Month: April 2017

Like most, I find the Bible to be a difficult book. I don’t merely mean that it is a lengthy collection of writings, and therefore a task for which I have trouble finding time. Nor do I mean that it is riddled with sometimes arcane or obscure terminology. Nor that it is full of challenging passages. Nor that original meanings sometimes get lost in translation.

More than this, it is tempting to approach the texts with 21st century assumptions. We tend to presume a naturalistic view of life that excludes the miraculous. We tend to fall into a fallacious and prideful assumption of moral and intellectual progress–that recent thinkers are smarter than those from antiquity, and our current values are superior to theirs. In short, we tend to look down our noses at our predecessors and their writings. We judge them from within our own parochial biases.

Within liberal Protestantism exists a large “fifth column”, a herd of skeptical critics who are currently inhabiting influential seats of power on church councils and in seminaries. These lend a veneer of authority to support a dismissive approach to understanding the Bible.

As one who reads widely, who has been through the rigors of higher education, who values scholarship, and whose work bastes me in scientific data on an ongoing basis, I am also particularly vulnerable. Doubt is my main demon–doubt, and perhaps pride. There are times when my own skepticism rises up against me. For me, I must retreat to my “touchstones” of faith, the greatest of which is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is the claim that splits Christian believers from all other people examining these mysteries. I’m convinced that this miracle is no fable but actually true.

That a historical Jesus, a teacher, existed in 1st century Palestine and died on a cross is not controversial–this is not a point for which lengthy arguments are needed. But how do we know he didn’t stay dead?

  1. There is the mystery of the empty tomb. Much more could be said about this.
  2. We have eyewitness testimony, in the form of the 4 Gospels, and furthermore Paul the Apostle lists some of those who encountered the post-resurrection Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.
  3. From this same passage, written probably in the year 55 (merely 22 years after Jesus’ death), Paul refers to an older tradition. Taking this idea of an older tradition, along with the great song to Christ (the “kenosis hymn”) of Philippians 2:5-11, we have evidence that before Paul was writing his letters, within a few short years after the crucifixion, Jesus was being revered as God in human form by a sizable number of people.
  4. These people were Jews, who by their history and religious faith would have been almost the last people on earth in any era of history, to have embraced such an idea.
  5. We have the evidence of changed lives: Jesus’ disciples were transformed from cowering in fear after the crucifixion, to boldly proclaiming the Gospel, even to their own gruesome martyrdoms.
  6. For me, one of the more persuasive arguments is that Jesus’ own earthly brother, James, came to believe in him after seeing him in his resurrected body. If I made a claim to my own divinity, the last person who would probably believe me is my own brother, because we grew up together.

Other arguments can be made, but I will defer for now.

If the resurrection is really true, then we can handle other parts of the Bible that are difficult. Once we grasp the miracle of miracles, then the other recorded miraculous events are not a significant intellectual problem, including the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, and the fish story of Jonah. We can handle the purity codes of the ancient Hebrews. We can draw meaning from the story of the Garden of Eden. We can handle all the parts of the Bible that are difficult for us to grasp in a post-enlightenment era. If the resurrection is true then we can have faith that those narratives were collected for us for a good reason.

If Jesus really came back from death, then we must transform how we look at the ancient texts he held sacred. We no longer judge the Bible by our standards but rather let the Bible judge us by its standards.

The tragic and mysterious demise of a beloved child star is still under investigation. Erin Moran was adored by millions as “Joanie” in the 1974-84 sitcom “Happy Days”, and its spin off show “Joanie Loves Chachi”. The web is full of stories today about her troubles following the end of her sitcom TV family.

One lesson to learn here is that fame and stardom don’t guarantee a good life or a happy end. Those who reached out to her have said that she rebuffed their attempts. Paul Peterson, a former child star and child-actor advocate, has been quoted as saying, “Erin had friends and she knew it. Abandonment was not the issue… We did our best with the resources available to us, but it was a very dark room. Some don’t find the light switch in time.” (Fox News). Her inner demons apparently included hard drinking, and it was partly drinking and partying that led to her becoming destitute.

Also, there appear to have been issues with her husband. People magazine reported in 2002 that “Moran later married Steve Fleischmann, a Walmart employee, in 1993. The couple moved into Fleischmann’s mother’s trailer in Indiana so Moran could act as her caregiver.” On the surface this might appear to be a compassionate act, but a 2013 public altercation reported by a tabloid calls this into question:

Steve was so angry he stormed out of the bar, and an intoxicated Erin hurled insults at him, like “Get the hell out of here, you big crybaby! Go home, crawl into bed and suck your thumb as you cry yourself to sleep, you mama’s boy!” (National Enquirer)

If this incident truly happened then it raises a question whether she may have been the victim of a “MEM”, or a “mother-enmeshed man”. (Of course this would be but pure speculation here).

What are we speaking of? A mother enmeshed man is the human wreckage left of someone raised by a narcissistic or otherwise domineering mother. A MEM is a man who in many ways is “married to mom”–some of these ways are obvious (particularly if she still calls the shots) and many are much less so (manifesting perhaps as emotional distance, or difficulty with trust). Such a man may be emotionally eviscerated and still controlled by the first great relationship of life–the mother-child relationship. (This can happen to daughters also). By the way, full disclosure here, it hurts me to speak of this, because I may have a whiff of this in my own life, my own marriage.

If you are in a relationship with a MEM, or if you are a man who feels that this may be you, then seek professional help. A helpful 2007 book on this subject is When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother‑Enmeshed Men by Kenneth M. Adams.

Of course, we at this site would remiss if we did not advocate much prayer. And if you are in a covenant of marriage, the closer each of you grows in your relationship to God, the further and dimmer will be the other troubles, and the easier it will be to set healthy boundaries and overcome dysfunctional influences.

Two churches in Egypt were attacked today during Palm Sunday services, killing scores of worshippers. Our prayers go out to our persecuted brethren.

In Tanta, news footage shows people gathered at the church, singing hymns. The video then quickly switches to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.
“Everything is destroyed inside the church” and blood can be seen on marble pillars, said Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the carnage.

You can read more at CNN.

I know that spring has arrived, when a patch of dirt by our front lamp post erupts in dark green shoots. Days later a feast of color bursts upon the eye as the tulips fully bloom.

Spring brings also the yearly commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. One interesting controversy centers on the scope of Christ’s atonement, and tulips also remind me of this.

By 1610 a controversy had erupted in Holland, over a rift that had emerged between followers of Jacobus Arminius, and the rest of the reformed community who hewed to what we would today call Calvinism, after the theologian John Calvin. Eventually the Synod of Dort (which seated only the Calvinists) settled the matter in 1619 in favor of Calvinism.

The dissidents were known as the “remonstrants” who took issue with five theological points. These points are sometimes called the “Five points of Calvinism”, and they form an acrostic that reminds us of the tulips of Holland:

T-Total depravity
U-Unconditional Election
L-Limited Atonement
I-Irresistible Grace
P-Perseverance of the Saints

A lot could be said about each of these things, but this would get out of hand fairly quickly. I’ll focus on one: The “L” in TULIP is the idea that Christ didn’t actually suffer and die for all humanity. He died only for the Elect, for those particular people who have been chosen by God from the beginning of time to receive his Grace. Jesus seems to have come out and said just this in his upper room discourse on the night before his death (the same occasion that gave us the institution of Communion or the “Lord’s Supper”). As St. John recorded, Jesus prayed aloud for his disciples and all who would believe through them, in what is often referred to as his “high priestly prayer”:

 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. … I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 16:6, 9; Holy Bible, English Standard Version)

This idea of limited atonement is at one end of a spectrum, the opposite of which would be the idea of Universalism, which teaches that Christ’s atonement is universal in scope and that his death saves everyone, whether they believe or not. No one is lost. Universalism is a very comforting philosophy, but unfortunately only a tortured reading of Jesus’ words would permit one to reach this conclusion. Jesus’ teachings are clear that in the end some are saved, but many will perish. This is a deep and troubling mystery that confounds us. For those who take Jesus’ teachings seriously, Universalism is not a viable option except as a vague hope–in the end only God knows what He will do with Buddhists and agnostics. Universalists are on the fringe of Christianity.

Between these extremes would be the idea that Christ’s death is universal in scope (he died for all) but that not all people will avail themselves of his grace and therefore are not saved–each person must choose whether or not to accept Jesus. He died to take away all sin, and thereby to make salvation available to everyone who chooses in faith to turn to him.

Calvinists and non-Calvinists would tend to agree with the formulation that Christ’s death is “sufficient for all but efficient only for some.” The point of the controversy really comes down to the mysterious interplay between human free will and God’s will. It comes down to whether God intended that only a few be saved, or perhaps rather that He had a blanket desire that everyone be saved, but sadly God’s will is thwarted, as he leaves it up to us and our own free will to decide, each one for himself or herself.

We currently take the position here at this site that both viewpoints are Christian, and within the bounds of orthodox Christian belief. Therefore we don’t take a strong stance. There are faithful people on both sides of this question of free will versus determinism.

What all traditions would agree, is that for you as an individual, if you are a believer, then there is no limitation on God’s grace. Christ’s atonement is as unlimited as it is unmerited. It is shocking in its scope. However heavy a bag of sin you carry, you can lay it all at the cross.

The God of Christianity is the same who was praised by the psalmist for treating us not as we deserve but as children:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:12-13)

Saint Paul probably recalled this when he wrote his letter to the believers in Rome:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, New International Version).

Reflect on this as you witness the unfolding of the tulips, and the unfolding of the drama of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

If it seems like certain viewpoints on college campuses are being enforced with a zeal that is almost religious, that’s because they are. Even as Christian student groups have been getting booted off campuses, a new and intolerant religion has been rising, complete with zealots and a rigid dogma.

NYU Psychology professor Jonathan Haidt has been studying the phenomena. In an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, associate editor Bari Weiss discusses Haidt’s view that it is natural for humans to create “quasireligious experiences” out of secular activities. This is having the downside of wreaking havoc on intellectual freedom and freedom of speech, and ultimately releasing students into a workforce that they are ill equipped to handle.

These believers are transforming the campus from a citadel of intellectual freedom into a holy space—where white privilege has replaced original sin, the transgressions of class and race and gender are confessed not to priests but to “the community,” victim groups are worshiped like gods, and the sinned-against are supplicated with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”.

Unfortunately, this can also lead to violence. True believers are agitating to purge dissenting viewpoints and punish those who violate the norms.

“What we’re beginning to see now at Berkeley and at Middlebury hints that this [campus] religion has the potential to turn violent,” Mr. Haidt says. “The attack on the professor at Middlebury really frightened people,” he adds, referring to political scientist Allison Stanger, who wound up in a neck brace after protesters assaulted her as she left the venue.

The article is worth a read.