Fox News & Awkward Jesus Debates

fox-newsLast week, Fox News anchor Lauren Green interviewed Reza Aslan, a scholar with multiple degrees in religion who is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. The subject of the interview was Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and the attitude of the interview was tense. Green couldn’t get past the fact that Reza was a Muslim writing a book about Jesus. She opens the interview with this question:

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

Aslan responds with a list of his academic qualifications and Green says again,

“It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”

Later, Green again brings up Aslan’s Muslim faith by equating his book about Jesus with a committed Democrat writing a book about Ronald Reagan; it appears that in Green’s mind he is simply too biased to write an objective book. Therefore, the book and its conclusions should be dismissed. Aslan defends himself by repeatedly citing his degrees, knowledge, and academic positions which give him credibility to write such a book.

Needless to say, this makes the interview painful for any casual observer to watch. The site buzzfeed.com posted the video of the interview which promptly went viral with the title, “Is This the Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?” It attracted over 5 million views and was shared and liked by nearly 800,000 Facebook users. Zealot shot to number one on Amazon’s U.S. bestseller list and The Westbourne Press who publishes the book is now rushing to print more. If Lauren Green set out to marginalize Aslan’s perspective on Jesus (which she may or may not have intended to do) she has actually energized it for a few days.

Aslan’s assessment of Jesus in the interview (and by extension the book) is that he was:

“a real political revolutionary who took on the religious and political powers of his time on behalf of the poor and the meek, the dispossessed, the marginalized; who sacrificed himself in his cause for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves and whose death ultimately launched the greatest religion in the world.”

Those familiar with the Historical Jesus project probably hear echoes of John Dominic Crossan in Aslan’s response. In the end, Jesus turns out to be another left-leaning political revolutionary, organizing the down-trodden masses against the powers oppressing them. Amazon.com’s users are divided over the book; the vast majority gave it either 5 stars or 1 star.

Jesus is a real, historical figure. In fact, he is probably THE real, historical figure of human history. Therefore, he is accessible not only to Christians, but to Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, and eccentric rap artists. People are going to interpret Jesus according to their own worldview and preferences. Then they are going to take great delight in telling us that Christians have Jesus all wrong. This includes the professor who tries to shock his evangelical undergrads by trotting out tired and dubious “facts” showing Jesus to be a nice social activist who never thought of himself as God. It includes an author like Deepak Chopra who promotes Jesus as an inspirational spiritual guide and mystical teacher of peace and love. It includes news media that gleefully report on a new lost gospel or ancient shard of pottery that will reverse everything. It includes the Muslim who calls Jesus simply a prophet, the agnostic who calls him an ethical teacher, and the television prosperity preacher who calls on him for a blessing.

All misguided interpretations have two fatal flaws. First, they fail to produce a Jesus who fits the facts. Aslan’s social revolutionary Jesus may have had a winning personality and great influence, on par with Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Abraham Lincoln. But there is no way he could have led devout Jews to worship him as God,  inspired Christians to embrace death claiming his resurrection, and won followers from the nations for 2,000 years. Second, they ignore or marginalize the most ancient and accurate source we have on Jesus: the New Testament. They make much of spotty secondary sources, Gnostic writings dated centuries later, arbitrary scholarly opinions, out of context passages, and modern cultural preferences in creating Jesus. So it should come as no surprise that he looks different than the Jesus the church has preached for millennia.

As Christians, we should stop being shocked and upset when others interpret Jesus differently. It is going to happen. Because our faith is based on a real person, it is subject to investigation – even flawed investigation. We don’t need to marginalize or flee from those with differing views, but rest confidently in the Jesus found in the Scriptures. There have been thousands of interpretations of Jesus since he walked the earth, but only one has endured and will continue to endure – the Jesus of the Bible.

If you want to know who Jesus is, read your Bible. Even the most stubborn of scholars is forced to admit that the New Testament is the most ancient and comprehensive source we have on him; some books being written within 25 years of Jesus’ death. Zealot will fade from memory but the New Testament will remain because it is far older, far more accurate, and far more compelling than anything else we have. Our conversations with others who disagree with us about Jesus don’t have to be as embarrassing or as tense as the Fox News interview. If someone comes to you with a different Jesus, graciously listen to them and point them to the only Jesus that endures the ages, fits the truth, and changes lives.

-Brian

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Friday’s Fantastic Five! 6.7

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Yes, Marriage Will Change – and Here’s How – Mark Regnerus
A startling article grounded in solid social science that predicts gay marriage’s effect on the institution of marriage as a whole. Sexual permissiveness may be the shape of marriage norms in the future.

Ex-Feminists: Do marriage and parenthood make people more conservative about women and families? – William Saletan
Saletan dissects the recent Pew Research data on America’s views of marriage, parenthood, and working moms. While it may appear that cultural trends make the difference in people’s views, it may be actual experience with family that is driving the data.

Listening to Young Atheists, Lessons for a Stronger Christianity – Larry Taunton
Taunton’s Fixed Point organization interviewed active college atheists across the country to find out what led them to their unbelief. The results are surprising as many came to atheism out of a weak, nominal Christianity. A must read for the church.

Reaching Muslims with the Gospel of God: An Interview with Abdul Saleeb
A great interview with a Muslim who came to Christ and now reaches out to other Muslims. This short interview will be helpful to Christians who are reaching out to or know very little about their Muslim neighbors.

The Graduation Song – Rhett & Link
A hilarious wake up call for all those graduates out there…

Slaying Popular Myths and Misrepresentations of the Crusades

crusadesHistory helps define us. Whether a person knows a lot of history or a little, what they do know shapes their understanding of themselves and their world. Blacks in America are shaped by segregation and slavery; Jews by Israel and the Holocaust. America’s view of government is shaped by both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Kentucky Basketball and Alabama Football are shaped by their histories of coaches, players, and victories.

Since God reveals himself in historical events and even entered history Himself, Christians – more than most – are shaped by history. Whether it is Roman Catholics standing on centuries of accumulated tradition, Protestants extolling the courage of pioneer missionaries, or a twenty-something looking back on his fundamentalist upbringing with angst, Christians look to the past to define their future.

The problem with history is it can be adjusted. By including some pieces and ignoring others, we can create a history that fits our liking. That might mean tweaking a story so the church looks ignorant and dangerous, collecting all incidents of religious violence and presenting them without context to encourage secularism, or labeling certain periods to make us think more highly of them (the Enlightenment) or think less highly of them (the Dark Ages).

The Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries are one example. Few historical events stir the consciences of Christians and ignite their opponents more than the Crusades. Nearly 2,000 Christians have participated in the Reconciliation Walk, a journey retracing the route of the first crusade during which apologies are offered to Jews and Muslims. In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II offered an apology for the church’s history of violence, most notably the Crusades. A brief search of atheist websites finds the Crusades invoked repeatedly as evidence of the inherent violence of religion. After Anders Breivik – a terrorist in Oslo, Norway – linked his crimes to the Crusades, Bill Maher couldn’t help but opine, “Christianity is perfectly capable of coming out of its dormant phase and once again becoming the violent, bloodlusty religion it was under the crusades.”

Are the Crusades the darkest sin of the church, requiring an apology from Christians and excusing hatred directed toward the West? Do they reveal the true end of all religious devotion and unmask what lies in the hearts of fundamentalists? In a word, no. History is far more complex than popular portrayals of the Crusades reveal. Let us look at three myths about the Crusades that fuel both apologies and animosity.

Myth 1: The Crusades were an unprovoked attack on a peaceful and enlightened Muslim world. Ancient Christianity flourished in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. The cities of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Damascus, and Carthage were centers of church life and leadership. However, by the 8th century, Christianity was on its way to extinction in all of these places because of an upstart new faith – Islam. Islam did not win converts by persuasion; it won them by conquest. All non-Muslims were expelled from the Arabian Peninsula. Then Syria fell to the advancing armies, followed by Persia, much of India, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, southern Italy, and Spain. The Christian populations often faced the choice of conversion, slavery, or death. Others were taxed severely and prevented from building churches, praying or reading Scripture aloud, riding horses, or being armed. Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were seized, sold into slavery, and tortured. Muslims were poised to overthrow the Byzantines leaving the door wide open to Europe. As Rodney Stark points out, “…by the time of the First Crusade, Christendom had been fighting a defensive war with Islam for more than 450 years.”

Myth 2: The Crusaders went because they wanted land, wealth, and blood. If they had wanted wealth and land, the Crusades were a poor way to pursue those ends. If profit was their goal they would have responded to Pope Alexander II’s call to drive the Muslims out of wealthy Spain. Instead, they sold their holdings, borrowed funds, and impoverished themselves to make the journey. The Crusader kingdoms themselves were kept afloat only by support from Europe. So why go? Europe’s knights and nobles, in the words of Stark, “were both very violent and very religious.” The promise of the Pope that their sins would be washed away and that they could rescue the very place where Christ had walked was powerful. Most would lose their lives and gain nothing in return. Of the 130,000 who left in the first Crusade, only 15,000 would survive to Jerusalem.

Myth 3: The Crusaders’ crimes were excessive in the era in which they lived. The Crusaders had been taught since childhood to make war. They were violent, they looted, and they plundered – and this was normal for war in the 11th century. It is easy to pass judgment standing on nearly a thousand years of moral progress but much harder to imagine the world in which these men lived. They didn’t get a nice paycheck and pension for their service. They were not well-supplied and well-disciplined. And the Muslims they fought against were just as cruel if not more so. Baybars, Sultan of Egypt, after taking the city of Antioch ordered all the inhabitants enslaved or killed. 17,000 men were murdered and tens of thousands of women and children were made slaves. Much of the conduct of the Crusaders was barbaric by today’s standards, but normal for the time in which they lived and often exceeded by the armies they fought.

Does this mean the Crusades were good and the Crusaders right? No. It simply means history is complex and its events must be understood within their context. It means both apologizers and criticizers need to proceed with more caution. It means popular views must be overthrown in favor of accurate views. The Crusades shape many Christians’ and non-Christians’ views of the faith. Let us be sure it shapes us and them correctly. Stark summarizes it well when he says:

The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. The Crusades are not a blot on the history of Christianity.

-Brian

Many of the insights for this article came from this excellent book:

triumphThe Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion by Rodney Stark, published by HarperOne, 2012.

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Tornados, Floods, and Earthquakes, Oh my! Why O God?

On Friday, March 11 an 8.9 magnitude earthquake ripped the sea floor off the coast of Japan, shaking that country for 3 to 5 minutes and sending a massive 23 foot tsunami wave onto land, sweeping 14,700 people to their deaths and leaving 26 million tons of debris in its wake.

On Wednesday, April 27 tornados with winds approaching 200 miles an hour descended on seven states killing over 340 people. Tuscaloosa, Alabama was the hardest hit; the tornados there damaged over 5700 buildings.

This week floodwaters threaten to overwhelm the levy protecting the town of Cairo, IL. Floods have already swept away many homes in Midwest states and hundreds have had to evacuate to shelters as rivers continue to rise.

As Christians, we believe God is in control of nature. Psalm 135:6-7 says:

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

If Psalm 135 is true, God seems to have a hand in the natural disasters we have seen in March and April of 2011. The question of those experiencing Tsunami-initiated nuclear meltdown in Japan, picking up pieces of their lives in Tuscaloosa, seeing their home float away in Illinois, or just viewing it all on television may be, “why oh God?”

The Bible tells us these disasters are a result of evil. In the book of Job, two natural disasters – fire from heaven and a great wind – take his property and the lives of his employees and children.  Job attributes these to God (Job 1:21) but the reader knows these are caused directly by Satan. Romans 8:21-22 states creation is “in bondage to corruption” and “has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” When humanity sinned all of creation was subject to the devastating corruption that followed. Tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and disease are the groaning of a creation bound by the sin of those God appointed to have dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). Like citizens feeling the consequences of the sins and failures of their king, so creation experiences the consequences of the sins and failures of its human stewards.

Some will say – is not God sovereign over both Satan and creation? He most certainly is. They can do nothing apart from His allowing it. So then we naturally ask, “Why does He allow it?” The short answer is no one ultimately knows and no one ultimately has the standing from which to question God. That is the answer Job receives from God about the trouble that has befallen him. God says in Job 40:2, 7-9:

Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let Him answer it… Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His?

We can in no way begin to approach the understanding to comprehend the ways of God, nor do we have the position from which to question Him. That said, the Bible does not leave us there.

Every disaster God allows is a reminder of our need to repent and turn to Him. In Luke 13, Jesus offers commentary on two tragedies. The government had killed some locals who were offering sacrifices and a tower in Jerusalem had collapsed and killed eighteen people. Jesus clarifies that these tragedies happened not because the individual sins of those killed were so great, but because everyone’s sin is great and it is a reminder we all need to repent. About each incident he says, “…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” When we see an earthquake shake a city, a tornado tear apart a town, or a flood overwhelm a neighborhood we should realize we deserve no better. Thus, we turn to Christ in repentance for our sins that have earned us far worse.

Disasters are also a physical reminder of a much more devastating spiritual reality – that we are separated from God and dead in our sins. In our normal, upbeat, and busy lives, where we work and entertain ourselves into oblivion, we simply miss this reality. Disasters awaken us to Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” We deserve God’s wrath, yet each day He pours out His grace on believer and unbeliever alike. When disaster strikes we lift our fist to the sky and demand, “Why oh God!” but should be more shocked when God pours joy and blessings into our sinful lives. Those lounging on a tropical beach, holding a newborn baby, or eating a juicy steak don’t often lift their fists to the sky and demand, “Why oh God! You are too good to a sinner who deserves your wrath” but if God is holy and just, we probably should.

John Piper expresses it this way:

The point of every deadly calamity is this: Repent. Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that he is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that he makes headlines only when man mocks his power, but no headlines for ten thousand days of wrath withheld.

Disasters are the result of evil, both satanic and human. Yet God rules sovereignly over Satan and sin. We cannot understand or question why a certain tornado or flood occurred. Yet He allows these as an expression of his wrath and a reminder to repent and turn to Him. They are not retaliation towards individuals, but symptoms of the brokenness our sin has brought into the world. The real scandal is that God gives so many good gifts when our sin warrants the opposite. We should be stunned not by the bad days, but by the good.

God is more gracious and loving still. For the Christian, God is present with (Matt. 28:20) and comforts us in the midst of our suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He uses it to bring about good for us beyond what we can imagine (Rom. 8:28). He weeps with us in our pain (John 11:35). He takes our sorrows and suffering upon Himself at the cross and dies for us (Isa. 53:4-5). One day, He will wipe away every tear and bring all evil and disasters to an end (Rev. 21:4). When the earth shakes, the wind blows, and the waters rise we have a God who rules powerfully over it and who runs toward our trouble, not away from it. Trust Him. He is love and He is gracious.

-Brian

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Does Christianity Evolve?

“The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity” is an effort by Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, to bring together evolution-celebrating Christians. One of his recent panel discussions featured Brian McLaren ( author of A New Kind of Christianity), Gretta Vosper (advocates the Bible is not the authoritative word of God), Ian Lawton (minister at C3 Exchange, a church which made headlines for removing the cross), and Bruce Sanguin (wrote a book combining science, scripture, and poetry into 21st century prayers). During the discussion, McLaren argued, “Evolutionary Christianity is a fact of history about which a lot of Christians are in deep denial.”

What does McLaren mean by evolutionary Christianity? We’re not just talking about Christians accepting evolution; that may or may not include so-called “evolutionary Christianity”. To summarize: evolutionary Christianity is a faith that evolves and changes over time. It is not a faith rooted in the past, but a faith begun in the past that is going somewhere. As an example, he stated:

“I think a lot of Protestants assume that when the Apostle Paul was establishing house churches they had Sunday School, bulletins and hymnals… So many of things, even doctrines that are very precious to a lot of people, particularly doctrines of atonement, for example, have evolved greatly over history.”

Condescension to ignorant Protestants aside, we agree the faith looks different in different times and cultures. We also agree our understanding of some doctrines has changed over time as well; but the similarities end there. Evolutionary Christianity means more than reflecting afresh on the Scriptures to better understand our faith or seeking to effectively express it in changing cultures. McLaren explained it this way:

“My Christian identity is more about joining God in the healing, restoration and development and evolution of the world moving toward a brighter, richer and deeper future. Whereas the identity of joining the Christianity apart from an evolutionary understanding is joining the ranks and we’re holding the lines of something that is 2,000 years old.”

Thus, for McLaren, holding onto something 2,000 years old is bad while evolving towards something brighter in the future is good. At this point he is in disagreement with Jude 3, which states, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” For McLaren, the faith was not once and for all delivered, but rather started with the apostles and now is progressing. This is what enables him to jettison the traditional biblical narrative of creation, fall, condemnation, salvation and replace it with his own model of hunter/gatherer, nomadic herder, agriculturalist, city dweller, and empire dweller with increasing descent into shame and coupled with divine reconciliation. The Bible becomes essentially an ongoing conversation with God; a quest driven by questions, not a state defined by statements.

The premise of evolution is not just that species adapt to their environment; it is that one species over time transforms into an entirely new species. This is the problem with evolutionary Christianity. While in one generation the idea of a faith that evolves and adapts to culture is attractive, within two or three generations you end up with an entirely new faith. The first generation may begin by rejecting biblical inerrancy because it bothers their reason, the second generation rejects the resurrection because reason is their highest authority, and the third generation rejects the deity of Christ because the ethic of Jesus is all their reason will allow. The Christian faith evolves from a fish to an elephant and forgets what it was like to swim in the ocean of the Scriptures.

McLaren outlined where this may lead in the panel discussion, “The thing we are trying to evolve into is this: we know we have a strong Christian identity that is hostile to people of other faiths. We know how to suppress our Christian identity in a way that is benevolent to people of other faiths.” As Christianity sheds divisive beliefs, it enables its adherents to suppress it to be more popular with people of other faiths and worldviews. Are you an atheist or agnostic? No problem; our god is only a symbol which draws us to a fuller humanity. Are you a Buddhist or Hindu? No problem; our Jesus welcomes and learns from all faiths.

Evolutionary Christianity has some problems. First, it appears motivated by feelings of embarrassment about the faith and a desire to be accepted by outside groups. It embraces unquestioningly other worldviews (naturalistic evolution) and suppresses unpopular doctrines (exclusivity of Christ). Jesus did not tell us everyone would love us like Raymond but that the world would hate us because of him (Matt. 10:22). He went on to declare in Matthew 10:32-33: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Is this a call to suppress the truth?

Second, in its insistence on a “quest of questions” it is in danger of leading its followers to repeat an ancient quest of failure. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent posed a question to Eve – “did God really say?” This is the question at the heart of evolutionary Christianity. Despite the cleverly worded arguments and flowery rhetoric of these re-shapers of the Christian faith, the Bible makes clear claims about who God is and what He has accomplished through Christ. To question and cast off what God has said to adapt the faith to a changing culture is the height of pride and arrogance.

Instead of exalting evolutionary Christianity as a savior from restrictive doctrines, cultural mockery, and our foolish predecessors, will we humble ourselves under the word of God and the wisdom of those who have gone before? Instead of trying not to offend our critics by adjusting the faith, will we cling to the old rugged cross and in so doing not offend God? Will we joyfully proclaim to the world the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for lost sinners or tell the world we like Jesus but everyone doesn’t need him? Let us hold the lines of this glorious, 2,000 year old gospel and see through evolutionary Christianity’s promise of a bright future that will leave us with no Christianity at all.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

-Brian

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Christianity & Science: Friends, Enemies, or Frenemies?

Pope Benedict made headlines last week arguing for the similarity of science and religion as two quests for truth. Focusing on the Big Bang he accepted the science of an evolving cosmos while holding on to a God who devised the natural laws. This is another step in the Catholic Church’s effort to reconcile what many perceive to be a growing divide between Christianity and science. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome is home to numerous scientists who work on subjects such as biology, astronomy, and chemistry with guests like Stephen Hawking.  Pope John Paul II stimulated this effort in 1992 when he declared the church’s 17th century excommunication of Galileo was a grievous error.

In the last few years, “The Clergy Letter Project” has acquired the signatures of over 11,000 clergy calling for evolution to be taught in schools as settled science. The project birthed “Evolution Sunday”, observed each year on the Sunday closest to Darwin’s birthday, in which over 800 pastors and priests educate their congregations on science and evolution from the pulpit. Meanwhile, an organization such as BioLogos – founded by Francis Collins and consisting of Christians who are professional scientists, biblical scholars, pastors, and educators – exists to bring harmony to science and faith by “promoting a perspective on the origins of life that is both theologically and scientifically sound”.

But is there truly a need to reconcile science and Christianity? What is science? At its core, science is founded on the scientific method – gather information, form hypothesis, experiment, observe, draw conclusions, and repeat. Remember that from middle school? A more precise definition from the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology says science is:

The systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. 2. The organized body of knowledge that is derived from such observations and that can be verified or tested by further investigation.

At the risk of oversimplifying, science is a means of discovering truth about reality. Most Christians gladly accept the truth science gives us. However, we do not believe science is the only source of truth. We believe the God who created the world which science is able to discover also revealed truth about himself and his world in his Word. The truth God has revealed through his Word is the most accurate and authoritative; but it is this truth which spurs us to discover more through means such as science. Therefore, at the foundational level, there is no divide between science and Christianity since both are made possible by the same God who reveals truth through his Word first, and his world second.

The issue is not reconciling Christianity and science but Christianity and scientists. Elaine Howard Ecklund in her book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think surveyed 1,700 elite scientists and determined 30% are atheists and only 36% “have some form of a belief in God”. While 20% were involved with a “house of worship” only 2% were evangelical Christians. The vast majority of scientists operate with a naturalistic worldview – everything is explainable by natural causes and there is no possibility of God or the supernatural. For the average scientist, science is the only source of truth and revelation from God is impossible. Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago expresses the view of the naturalistic scientist when he writes in the October 11, 2010 edition of USA Today:

Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth.

There’s the issue – revelation is a lie and science is real truth. It should come as no surprise that there is a fight on the playground of truth when scientists arrogantly call us irrational and insist their means of finding truth is the only one allowed in the game.

So what is a Christian to do? First, trust the truth revealed in the Word of God. Clergy holding “Evolution Sunday” may believe they are reconciling two equal sources of truth, but all they are doing is accommodating the one that pays the bills to the one they believe is really true. If God has spoken through His Word, then it has the final say. Sadly, most ‘Christian’ attempts to reconcile science and God demand all the concessions from God and none from science. Science is carried out by sinful human beings with prejudices, biases, opinions, and worldviews and is constantly being corrected. As James Bryant Conant said:

The stumbling way in which even the ablest of the scientists in every generation have had to fight through thickets of erroneous observations, misleading generalizations, inadequate formulations, and unconscious prejudice is rarely appreciated by those who obtain their scientific knowledge from textbooks .

Second, Christians need to do science. Instead of being afraid of science, Christians need to run full speed into it and populate the universities. What would happen if instead of a priori dismissing God, scientists had a theistic worldview and a confidence in revelation? The same God who created this world has equipped us to discover more about it. Why shouldn’t we gladly pursue science as worship of this wonderful Maker?

So can Christianity and science get along? Steven Jay Gould, biologist and atheist, writes:

I do get discouraged when some of my colleagues tout their private atheism as a panacea for human progress against an absurd caricature of “religion,” erected as a straw man for rhetorical purposes… If these colleagues wish to fight superstition, irrationalism, philistinism, ignorance, dogma, and a host of other insults to the human intellect, then God bless them – but don’t call this enemy “religion.”

Hopefully more scientists will take that advice and the church will take the pursuit of science seriously. And despite the New York Times reporting that it took the Catholic Church 359 years until 1992 to apologize to Galileo, it actually lifted the sanctions 242 years earlier in 1758. Maybe we’re all making progress.

-Brian

 

Don’t Talk About My Mama Like That: Why the Virgin Birth Still Matters

It’s Christmas again! That time of the year when your neighbor can decorate his yard with a plastic baby Jesus, a fat man in a red suit, tacky multi-colored lights, and an inflated snowman named “Frosty” and no one calls the homeowner’s association to complain. It’s also the time when some normally crazy ideas seem possible; Santa Claus traveling the whole earth in one night delivering millions of presents, standing under mistletoe entitling one to a free kiss, and hanging socks over the fireplace not being an interior decorating  faux pas. One idea becoming increasingly crazy to Americans and to Christians is that this holiday is built largely around a baby who was born without need of a father. The virgin birth has long been a cornerstone of the Christmas celebration and Christian theology. But this is one cornerstone many are now insisting we don’t need. So who is crazier? Those who cling to the virgin birth of Christ like Arnold Schwarzenegger to a Turboman doll in “Jingle All the Way” or those abandoning it faster than the E.L.F.s got Tim Allen out of prison in “The Santa Claus”?

The attack on the virgin birth began in the 19th century with radical scholarship and their “Quest for the Historical Jesus” which denied Christ any supernatural quality. Taking their lead, Harry Emerson Fosdick preached his famous sermon – “Shall the Fundamentalists Win” at First Presbyterian Church in New York in which he took aim at the virgin birth. He said:

…there are within the evangelical churches large groups of people whose opinion about our Lord’s coming would run as follows: those first disciples adored Jesus—as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God—as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God’s special influence and intention in his birth—as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.

He argued a virgin birth is merely a way the ancients described those with superior qualities and should be dismissed as a relic by modern Christians.

Closer to the present, Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church has claimed the “myth” of the virgin birth was not intended as historical fact, but was employed by Matthew and Luke to appoint poetically  the truth about Jesus. Cecil Sherman, founder of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has said this about those who teach in Baptist colleges and seminaries: “A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the virgin birth should not be fired.” While naturalism and the Enlightenment might lead a teacher not to believe in the virgin birth, it is hard to imagine any arguments against Jesus’ birth narrative being found in the pages of the Bible.

What do we make of this? Sure, some Christians who think more of science and culture than the Bible will deny the virgin birth and some who trust the Scriptures will hold to it. But does it really matter? The answer of one wildly popular author is no. Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith writes:

… if Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and DNA samples and prove that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in we would essentially not lose any significant part of our faith because it is more about how we live.

So we don’t need the virgin birth, right? Jesus, Son of David, Son of Larry will work just as well for our faith? If your faith is only “Jesus was a good, maybe even God-like, guy who did good things and I should be like him and do good things to” then no, to quote Bell “we would essentially not lose any significant part of our faith because it is more about how we live.” But if your faith is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who incarnated himself into our world, lived a sinless life, died on the cross paying the price for our sins, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day, and is one day returning in glory then yes, we’ve lost something significant if Jesus was not born of a virgin.

First, we lose the Bible. The virgin birth is the introduction to two of the Gospels. If it is a fabrication, then those Gospels are lies. Second, we lose Mary. If the Holy Spirit did not conceive Jesus then historical deduction would suggest a man other than Joseph did. Mary is either a fornicator, adulterer, or rape victim. Third, we lose Jesus practically and theologically. Practically, he becomes the illegitimate son of a liar who makes fantastic claims about himself. While God loves to use illegitimate sons, it’s one thing to be used by God and quite another to be God. Theologically, we are left without an answer as to how Jesus came to be divine. This can easily shrink Jesus into just a man specially empowered by the Spirit who can encourage us but not command us.

This Christmas season, don’t buy into the hype – the virgin birth is not disproven. Any modern Christian that can accept the resurrection of a dead man after three days can grasp a virgin birth. Furthermore, it matters. If all you’re looking for out of Christ is a motivation for doing good things then it doesn’t matter if Jesus was fathered by Larry. But if you are looking to surrender your life to the Man who claimed to be God and proved it by conquering sin, death, and hell then it does. A Jesus not born of a virgin has no Bible with which to speak to us, no divinity with which to command us, and no story with which to inspire us. Call me crazy, but this is one belief I won’t be abandoning this Christmas.

-Brian

(image credit)