Monthly Archives: January 2011

Is Christianity coherent, consistent and livable? Part 1 of 5

Quite a while ago I contributed a post titled “Coherent, Consistent, and Livable” to a series titled “Is Christianity is True” organized by Brian Auten. Shortly after the compiled book was published, Luke Muehlhauser announced his intentions to publish a rebuttal to each essay in the “Is Christianity is True?” series in a “Why Christianity is False” series of his own.

Well, it seems that Luke finally got around to writing a response to my post titled “Christianity is Incoherent”. I’m glad to see Luke’s response, I was afraid for a while that it would never materialize!

Now that it’s here, let’s example the rebuttals and see whether Luke has, in fact, demonstrated that Christian belief is incoherent, inconsistent, and not livable.

I initially wrote my response as one long piece, but it quickly grew to the point where I doubted whether anyone other than Luke1 would read it.

So stay tuned, over the course of the following week we’ll explore several issues and see how well Christianity and other worldviews fare when held up to the standard I outlined in my initial post.

In the meantime, I encourage anyone who hasn’t read my initial article to go take a look at it. Read Luke’s response as well. My goal here is not only to engage with Luke but also to invite others into the discussion.

  1. I assume Luke would read any length response I wrote since I also assume that Luke’s questions were honest ones and not merely for show. []
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Greek resources: fonts

In order to learn and use Greek alphabet, you’ll need to have a suitable Greek font installed on your system. Here are a few resources to hopefully point you in the right direction:

  1. How to Read, Write, Print and Email in Greek
  2. Greek Fonts (Unicode)
  3. Ancient Greek font
  4. Unicode specification for Greek language (technical)
  5. Bible Greek and Hebrew Fonts
  6. More Unicode Greek fonts
  7. More Greek fonts

I have seen some fonts that do not conform to the Unicode standard and the result is that anything done in that font is completely unusable by anyone without the font. So it is important that you pay attention to whether the font you are using for Greek conforms to the Unicode standard or not.

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Toy Story as worldview

I’ve been watching Disney’s Toy Story trilogy with my kids recently and something has occurred to me. They all deal with the question of eternal destiny.

Toy Story 1

In Toy Story 1 we get a glimpse of hell with Sid’s room and treatment of his toys vs heaven with Andy’s room. The story begins and ends with the notion that a loving family (loosely speaking) is the best place for any toy to be. Meaning and purpose are seen to derive from their owner.

There are various other sub-plots, like Woody’s jealousy of the newcomer Buzz, and those also provide rich parallels with Biblical parables and concepts. But ultimately these plots are only valid with regard to the central existential question of meaning and purpose.

This movie ends with Woody and Buzz reconciling to live in harmony with each other and their owner in a quasi-family.

Toy Story 2

In Toy Story 2 Woody faces a dilemma of whether to stay with Andy or whether to join the collector’s toy set. In the beginning Woody’s arm is ripped causing Woody to face is own finiteness. After being discovered in a yard sale by someone who recognizes his intrinsic value, Woody is given the opportunity to be preserved, in pristine condition, in a museum in Japan.

During the course of the movie we learn that Stinky Pete will do anything, including threaten the lives of other toys, because he does not believe that lasting love is possible.

This movie ends with the quasi toy family being expanded to include two of the toys who were going to be preserved along with Woody.

Toy Story 3

In Toy Story 3 all the toys are confronted with their finiteness of purpose.

Andy is grown up and can seemingly grant them no more purpose (which, for a toy, is to be played with). So the toys speculate as to their fate. Their choices appear to be

  1. The landfill (nihilism)
  2. The attic (eternal bliss devoid of purpose)
  3. Playschool (eternal bliss of fulfilled purpose)

After narrowly dodging option 1, which all consider to be undesirable, the group heads for option 3. However the playschool, as they soon find out, contains both a heaven and a hell and they, being newcomers, are relegated to hell.

In the course of escaping from “hell” the toys decide that they prefer option 4 which is eternal bliss of fulfilled purpose with love.

Conclusion

I think the writers of the Toy Story trilogy displayed amazing insight when it comes to the meaning and purpose of life. We are made for community, specifically we are designed to be part of a family. Our meaning and purpose are derived from our owner.

If we trace the ownership of the toys in Toy Story we can form a rather interesting picture.

Toy Story 1 begins with the toys being owned by Andy. Then Woody and Buzz become the property of Sid1. At the end of the movie they are safely “at home” with Andy.

Toy Story 2 begins with the toys being owned by Andy. Then Andy’s mother mistakenly sells Woody to Al McWiggin (Big Al’s Toy Barn). At the end of the movie the toys are safely “at home” with Andy.

Toy Story 3 begins with the toys being owned by Andy. Then the Toys are donated to the Sunshine Academy (meaning they are effectively owner-less). The toys make their way back to Andy who, at the end of this movie gives them to Bonnie with the stipulation that she love them as he did/does.

I’ve mentioned some of these concepts to my kids. Being 5 years old and under I have my work cut out for me. However the main concept I want them to take away from these movies is this:

Ownership matters.

It offends many in our culture greatly to think that we, as contingent beings, owe our existence to any other being. Christopher Hitchens considers this notion to be a form of slavery. However the fact remains that just as we had no say with regards to our coming into existence, we will likely have little say with regards to the options of our eternal state.

Choose wisely.

  1. From a legal standpoint one could argue that Sid never actually owned, but was merely in custody of the toys for a period of time []
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Is America Satanophobic?

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A note about senior pastors

Recently I Tweeted

“Senior pastor” is found in the Bible, its 1 Peter 5:4 and it refers to Jesus, not the CEO of your local church business.

Based off of this post on Alan Knox’s blog.

Here’s my extended take on the issue.

Senior pastors, indeed all professional pastors, bear a burden they were never meant to carry nor called to carry according to Scripture.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find one man saddled with the load the average church pastor is expected to carry. Contrary to John Piper, pastors today are, by and large, professionals. When you have a staff, budget, building, etc. you are a professional. In fact you are a business owner. A CEO.

Contrast this situation with what we find in Scripture where all believers are called to lift eachother up in mutual edification. Where no one man or elite group of men are commanded to lord over the flock from a position of authority.

To the contrary, the only form of leadership known in Scripture is servant leadership. Real servant leadership. Not the kind where the pastor takes home a nice check from his customers every month. Not the kind where the senior pastor gets to call all the shots (or influence the committees who give the appearance of calling the shots in most cases).

Real servant leadership where their leading is done through persuasive argument and not positional or credentialed authority lorded over “their” sheep.

I pity senior pastors, their existence harms everyone.

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Chewing the fat

We have an expression in the south, “Chewing the fat”. Fat is often the source of the best flavor, and it generally sticks around for a while like bubble gum. However it really doesn’t have much (if any) nutritional value. So to chew the fat is to partake in something that is enjoyable, but ultimately contains no nutritional value.

Now some chewing of fat is a good thing. The problem comes in, however, when we think what we are chewing on is not fat.

Im most churches today I would wager that members are chewing the fat. They attend bible studies that have little to no nutritional value. But since they often have excellent spiritual flavor, emotional experiences, superficial intimacy among participants, etc. they are not generally known for what they are.

Spiritual fat.

Not even milk. Just fat.

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Training, sparring, fighting

There are at least three elements that make up a solid defender of the Christian faith.

Training

You can’t fight if you don’t know how. You might be able to flail about, but you won’t be very effective. What’s worse is that you are just as likely to hurt yourself and those on your side than you are the enemy. Especially since part of the training process is developing the ability to tell the difference between friend and foe and properly take stock of a battlefield before charging off to engage the enemy.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. -2 Timothy 2:15

Sparring

The expression used of a 2nd lieutenant in the army is “butter bars”.

After completing OCS (Officer Candidate School), a large number of newly minted butter bars tend to think that they are General Patton reincarnated and have the belief that after months of schooling they know much more than 30 year combat hardened NCOs.

Like the army, we are prone to think that mere knowledge will be enough to face the enemy with, and unfortunately many (including myself) have rushed off into battle without spending the time to properly spar with our fellow brothers at arms first.

The reason for this is simple. We never want to go into battle without at least stress testing new tactics and ideas with our battle hardened comrades. Its better to find out that our armor and weapons aren’t up to snuff in the sparring ring where our opponent isn’t seeking to do permanent damage than it is to discover our shortcomings as the knife is plunged deep into our heart by a true enemy.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. -Proverbs 27:17

Fighting

All the training and sparring in the world is pointless if it is not ultimately employed on the field of battle.

The primary means of advancing the kingdom of Christ is through winning the hearts and minds of those around us who have been captured by the enemies of false teaching and sensuous pleasure.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12

Because of this, it is incumbent on us to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to engage the enemy wherever we find him, in whatever form he happens to be in.1

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Corinthians 10:5

As we fight, it is important to keep in mind that the enemy is not “flesh and blood”. So when we are interacting with a non-Christian we should treat them with the utmost respect and civility. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight with every fiber of our being the thoughts and practices that have captured them.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. -G. K. Chesterton

At the same time

Training, sparring, and fighting should be ongoing activities in each Christian’s life. Some might object that new Christians shouldn’t be rushed into battle for fear of their being cut down. To that I propose that we “go to the lions” and teach our new recruits how to fight by going with them into minor skirmishes. Part of the role of a mature Christian should be designating and delegating strategic targets of opportunity for less mature Christians.

However it is incumbent on all Christians to charge the gates of hell in order to advance the kingdom of Christ here on earth.

  1. I’m using the personal pronoun “he” here to refer to anything that “sets itself up against the knowledge of God”. []
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Judge not, lest ye abdicate your civic responsibility

I recently got called to serve jury duty in Fulton County, Atlanta. During the voir dire process where the jury panel is asked a bunch of general questions, the defendant’s lawyers asked if anyone held any religious, philosophical, spiritual, etc. Beliefs which would prevent them from sitting on a jury if selected.

Two of the women on the panel raised their cards and said their religious beliefs taught them not to judge anyone.

When pressed, the women cited Nubian and “Baptist” as their respective belief systems. The baptist couldn’t, when pressed, cite the specific reason why or where her belief on non-judgement was grounded.

I’ve written about the errant belief that the bible teaches that “thou shalt not judge” before. But this is the first time I’ve seen that belief interfere with someone doing their civic duty.

Beliefs matter, and false beliefs have wide reaching ramifications. I certainly hope that if I am ever in need of a jury of my peers, my peers will see it as a moral imperative to follow the words of Jesus and “make a right judgement”.

Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. -John 7:24

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A call for economic mission trips

I’ve written on the problems with short term mission trips before. But what should or could we do instead to both use the resources we have access to more wisely and, at the same time, prevent the problem of dependency (HT Missional Edge).

Several years ago the church we were in at the time hosted a missionary couple who described a radical (to me anyway) way they were approaching missions. Their approach was to plant a for-profit business designed to raise the local workers’ standard of living. After hearing how they operated and how their missionary efforts actually ended up turning a profit for the International Mission Board1, I developed quite a fondness for this Business as Missions model of changing lives, and hopefully hearts. This struck me as a perfect opportunity to help the poor in other nations while at the same time honoring them by helping develop long term sustainable economic growth wherein all the people around them would hopefully be blessed.

It has become hugely popular for short term missionaries (or vacationaries) to 3rd world nations to We go over to 3rd world countries, notice the poverty and complain about it. But complaining and handouts don’t lift nations out of poverty. The only thing known to do that is capitalism.

Capitalism is what makes a country go from 3rd world to 1st world. Handouts will not only help a country grow economically, they will actually end up hurting them.

Where as our current approach to missions tends to produce dependency , a focus on economically developing an area through micro loans given to local people through a trustworthy agency has the potential to radically change an area for the better. Organizations like Kiva, who seek out local partners that are interested in the long-term growth and development of an area have been shown to produce real, lasting results.

For those who still are inclined to travel the world, the focus of such trips should be on the long-term growth and development of the people. Not the short-term decision-for-Christ-so-we-can-count-another-notch-in-our-belt.

Selfless entrepreneurs can and should be sent to selflessly serve and help setup businesses in the 3rd world to help left their culture out of poverty.2

Here are a few videos to help you understand what we as a Christian community can do if we stop wasting our money on short term vacations and, instead, seek to be responsible with how we invest our time, money, and energy.

Podcast interview of Jessica Jackley

Bonus, Hans Rosling mentions microfinance in this Ted Talk video on the statistics of global poverty:

  1. For some reason I do not think this couple remained with IMB. I don’t think this model of missions fits the hand-out view of missions most Southern Baptists seem to favor. []
  2. People whose only gift is preaching are almost wholly worthless in my estimation for the long-term growth and development of an area in my estimation. []
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History of the Climate Agenda

History of the Climate Agenda from FEE on Vimeo.

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