Monday, July 30, 2007

Fallen Man's Ideas Over Against God's Word: A Response to a Common Method of Critiquing Christianity

In other words: The parts of the Bible I don't like I just throw out.What I am going to address in this post is a typical example of the responses to Biblical Christianity in our culture by many who bear the title "Minister", "Reverend", "Pastor" or even "Priest" for that matter. This message really could come from any city's daily newspaper, it is an example of the ubiquitous feel good god that our culture likes over against the God who orders and reigns over the universe to whom we must give an account which our culture (or rather natural man) hates.

I will put the authors words in BLUE. This article comes from "The Westerly Sun" Newspaper and is by a man named Harry Rix, it is entitled "Bush's Dangerous Literalism-and How it Hurts the True Christian Spirit". He begins with the text of Matt 7:21 where Christ says: "Not everyone who says to Me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven...[ellipses his]".

The author's goal from the outset is to diffuse this bomb of a statement by Christ, to defend a sort of universalism (everybody is just fine with hell). I see him like the bomb squad arriving on the scene after a call to the station, using his tools of unbelieving presuppositions, exegetical gymnastics, hand waving, and holding verses hostage out of context at gunpoint.

His response focuses on George Bush's belief that this passage shows that not everybody will be saved, and Billy Graham's advice to the Bush family not to worry too much and just leave it up to God. (A rather sad situation hey? G.W. more evangelical than Billy Graham?!)

The author writes:

"This conversation is revealing [The contrast of Bush and Graham's reaction to Matt 7:21]. Bush insists on a literal interpretation of the Bible: he points to particular words of scripture and ignores their context. Using the dubious method of prooftexting, he draws the conclusion that only Christians gain God's favor. After all, it's 'what the New Testament says.'"

It has become popular to dismissively refer to "literalism, literalists etc" as if it is something that is matter of factly agreed upon that this is just NOT what you do when you come to the Bible. A couple of things to say on that note:

1.) If By "literalist" someone is really implying actually true, well then I am definitely a "literalist". However, if it is confined to exegesis then no, not on every passage is a literal interpretation sensible. When the Bible says things like "Our God is a rock" (Ps 18:31) there is an obvious meaning apart from the notion that God is an inanimate object. Comparing God to a rock is saying that He is trustworthy and sure. The passages that one doesn't take literally but figuratively are pretty obvious, just as obvious as the message they are conveying.

So unlike our misguided friend (pictured above) it simply is not at all sensible to interpret every passage alike, some passages are metaphors others are to be taken literally. I remember someone on College campus yelling at these Christians with signs saying homosexuality was a sinful practice, the person shouted "You can't take the Bible literally! The passages about homosexuality are metaphors!"

My response was "Metaphor of what?". She of course hadn't ever thought of that, this was just supposed to be a one-liner to shut up the fundies and diffuse a scripture bomb. In reality saying "metaphor" in this case was just hand waving.

2) For this author to say that Matt 7:21 is not to be taken literally is to imply that there is some meaning shrouded in the literalism that is lost if the passage is taken literally. So what meaning is that Mr. Rix? When Jesus says "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord,'Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven..." what DOES Jesus mean apart from the rather obvious message that not everyone will enter heavenly rest?

The author never ventures to answer this question. He can't.

As for the "prooftexting" the author refers to, I agree that can be dangerous. That is why if we are going to say Matt 7:21 teaches that there is a hell, and that people will be there we should have numerous passages to show that this is what Christ taught. WE DO. In the end it will be Mr.Rix who will be guilty of proof texting to try to justify his belief in a wrothless God when relying on the Bible. Your going to have to do some serious cherry picking to arrive at that conclusion Biblically.

The author continues:

"Such literalism is dangerous. Instead of studying Scriptures, this method confirms one's own prejudices. In this case, Bush determines that all but Christians are excluded from God's Kingdom. This demonstrates a fundamentalist mindset with extraordinary implications for public policy- and explains the genesis of many of Bush's disastrous policies."

I don't know how many fallacies are rolled up in this statement, trying to sort this out is like shoving your hand in a box with a porcupine in it giving the box a good shake, removing your hand and counting the quills painfully embedded in your hand. I mean he is using the F-word and everything!

Ultimately, I don't think it is possible for Mr. Rix's own criticism to not backfire and in the end accuse him. Mr. Rix wants to accuse all Bible believing Christians of just coming to the Bible and "confirming their own prejudices" in their interpretations of it. It is fairly obvious that that is precisely what Rix is doing with Matt 7:21. All of a sudden Matt 7:21 doesn't implicate an exclusion of people from the kingdom of God.

How does Rix arrive at this conclusion? Is it by exegeting and setting the passage in context? That is doubtful because nowhere in the article does he venture to explain what Matt 7:21 DOES mean if it does not in fact mean what it seemingly is stating. I would say that Mr. Rix is the one who comes to the Bible and strangles it's teachings to fit HIS prejudices. His prejudices and rejection of a God that is wrathful (John 3:36), a God that is angry at sinners (Ps 5:5), and a God who has a narrow path where few are saved (Matt 7:13-14).

It is this God, the God of the Bible that Rix is prejudiced against. I know this because I was as well until I was born again. I hated Christianity, and I hated God. I naturally much more preferred my god that I fashioned who didn't care who I slept with, would never judge me and was always there for a big warm hug... But by His grace He has brought me to Himself. And that is in fact what the Bible says, that natural man is prejudiced against the true God and will always erect idols in the place of the true God (1 Cor 2:14).

On the side, I really could care less about defending Bush here, that is not the issue for me at all. The issue for me is how this man approaches theology and God's word. That is why I won't give a complete blow by blow analysis here but just the more theological unctions made by Mr. Rix.

"What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it enough to love the Bible? Proclaim you are born again? Have good doctrine? Pray daily? Despite all these external signs of faith, I want to suggest that being a Christian is impossible when a person refuses to follow Jesus. If we pursue Jesus' path, his teachings must be central to our worldview; as with Graham, the Spirit of Christ is our guide; and the honesty and compassion, principles and peacemaking of Jesus transform us."

Well, there is some good in there from Mr.Rix and words we should heed as Bible believing Christians. Professions, don't make anybody a Christian. It truly is a life that is brought to it's knees and acknowledges one's complete lack and Christ's sufficiency. However, one must see there is something missing in Rix's definition of what it means to be a Christian. The Cross.

He is right it is impossible to live up to all of the teachings of Jesus, and until we are abased and by God's grace see that we need a saviour the teachings of Jesus only condemn us. Yes we are to love our neighbors, but who really does? Ultimately we are to look to Christ's death in our place, and it is a forsaking of our righteousness and putting His that makes us Christians.

The acid test for whether that has happened will be a changed life, one that earnestly hungers to live up to the standard He has given out of gratefulness and worship of our Lord and saviour, not to store up merit or anything like that. Mr.Rix in his definition of what a Christian is just seems to offer up a steaming cup of Law Light for us to drink.

"Contrary to Jesus' teachings, Gnosticism prides itself on secret knowledge; Fundamentalism idolizes an us-gainst-them ideology that rejects science when it challenges Biblical literalism; and Dominionsim-the most deadly dogmatism-advocates a Christian theocracy that rivals imposition of Sharia law among Muslims in its pursuit of a 'Christian Nation.'"

Well there is a lot wrapped up in that burrito, we have again the F-word, the L-word, the D-word. These are all buzz words that are tossed around so much that they are just supposed to automatically conjure up negative associations, they are the dirty words in dialogues with the Liberal theologians.

I of course do not disagree with Mr. Rix in much of what is said here, us against them is bad news and is not Christian. I am not down with Sharia laws (I don't know what Christians are for that matter, I think it is just becoming popular to say Christians are just as nutty as the terrorists...thank you Richard Dawkins). As for the science issue I am all for science, I do have a problem with how Atheists twist science to make it fit their anti theistic presuppositions.

The thing is I am sure that to a fellow like Mr.Rix I am the Fundamentalist nutcase who is supposed to be foaming at the mouth and hating everybody who doesn't believe in the God of the Bible. That of course is a straw man, but that really is all we see in the last quotation from Mr.Rix.

All of that aside, I do have to press Mr.Rix on one thing in this last paragraph. Why would "Dominionism" be a bad thing and on what basis? Who are YOU to judge?

"Members of the United Methodist Church are preparing petitions for the May General Conference to request President Bush's resignation from the church. A movement for church expulsion is emerging.

I am exploring these questions of church discipline in a book proposal with the provocative title, 'George W. Bush is not a Christian: The case for Church Expulsion.' Is Bush following Jesus? Consider the evidence."

Now if this isn't hypocrisy on the part of Mr.Rix I simply don't know what is. From the outset of the article Mr.Rix has been complaining about Fundies making lines and saying some people are "OUT", he has said that is for god to decide and we have no place to make these kinds of declarations.

Well what do you know, the whole time Mr. Rix is saying that out of one side of his mouth he is spewing all over George Bush and even has a book coming out saying that he is not a Christian. This article really serves as nothing but a definition of what it means to have a double standard.

On a side note, these petitions really show how ravaged the United Methodist denomination is by Liberal Theology. I want to wrap up by pointing to the teachings of Christ. Christ spoke more about hell then anybody else in the Bible. Yet many folks who want to toss the phrases like "true Christian spirit" just turn Jesus into this vague esoteric figure who had a perm, wore a hemp dress, spoke with a lisp, talked about making love not war in a very sublime manner, wore bio-diesel sandals, and eventually got beat up by the Republican Fundies of his day.

This is a far cry from the Jesus of the New Testement. He (capital H) is Lord of heaven and earth, at His name every knee will one day bow, and there is a coming Day where He will judge men and punish His enemies (those who would not have Him as Lord but rebelled).

"He said therefore, "A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, 'Engage in business until I come.' But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this man to reign over us.' [...]

'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.'" (Luke 19:12-27)

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." (Rev 1:17-18)

I would like to conclude with what is becoming one of my favorite passages from Christ in the New testament:

"Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" (Mar 12:24)


Anonymous said...

Great reply to yet another example of a raving lunatic's mishandeling of the word of God.

kangeroodort said...

Nice post. Check out my post on rgeneration preceding faith when you get the chance. I would love your input.

God Bless,

Ubersehen said...

I think it is just becoming popular to say Christians are just as nutty as the terrorists...thank you Richard Dawkins).

Dawkins isn't saying that at all. His main point has always been that societies that strongly value religious belief provide a context in which other violent and harmful beliefs can flourish, not that Christians are like terrorists, or are somehow equivalent to them.

As for the science issue I am all for science, I do have a problem with how Atheists twist science to make it fit their anti theistic presuppositions.

In your view, how are "Atheists" doing this? Further, when you say "Atheists", do you mean to imply all atheists, or just some atheists. If not all, then which ones? How do you know?

Bob said...

Hey Uber, I can count on you to press me and make me back up what I say, thank you.

As for my Dawkins comment, I am not merely referring to his statements in the "Root of all evil" where he unambiguously says that religion (he for some reason doesn't include atheism in that picture) or rather theistic religion leads to a sectarianism which leads to violence. Simply put he can't make this case in any definitive sense.

It is a fallacy akin to someone blaming all volcanic eruptions on a particular island on account of the earth not being able to bear the weight of the 10,000 current residents so as the population grows magma is "squeezed" out due to the weight. The solution is to cut the islands population in half. The point is that it doesn't necessarily follow that because there are 10,000 people on the island that the fact that there are 10,000 people on the island is what is causing the erupptions. Likewise in the case of Dawkins it doesn't follow from the fact that people who claim belief in God often do horrible acts that the belief in God is what caused those actions, although granted it many times is true.

Back to my original statement "Root of evil" aside Dawkins has made numerous statements labelling Christian parents as child abusers who should have their children taken away. As for what you ask here:

"In your view, how are "Atheists" doing this? Further, when you say "Atheists", do you mean to imply all atheists, or just some atheists. If not all, then which ones? How do you know?"

Well, there is a book out now and is an NY Times bestseller on how science disprooves God. Also, if you do some study in the philosophy of science you will see that many of these men are wrestling to make a definition of science that will exclude Theism from the picture. Guys like Popper, Ayer etc. In other words they are trying to make a form of science that is inherantly Atheistic. That is understandable to me because that is their presupposition, and I think that is a large part of why Darwinism was so readily embraced with so little actual evidence in it's early days, it fit the presuppositions of Atheists.