March 2009
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  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for March, 2009

    In and Just Like

    Friday, March 27th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    It is very common to hear Christians talk of impacting the world for Christ.  Or to talk of how we are to be in the world but not of the world.  But the latest numbers  from the Barna Group clearly show that the impact is the other way around.  Rather than in but not of, American Christianity is becoming in and just like.

    Given that the government mandated secular worldview is so prevalent in the culture, it is not all that surprising to find that only 34% of Americans believe in absolute moral truth, or that half of Americans believe that the Bible is “accurate in all the principles that it teaches.”  What is disturbing is the inroad such beliefs are making into the church.

    In the survey, “Born Again Christians” were those who said “they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to Heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.”

    While born again Christians who were asked the same question did better than Americans at large, it was not much better.   While half of Americans did not believe the Bible was accurate, 21%  likewise did not believe the Bible to be accurate.  As for the belief in absolute moral truth,  even a majority of born-again Christians, 54%,  no longer accept that.

    The Barna Group’s uses these and four other beliefs, such as Jesus lived a sinless life, to define a Christian world view.  Those who hold all six beliefs are then said to have a Christian world view.   Based on this the survey shows that only 9% of Americans have a Christian world view. Born again Christians do better, but not much.  Only 19% of Born Again Christians could say that they hold all six beliefs.

    In a broader perspective, this decline in belief has been going on for sometime.  It reached a low point in the mid 1990s when only 7% of American held a Biblical world view. The trend reversed somewhat climbing back up to 11% by 2005,  but now is back down to 9%.

    Worse however, are the statistics for the younger generations.  Those in the 18 to 23 year age group, commonly called the Mosaic generation, were virtually completely secularized, as less than one-half of one percent had a biblical world view.

    Now those pushing the secular world view, would undoubtedly say that was because of the superiority of the secular world view and that people are just rejecting the false superstitions of the past.  But then they would say that, wouldn’t they.  Ultimately I do not think they can be blamed, any more than you could blame a prosecutor if you lost a trial where the evidence was on your side, but your defense lawyer never bother to get up to present  your side of the case.  

    I do believe the evidence is on our side.  In some cases very clearly.  In fact, in my classes on critical thinking I would use the rejection of absolute morality as an  example of how people don’t really think through what they believe.  

    I would ask how many in the class believed in absolute moral truth, and would get results similar to those found by Barna.   I would then ask if torturing babies for fun was inherently wrong, or was a matter of opinion where for some it was wrong, but for other it might not be.  With the exception of one student,  all the students in all the classes where I asked this considered torturing babies for fun inherently wrong, and the one who didn’t was not very comfortable with his conclusion but was being honest with his belief that there was no absolute moral truth.

    Thus with one simple question I was able to almost completely turn around people’s thinking on absolute morality.  Granted, winning over the culture will not be quite as easy as this, but on  the other hand it is not the insurmountable problem that some seem to think, nor is everything lost.

    Still the Church is like the defense  attorney with a strong case to make who never presents it. Josh McDowell, in his book The Last Christian Generation, discusses how many young people see church as little more than a place to go with a lot of fun activities, but with little impact on their lives.   This is also seen in the very large number of people who leave the church when they leave home.

    Yet it need not be this way.  The Church not only has the truth, but in many cases the preponderance of the evidence to back it up.   Yet sadly many Christians have the attitude of ‘I already believe’ so they don’t need to learn about things like doctrine or apologetics.  In fact, it is not only quite sad, but very telling, that many Christians do not even know what the word  apologetics means.  Given this, the results from Barna, are really no surprise.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Modern Pharisees?

    Friday, March 20th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    One of the problems that Jesus had with the scribes and the Pharisees is that they create “burdens that are heavy and unbearable and lay them on people’s shoulders.” (Mt 23:4, ISV) It is all too easy to look back and say, “How could they do that?” But as we look back at the history of the Christian church, it is easy to see that the idea of adding additional rules and regulations to what God wants did not die with the Pharisees as Christians have often been as eager to add their own list of additional do’s and don’ts to God’s law. 

    Even the early church struggled with this when it came to the question of whether or not Gentile believers had to follow the Jewish law.  In the 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 we see Paul dealing with this issue when it comes to the early church.  In First Corinthians 8 the issue was whether it was ok to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  While that issue no longer troubles Christians each age seems to have its own set of candidates for inclusion into God’s law. 

    Personally I like Paul’s answer to such questions in Romans 14, “Each of us will given an account of himself to God.  Therefore let’s no longer criticize each other.” (Rom 14:11-13a) Still some are reluctant to let go of their desire to add new rules, and therefore see the second half of verse 13 as a sort of backdoor way of imposing such rules, for Paul goes on to say that, “Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” I realize, they say, that it is technically ok, but you still should not, because it could cause someone to stumble. 

    But this is not an excuse to make a new rules, but rather, an injunction, to be sensitive to those who are weaker in the faith, as Paul goes on to point out in verse 22, “As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God.”

    As with so many things in Christianity, it is a fine line to walk.  On the one hand I want to resist additional rules being placed on people, on the other hand, I don’t want to cause a weaker brother to stumble.

    Our local paper has a weekly feature where they request responses from the faith community on a particular question.  The question they sent out this week is “Does smoking (or drinking) make someone a “bad” person?  What about drinking too much coffee or eating too much ice cream?  At what point does a vice become a sin, or some sort of a moral problem?” This question immediate raised the issues discussed above. 

    For some this is an easy question.  With the exception of ice cream, some would see these as wrong in any amount, and thus a sin.  However at least in terms of Christianity, both coffee and smoking came long after the New Testament, and therefore would seem to fall under what Paul discusses in Romans 14 where each is to make up their own mind on the matter, and not to impose their conclusions on others.  As for drinking alcohol, that was well known in Biblical times, and was accepted.  After all Jesus’ first miracle was to change water into wine, and the context here is pretty clear that this was not grape juice.  Still, it has come to be question by some Christians in the last few centuries, particularly in the United States.

    But most things can be overdone, and that is the case with all the above, including ice cream.  God is not a burdensome killjoy who seeks to deprive us of all earthly pleasures.  Nor does he want us to cause ourselves problems.  Clearly alcohol can be abused, as the Bible also makes clear, but so can ice cream, as in the case of those who are seriously overweight.  The simple rule for these, and most other things, is, if it becomes a problem for you, than it is a problem that should be avoided. 

    What is much more important than these individual issues is that we do not allow such things to cause division within the body of Christ.  This is something to be kept in mind on both sides.  Just as it is wrong for those who believe such thing should be avoided to impose these as new rules for the church, it is likewise wrong for those who believe it is ok to partake to flaunt their liberty.  Unity requires considerations on both sides, our goal being that, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building him up.” (Rom 15:2)

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    The Fate of the Evangelical Movement

    Friday, March 13th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    One of the hot topics of the moment seems to be speculation on the ultimate fate of the evangelical movement. Mark Spenser believes, among other things, that evangelicalism “is going to decline quickly to a smaller, more chastened, more diverse, less influential form” and that “Megachurch evangelicalism will survive on size, not fidelity to the Gospel.”

    As Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today points out this somewhat depends on what is meant by Evangelicalism.  If evangelicalism is seen as a cultural or sociological movement than its ultimate decline is certain.  On the other hand if it is seen as a primarily theological movement than “Evangelicalism as such will no more collapse than will the ubiquity of sin and the longing for salvation.”

    In all this speculation it is important to keep in mind two things.  The first is that change is inevitable.  Even a quick glance at the history of the Church will show that it has undergone a great deal of change over the centuries.  While with the clarity of our current beliefs, it is easy to look back at the ‘errors’ and ‘follies’ of Christians in the past and ask questions such as: how could they believe that?; or how could they do that?  It should be equally sobering to realize that should Christ tarry long enough, there will be Christians in the future who look back on the evangelical movement and ask those very same questions.

    The change comes from a number of factors.  Galli is right when he points out that “Like any movement, religious or not, evangelicalism has become embedded in certain aspects of its culture.” While we are not of this world we are in it, and try as we might, it does affect us and how we look at things. 

    For example, I think there can be little doubt that should Christ tarry, the church is on the cusp of a major and significant change the ramifications of which will be huge, but as yet unknown.  Why?  Very simple: the growth of technology.  If you were to take a Christian from just about any period of Church history and drop them into the average modern church, while there would be a lot of things they found strange, there would be many things they found the same, in particular how our primary connection to the faith community is through the local church.

    I am not predicting that the local church as an institution will cease to exist, though I would not rule it out.  The primary reason for the local church is to give Christians a means of coming together to worship, learn about, and serve the Lord.  Until very recently how else would you do it?  With the advent of radio and TV, it suddenly became possible for people to participate, at least to some extent, in Church services without having to actually go to church.  But the key weakness of radio and TV is that they are passive and one way.  This was a huge weakness.  But it is not like the local church likewise did not have weaknesses.  After all a common meeting point does allow people to fellowship together, but only when they get together, and for most that was only a couple of hours a week.

    Now we have new technologies such as cell phones, instant messaging and the internet .  There are now so many ways of sharing information and staying connected and few if any have any idea how this will affect the church and the way people worship.  There are people who live in other states, to whom I am far closer and have far more contact with than anyone at my church, because church is still a far more a limited style of communication that requires my physical presents. 

    So how will the church change as it comes to embrace these new technologies?  While we do not know all the details a few things are sure.  These emerging technologies will bring a lot of change, a lot of benefits, a lot of challenges, and some real dangers.

    To give just one example, with the current technologies it would be possible to set up a service that allowed your accountability partner to know where you are and to be notified if you went someplace you shouldn’t.  Such information given to a close and trusted friend, one whom you had asked to help you resist the temptations you struggled with could be a tremendous aid and benefit.  However the same information given as a requirement of the church would itself be a huge temptation to abuse and thus a source of real danger.

    While changes is thus inevitable , the second thing to keep in mind is that God is in control.  Again looking at church history we see that the Holy Spirit breathes life into new movements and they grow.  But when they calcify and stagnate, sometimes God brings renewed life, sometime he just starts something new.  Whether evangelicalism will continue to grow or collapse, will ultimately be determined by how responsive evangelicals themselves are to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    Christianity In America?

    Friday, March 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    As I point out in my forthcoming book, Preserving Democracy, one of the things that surprised Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came to what was then the new country of America, was religion. As he wrote in his classic, Democracy in America, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention;” As de Tocqueville noted, it was not just that Christianity played an important role in peoples’ lives, it played a key, though not direct, role in the political life of the country as well.

    “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but nevertheless is must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.”

    In the system of checks and balances set up by our founding fathers one of the checks was religion, not as a part of the government, but as an important force apart from the government. This way it could serve as a checks on government, lest government get too large and itself infringe on liberty. As John Adams put it, “Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for any other.”

    Given this it should be of no surprise that those who push the hardest for the removal of religion from public discourse, also tend to push equally hard for a larger role for government. By definition a larger government means less liberty, but in the upside down world we live in they often cast their attack on, and suppression of, religious belief in the terms of freedom.

    This sort of inverted thinking is once again on display in the Obama administration’s decision to rescind the federal regulation that protects people’s “freedom of conscience.” The regulation prevents health care professionals who are morally opposed to abortions from being forced to participate in them.

    It is interesting that those who so loudly proclaim themselves to be pro-choice are so quick to deny choice to anyone who does not agree with them, and to do so in the name of freedom. The reaction of some supporters of the administration’s actions was that health care professionals “should perform the duty needed to the best of the patients interest or change profession.

    Of course this suits them very well. They would love to get rid of doctors and nurses that point out inconvenient facts, such that the fetus is not just a lump of tissue, but a genetically distinct human that is by any normal definition of life, alive. Or facts such as in the case of some late term abortions a living human does not need to be aborted as it could live on its own. Such facts do put a damper on the party line. Once only those who supported abortion remained, then they could say, “but doctors and nurses don’t have any objection to abortion, why do you?”

    If freedom of conscience is forbidden here, how about other more controversial areas? One state already allows euthanasia. If the supreme court were to suddenly find a right to die in some hitherto unchecked penumbras of the Constitution, would all doctors and nurses be required to kill their patients when they requested it? If not, why not?

    We have seen this principle in other areas. In Massachusetts, the Catholic Charities of Boston was one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies and specialized in finding homes for children who were hard to place. But they were forced to close by the state. Why? Because in the new age of enlightenment, the idea that the best way to raise children was for them to have a father and a mother in a loving committed relationship, could no longer be allowed. This outdated notion has been officially declared to be discrimination against same-sex couples.

    The more these new ideas of rights and freedom are imposed on America, the less free people will become, and the freedom to choose certain professions will be eliminated for Christians of conscience. Medicine is clearly threatened by this change. It is not hard to see that teachers will not be far behind as they will increasingly be forced to push same-sex relationships as an equal option for children. Anything less would be discriminatory.

    Even professions one might not expect will be affected. For example, in New Mexico a Christian photographer found herself before the New Mexico Human Rights Division when she declined to photograph a commitment ceremony for a same sex couple. As a result she facing a possible injunction forbidding her from ever again refusing such a ceremony, in addition to thousands of dollars in legal fees.

    The real danger with so many of the radical secularists is that they don’t just have opinions they express and argue for, they tend to cast everything in terms of rights. As such, to disagree with their opinion is to infringe on some right and is therefore automatically discriminatory. Since it is discriminatory, the power of the state can and should be used to suppress it. Throughout history, people have always been free to do what the ruling power agreed with. Unless we are vigilant, that will be the only freedom we have left in America.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.