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March 29, 2007

Comments

Melinda wrote:

"This reminds me of non-Christians who are "offended" because Christians think they're going to Hell. Why be offended by what someone else thinks? It's a disagreement, not an insult."

This represents an emotional inability to empathize. No, its not wrong, it just represents the reality of many Christians being unable to relate to non-Christians. There are many things which each of us cannot relate to because of inexperience.

Christians don't intend to insult people when they mention the possibility of Hell, but for non-Christians it flow logically from what they know. Non-Christians know that admission to Hell requires a judgment against the one sent there. They also know that salvation in something which only those who are in trouble, "sinners," need. Either way, saved or condemned it seems that the opinion of a person is the same: Christians sound prejudiced and offensively so.

Now, this offense is inherent to the Gospel message, but it can be minimized if instead of emphasizing Heaven and Hell we emphasize the all-knowing, ever present, loving God of the Bible who wants us to know him not just in the future but beginning now, when it is presented this way, it is very appealing.

**********************

Jn 17:3
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

When it comes to politics. It is wrong to flaunt one's attendance at at church worship service. It would be much better if politicians could actually state their values and show how it is that they have labored in pursuit and defense of those values (if any).

The following statement bothers me a little:

"If a presidential candidate is a Christian, then sure I can understand better where his values flow from."

Yes, this can be helpful but the reasoning can turn very inductive. This can lead to many false assumptions. Political candidates are aware that hearing certain labels can steer public support and I think many politicians simply bear the label "Christian" so that voters will make them out to be saints despite their record or what the opposition may say.

For an example see the Time magazine story, "Why a Christian in the White House Felt Betrayed"

http://www.time.com/time/magazine
/article/0,9171,1546580,00.html

**************

See Matt 7:15-23 about a tree and its fruit.

"By their fruit you will recognize them."

"Now, this offense is inherent to the Gospel message, but it can be minimized if instead of emphasizing Heaven and Hell we emphasize the all-knowing, ever present, loving God of the Bible who wants us to know him not just in the future but beginning now, when it is presented this way, it is very appealing."

Alvin
You're right that this offense is inherent to the gospel and we don't want to add to it, but if we go too far to minimize it, the gospel becomes meaningless. Understanding our sinfulness and God's righteous judgment are necessary to understand His loving mercy that is offered through Christ, otherwise, His offer to know him is a nice, but optional thing. "Oh, God loves me and wants me to know Him? That's nice, but my social calender is full." I know, a little silly, but if all the gospel is is that God loves us and wants us to know him, then why should we care? Is God lonely? Does He need more friends? The bottom line is that we are sinners that deserve punishment, and God has sent His son to take that punishment on Himself so that we can be reconciled to him. We are reconciled to Him when we place our trust in what Christ did for us to bring about our reconciliation, and not by thinking that somehow we are or can become good enough to be in right relationship with God on our own merits.

Almost every single U.S. President has called himself a Christian. Whether Thompson is or is not, it is natural that his handlers will say he is (it was stated that he was baptized in the Church of Christ) since this is just good P.R. At this point, I will take the best person for the job, male or female, Christian or not. I don't think any of past few Presidents' alleged Christianity has done the country any good.

Bill and Hillary claim to be Christians, too.

I think it is pretty insulting of Dobson to have stated that view publically. It presumes a personal knowledge on his part of Thompson's inner man. I mean, what the h*ll? This day and age, when unfounded personal opinions fly through the media, Dobson should have exercised a little self-control. If Thompson decides to run, and proves to be an able candidate, more power to him.

I wonder how Dobson feels about Hugh Hewitt's "A Mormon in the White House?" Hewitt is solidly behind Romney, based on his abilities to govern, and his values.

Daniel,

We are at majority agreement in this discussion. I think your comments are hardly written in hyperbole. There are those who will react as you say. However, when they do ask about God's intent, at lest then they might listen for the answer. It is then that, in a winsome and persuasive way, we might mention a fuller version of the story hopefully also stressing that God doesn't need, he wants.

My comments are mostly on how to better connect with people. When God is mentioned as all-knowing, ever present, loving, and wanting to have a relationship with human beings there are many confused, hated, abandoned, lonely, or rejected people that this will appeal to. Also, emphasizing now rather than the afterlife is Biblical# and more appealing as it is what people can be more sure of.

Now, here is something you might find interesting, Hell is only mentioned in the New Testament in more modern translations like the NIV. Go ahead word search it at IBS.org; it will immediately jump to Matthew's Gospel. The translators of the NIV deemed it appropriate to translate the word taken to mean "Hell" in earlier versions of the Bible "sheol" as "grave" in the Old Testament because this is the most certainty that the Hebrews had regarding death. Heaven as an afterlife isn't really mentioned in the Old Testament either. Yes, you will find the word "Heaven" referring more to the sky, but, before protesting, consider that Jesus proclaims Himself as the only way to the Father, and that if He hadn't presented Himself yet, then there really was no way to Heaven. What is mentioned in the OT is God's dwelling place and a desire to be there with him. Also, commonly found in the OT is a desire to see God's face. This desire to be with God and to see Him face to face I wish were placed more at the heart of Christianity today.

Emphasis on justice (i.e. sinners deserving punishment) is entirely appropriate to speak of. Hell is the solution offered to Israel's cries for justice throughout the OT. I know I've heard Greg Koukl say that Hell is a good place in that God made it and it serves a purpose and actually I can imagine that there would have been many godly and oppressed people welcoming the idea when Christ first preached it, but times are not quite the same.

People now ask, "How can a loving God send people to Hell?"

God had this question covered from the beginning. Hell, it seems God decided, would only be a solution to the problem of injustice with a way to God being established through Christ.

*************
Matt 22:32
#"He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

(I take this to mean that we should try to know God now in this life, rather than saying anything about an "immortal soul" or the temporal immediacy of an afterlife.)

Alvin,

Here is the context of Mt.22:32:

29Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'[a]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

How do you go from this passage to: "we should try to know God now in this life, rather than saying anything about an "immortal soul" or the temporal immediacy of an afterlife."?

Hi Will,

Firstly, Jesus is criticizing the oversight of those who approached him. They are identified as Sadducees with whom is associated a disbelief and a rejection of a resurrection and an afterlife.

Secondly, I don't think that you are criticizing the notion that God wants us to try to know him now, so I am guessing that you think this might not be an appropriate proof text.

Thirdly, I really don't want to turn the conversation toward the issue of whether the soul might be immortal or the time frame of entrance into Heaven. I did still mention these because I know there are people who read them as such. Those issues are greatly debatable.

The way I read the passage is that Jesus is contrasting his "am" with the Sadducees "will be." It is a contrast of tenses to me. Jesus says God now to the Sadducees who say God later when they expect there won't be a later.

Sometimes I wonder if Dobson (and Falwell and Robertson) have given up choosing their words carefully, since like-minded Christians are generally charitable enough to figure out the intended meaning, and the "mainstream media" et al are generally not.

Not saying this is advisible behavior, but I can understand the frustration.

When Dave Packard (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard) died, I remember reading one quote from a self-proclaimed liberal: "He was the nicest conservative I ever met." (Or words to that effect.) It's rare to find someone who can bridge the divide while remaining true to their principles.

Will, sorry, I ended that last post prematurely.

I just want to add that I don't know if you'll agree, but I hope my explanation is clear. Just ask me again if I have misunderstood your request.

When I listen to or read descriptions of James Dobson it's hard to imagine that they are talking about the same man I've listened to on the radio since I first became a Christian, about 20 years ago. It's horrible.

Alvin,

Thanks for your reply. It seems to me that the point of the passage is to indicate to the Sadducees that they are in error concerning the resurrection, both to its reality and how it is experienced. They are ignorant of the meaning of scripture and the awesome power of God.

Jesus says they have read in the scriptures that God spoke "I am the God of Abraham" He then says God is not the God of the dead but of the living.

If God is the God of the living,not the dead, and he is the God of Abraham, is not Abraham alive?

At this time everyone clearly understood that Abraham had died Gen.25:7-9.

So, I see this as an explicit assurance of resurrection to life after death.

In the process, it is appropriate to say that Jesus is teaching about knowing something about God in this life, though I don't feel that this was the main message of the passage.

Will,

That's one common interpretation, without debating it, I will point out that this passage is polysemic.

Consider the phrase "I am." Ordinarily, anywhere else, this the first person article and the corresponding form of the verb "to be." In the Bible, this is also God's name for himself which he revealed to Moses. In Hebrew this is Yahweh which is commonly transliterated Jehovah or something similar amongst Europeans.

Consider the speaker, this is the self affirming statement being utter by Jesus who is God.

Another angle to consider is that Jesus is contrasting the hypothetical people of the Sadducees' question with those who were historical and real. So, at the same time, he may be pointing out that their belief is not historically rooted nor based in reality.

Another angle to consider is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob also stand for an idea, namely, obedience. They certainly had their share of personal failures and shortcomings, but when they heard God's command they attempted to put it into action in their lives. This might be further imploring the Sadducees to be right with God now.

So, I picked on the punchline in this passage. It speaks a true message in the most forthright sense even without its context. I have read GK's "Never Read Another Bible Verse" and I agree with that message, here, I just didn't want to get side tracked although now I have, but I still have to say it was worth it.

This is just a beginning to going through this passage with a fine toothed comb. I haven't even said anything about marriage and that is the issue that the conversation in the passage started with.

I'll finish by saying, Jesus certainly knew how to get the most out of his words. There is a lot more to Matthew 22:23-33.

*****************
Here's something which for mention of God and country should be easier to relate to the discussion here.

Hebrews 11:13-16

All these people [Enoch, Noah, Abraham and I dare add Isaac and Jacob] were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
**********************

I especially like the last two sentences.

Alvin,

I am not a biblical scholar and I know next to nothing about the original languages of the biblical text, their idioms, figures of speech etc.

That said, I do not see "I am" in this passage of Matthew used in the sense you describe, although I may be mistaken. The usage appears in Ex.3:14-15. It clearly does have that sense in John 8:51-58. I am not yet convinced that it was Jesus intent to convey his nature in this passage use of I am.

I am also reluctant to view the passage as polysemic. On what grounds do you maintain that this is reasonable?

Jesus contrasts the hypothetical married people of the Sadducess to those in the resurrection, who are neither married or given in marriage, but are like angels.

If I understand you correctly, you suggest the contrast is between the hypotheticals of the Sadducess and Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (as historical and real).

I am working, at the moment, from a KJV, another translation may give a different sense but I don't see this relationship in the passage. The portion of the passage mentioning the patriarchs begins "But as touching the resurrection of the dead". Jesus has already dispensed with the topic of marriageor relationship in the resurrection and now intends to address the Sadducees disbelief in the resurrection itself.

Concerning the use of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as representative of the idea of obedience, once again, I can't say that this was what Jesus intended to mean. How do you decide that this is in fact the intention of the passage?

Maybe to try to tie this into the original post so we are not completely off topic, can we really read Dobson's quote above and infer the meaning as a snub. Was that the intent of Dobson's statement? Is it correct for the headline writer to interpret Dobson's statement as a snub?

What are the rules governing interpretation that allow us to get an accurate understanding of the intent of a statement?

As for Dobson, and the headline of the US News and World Report. It looks overblown without knowing what else may have been said in the telephone interview. Judging by the quote, however, Dobson was just drawing a line between morality and religion. It is unfortunate that people don't want to understand this today. There have been people to not understand this for quite a while; just see the exerpt from the preface of "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis below #.

What Dobson said does not seem to fit any of the definitions I can find for the word "snub." It seems that someone needs to find Dan Gilgoff a dictionary and thesaurus.

Furthermore, how can a statement beginning with "I don't know" be construed as definitive? Dobson was expressing doubt. In other words, he was saying that he didn't know. If the writer knew otherwise about Thompson he should have offered the evidence himself in the article.

************************
#
People ask: "Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a
Christian?" or "May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?" Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every amiable quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

...Lewis gives an example using the word "gentleman"....

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say "deepening," the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word
will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts xi. 26) to "the disciples," to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some
refined, spiritual, inward fashion were "far closer to the spirit of Christ" than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

Alvin said:

"As for Dobson, and the headline of the US News and World Report. It looks overblown without knowing what else may have been said in the telephone interview."

I believe it is not wise to postulate publically who is and is not a Christian. You can't escape the tone of judgement that emanates from that pronouncement.

Anytime a public figure like Dobson, Falwell, or Robertson speak publically on matters of faith, no matter what their intentions, it sounds elitist and smug. Perhaps it's because their worldview of Christianity is too America-centered. The practice of faith is, after all, personal and marked by different traditions within the Church depending on ancestry, country of origin, and denominational practices.

I mean, if Thompson truly believes in Christ, what an insult.

"As for Dobson, and the headline of the US News and World Report. It looks overblown without knowing what else may have been said in the telephone interview."

Dobson has become a power broker in Republican politics, hardly a role for a "humble man". Dobson can't tolerate anyone seeking the nomination who hasn't first made the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs.

Alan said:

"Dobson can't tolerate anyone seeking the nomination who hasn't first made the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs."

HA! Thanks for the laugh. The Dobson Impramatur, eh?

"Perhaps it's because their worldview of Christianity is too America-centered."

Perry, I don't know what evidence you may have for this suggestion as regards the men you mentioned, but tell me more about what you see as the consequence of excessive focus on one's nation in general.

Interested in knowing.

Alan,

I'm not familiar with Dobson or Thompson. My opinion is entirely based on what information is offered in the article. I can't find any insult in it just an expression of doubt.

I'll entertain the idea of a man who is known to a certain religious group and whose endorsement of a political candidate means a lot to politicians seeking the votes of those affiliated with that religious group.

Keeping everything hypothetical, if his endorsement always seemed to go the way of a certain party, what would be wrong with that? What if they have the same values? Is a propensity for endorsing members of a particular party the same as endorsing the entire party? Doesn't he still have to choose a candidate from amongst that political party? Does he have the same right as other citizens to share his opinions? If he does, is it somehow inconsiderate for him to engage in such activity because of his stature?

What lines are there and where do think they should be drawn?

Let's discuss ideas and individual people a little less. I want the larger concepts. I live in Chicago by the way, here, many times, elections are one party affairs and when they are it is all Democrat. My point being, that I am a little bit insulated from debate between parties locally. Example: the present mayor is in his 6th term having just gotten 300,000 votes in a city of 3 million and, believe it or not, that constituted 71% of the vote. His father was also mayor so the headlines read something like "All Hail the King." In Chicago, it is the endorsements of the Mayor that mean the most.

Hi Alvin, I didn't much like his father; it's good the days of big city bosses have largely passed. If you or I were to question Thompson's faith it would be "who are these jerks?". We, however, know who Dobson is and a remark like that from a person in his position is a rebuke to any candidacy when a large chunk of the Party involved looks to the Dobsons for guidance.

There are specific and general problems here. Power does tend to corrupt and, at this point in time, referring to Dobson as "humble" is simply laughable.

One probably shouldn't restrict oneself to the linked articles as context is everything; a little searching will find many instances of Dobson's power brokering. Also we shouldn't make too much of the headers as they are too often a distraction and can serve as spin tools for those wishing to distract.

Interaction between religious folk and political power at the levels we have had with parts of Christianity and the the Republican Party in recent years are always going to be problematic; add in a "single issue" focus and you get a disaster which is what we currently have.

One can only answer hypotheticals based on experience and the world's experience with theology as ideology (and ideology as theology as in communism) has not been a happy one. There is a balance here and it is heartening to see the discussion opening up.

Melinda's quote from Earl Warren above is an indication that committed Christians can serve the national interest and the public good. There needs to be some soul searching as to what went wrong.

Alvin said:

"Perry, I don't know what evidence you may have for this suggestion as regards the men you mentioned, but tell me more about what you see as the consequence of excessive focus on one's nation in general.

Interested in knowing."

Hi Alvin-

Well, it's really just a general feeling, but the American Evangelical culture seems to include argot and signals that each member recognizes. It's really an outward, showy kind of practice. The fact that religious television and radio is dominated by these types has built the image, so much so that I think many American Evangelicals come to believe all believers share that culture.

What I am saying is that if Dobson has never heard Thompson say "Praise the Lord" or seen him pray publically (a favorite of Robertson) or appear at an anti-abortion rally, he may surmise he is not a Christian because he does not recognize signs peculiar to the American Evangelical culture.

Perhaps Thompson is Christian, just passionate about different issues or maybe he feels he does not need to announce his faith to the world. At any rate, I believe it is unwise to publically give an opinion of someone's spirituality without knowing them.

I am a preterist, for example. While I affirm Israel's right to exist, I do not believe physical Israel has any spiritual relevenace nor do I believe a third temple is going to be built, sacrifices reinstituted, etc. I don't see America in the Bible, as some claim they do. I eschew the whole "Last Days" mentality. Some evangelicals would consider me heathen in this regard, because it's so woven into the American Evangelical culture. Talk to an Orthodox or Catholic believer and this End Times stuff is not nearly a part of their fabric as it is American's.

So, with that weak example, I am saying that if it doesn't walk, quack, or talk like an American Evangelical, it still might be a believer.

Perry,

Thanks, that clarifies a lot.

Alan,

Thanks for the response. I respect your opinion and you are free to like or dislike whomever on the basis of what you have seen or heard from them directly.

As for your comment about '"single issue" focus,' I have to say this idea also contributes to my dislike of political parties and how the US has only two major ones. The whole system to me seems to promote a lack of inspection. It seems that candidates wear a label and don't care to really inform people about their values, instead they hope people will just be brand loyal (Coke or Pepsi?). In truth, politicians can't really agree with just one group or another regarding all the issues of government.

The habit of glossing things over and confounding them in politics just has to end if the US government is to be effective. As an example of this habit I mention, just consider how domestic spinach farm bailouts end up in a bill about war budgets. Everything just gets muddled and more muddling gets done when people can't take clear stances as if muddling will fix everything.

BTW, I liked your post about Earl Warren in "Interesting Quotation."

So does anyone have a documented statement from Fred Thompson that he is or is not a Christian?

It seems that you will need to have that in hand before you can begin to comment on whether Dobson's comment on his impression is reasonable.

Hi William, why is the question even important. Doesn't the national experience over the past six or so years make the question of his Christianity irrelevant? Oh, and wouldn't a humble man have simply called Thompson and had a talk before he started judging?

Alan,

You are asking a Chrisitian why it is important if Thompson is a Christian!!!?

I find it hard to believe that you don't understand why a Christian might consider this very important, aside from whether they agree or disagree with their political persuasion.

Dobson seems to feel that Thompson's politics are agreeable to him. Yet he is concerned about Thompson's faith! Why do you think that is?

William said:
"You are asking a Chrisitian why it is important if Thompson is a Christian!!!?

I find it hard to believe that you don't understand why a Christian might consider this very important, aside from whether they agree or disagree with their political persuasion."

William, I am a Christian and I think the question is irrelevant in politics, because 1) you are not likely to get a truthful answer, 2) a "yes" answer does not qualify a person for office, 3) a "yes" answer in no way guarantees acceptable execution of duties.

As I said earlier, any wise politician will say he or she is a Christian to assuage the majority of voters in this country, who profess Christianity. As such, it is a meaningless litmus test.

Hi William, I am wondering why, given the recent past, a Christian would be very concerned. There was a hugh focus on this over the past two presidential elections and, in retrospect, this was important, why? Does anyone around here actually try to learn from experience? Do you keep toching that red, glowing stove, figuring that THIS time it might not burn?

As Dobson is a political power broker, all be it a humble one, perhaps he believes he needs to be consulted, perhaps he is jealous of his power, ("nice campaigh you got there Fred, shame if something happened to it") or perhaps he has plans involving others and Fred doesn't fit in. I assume we will find out.

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