Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Belief-less” Christianity? Don’t buy it!

John Shuck believes that religion was invented by humans; he believes that faith is a product of evolution; he believes that Jesus might have been a historical figure, but stories about Him are legend; he believes that God isn’t real; and he believes that there is no afterlife. Up until now there was a name for that, “atheist.” But Shuck has made news lately for demanding another name, ”Christian.” 

The reason this is news is because Shuck is a Minister with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), yet he doesn’t believe in God. And while a minister losing faith is nothing new, Shuck has an interesting twist. Losing faith didn’t cause him to leave the ministry. Rather, he glorifies a new gospel that he calls, “Belief-less Christianity!”

Now, at its root, this is just the logical conclusion of what C.S. Lewis bemoaned when he said that the word “Christian” had become meaningless – merely a “good person.” But there is something far more sinister at work here. Can one be a Christian and have no faith in Jesus? No faith in God? No belief in the afterlife?

Most Christians realize that the Bible exclusively teaches a faith-based religion. It always has been and always will be. There is no other way to practice it; and there is certainly no other way to be saved by it.

In the New Testament (ie., Romans 4, Galatians 3:6, Hebrews 11:19, and James 2:23), physical lineage is shown to mean nothing without faith. It is by faith that Israel has always been Israel. It is by faith that Israel was pleasing to God. It is by BELIEF in ACTION.

Christians are believers. Peter spoke among those who believed (Acts 1:15). At Antioch, believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Salvation, belief, and Christianity are intertwined (Acts 15:11, 16:31; Romans 10:9). There simply is no such thing (in scripture) as an acceptable and “belief-less” Christianity.

Yet, Shuck doesn’t appreciate being told that he isn’t a Christian. He doesn’t appreciate that “Christianity has placed all of its eggs in the belief basket.” In his congregation, people are encouraged to “bring your own God” or “none at all.” But he insists it is still “Christianity!”

Friends, I hope you see that the two positions are incompatible. The clearest teaching in scripture is that salvation is based on belief in Jesus, joining in his death, burial, and resurrection through baptism, and living a life in enduring faith. Shuck claims that “belief-less” Christianity is thriving, but don’t be duped. “Belief-less” Christianity…it is no Christianity at all.

I’ll keep my “eggs in the belief basket” over Shuck’s new gospel any day!

Dear Google, “Can You Just Tell Me What Is True, Please?”

cens_burnAh, the ultimate question: “What is truth?” Humanity has debated it for thousands of years. But thanks to new developments at Google, the struggle may soon be over. Google will just tell you what’s true! Wow, that was easy!

A miracle? No. It’s just algorithms and databases. But a recent proposal by a Google funded research team is striking fear and anger in the hearts of many. What’s the big deal? Who cares? Well, you should, and here’s why: Google shapes “truth” more than you know.

You see, under Google’s current methods, popularity tends to win the day. Google gives a higher preference to websites that are heavily used and pages that have the most cross-linked information. The basic thinking is like Wikipedia: more people will link to good information and report or comment negatively about bad information.

But Google figured out that there is a lot of garbage on the Internet. After all, people will say anything. And, even worse, people will share that “anything” without checking resources. But how do you stop people from finding sites with bad information on them? Google has a solution – trust them!

So the idea is this: Google would analyze the content of a web sites and give a “Knowledge Based Trust Score” based on how closely a web site matches the several billion “facts” in their “Knowledge Vault.” Web sites that match things that Google “knows to be true” will get preferential treatment. Web sites that do not match Google’s version of “facts” will lose ranking and hits.

Hurray! After all, we like facts, right? Don’t you love truth? Hmmm…wait a second…are Google “facts” always reliable?

Well, sort of. I like Google if I want an address, a telephone number, or the metric tons of bat guano processed at mines in Puerto Rico in the late 1800’s (100 metric tons/day, by the way). But what will Google do when conflicting sources disagree about the so-called “facts” of really important stuff? Who will get preference then?

The implications are incredible. Want to know if God exists? Ask Google. Want to know how the world started? Ask Google. Want to know how to get to Heaven? Ask Google.

Starting to see the problem? The vast majority of the public uses Google as their main search engine; they are the 800-pound gorilla. What if they start steering people toward a particular denomination or religion? Or what if they determine that those answers are best left to science? The query, “Google, how am I saved?” may return ten websites about penicillin!

Now, I’m not trying to be alarmist or a conspiracy theorist on this. But it does raise questions that are worth discussing. Where do you get your information? How do you determine what a “fact” is? And are you willing to trust Google’s database of “facts” to determine what books and websites are worth reading?

If your website is “flagged” as a source that Google does not agree with, then the consequences will be significant. Your page might not even register on a web search on a given topic. After all, most people never go to those buried 3rd and 4th pages on a search. Google won’t think of it as it “censorship,” but rather, “helpful suggestions” on what is the “right” information to read. 

Pilate once challenged Jesus with the question, “What is truth?” Some people believe Pilate was really asking Jesus for Words of truth. Others believe he was sarcastically saying that truth is whatever he says it is. Either way, we are still wrestling with this question almost 2,000 years later. Can Google end the debate? If only there were a book that had the answers! Oh, wait…there is.

You see, while I may not be ready to trust Google’s “facts” on salvation, Google is a great way to look up verses in the book that does have that information – the Bible! The Bible is the only true source of facts regarding eternity. It contains the God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17) words of life. Don’t believe me? Just Google it! 😉

 

 

Blurred Lines Aren’t Blurry To Jury, Or God

It is a vulgar song. The videos are lewd. Censors tried to censor it. Many universities fought it because they believe it glorifies “date rape.” Many places in the United Kingdom banned playing it. Yet, nothing could stop “Blurred Lines.” It was the longest running #1 song of 2013 and of the last decade. It has grossed over $16 million dollars, and it is one of the best-selling singles of all time.

In the end, though, it appears that the only thing that could take the blurred giant down will be…lack of originality! Well, in the legal world, they call it plagiarism and copyright infringement. But basically, it is the same old story – “you took my idea and didn’t give me credit!”

You see, “Blurred Lines” is very similar to Marvin Gaye’s 1977, “Got to Give It Up.” VERY SIMILAR. And Robin Thicke admitted in interviews that when he brought the idea to Pharrell Williams, he was looking for something similar to Gaye’s song. Interestingly, Robin Thicke’s defense claimed that he was too “coked up” to have contributed to plagiarism, but the jury sided with Gaye’s estate: plagiarism lines aren’t blurry.

And inevitably someone will say, “Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun.” But if this case really teaches us anything about life “under the sun,” it is that “blurred lines” will be our undoing. For thousands of years, people have called good what God calls evil (Isaiah 5:20). And glorifying evil is always wrong.

Blurred lines have been a destructive force in Robin Thicke’s life for some time. He has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, he shamed himself with Miley Cyrus in front of the world, his wife filed for divorce, and he has been plagued by lawsuits for plagiarism. And still, the world hails “Blurred Lines?”

It took a jury to stop the glorification of  “Blurred Lines.” When will we stop glorifying the “blurred lines” of sin? If we won’t, surely future generations will continue to blur the lines until they are unrecognizable. And who can blame them; they won’t have a single straight line to go by. The only lines worth glorifying are found in the Word of God. He doesn’t praise blurred lines and neither should we.

Judge vs James: Faith Without Works is…Legal, But Dead?

flowers-gavAt first glance, it might just seem like the same old news: another florist, another same-sex couple, and another ruling. But what may seem to some as a simple judgment might just be the most important thing that you read today.

It isn’t Barronelle Stutzman’s plea that she is being forced to celebrate same-sex unions against her rights and faith. It isn’t the fact that she was sued. And it certainly isn’t the fact that a judge ruled against her. All of that is par for the course these days.

But what should grab your attention is Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom’s reasoning for ruling against Stutzman: you can believe, but you can’t necessarily practice, religion!

Now on the face of things, that might sound almost reasonable. After all, we live in jihadist times. And we certainly don’t want militant jihadists following the parts of the Koran that tell Muslims to kill all infidels (ie., Quran 2:191-193).

But religious freedom has always carried with it elements of a practiced faith, not just a believing faith.

So if a Christian won’t sell flowers to someone for the purpose of celebrating something that their faith teaches is an abomination, are they to be treated as the jihadist? After all, the same-sex couple had many other flower shops that gladly offered to serve them – some that even offered to give them the flowers for free. Won’t the marketplace take care of this by itself?

But what if the flowers weren’t the goal? What if compliance with the law isn’t even the goal? What if faith without works is the goal – an empty belief? And until the practice of the Christian faith is dead, persecution will continue.

Christians who thought they could “coexist” and practice their faith, in this legal environment, are in for a rude awakening.

You see, Ekstrom’s ruling violates a fundamental principle that has been “on the books” for almost 2,000 years. James, the half-brother of Jesus, explained, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). In fact, James has harsh words for one who would take Ekstrom’s position: “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”

Of course, I preach James, not Ekstrom. And I tell a congregation every Sunday that we need to put our faith into action. We need to have a living, working faith to be a church that is pleasing to God. But if we put those words into practice, have we violated the law? And am I inciting others to violate the law?

Perhaps. But that is no surprise. And James still says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).