MORE FROM GUTENBERG

To Whom Do We Listen?

I was conversing with someone the other day when the topic of the presidential election came up. I mentioned a candidate, to which the person replied, “Oh, he could never win. He’s too fat.” I began reflecting on that response. In all likelihood, this person was exactly right. Few modern Americans could see beyond his girth. It is not just weight, of course. We Americans tend to be obsessed with judging the value and worth of a person by his or her appearance.

Paul instructs believers to avoid this very thing. Do not judge a person by his appearance, he tells the Corinthians, judge a person by his “heart.” When I think back through human history, some of the greatest people were the short, fat, ugly, and unimpressive ones. The philosopher Socrates was notoriously funny-looking. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah himself (Jesus) would be unattractive.

If these men were here with us in person, would any of us modern Americans give a hearing to any of them? The modern American obsession with looks and presentation is “fleshly.” It is ignorant and sinful. But it is also self-destructive and stupid. We elect good-looking politicians who are incompetent, corrupt, ambitious, and narcissistic. We choose charming, charismatic pastors who are self-absorbed, foolish, and terrible guides.

Whom do we respect and listen to? It is good to take stock of why.

 

[This edited excerpt is from “Why Do We Listen to Whom We Listen?” by Jack Crabtree. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

The Truth About Religious Skepticism

Skepticism permeates modern culture. The most consistent and popular application of skepticism is religious skepticism. “We cannot prove God exists” is the common refrain. In fact, of the many unwritten social codes enforced by our culture, one of the strongest is the impropriety of claiming that Christianity is objectively true. Such a claim is an affront: a social faux pas at best and a mean spirited attack at worst. After all, agnosticism is cool; truth is not.

Should we follow the God of the Bible? Of particular importance when a person faces this question is the role of the will: he must decide whether he wants to live a life subject to God or whether he wants to pursue the enticements of the world.

What is striking about this particular question—whether to follow the God of the Bible—is that everyone does decide. Even the agnostic decides, though he may deny it. In fact, I am convinced that the rise of skepticism in our culture is a symptom of the will to unbelief. People do not want to be subject to God; they want autonomy to create their own reality. What better justification for denying one’s dependence on God than to claim that it is impossible to know if the Bible is true?

Skepticism is an inadequate general outlook on knowledge. It denies our God-given abilities. (We are born as truth-detectors, and we are very good at it.) It denies our daily experience. No doubt there are some questions that cannot be answered, and there are some questions that are not worth the effort to answer. Everyone acknowledges this. However, the skepticism that has pervaded our culture goes beyond this. It is often used as an excuse for not having to deal with the truth. We Christians, though, desire the truth, and thus we should struggle to resist the pessimism of skepticism.

 

[This edited excerpt is from “Truth Detectors” by Chris Swanson. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

Confronting Our Fears

Being a parent, I have had my share of panic-stricken minutes as I waited anxiously to hear if my child was okay. Fear is natural. But fear is distressing. We would prefer never to experience fear. But fear is an inevitable part of human experience.

When confronting our fears, the most important truth we can acknowledge is that God is God. All that happens to us is ultimately planned, purposed, and executed by Him. Accordingly, the basis for quelling our fears lies in our confidence that God will care for us, provide for us, and protect us. If God intends to protect us, nothing can harm us, for nothing can match His determinative control. He is God—the final authority on anything that can happen to us.

But is there any basis for such confidence? Can we believe that God intends our well-being rather than our harm? Nothing we know from the Bible can reasonably lead us to expect that we who are God’s children are immune from harm and suffering. That simply is not the case.

So where does that leave us? If we simply observe the pattern of God’s control over His creation, we learn something crucial. Providential care and provision are the norm; harm and destruction are the exception. God’s typical stance toward us is to protect, to provide, to nurture, and to care for us. God deviates from this pattern only when He has some other purpose in mind. We suffer when God, in His wisdom, wants to accomplish something constructive in our lives through that suffering. Then and only then does God break the pattern of His generally benevolent providence. This, then, is the basis for our confidence.

All this is fine and good. We can grasp these perspectives with our intellect. But for many of us, doing so does not stop the worrying. How do we stop worrying when our anxiety seems to be out of our control?

I do believe that the ultimate antidote to worry is a conviction that the things outlined above are true. From the core of our beings, we must take it as given that God will keep us from all ultimate harm whatsoever and from all temporal harm except that which He ordains for a greater good. If we can truly accept this, there will be no room for fear. How do we believe this truth from the core of our beings? How do we allow it to define our very existences? How do we quiet our imaginations? We may not be able to quiet them altogether, but we need not heed them.

Fear is natural. We are limited, relatively powerless, finite creatures. We are also sinners who tend to credit the flights of our imaginations with more substance than is due them. So fear is perfectly understandable. But, for those of us who are striving to know God and to live our lives in the light of His truth, it is incumbent upon us to confront our fears with the truth about God: God is always working in our lives to bring about what is good, and usually that means He will provide, protect, and care for us. If we believe this is true about God, then although we will still experience fear, it will neither paralyze nor rule us.

[This edited excerpt is from “Faith and Worry” by Jack Crabtree. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

The Fundamental Purpose of Life

Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life (PDL) is  a publishing phenomenon by anyone’s standards. Publishers Weekly called it “the bestselling hardback in American History.” I have a mixed reaction, however, to its popularity. Some of the ideas in PDL are very good. However, in my mind the book’s serious flaws outweigh the good things; when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.

 

PDL throws a blizzard of verses at its readers, mostly drawn from a variety of broad paraphrases like the Message Bible and the Living Bible. The cumulative effect of this proof-texting approach is ultimately misleading and harmful. Let me illustrate how this approach can go terribly wrong. Imagine that a verse in the Bible speaks of a “great battle.” A modern paraphrase wants to jazz it up and make it more powerful, so it translates the phrase “great battle” as “the mother of all battles.” Now imagine an author comes along and quotes the translation: “The Bible often uses the imagery of motherhood, as for example in the verse which speaks of ‘the mother of all battles.’” Do you see the problem? This fictional author quotes “the Bible” by quoting this paraphrase and then makes his argument based on the part the translator added for effect.

PDL, through the use of misleading proof-texting, does a great disservice to the millions of Christians reading the book. Even worse, though, is the theological confusion that permeates the book. PDL often shifts the emphasis from choosing eternal life to improving my experience here and now—not “I will find eternal life” but “I will find my true self and how to really live”; not “I will be justified before God and be saved” but “I will make God happy.” The Purpose-Driven Life has some good things to say, but it has not said the most important thing: that the fundamental purpose of my life in this world is to choose life over death. At stake in how I live my life is not whether I have a more or less fulfilling experience as a Christian but whether, in spite of my weaknesses and sin, I persevere in being a disciple of Jesus and so find eternal life.

[This edited excerpt is from “Examining the Purpose-Driven Life” by Ron Julian. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

Outside the Herd

After performing the initial miracle of turning water into wine in Cana in Galilee, Jesus goes to Jerusalem for a Passover celebration. While there, he performed some miraculous “signs” (John 2:23), and, having accomplished his purposes in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, he returns to Galilee for the first time since he left for the Passover. John tells us that Jesus testified that “a prophet has no honor in his own country” and then John says that the Galileans received Jesus, “having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast” (John 4:44-45). Presumably John is implying that the Galileans received him for his miracles but not for his previous teaching and the wisdom it contained.

Why does a prophet not have honor in his own country? Two thinkers have, in their own way, explored the dynamic within human nature that underlies this phenomenon: Friedrich Nietzsche and Alexis de Tocqueville. Nietzsche explored the dynamic by which the “herd” seeks to protect itself from anyone who would rise above it in strength, excellence, or stature. The “herd” collaborates to shame (or guilt) the would-be superior into conforming to the norms of the herd. De Tocqueville, in his examination of young America’s democracy, speaks of some dangers inherent within democracy. Given a natural impulse within human beings, people will be very reluctant to allow anyone of their own to excel in any way. A significant danger of democracy, therefore, is the breeding of mediocrity.

What is the means by which the “herd” exercises control and keeps people from rising above and being distinctive? The “herd,” with one voice, attaches to the non-conformist some name of contempt: “nut,” “fanatic,” “hate-monger,” “freak”—the list goes on. This is the most powerful weapon that worldly culture turns against belief in Jesus. One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without having the “herd” call you names. The herd hates Jesus—just like he told us they would. In fact, the herd often hates the truth itself.

There is no way to be an authentic follower of Jesus today without declaring independence from the herd which believes that no intelligent human being actually takes belief in Jesus seriously. One is a nut to believe in the biblical claims about Jesus. May God give me the strength and the dignity to stand outside the herd. May God give me the strength to be a nut by believing in his Son.

 

[This edited excerpt is from “God Give Me Courage to Be a Nut” by Jack Crabtree. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

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