Jesus Yes Church No

People have always been drawn to Jesus more than they have to whatever form established Christian convention takes. Whether the “tax collectors and sinners” of the 1st century or the hippy “Jesus-people” of the 1960’s, Jesus has always been considered more desirable or attractive than the Church supposedly filled with his followers. Now pontificate all you want about this being a false dichotomy, there is an important lesson to learn.

Tim Keller in The Prodigal God explains:

Jesus’s [sic] teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can mean only one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to [tax collectors and sinners], they must be more full of [pharisees and teachers of the law] than we’d like to think.

Ouch!

Why Jesus Only

When we met for the first “Grace at Night” event on 5:00pm February 28th we discussed the question of “Why Jesus?”

i.e. Why do Christians insist that Jesus is the only way to God? Isn’t that a bit eXtreme?
We very briefly talked about some of the objections made to this idea and provided some food for thought in response.

1. All religions are the same and teach the same thing
On a very superficial level this might appear to be the case. Rather than being an objection to Christianity it is a dismissal and refusal to consider and discuss the claims of Christ. No one, thinking seriously, is going to assert that suicide cults or groups that sexually molest children are equivalent to nominal Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or any other main stream religion today. They are vastly different in their beliefs and practices. However even for those religions that do have some commonality there are still huge differences. Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic (believe in and worship one supreme God). Yet they have vastly different and contradicting views about God’s character, attributes and form. Christians understand that Jesus was in fact God born in flesh and that he died in our place. Islam does not accept that God could assume human form, let alone, die physically. If we look further afield, Buddhism does not even recognize the existence of a God, personal or otherwise. So Religions are not the same nor are they teaching the same thing.

2. Each religion sees part of the spiritual truth, but no-one can see the whole truth
This is an appeal to a well know anecdotal account of the Wise King, Four Blind men & the Elephant – However it misses the undeniable logic that understanding the parable requires an omniscient perspective. How else could you know that the blind men only experienced part of the elephant unless you are in a position where you claim you can see all it. It sounds like a protest that spiritual truth is beyond our ability to grasp. Yet, using this logic, that becomes arrogance. What is the superior vantage point that you alone posses to see the inadequacies of everyone else? The only way you can insist everyone has a part of the truth is if you have all of it or are in a position superior to everyone else.

3. There is no such thing as Universal truth
There are conditions and dependencies in where we live and how we’re raised that influence our beliefs. The argument goes that because we are all to a certain extent affected by our history and geography we can’t claim to compare or judge against others in differing circumstances with opposing beliefs. In other words, Truth is relative. But, if you don’t draw a distinction, relativism itself is relative and therefore not applicable – which leads to nonsense. All of us make a decision about what affirmations about God, human nature and spiritual reality are true and what are false and we base our life on that decision. You cannot say, no-one is able to objectively determine what beliefs are right and wrong unless you also admit that of your own. We all make truth claims that are exclusive and we all compare them to others and judge against their validity.

So where does this leave Jesus and Christianity?
As Tim Keller notes in “The Reason for God“:

A Christian has the strongest possible resource for practicing humble, sacrificial, generous peace-making. At the center of our view of reality is a man who died for his enemies and paid the price for their forgiveness. Genuine reflection upon that leads to a vastly different way of dealing with those who are different. As and when you follow Jesus you are not going to act in violence and oppression towards those that oppose you. Now, many calling themselves Christian have done just that. But their inconsistency does not undermine that the strength of Christianity’s core beliefs is a powerful motivation for peace-making.

The central problem of man kind and Why Jesus deals with it
Christians accept the Bible’s diagnosis that our main problem is sin. Other religions agree with that – yet that does not compel them to Jesus. Why not use another religion or my own ideas about God to address the problem?

The difference is subtle. All religions (and so-called non-religions) have the tenent that their leader/teacher/guru/guide/etc shows them the way of salvation. Keeping commands, following rituals, absolution, mental ascension etc.
Whereas in Christianity, Jesus IS the way of salvation.

Religion / irreligion both teach the way of salvation is self-improvement. What that looks like and how it is achieved differs from group to group – but that is the essence of it. Despite all your attempts at personal morality, keeping the rules, recycling your waste, changing your light bulbs, reducing your carbon footprint, donating a fortune to charity – you are relying on your efforts to be good enough and to outweigh anything you might have done wrong.

The inevitable result is pride and arrogance towards those who don’t follow the same set of rules and you chose to separate yourself from God’s offer of grace in Jesus.

The attacks and riots recently against Christians in India and Malaysia or the attacks and riots in Denmark recently when a newspaper cartoonist satirized Mohammad typify the extreme of a prejudice against those who don’t follow the same rules. Just like the criticism and attacks against Christianity in Western media either in the guise of comedy or current affairs – what they say is “If you don’t agree with me, you are stupid“.

Regardless, Jesus offers Himself as our saviour – that’s what Christianity is all about. Stop trying to save yourself from yourself and put your faith in Jesus alone. To do anything else will damn you, because your sin, instead of being dealt with, has increased and become worse. God wants, through Jesus, to exchange your sin for His life.

That is why we have statements like this in the Bible:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36

If you exclude salvation through Jesus – you damn yourself, because you and I cannot possibly attain God’s perfection.

Keller refers to Victor Hugo’s ‘Le Miserables’. Jean Valjean steals silver from a Bishop, is arrested and brought back. The Bishop gives him even more silver and releases him from arrest. That pardon transformed Valjean from self-pity and bitterness to graciousness and generosity. Javert, the policeman is the rule keeping moralist intent on hunting down Valjean. Through the twists of the story, it is Javert who falls into Valjean’s hands. Instead of killing him, he lets him go. Javert can’t deal with this change in Valjean – it doesn’t fit his picture of what a criminal is like and so he kills himself.

God gives us his grace through Jesus and IF we receive it, it so transforms us that we are unrecognisable. The religionist will freak out in despair, because this contradicts their rules. Religion is all about – do this, don’t do that and sooner or later you will reach heaven. Jesus says, you don’t need to try to get yourself to heaven, I have come down from heaven to give you life.

Christians insist that Jesus is the only way to God, because no amount of belief or religious practices will ever deal with the problem of our sin and pride. Jesus alone, is the way of our release and rescue.

The Christian who tries to live his life otherwise is living a lie. Christians need Jesus just a much as everyone else. Paul tells us that through Jesus we live and unlike Jean Valjean we don’t receive a bag of silver, we receive forgiveness and new life.

the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me – Gal 2:20

Good God Bad God

You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Psalm 119:68 (NIV)

We are familiar with the scenario on TV and in the movies. The suspect is brought in for interrogation. They are placed in the interview room and then the role play begins. In walks “Bad Cop”. He’s aggressive, anti-social, might be violent (depending on the rating of the show) assuming the suspect is guilty, it’s just a matter of getting him to admit it. Then, just as “Bad Cop” is up in the suspect’s face screaming bile and spittle, in walks “Good Cop”. “Good Cop” adopts an advocate stance, tells “Bad Cop” to calm down and not get too carried away. When “Bad Cop” gives up in disgust and leaves the room, “Good Cop” apologises for his partner’s behaviour and mood. He offers the suspect a coffee or tea and adopts a calm and sympathetic demeanor. All of this is a play to get the suspect to confess to the “Good Cop” either out of fear of being brutalised by “Bad Cop” or from a false pretense that the “Good Cop” really does like them and will help them out if they confess their guilt. This makes for a predictable formula in crime show drama, yet the producers keep coming up with the same routine and the audience keeps watching and the sponsors keep spending advertising dollars and so the stereo-type is perpetuated.

Sometimes Parents unwittingly take on the roles of “Good Cop Bad Cop”. When the child is with Mum all day and has been “less than well behaved” 🙂 Mum does the correction and discipline which forces her into “Bad Cop” mode. Dad walks in, tired after a long day, (selfishly) not wanting to deal with behavioral problems, takes on the “Good Cop” role, and plays with the kids. This leads to all sorts of difficulties in the marriage as well as wrongly affecting the child’s concept of the relationship between their mother and father.

Neither the stereo-type TV police officers, nor the unbalanced parents provide us with a view of their roles as God would intend. Yet when we think about God we still have a tendency to adopt a dichotomy that wrongly divides the person of God in way not reflected in scripture. e.g. Only a few months ago, I heard a evangelical pastor say that “God isn’t into rules anymore … the Old Testament has a negative connotation of God and the New Testament has a fresh understanding of what God really wants from us”. This is appalling! The God of the Old Testament is not the “Bad Cop” and Jesus the “Good Cop”. When we perpetuate this error, is it any wonder people attending Church don’t understand the gospel and aren’t able or willing to get involved in Discipleship. This idea leads people to adopt the “Bad Cop” Old Testament God who demands high religious morals or else he’ll punish you (legalism) or the “Good Cop” New Testament God who is all soft and mushy tolerating an easy believe-ism that says you can say you’re a Christian and still live as though you’re not (liberalism or antinomianism). Both extremes are contrary to the gospel and to scripture.

God is One and God’s goodness is demonstrated in his absolute unfailing commitment to fulfill his Word. God doing “good” is explained by the Psalmist as God doing what he said he would do. It is not by us dictating that God only do what makes us experience pleasure. What I consider hardship and affliction is “good”, says the Psalmist, because it drives me to trust and rely on God as the true source of goodness in life. When I pursue personal gain in the guise of doing good I am forgetting that God alone is good and my understanding is corrupted and imperfect. The only constant of goodness we have is God and he, through his Spirit, has given us his Word by which we can see, know and trust in Christ alone.

NB: for questions relating to the goodness of God in the midst of evil, check out Randy Alcorn’s “If God is Good” or Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God“. Both deal with this question in more detail.

Page 56

“Societies that have rid themselves of all religion have been just as oppressive as those steeped in it.”

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Tim Keller – The Reason For God

In March of this year, Tim Keller visited Google’s headquarters to discuss his book, “The Reason for God“. After hearing this I went out last night and bought the book to get the full context of his work. This is no light and fluffy attempt to appear intellectual – this is a fair dinkum equal footing engagement of those that contest against belief in God. A very well reasoned discussion. Watch/Listen to the video as an introduction – but read the book for the full context of the conversation.

Some of my notes on the stand out points (to me!) of the talk are as follows:

The purpose of the talk was to discuss why reasons for God are important.

– It was once alleged as society became more technical that belief in God would diminish as being an immature element of development. In actuality, society has become more polarised as more technology has arisen. Africa, Korea & China all increased % of Christians as their access to technology increased.
– Both believers and unbelievers need to try and understand why people become Christians. The new breed of Atheists (Dawkins et. al.) say religion is bad and respect for religion is bad. Their advice is essentially that one section of society may say to another you cannot believe a certain way because it is wrong/irrational/etc.
As a Christian you should deal with your doubts or else you cannot present a confident faith to others.

There are 3 Reasons why people either believe or don’t believe

– Intellectual Reasons, rational arguments
– Personal Reasons, tragedy, disappointments
some say because of this tradegy in my life I need God
others say because of this I refuse to believe in a God that would allow it to come to pass.
success might also be a driver to say you need or don’t need God
– Social/Culture Influence
“sociology of knowledge” = the people you find most plausible are the people you come to need or want to be liked by. If you move towards skepticism it’s because of friends or significant people that also promoted skepticism.

All three reasons contribute to our view of belief in God for both believers and non-believers. No-one formulates a belief on just one of three.

e.g. the argument of “You’re only a Christian because you’re a Pastor”. You claim you’re talking from a rational reasoned argument saying your culture influenced you – i.e. if you lived in Madagascar you wouldn’t be a Christian. However, in response, the reverse is also true – if you lived in Madagascar you wouldn’t be a skeptical philosophical pluralist! So while culture/society may have an influence it is not an exclusive influence.

Tim posits that reasoning that ends with or progresses towards believing in God has three progressive key steps or rungs.

Rung 1 – It requires just as much faith for disbelief as belief.
all arguments fall over at some point. at some point, everyone accepts that you take a risk (ie step of faith) to believe or not believe in God.
Rung 2 – It requires more of a leap for disbelief than belief.
2 particular illustrations were used that are simpler to understand with belief in God than disbelief.
existence of universal fine tuning
existence of human rights – contradicts evolutionary theory
Rung 3 – You realise that whereas you can reason to a point of probability, it takes personal commitment to get to certainty.

In other words… you’ll never never know if you never never go.