Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Are Racism and Police Brutality Wrong?

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure that you're acutely aware of the rioting that recently took place in the city of Baltimore. And I'm sure that you're aware that this rioting was a response to yet another alleged instance of police brutality against an African American individual. Every major news outlet has been reporting on this almost unceasingly for the past week. There have been memes, videos, and blog articles related to these events shared on Facebook and other social media websites ad nauseum.

I'd like to address the greater issues of racism, police brutality and rioting for a moment from two totally different angles. I think this is important.

Let's first of all consider these issues from the standpoint of brute naturalism. This is the belief that there is no reality beyond the natural world. There is no God. There is no heaven or hell. There is no metaphysical force or entity that determines truth in some kind of absolute way.

In light of brute materialism, let's consider a few questions:

On what basis can we argue that racism is absolutely wrong or immoral?

Most of us are indignant when racism is expressed. But why? 

We're told that morality is subjective and that every individual has the right to determine his/her own moral truth. Women have the right to abort their own babies, right? Two men have the right to engage in homosexual relations, right? We're constantly being told, "Don't push your values on me." If this reasoning is really valid, then not only CAN'T we condemn the racist beliefs of others, we can't even argue in any objective manner that their racist beliefs are inferior to our non-racist beliefs.

Is racism wrong because it demeans our fellow man? If this is your argument, please explain why it is absolutely wrong to demean our fellow man? Because you don't want to be demeaned? So you're advocating compassion and empathy? Great. Now please prove from nature that compassion and empathy are superior to harshness and selfishness. Lions eat their young. Wolves will fight with other packs over territorial rights and food. Sure, there are examples in nature of what we call 'moral' behaviors, but there are also examples in nature of harsh and selfish behaviors? What makes the former better than the latter? Why can we appeal to the positive examples to make moral claims but not the negative examples?

The point is, there is no argument from nature - from brute materialism - that we can make to justify or condemn racism. If this worldview is true, then morality is totally subjective, and there is not a single logical argument that we can make to condemn racist behavior.

On what basis can we condemn police brutality?

Atheists often argue that morality is determined by our culture and/or government. If this is true, how can police brutality be condemned at all? If it's true that "might makes right," how can we condemn the "might?" We can't have it both ways.

Along these same lines, how can we condemn the slave culture that was prevalent in this country until the mid 1800s? If that was the culture then, then it was right and moral for them! And if morality is determined by culture, wouldn't this make the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement as well as the LBGT movement all inherently immoral? After all, these were all counter-cultural movements of the time.

Another approach - seeing through the lens of Christianity...

Christians contend that there is a supreme Creator who defines truth by His very character as well as the declaration of His will. Because this Creator is higher than us and over us all, His truth is objective and absolute. 

Regarding racism, our God is diametrically opposed to it:
"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth..." (Acts 17:26)
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation...and that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father." (Ephesians 2:14-17)
Christians can explain why racism and brutality are absolutely wrong. We've all made made in the image of God. We're all His offspring. And even though there are national, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic barriers that divide us, through Jesus, those barriers are broken down and unity is achieved through Him.

So not only can we explain why racism, brutality and rioting are wrong, we can offer a real solution. At the foundational level, we can make an appeal to commonality through the gospel.

Atheists can disagree with our standard all they want, but the fact is, we can make a logical appeal to a standard of moral truth that offers an analysis of the real problem as well as a solution.


The cries of atheists and even political and social leaders who demand change (without appealing to God as a standard) will continue to ring hollow and prove ineffective. The problem of racism will never be solved and riots like the one that took place in Baltimore this week will continue to happen as long as we leave God out of the picture. This is because they're only holding other people accountable to their own subjective reasoning. "Who are you to tell me what to do?"

But also, we might ask why, apart from an absolute standard of morality and social justice, so many people feel so outraged at racism and brutality? These feelings cannot be merely traced to personal views, family traditions or cultural beliefs, because these are all subjective standards. What is it that cries out within us that these things are absolutely wrong?

I believe it is because we know - we inherently know - that "all men are created equal."

Our appeal to an absolute standard, our inherent indignation, and our pleas for equality and brotherly love are all explained by the gospel.

Jesus is the answer.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Christianity - Against All Odds!

Throughout human history, a number of powerful civilizations have dominated various regions of this planet. The Sumerians, Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians and Babylonians all reigned over northern Africa and/or Mesopotamia at different points in history. Persia, Greece and Rome all controlled regions that extended far beyond Mesopotamia. We could talk about the mighty Chinese Empire. Then there were the Mayans, Aztecs and Vikings. Many of the western European countries have long histories of prosperity and domination as well. 

Each of these nations had its own unique culture and religious system. Sure, some of them were influenced by their predecessors, as in the case of Greece and Rome, but they were all still very unique in their forms of government, their cultural identity, and again, their religious beliefs. From the worship of Ra and Osiris in Egypt, of Zeus and Aphrodite in Greece, of Odin and Thor among the Vikings, to Itzamn in the Mayan Empire, every ancient civilization worshiped, in most cases, a broad pantheon of gods. They had elaborate systems of religion that included holy days, sacrifices and priesthoods.  Every major empire in history was very religious, often merging their political, cultural and religious identities into one.

In light of these facts, it's beyond incredible to me that of all the religions of the ancient world, the one story that has not only survived, but dominated, the world, is the story of the Bible. The three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - comprise over 55% of the world's population, with Christianity (in all its various forms), claiming 2.2 billion adherents today.

I'd like to focus for a moment on Christianity itself.

Christianity began nearly 2,000 years ago in the city of Jerusalem, a relatively small city in the land of Israel. Israel is less than 11,000 square miles in size, making it not much bigger than New Jersey!
Of all the powerful empires in history, how amazing is it that the world's largest religion (by far) originated in such a small, obscure place?

But that's not all...

Christianity is based on Jesus Christ, a man that was not a king, dignitary or even military leader. He wasn't the son of someone rich or famous. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was born to a modest, unimportant family from Galilee, and that He never had riches or power.
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:2-3).
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9). 
"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' And Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'" (John 1:45-46)
In terms of his economic and social status, Jesus didn't have anything going for Him! He was a peasant. He was from a part of Israel that even the Jews mocked and denigrated. What's more, He didn't seek power through political means or by force.
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21).
"Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:15)
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus' time was spent preaching, serving others and performing miracles. And while the number of His disciples at times swelled, His message turned a lot of people away, and angered the Jewish leaders. Most notably, His life came to an untimely end when the Jewish people cried out to the Roman authorities, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" and He was executed on a cross, an excruciating, humiliating death for anyone to endure.

It's truly astounding that this obscure peasant from Galilee with no economic status, political connections or even widespread popularity, and whose life ended on a Roman cross, inspired a movement that spread like wildfire throughout Israel, followed by the Roman Empire, and finally, the world!

It might make sense for Zeus to attain this fame and notoriety, or Odin, or Ra, or Shiva. These gods and goddesses were touted by kingdoms that actually had some real influence in the world. These gods and goddesses had ornate temples, were worshiped in many cases by government mandate, and prompted the movement of mass amounts of wealth. These gods and goddesses promised guardianship over the sea, rain for crops, fertility, political power and a number of other things that mankind has always deemed important.

Most of these suppose deities have faded from relevance, having been relegated to history books.

But not Jesus.

If you're a skeptic, perhaps you're thinking that, while Jesus may have existed as a man, He was never anything more than that. His disciples either lied about His resurrection from the dead, or were loony, and the "Jesus legend" began in earnest.

But who would fabricate such a story as this?

At the time, the Jews wanted freedom from Rome. Jesus didn't promise that. The gospel accounts make it abundantly clear that Jesus wasn't the Messiah that the Jews expected. He was from Nazareth. He defied the religious authorities. His own family thought He was crazy. But most importantly, Jesus was crucified and the Jews believed that "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Deut. 21:23). Jesus crucifixion made Him a cursed man - and no Messiah of Israel could be cursed! The Jews certainly wouldn't fabricate such a story!

Maybe the Gentiles amended and perpetuated the story of Jesus. Historically, we know this wasn't true, but neither could it be true. The Gentiles mocked the monotheistic faith of the Jews, viewing them as a primitive, rebellious people. On what logical basis would they promote a crucified Savior? Beyond that, the concept of bodily resurrection was not widely believed among the pagans. So, once again, it is illogical to argue that the Gentiles perpetuated the story of Jesus.

I'm reminded here of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23:
"For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness."
One might argue, "Well, people believe lies all the time!" This is true! But are people generally eager to suffer and die for what they know is untrue? While it is true that many throughout history have bastardized Christianity by turning into a political force, the early church was born and thrived in the midst of persecution, first from the Jews and then from the Romans.

In my view, it is ignorant for a person to contend that such a culturally-antagonistic, easily-disprovable, foolishly elaborate story that often resulted in persecution and martyrdom could catch so quickly and rip through the world like wildfire despite being false.

The same cannot be said of Zeus, Ra or Odin. How is this true?

Seeing Christianity in this kind of historical context is, for me, a faith builder.

I'd like to close with these two quotes:
"I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him." -Napoleon 
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The Egyptian, Mayan, Persian and Roman Empires have faded into obscurity. The gods and goddesses that were front and center in these once-mighty empires have likewise been buried in the annals of history. But a peasant from a country the size of New Jersey who suffered an untimely and humiliating death on a Roman cross nearly 2,000 years ago has somehow managed to captivate the world. While there are no longer any active temples to Zeus or Baal, there are assemblies of Christians worshiping Christ and being transformed by Christ the world over.

As Paul told the Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolish to the world. That's right. It's so foolish that a person can't help but give it a second look.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Distinguishing Between 'Sound Doctrine' & Idle Talk (1 Tim. 1)

Have you ever been in a Bible class or even an informal Bible discussion where brethren began arguing over something that you didn’t feel was worth arguing about? Or have you ever heard a preacher or Bible class teacher say something that you disagreed with and wondered to yourself, “Should I say something, or just let it go?” 

If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you probably answered both questions in the affirmative. This is a common struggle. 

In 1 Timothy 1:3-11, Paul helps us to distinguish between what he calls “sound doctrine” and “idle talk” – what is worth arguing about, and what isn’t worth arguing about. 

Paul opens this passage with a warning to Timothy, “Remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (vs. 3). The implication is that there are doctrines (teachings) that, together, constitute God’s standard of truth. This would be the Word of God (John 17:17; 1 Cor. 4:17; 14:37; 2 Thess. 2:15, et al). Any doctrine that is not firmly rooted in God’s word is not to be taught, according to Paul.

But Paul is even more specific in verse 10 when he speaks of “sound doctrine.” The word sound literally means, “to have sound health…figuratively to be uncorrupt.” Of course, for a doctrine to be considered sound, it must be rooted in Scripture, but it’s important to understand that even scriptural doctrines can be misrepresented, twisted or muddied. In 2 Peter 3:16, we learn that “some things [are] hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” So when assessing a doctrine, we have to not only ask, “is it rooted in Scripture?” but also, “is it the intent of Scripture?” Does it fit the immediate context? Does it harmonize with the overall teachings of Scripture? 

Paul doesn’t stop here in his description of “sound doctrine.” In verses 4-5, he gives us two additional qualifications. 

In verse four, Paul writes that any teaching needs to promote “godly edification.” To edify is to build up. There are many details in Scripture that may be true, but are they edifying? Do they encourage us in our faith? Do they draw us closer to God? If we are rambling on about something that has no practical value whatsoever – and especially if we’re arguing about it – we need to stop and refocus our discourse on that which edifies.

Then he adds in verse five, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” The purpose (goal) of any teaching should be to enrich our capacity to love. Even Jesus affirmed that the entire law hinges on the two commands to love the Lord and to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). Any doctrine that does not deepen and enrich our love for God and our fellow man in some way is not a doctrine worth arguing about.

By way of contrast, Paul discourages discussions that “cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (vs. 4). He calls this “idle talk” (vs. 6) and alludes to teachers who “[understand] neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (vs. 7). Is Paul speaking here of pointless rambling? Is he speaking of esoteric dialogue that cannot be grasped by the common man? Or is he speaking of the tendency some have to try to explain the unexplainable (Deut. 29:29; Psalm 131:1)? Yes, yes, and yes!

Finally, I’d like to direct your attention to the transition in verse eight. Paul writes, “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate…” and then goes on to list the characteristics of such people. This is in contrast with verse five which says that “the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart.” Honest, God-fearing people will receive and apply God’s truth eagerly! Those who stubbornly resist the truth, pervert it and diminish it are a real danger. Not only must we not waste our time arguing with such people; we must not give them the floor (vs. 3).

If a doctrine is rooted in Scripture, intended by Scripture, edifying and a means to deeper love, then it is worth discussing and even debating. When other motives and doctrines enter the picture, we must not “give heed” (vs. 4) lest the unity of the church be compromised.