Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ortberg on the Gospel and "Eternal Pleasure Factory"

Check out this article by John Ortberg.  Are we pursuing happiness or God?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shoddy Argumentation Continued: Seeking a Common Starting Point

In my previous post I argued that followers of Jesus have done a poor job of communicating their perspective on issues in the public square. At the end I submitted that Jesus was our common starting point as we articulate our worldview in the public square. The historicity of the life of Jesus is widely acknowledged by scholars. There are detailed accounts of his life written by either his companions or those that extensively interviewed his companions in the Bible. In addition, there are other non-Christian accounts from the time period that attest to Jesus' life. Any responsible historian would acknowledge that there was a man named Jesus.

People from a diverse array of worldviews readily acknowledge respect for Jesus and even quote from him regularly. Unfortunately, however, most people's knowledge of Jesus is limited to some nifty out-of-context quote or perhaps a story or two. These little quips are often used to justify whatever people want to justify, Christians and non-Christians alike. Statements like "judge not lest you be judged," "blessed are the peacemakers," or "the kingdom of God is within you." When taken in isolation, these statements are used as a buttress for any viewpoint.

We are further shaken when we go to a bookstore and see row after row of books about Jesus that try to persuade the reader that Jesus' message was not what Christians say it is. The Jesus Seminar has assembled so-called historians from around the country and reduced Jesus' life and teachings to a few spiritually ambiguous adages. They have written lots of books with provocative titles and appear on PBS documentaries sounding authoritative. The reality is that their project of discovering the real historical Jesus has been academically irresponsible and a farce. Liberal and conservative scholars alike have discredited the Jesus Seminar and their proliferation of propaganda as bad history. Publishers publish their books and bookstores stock them because trashy tabloids sell. If you are looking for some worthwhile books that refute The Jesus Seminar, John Shelby Spong and others here are a few great ones:

The authors listed above come from various backgrounds and are respected as scholars.

Once we feel comfortable with the historicity of Jesus and the accounts of his life and teachings found in the Bible, we then must resolve to decide what we want to do with those facts. N.T. Wright makes a very compelling case for the veracity of Jesus' resurrection. As I read the historical record, the resurrection of Jesus is an act so significant that it shapes how I think and feel. It gives significance to his life and teachings. This significance is magnified by the invitation by Jesus to join in his death and resurrection. Our views and ethics ought to be primarily informed by this. We need to be so familiar with Jesus life and teachings that we can articulate our responses to the issues of today. When so many around the world consider Jesus to be a wise teacher, prophet, or mystic, then it only makes sense for them to hear more about Jesus. But not in the way we are used to talking about Jesus, which usually involves very little of Jesus' story and a lot of culturally-distant religious terminology. We need introduce people to the incredible teachings, stories and events and then maybe some of those oft-used quotes above might find grander meaning and the world might see transformation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Prevalence of Shoddy Argumentation in our Ethicizing

This political season has successfully stoked the flames of many hot potato issues in our society like abortion, war, and even the definition of marriage. In the midst of the firestorm of debates—official ones between candidates and unofficial ones in blogs and facebook and other communication mediums—it is disturbing to see such shallow thinking and hollow zingers displayed proudly by those on all sides of the debate. I realize that a witty zinger or a clever sound bite is often a tactical PR move, but too often what I see happening is just plain bad thinking and communication. Even more unfortunate is that people seem so proud of their asinine arguments. It pains me to see those representing Christ display such ill-thought-through statements.

The reality is that society has changed a lot over the years. The ground-lying assumptions about the world are not the same as they once were. There was a time when most people assumed there was a God. The views of God may have varied some, but there was an assumption that God existed and so did heaven and hell. Most recognized the authority of God and that the Bible conveyed God's message to people. These words from George Washington reveal the extent of the pervasiveness of this worldview: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. Do not ever let anyone claim to be a true American patriot if they ever attempt to separate Religion from politics."

These are NOT the working assumptions of people today. Even those that consider themselves to be Christians, may not have these cosmological assumptions. Thus we make a mistake when we presume the existence of God, heaven, and hell in our arguments. It is further futile to build an argument from the Bible without first reaching common ground about some degree of truthfulness of the Bible. In the New Testament when we see Paul speaking to a Jewish audience, he makes frequent reference to the Jewish scriptures. But when Paul's audience is primarily from a non-Jewish background, then he seeks to establish other common ground.

When we engage in conversations in the public square over these issues, we need to articulate our positions and convictions in ways that challenge those that don't share our worldview assumptions to consider our perspective. Whenever we ignore the context of those with whom we debate, we usually end up talking past each other. And a more subtle thing happens to us. We become less sure of our own worldview. When we are able to communicate to those around us the reasons we have taken the ethical stands we have, then it is a sign that we are more sure of those ethical stands. I would submit to you that the historical life of Christ is a starting point with which we can communicate to others. But I will develop this idea in another post.