Archive for January 2012

Have a little faith and How Reformed Theology proves that all religions are not the same

January 30, 2012

Whether it is Oprah, a college religion professor or a Hallmark Channel movie, our culture likes the idea that all religions are equal and that they are essentially doing the same thing.  This weekend, I watched a Hallmark Channel movie, Have a little faith: a true story, which attempts to demonstrate this point through a moving story of inter-faith activity.  The movie is based a book by Mitch Albon (author of Tuesdays with Morrie) which tells the story of interfaith activities in Detroit and the life stories of Albon’s rabbi and an inner-city pastor who went from gang banger to man of the cloth.  The movie is encouraging in that it shows how people from various faith traditions can work together for the common good.  In addition, Have a little Faith, portrays Albons’s Rabbi as a delightful man who selflessly serves his congregation for fifty years, helping his congregants get through all of life’s storms by providing them with a sympathetic ear and wisdom of the ages.  It is next to impossible not to fall in love with this man.

But unfortunately, this movie attempts to promote the idea that all religions are essentially the same.  There is a scene where Albon’s character is in a grocery store with his Rabbi and the Rabbi greets one his friends. The Rabbi then tells Albon that this woman is a very religious Hindu who he greatly respects.  Albon then asked the Rabbi, “Why are you so high on this woman’s religion, shouldn’t you as a Jew be promoting your own religion?”  The Rabbi responds, that essentially religions are like trees, some are oaks, some are maples some are apple trees, but in the end they all have the same goal.

The Rabbi in this movie might have met our culture’s standards of being a good Jew, but after reading the prophets of Jeremiah and Isaiah with a Covenant theology perspective, I am not sure if, he met God’s standards of being a good Jew.  All throughout the Old Testament, the prophets are chastising the Jews for chasing after foreign gods.  Jeremiah in the second chapter, using marital imagery told the Jews that they spread their legs before idols like whores.  The whole narrative of the Old Testament is about how God called a people to be separate and refrain from living like their neighbors by worshipping idols but instead to be a nation of priests that led people to THE GOD.  Then because the Jews refused to submit to God, God exiled them from the land of Israel.  Based on that criterion, Judaism and Hinduism are not the same, one worships THE GOD and another worships gods like Israel’s neighbors in the Biblical period.

Ironically Albon put a glaring contradiction in his book and screenplay.  In another part of the movie Albon’s character is talking with the gangbanger turned pastor and told the pastor that because the pastor now runs a church in the intercity, works with the homeless and tries to get drug addicts and drug dealers out of that life style, the pastor had made up for his evil deeds.  Then the pastor (played by Lawrence Fishburne) responded with a response that articulates the heart of the gospel,  “you can’t repay God for what he has done for you.”  My reformed theology meter went off and my inside voice said, EXACTLY!!!  And I thought, based on the Pauline epistles and the book of Hebrews; the pastor understood the heart of Judaism better than the Rabbi. The pastor got to the heart of the Old Testament and New Testament; it’s all about faith not works. I am fairly certain that Albon did not pick up on this, but the pastor’s response completely contradicted the philosophy of the Rabbi.  The pastor simply stated that we can not make ourselves right with God, yet every religion in including many forms of Christianity (some Catholics, and some Arminians) teach that man must make himself right with God by performing good deeds.

Whether the pastor was reformed or not is impossible to tell from the movie, but his response parrots the theology of the protestant reformers.  Martin Luther and the protestant reformers turned that idea of salvation by works on its ear.  Calvin masterfully married, Paul’s teachings about justification by faith and James’s teachings that faith without works is dead and demonstrated that yes salvation is through Justification by faith and it is out of that justification that Christians are to do works in the process of sanctification as God brings man to glorification.  For Calvin, works and good will to man should be a product of salvation not a means of salvation because no one can repay God or use their works to put God in a head lock so that he will have to let you into heaven.

Calvin and reformed theology demonstrate that the Rabbi was indeed wrong, all religions do not have the same goal.   While the goal of most religions is to get right with God through works, Reformed Christianity teaches that we are made right with God by his work on our behalf and our works flow out of that relationship as we live as we were created to live; Two very different Goals.  To read more about the heart of reformed theology see Michael Horton’s book, For Calvinism.

If the protestant reformers were wrong about the message of Christianity than Oprah, the college professors, Hallmark movies and Mitch Albon are right, all religions are the same because they are all about men working their way toward God or gods.  All religions are based on a revelation (the Bible, Quran, Buddha, Hindu scriptures), which points man to God or gods and provides the steps to take to get right with God gods.  But if the reformers were right, some God or gods did not give man a law to point him to God, but instead God came himself in the person of Jesus Christ to reconcile man with himself and fulfilled the law himself so that man can have a right relationship with THE GOD.

If the reformers were right than the death and resurrection of Christ demonstrate that man’s goal is to live in the already not yet of the inaugurated kingdom of God awaiting the consummation of the kingdom.  The goal of reformed Christianity looks to Revelation chapters 21 and 22 as the goal of our relationship with God, not self-actualization, not getting my personal relationship with Jesus just so, not even doing as much good to others as possible, but rather total and complete restoration of creation.  Sorry Rabbi Lewis, but I don’t know of any religion that has that goal therefore all religions do not have the same goal.

The fact that some religions believe in one God and other believe in many gods demonstrate that all religions are not the same.  In fact agnostic religion professor James Carse author of A Religious case against beleif argues that is simple laziness and lack of understanding about religion to assume they are all the same.  I completely agree with Carse and when an agnostic and myself a self proclaimed Puritan agree on something, it is worth serious consideration.


Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Sex

January 27, 2012

As the United States enters another presidential election cycle many of the nation’s hot button issues are surfacing.  Abortion has been one of those hot button issues for the last forty years and this year seems to be continuing the trend.  Abortion has been getting lots of press recently.  In Chicago the media has been reporting that in 2010 Illinois reached a 37 year low in abortions.  According to the reports, only 42,000 abortions were performed in Illinois in 2010, which is roughly the size of the population of Elmhurst, Illinois.  In addition, the Christian Post published a blog entry entitled, Why won’t abortion go away as an issue? The entry is well worth reading and does a nice job discussing the history of the abortion debates, but it fails to address what I believe is really behind the abortion debate, SEX.  Often times the abortion debates focus on who defines when life begins, but no one talks about how the abortion debate is influenced by the way Americans view sex.

I recently read a thought provoking book entitled, Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism, where the author, Dale S. Kuehne, (Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH) argues that since the sexual revolution in the 1960s the west’s relationship with sex has radically changed.  According to Kuehne, over the last fifty years sex has gone from an activity to a right that should be protected like the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While reading Keuhne’s book I could not help but wonder, if Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence in our current age, would he have began with, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of sex.  But Keuhne went even further, he contends that since the 1960s Americans have not only elevated sex to a right but they have made sex a means of self-identification.   Further, he argues that from debates over distributing condoms in the schools to debates over LGBT issues the idea that sex is a right and a means of self-identity, has governed the conversations.

I think Kuehne makes a strong case for this thesis and his insights are helpful in understanding the abortion debates.   Based on conversations I have had with many of my pro-choice friends they do see sex as their right and they want laws to protect them from the consequences of sex that might impinge on their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. No one is forcing men and women to have sex and then “Have” to deal with the consequences of an unexpected pregnancy.  But because some people believe sex is a “Constitutional Right” or better a right given by our creator, they want laws that protect every aspect of that right.  For some people, abortion is a safety net so that they can have their sex without having to deal with the ramifications of an unexpected pregnancy.  I do not subscribe to the Rick Santorum School of anti- abortion, but I am troubled by a nation of people who have so elevated their right to have sex that  there are 42,000 destroyed fetuses in Illinois during 2010 and  that is the lowest total in 37 years. Now granted not every abortion is done because the parents want to shirk their responsibility.  But it is about time that we get the real issue on the table, how do we view sex?

Therefore, we will never make progress in the abortion debate until we get to the root issue and discuss how we understand sex.   If we have some people in the nation who believe it is their right to have sex while there are others who believe sex is something given by the creator to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage between a man and woman, it is possible that there will never be a resolution that satisfies everyone. But the issue is never going to leave our political debates until we finally discuss why some people want the right to have an abortion.

Why Last Saturday’s Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

January 19, 2012

Why Last Saturday’s Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Its about time

January 15, 2012
This is a great article and I loved it. There are three points I would add. First, there is a time when evangelicals should use more than just persuasion. During the years leading up the Civil War there were evangelicals who thought it was enough to just persuade people that slavery was wrong. Sometimes when something as heinous as slavery is taking place evangelicals should demand that laws b…e changed and they should use the ballot box to do this. But using the ballot box can not be the only way evangelicals oppose wrong. Second, the issues that motivate evangelicals should be based on a kingdom ethic and Jesus kingdom is not of this world or from this world. Therefore evangelicals should never confuse Christ’s kingdom with a political party or nation. Evangelicals should never think it is their role to fill a power vacuum. Third, It is one thing to use the political powers to promote kingdom ethics but when the political parties or nations promote values that are opposed to kingdom ethics evangelicals need to work to promote kingdom ethics without the political backing. Evangelicals should stop allowing the GOP to dangle the carrot of pro-life in front of them to get votes. Evangelicals could do way more for the unborn by supporting single mothers and adoption than they ever could by filling the coffers of the GOP with the hope that some person will get elected