modernism, whatever I personally relatively believe is true.  New age, I am the deity, and I must realize it.  Evolutionary biology, all is material, there is no need for a god of any kind, the system is closed tight!  Materialism, everything is meaningless, so do whatever you want.  Determinism, everything I do is predetermined, so I am responsible for none of my actions.  And atheism, there is no god so I am accountable for nothing.   And to top it off, what is the one thing that has held back mankind?  Religion.  It all fits so neatly together as the unifying worldview of the amoral selfish child.  It cries of a person desperately seeking to give his poor behavior an all access pass from any measure of shame.  It points to an individual who has deified sexuality, and himself. The arrogance is monumental.

Even in the power of that system, God snuck in.  He showed himself to me in art, music, writing, cinema, and in so many other ways as well.  But I was not able to piece it all together.  It was clear by the end that I could not come to it on my own terms.  I couldn't quite break through the ice.  I carried a Bible around with me everywhere I went.  I read from it constantly.  But I couldn't break through the ice.  It's like I was forever circling the outside.  But I couldn't connect it to my life, and realize that the message wasn't just to be read, but to be invibed and lived.  

Reminds me of the lyrics of a song called "Beach" by Mew:

It is green outside
Where it seems magical
And if nothing works
We'll do nothing
I hope we're on time

And we shouldn't look at the sky
The perilous light
We were not allowed outside
And no one could tell us why

I got worried
With shaky hands
So we said the words that we kept
For worrying times

I was on my way, I swear
But I lost my way somewhere
And the trees were glistening

From the silver trickling water
When the rain returns

We had our suspicions
Thinking what my heart confirmed

It is sweet outside
Where it seems magical
And if nothing works
We'll do nothing

Save yourself tonight
Asleep in the dark
I hope we're on time 

Some of us can feel it, inside.  Like the line from the Matrix movie, "You've known it all your life, that something is wrong with the world.  You don't know what it is, but you can feel, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."  The fallacy was almost perfect.  But Father God, found me there, broken and beaten, trying to find my way out of the interminable labyrinth of confusion in the world, in myself, and in my own guiding light, jaded, and sending me in the wrong direction.  God met me there, entered into my delusions, just where I was, in my writings, in my dreams, in my stories, and revealed himself in a way that I knew it could be no other.  And I also knew that he had revealed himself to me, not because of me, but because of him.  But as long as I sought, he seemed then willing to break into my fantasy and reveal his own reality.  That was the gift of immeasurable value.  I knew then I had not found it, that final truth, but that final truth had found me, and that truth was a person, named Jesus Christ.  He was willing, I was willing, so he saved me from the construct around me, setting me finally, with a cup to my lips, like water in a desert, here is the truth my son, I am the truth, the way, the life, come and follow me.  And so I did.  I had nowhere else to go, and he was willing to start there with me.  That is the immeasurable gift.  That is the wonder, the awe, the magic, the hidden conclusion of reality, that I could always sense and notice along the edges, the glitter at the edge of the storm clouds, but could never grasp into my hand, finally revealed, like through a glass darkly, but later to be revealed in totality, and what a glorious day that will be.  On that day I will know him, the truth incarnate, as well as he knows me.  He leaves the signs and hints along the way, but gives me the option to seek after those things or to go my merry way with the rest of the world.  Seek out the wonder, and seek out the mysterious.  Draw upon the creativity within, and explore the majesty without.  Perhaps you'll find yourself at wits end one day in a field of green in your dreams staring into the eyes of a man who says he is the truth.  

Until then, friend.   

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

Colossians 1:15-17 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  

Related Posts:
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Rescue in the Labyrinth, Darkest Hour
Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
Meaninglessness & the Embodiment of Meaning
The Human Hunger for Two Fundamentals: Love and Truth
Objective Truth on a Spiritual Battlefield
Good News in Untenable Circumstances
The Pursuit of God
The Entrenched vs. the Minimized: Five Paradigms of Western Society