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Pluralism, Relativism & Tolerance   Leave a comment

Dip into any semi-serious conversation about Christianity today and you will hear some “buzz” words that unnecessarily intimidate Christians in public discussions as those who dismiss historical Ch…

Source: Pluralism, Relativism & Tolerance

Historical Honesty   2 comments

Christian history has some sad chapters. We might take comfort in the knowledge that all other world religions and secular ideologies have also screwed up in their own course through history, but the fact is … God would not and did not approve of some of Christiandom’s blunders.

Christians started out being persecuted, but when the church hierarchy got sufficient political power, they quickly became persecutors of others and intolerant of dissidents in their own relgion. Christians have sometimes been cruel and arrogant to those who did not agree with them, and have at times corrupted the integrity of their own faith by their misuse of the coercive powers of the state when they had access to them.

The problem with Christianity is that Christians are people and people are bent.

Followers of Christ are called to live with faith and patience, love their enemies, seek the welfare of those who would do them evil, and be salt and light in the world. Jesus and the whole the New Testament encourages the very kind of tolerance that I been discussing recently.

Tolerance does not require that we treat the status quo as sacred, as if we were morally obliged to refrain from trying to change ourselves, others or society. Tolerance does not demand that we never try to persuade someone of the truth of an important idea. It demands that we hold that person in respect in spite of areas of disagreement, and perhaps especially if we would try to persuade them to change. This distinction doesn’t just exist in matters of personal faith, but also ethics or social justice. If freedom of conscience is a substantial reality, each person can best make up his or her mind without unnecessary extrinsic or coercive pressures confusing an already difficult process. The more important one believes the religious differences to be, the more one ought to be committed to safe-guarding freedom of conscience for all in questions of belief.

Pluralism is a permanent part of the human condition. Relativism – especially when it is confused with pluralism and tolerance, is an inherently misleading and unstable doctrine and is ultimately itself intolerant. We must strive for tolerance because it is rooted in a respect for each human being and the significance of others’ choices.

Christians, we stand at an extraordinary time in history. The modern church universal is weak and has lost the position of leadership it once enjoyed. The Christian faith itself is anything but weak. Only the Christian faith has the metaphysical and moral vision to make the world safe for pluralism at its best.

If Christians will but learn that He who is for us is greater than the world that is against us, but that we are only the messengers. We speak God’s words in humility and respect and let the Holy Spirit do the persuading.

Contradictions   Leave a comment

It is a fact of reason that not all positions can be true. If I posit Fact A as true, I cannot (reasonable) accept its exact opposite as being equally true.

Francis Schaeffer formulated this as:

A is not Non-A

Either God exists or He does not.

Understand what this means. If the God of the Bible exists, He created the universe and He owns every heartbeat that keeps you alive. If God exists, it is vitally important that you know Him through a personal relationship with Jesus, because if you do not, you are spending eternity in a place where God is not and since God is the source of all good, that place will be very bad. Christians posit that A is true.

If God doesn’t exist, then none of those things are true. That’s Non-A.

Both cannot be true at the same time and therefore, it matters! My belief in a divine, if wrong, means I’ve lived a happy life and I go into an eternity of … well, that’s up for grabs in Non-A. Nothingness … something other than the Biblical heaven. It doesn’t matter if relativism is correct. I’ve toiled up the mountain on my path and I arrived to find I took the wrong path to the same place everyone else was going anyway.

If the God of the Bible is true, however …

IT MATTERS

Reality in a Post-Christian Nation   2 comments

About 35 years ago, Christians I knew began talking about Christian-based political action beyond just the ballot box. After an entire generation of Evangelical political involvement, with a high level of visibility and influence, there has been little or no improvement in the ethical quality of American political discourse and practice.

There’s no use arguing against that statement. It’s true.  You know it. I know it. The world knows it. The Moral Majority failed. The consequences are seen in less than 5% of the population now being able to change the ancient definition of marriage in the country and pushing for churches to lose their tax-exempt status if pastors even preach those portions of the gospel that pertain to the subject.

What happened?

I don’t think it was a failure of politics! It’s a failure of modern evangelicals to understand what being “in the world, but not of it” means.

Let’s start with a basic understanding here. We do not live in a Christian nation. Our grandparents and those before them lived in a Christian-influenced nation. Increasingly, our generation does not. The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be because reality doesn’t change just because we wish to believe otherwise. So repeat after me –

                “America is a post-Christian nation and it does not matter.”

That’s right. It doesn’t matter. Evangelical Christianity no longer has a substantive role in our government and in many if not most cultural circles we are seen as a negative force in society. And, it doesn’t matter because if God finds it necessary, the rocks and trees will testify of Him in our stead.

God is not diminished because we are.

In fact, historically speaking, God’s people seem much better at the task He has given us when we have little power or official influence in our society. Consider the first three centuries of the Christian churches, the overwhelming opposition the nascent movement operated under and the phenomenal spread of the gospel. Have we experienced anything similar since people stopped trying to kill us for our beliefs? No! I’m not saying I want persecution to rain down on the churches. God forbid! What I am saying is that being the officially sanctioned and government supported religion historically has not made us better Christians.

Although it’s a scary feeling to think your ideas – God’s ideas – are so much sound in a cultural high wind, the fact is this may well be exactly where God wants the Christian churches in America to be in the early 21st century.

The questions we might want to ask ourselves are …

  • why are churches in other countries thriving under persecution while American (and more so, European) churches are shrinking?
  • is our problem a cultural-political one or a spiritual one?
  • is it the message or the methods that’s getting in our way?
  • what can we do to reach our society in an Antioch way in the 21st century?

Posted September 18, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Reality is NOT Subjective   1 comment

America has become a pluralistic society, but it’s important that Christians understand that we don’t actually live in a pluralistic world. Truth and reality are really pretty solid. If you step over the parapet of a 20-story building, gravity will take over and you will die, regardless of what you might wish reality to be. If your gas tank is empty, social acceptance of your right to believe that it is full will not make your car run. Reality is just what it is and there’s no way to change that.

Truth and reality do not adapt to us; we must adapt to them. A four thousand year old tradition does not become truer with time. If it was false to begin with, it is simply a long-standing error. It might be popular, it might be widespread, it might even be adopted by the powerful and thus authoritative, but it is still wrong. Acceptance of its right to exist by a pluralistic society doesn’t make it correct and it will not help those following it when they finally do encounter reality.

You may have heard this differently from different sources. There are some who believe that the world can be divided into “fact” and “faith”. They believe the current culture norm that “fact” is what is perceptible by your senses. This allows them to insist that belief in God is a matter of “faith” and thus subjective. All views of God are equally true because all metaphysical ideas are sequestered in an upper story that man cannot possibly access.

This is what many of us think pluralism reduces us to, but that’s not actually correct. Pluralism rejects social force as a means to suppress divergent opinions and practices. It does not mean we must accept all views as equally right or equally wrong. What I’m describing is “inclusivism”, which rejects the Christian claim that Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. That’s a statement that is either true or not. God either created life on earth or not. Jesus is the only way to salvation or not. These beliefs matter a great deal because truth exists whether we believe it or not. We can stand up for the rights of all groups to be free of social suppression of their beliefs without compromising the Gospel.

Christians living in a pluralistic society where there is no presumption of favor toward our beliefs and practices and even a strong bias against it, are in the best Biblical position possible to show the excellence of the Way of Christ. Consider Elijah when he called the prophets of Baal to the Mount of Carmel. He gave them every opportunity to prove that their way was superior and they failed. When it was finally his turn, he called forth fire from heaven to consume a soaking-wet sacrifice and altar. The “disadvantage” of the water wasn’t a problem for God and, trust me, no one doubted the power of God by the time the flames died down.

Nothing’s changed. Christians still serve the Creator of the Universe who called everything into being with the power of His Word. If God is with us, who can stand against us? Christians should welcome our place in a pluralistic society and recognize it as God’s opportunity to shine a light into darkness.

Posted September 15, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Postmodernism Sets Us Free   2 comments

There was a time (and not that long ago) when American culture was almost universally regarded as based on Christianity. I am not saying that everyone in the country was Christian in the Antioch sense of the word. I seriously doubt if even a wide plurality of Americans have ever been Antioch Christians, which was a spiritual condition that motivated a missionary movement I’m saying that our culture was widely viewed as based on Christian ethics. Americans are not, as a nation, a New Testament Christian nation. However, most American leaders prior to the early 1960s not only accepted that American culture was based on a Christian cultural foundation, but they almost universally firmly agreed that things out to be that way.

Education especially exemplified this understanding. Even in state-run schools, the speeches of university presidents could often have passed for Christian sermons. Chaplains delivered prayers before the student bodies that were noticeably Christian prayers addressed to the Savior-God. Yes, sometimes these prayers were met by some individuals with skepticism, boredom or even resentment, but the cultural prerogative of Christianity was generally accepted.

Wow, have times changed!

The majority of secular universities no longer have a chaplaincy. The few that still do are chaired by men and women who would never mention the name of Jesus Christ in a public prayer, but might work in some Taoism or Islam or invoke “the Goddess”. Christians ideas and motivations have few public expressions these days.

Today, the Christian is often viewed as big, bad bullies who must be punished for past misdeeds. Postmodernism holds an irrational dislike of all things Christian.

There is very little Christians can do about that right now. Pitching fits, manipulating the political process, whining — these behaviors only work against the cause of Christianity in the larger culture. We need to recognize it and be prepared to stand in the midst of that icy-cold stream. It might help if we realized that it’s really not all that bad.

Pluralism teaches that individuals have a right to be who they are, so long as what they are does not cause harm to others. In a pluralistic society, social and/or political force may not be used to suppress the freedom of thought and expression of any citizen, or even the practice that flows from it, insofar as that practice is not morally wrong. It does not mean that everyone can do whatever they want. It does not mean we must agree with the views or adopt the practices of those of other persuasions. It does not mean we must like those views or practices. It does not mean we cannot appropriately express our disagreement or dislike for other viewpoints.

In AD 49, the early Christian Church, not more than 15 years old, gathered to settle their first big question on how to be in the world, but not of the world. The first Christians were all Jews. Even Jesus was a Jew. There were Gentiles who became believers, but most were what were known as God-fearers – Gentiles who had adopted Judaism — and then they became believers and continued as Jewish flavored Christians. Paul and Barnabas and the missionary project out of the church at Antioch changed all that. Now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gentiles were becoming Christians and most of them did not want to be circumcised.

Imagine that! Adults didn’t want to submit to that in order to be “true” Christians. If every guy reading this doesn’t say “Oh, yeah!” I’d be puzzled. It’s a simple procedure for a baby, but it’s not something an adult male wants to go through.

The Jerusalem Council decided that pluralism was a good arrangement for the Christian churches.  Gentiles could become Christians without joining Jewish culture and Jews who become Christians were not required to remain cultural Jews (Scripture doesn’t record that part in Acts, but Paul’s writing in Galatians suggests that was part of the decision). Being a Jew didn’t make one a Christian. We all come to Christ by faith. Our culture has zip to do with that. The Jerusalem decision in a nutshell.

The Christian gospel does not require cultural privilege or even social recognition to flourish. History shows that God’s work is most definitely NOT disadvantaged by persecution or death, so how could it be damaged by a mere philosophy? The God Who holds Christians in His hands will not be diminished by mere human folly.

Modernism taught that Christians should shut up because we are either stupid or delusional if we believe there is any reality outside of what science says there is. We could argue against it, but it was hard to maintain credibility arguing against the seers of the Modern Age. Postmodernism sets us free from that prison. Pluralism in American society means that the Christian has just as much right to be an out-of-the-closet follower of Jesus or a Christian cultural traditionalist as any non-Christian has a right to be what they are. We need to claim that.

Current cultural metanarrative teaches that non-Christians were victims of past Christian domination of the social order. This empowers non-Christians to insist that they may be assertive in ways that Christians cannot. Christians are “fair game” for attacks and abuse that would quickly be branded discriminatory  if directed toward other groups. It’s tempting to feel sorry for ourselves as a group and allow that to become our focus.

Don’t do it!

Scripture teaches that the metanarrative of the 21st century is far from accurate. Jesus treated women with respect. Paul wrote that God didn’t distinguish between racial groups. Human beings acting like the “bent” people that we are didn’t always follow Scripture, but that does not invalidate the teaching. We need to own up to what people did in God’s name and move on to what WE want to do in Jesus’ name.

This doesn’t mean that the world won’t hate us or say wrong things about us. Jesus warned us that those who followed Him would be hated by the world because the world hated Him before it hated us. Why do we act surprised that things aren’t easy now? Weren’t we listening when we read the Gospel of John? Yes, Christians in many venues have legal recourse against discrimination and I am not saying they shouldn’t use it. We live in a pluralistic society, after all, and we are one of the many groups that have a right to exist.

Pluralism secures a social context in which full and free interchange of different views on life and reality can be conducted to the greatest advantage of all. Thin-skinned and narrow-minded people may not enjoy a pluralistic society, but their discomfort is vastly outweighed by the benefits of open and free exchange of information and ideas.

Christians in the 21st century, far from being wrapped and gagged in cultural chains, have a powerful opportunity to speak into our culture with love and respect about the actual foundation of reality … if we will do it.

Posted September 14, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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