Brief Apologetics: Critique 5

If you missed the first post from this series, please click here and take a moment to read the introduction.

P.S. I know this response is longer than the others, but admittedly this is a tough criticism and I decided to give it a longer treatment.

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Critique 5:
The God described in the Bible is a cruel jerk who wipes nations out and demands that people worship Him out of fear of eternal damnation.

Answer:
This critique only works if you believe that God does exist, it can’t be used as an argument to prove His non-existence. Just because God’s a jerk doesn’t mean he’s not real. That’s like saying Hitler isn’t real because he committed a bunch of atrocities. It’s a non sequitir.

If you’re saying that the God of the Bible IS real and He’s evil, now you’ve got a case. Here’s the trouble with that. If God is real and He created everything which exists then His decisions are made in a realm which so transcends our own that we cannot sit in judgment of His actions. He determines what is good and, by extension, what is evil. Therefore, we are unqualified to say that He is not justified in the things He does, even if we’re severely offended by those things. He is not obligated to do what fits in with our sensibilities, but we are obligated to do what fits in with His.

As for the second part of this critique, that God demands we worship Him out of fear of hellfire, this is an incomplete summation of Biblical revelation. God saves humans from their just judgment by judging Christ in their place. It’s not a demand of worship that He’s after, but He is wooing people to love and enjoy Him out of joy for what He’s done. God not only saves people from the consequences of their actions, but He saves them into a relationship with Him which is characterized by eternal bliss and pleasure in Him. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you resist His call by not taking refuge under Christ, then you will be judged. But that warning is not what gets you to worship God, it gets you to warn others. For what kind of love would Christians have for their neighbors if they did not warn of this coming storm? And not only that, we are to present the blessedness, peace, and joy which is granted to those who know God intimately.

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Church Attendance and Hellfire

I was reading a blog the other day which I regularly follow and was perturbed by what I found there. This particular blogger used to be in foster care, and due to all of the bad things which have happened to her, has a difficult time understanding God’s character. In essence, she believes that if He is there, He must hate her because of all the horrific things He’s allowed to happen to her.

In a blog post a couple weeks back she shared about a church sign which did more harm than good. The sign read: “If church is not your concern, you will burn.” The only thing commendable about the sign is that it rhymes. Everything else contained therein is an atrocious misrepresentation. Let me list two things this sign is propagating:

  • Church attendance and eternal destiny are inextricably linked
  • Fear of hell produces desire for Jesus and fellowship with Christians

Irresponsibility
This church sign is irresponsible for more than one reason. Firstly, the Bible never ties church fellowship to salvation. A desire to follow Christ with other believers comes from being saved, it doesn’t precede it. Secondly, fear of judgment does not produce love for God, it displays a need for the Savior. And even then, this sign fails because it’s not helping people understand sin, it’s making them think that they have to do the right things (go to church) instead of trusting in the right Savior. It is a blatant misrepresentation of the Christian faith and of Christ Himself.

Lessons Learned
While I am obviously upset about what the sign says, I don’t want to walk away without learning something from it. All of us have a public arena in which we disclose to others what we believe, think, feel, and so on. We each have our own “church sign” if you follow me. It may be in verbal conversation or it may be on the internet in a place like Facebook or (like me) on a blog. When you’re representing yourself and others, you have a responsibility – it’s called integrity.

So let me offer a few ways that we can see integrity come about in our declarations:

1. Be mindful of who may hear you. The church sign in question did not consider that someone who struggles with belief in God may read their statement and be further damaged by it. When you’re expressing yourself in public, think about the damage or benefit your statement could have on a variety of people. Is it broad enough that, without a qualification, it could be beneficial to a large number of people? This will help you be both pragmatic and helpful to more folks who come in contact with your statements.

2. Be mindful of how your tone will affect the hearer/reader. Let’s assume that maybe the church staff who put up the statement on the sign DID consider who their audience would be and decided to be abrasive anyway. This is extremely damaging. When you are expressing your position, remember that you will largely draw in or push away your “opponent” with tone. Take my response to the sign as an example: I’ve come on strong. This is not by accident since there’s an appropriate time to be firm. But I’m focusing my energy on attacking the statement, not on attacking the people behind it.

3. Be mindful of who you’re representing (or misrepresenting). The sign is making a statement about God. It’s rather important that you represent Him well isn’t it? It’s one thing to misrepresent yourself, that can be corrected with relative ease. But when you misrepresent someone else, that can be much harder to undo. And when you misrepresent someone of great status, the damage is compounded. So be sure to do your background work on the person you’re representing. Know what they’re saying just as well as they do (in the case of God that’s not attainable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t handle your information with the utmost care).

I hope these few insights will encourage all of us to be more thorough, gracious, and helpful in our public self-expression.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin

Brief Apologetics: Critique 4

If you missed the first post from this series, please click here and take a moment to read the introduction.

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Critique 4:
It’s fine to keep your religion in your own private world but don’t bring it out in the public square and don’t try to proselytize.

Answer:
This seems like a reasonable request on the surface, but it’s absolutely impossible for anyone to abide by. In fact, when you said that to me, you just violated it. Here you are trying to convince me that I shouldn’t go around trying to convince others. Isn’t that perhaps a bit of a double-standard? Beyond that, how do I compartmentalize the lens through which I view the whole world? My views on marriage, sex, freedom, God, humans, etc. all flow out of my faith commitments. And if you’re a person of no faith, then your values on the same issues flow out of your disbelief in a deity and your commitments to science, logic, evolution, etc. We can’t ask each other to leave our values at the door. What we need to do is learn how to live together peaceably with different values. It’s like any other relationship, it demands compromise.

Brief Apologetics: Critique 3

If you missed the first post from this series, please click here and take a moment to read the introduction.

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Critique 3:
We needed God previously to make sense of our world and ourselves, but now that we understand the world around us through the growth of science and technology, we have no more need for religious belief.

Answer:
Sure we’ve learned a tremendous amount about our world and the universe through science and technology.  The trouble is that science and religion answer different questions about reality. Science asks “What?” and “How?” Religion asks “For what purpose?” Science is rooted in observation of the material, religion is rooted in connection to the immaterial. Since science doesn’t answer the questions religion asks, there can’t be a replacement. They work in tandem not in opposition. We still need both to make sense of our existence.


Unnecessary Debate: Preaching the Gospel vs. Living the Gospel

More and more, I’m seeing some church leaders argue over the priority of preaching the gospel versus doing good deeds as they pertain to the Church’s mission (for instance, see this upcoming debate). This distinction baffles me a bit and I’d like to spend a few words detailing my concerns about what I consider to be a false dichotomy. Let me give two reasons why this debate shouldn’t exist:

  1. No Biblical Support
    The Bible doesn’t say anywhere “Declaring the gospel is MORE IMPORTANT than to live a life of Christlike service to others.” I’ve never seen a passage which makes that kind of distinction (feel free to show me one if it’s there). Jesus actually says that caring for others IS caring for Him (Mt. 25:40). The Scriptures assume that God’s people will bear the testimony of Christ while pouring their lives out for the sake of others. James 2:18 is perhaps the best verse I can go to in order to illustrate this: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Notice how James categorizes every part of the Christian’s life as “works.” What you say with your mouth and do with your hands are both part of the same category: works! So why make any distinction? It’s unnecessary.
  2. Inconsistent with the Gospel
    One pastor made the point that people are not saved by your good deeds and therefore their need to hear the gospel preached is more important than your practical acts of service to them. True, but they are also not saved by your preaching of the gospel. It is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as well as the re-birth of the Spirit that saves them. Our job is to point them to that. So how can preaching be more primary than good deeds? Moreover, Christ’s actions for us are just as important as His words to us. If all Christ had done was to come as a prophet and simply give us a message, Christianity would be just another religion. The evangel is precisely that Jesus did all the necessary work for our salvation. He HAD to do it and we HAD to hear about it.

As you’ve figured out, my thesis is not that one of these is more primary than the other. I’m saying that they are both an essential part of our witness. Would it make sense to argue that the rind and the pulp of an orange are two different pieces of fruit? That would be ridiculous. Both are different parts of the same fruit. Similarly, the Church should be committed to gospel preaching and gospel works. Our mission should be to spread God’s fame through every part of our lives. So let’s quit arguing about it and put the greatness and grace of Christ on display in everything we say and do.

For His glory and fame,
Dustin Smetona