On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

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Faith and Reason Comic: 21st Century Christian

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Sugar Coated Spirituality

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One of my favorite stories of all time is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I will admit that I enjoyed both movies long before I read the book. What I really love about the story isn’t the whimsy or the candy. It’s the various rotten children who visit the factory, face temptations in various forms and are horribly expelled from the factory. Dahl does a really good job of demonstrating an important concept regarding where happiness comes from. Verruca Salt is an excellent example of this idea. She sees something and instantly wants it. “Daddy! Can I have a squirrel?” (Or a golden goose depending on the incarnation we are considering.)

20110813-023813.jpg She asks and she receives. Then, approximately 2 seconds later, she wants something else. Her contentment upon having her squirrel is temporary. (She only held on to the squirrel for a very brief period anyway.) The feeling passed, and she demands a new something that will make her happy. We see the same idea played out in all of the children, except for Charlie. Augustus eats and is never satiated. Mike TV is suckled on never ending entertainment. Violet must be the best and is never content when she wins.

I fear that many in the church have headed down the path of the various miscreant candy factory tourists. We walk through our tour of the church expecting to be fed from a trough with no efforts of our own. We demand to be entertained constantly and will “church shop” until we find the best show. We feel like we need to best our brothers and sisters in Christ and knock each other down or gossip in order to win. We want health and wealth and are willing to treat the almighty God who created the universe like a cosmic vending machine in the process of getting it. As a result, many simply wander through on their tour of the church until they pass the exit door and drag as many people with them as they can. This attitude of self-centeredness keeps many in the church from ever producing fruit as believers, either fruit of the Spirit in their lives or fruit that can only be harvested by Christ.

Paul makes comment on this matter in Philippians 4. He is writing from prison to the church in Philippi when he says:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, tat now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:8-13

Paul opens his passage with the concluding thought: that we are to focus on good, holy and praiseworthy things. He further indicates that the Philippian Christians ought to practice what they learned and saw in him. What they learned from him can likely be gleaned from early chapters of the text.

-“To live is Christ. To die is gain” can be found in chapter 1.

-Imitate Christ in humility, love and lacking personal interests can be found in chapter 2.

-Put no confidence in the flesh or your ability to do things on your own, but rather trust Christ for all our effort is rubbish (literally dung) in favor of gaining Christ. (chapter 3)

Paul joins his final thought to a comment on his own situation with the word “but” at the beginning of verse 11: “But, I have learned to always be content because I am able to do all things through Christ that strengthens me.” Basically, Paul has learned that contentment is a result of Christ. All things worth having are a result of Christ and we are to focus on the things of Christ. We stand in the body of the church because, in it, we grow closer to Christ. We resist temptation and have a joyous heart because of Christ. We cannot earn it because that would be the law, which would be bad news, not good news. This attitude of Paul ought to be mirrored in the church. Christ is what makes life worth living and all things are rubbish next to having him.

Jesus Junk

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Jesus Junk

During a recent trip to my local christian book store, I found myself drawn to the clearance table. The clearance table offered a veritable treasure trove o’ knick-knacks that had been “redeemed” with “Jesus” labels. I assume that the label was meant to redeem these items, that or they all actually belonged to Jesus and had been labeled with his name so everyone would know they were his. Either way, there was no denying the sanctified nature of this pile of junk.
This got me to wondering as to why anyone needs Jesus nail clippers or exactly what the advantage is for having a scripture verse on my vinyl Bible cover. I suspect the answer cuts deep into the heart of what is wrong with church culture in America.
The issue begins with the nature of self in a consumer driven world. In our world, we buy what we want to be. We wear shirts that tell people what we like. We drive cars that demonstrate our environmental awareness. We eat at restaurants that are endorsed by people we wish we could be. The self begins from the outside and works its way in. If I am a believer, then I need to buy a fish thing for my bumper. I need to buy a t-shirt that tells people. I need to speak Christian code words and phrases. I need to sing songs that emphasize how Christian I am. Basically, I do and buy things based on my desire to be something.
This is the horrific result of spiritual poverty. Believers who live this way have become white washed tombs. They look the part outside, but are dead inwardly. Sure, they feel good about themselves. Plus, they look cool. However, this is far from a measure of true Biblical Christianity. Jesus junk is a symptom of spiritual illness. Matters are worsened by an entrepreneurial spirit that sees the church as the perfect market for praise themed rock band games. Slap a Jesus label on it and Christians will buy it.
The other big problem with this approach is that it treats the name of Christ and the Holy Scriptures in a common manner. Being able to see Jesus’ name while I clip my toenails may be an opportunity for spiritual enlightenment, but it is more so turning the name of Christ into something common. The sacred and the profane ought not be mingled so I can look like a believer.
The solution to this spiritual poverty is simple. It is not to pile up your sacrilegious crap and burn it all. The Jesus junk is not what offends God. What offends God is our pretenses. To act as though we are saved through our image is wrong. The solution is to live from the inside out. We give our heart to Jesus. We allow Him to cleanse our souls. These newly cleaned souls cause us to act new and in harmony/obedience to God. Good works are our image and they are the evidence of a saved soul. Ultimately, when we imitate Christ, we glorify Him far more than we ever could by wearing a clever t-shirt.