Archive for June, 2007

Pilgrimage, Spirit and Truth

June 25, 2007

An article in today’s Washington Post considers how religious pilgrimage is one of the growing trends of our age. A trend accomodated by cheaper travel and internet information. The piece focuses upon a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia where there was supposedly an appearance by the Virgin Mary.

The trend is problematic for Christians for a number of reasons. Leaving aside reservations about Mariolatry, of which I have many, this article exposed to contemporary trend which are problematic. The first is how one person saw the idea of physical pilgrimage as reflecting spiritual pilgrimage where a person discovers the pilgrimage within. The object of the pilgrimage is not to discover God who is there but to uncover something within ourselves. Contrary to orthodox Christian teaching, and reflecting wider spiritual trends, the answer to our needs is discovered within ourselves rather than looking beyond ourselves to a right relationship with God.

The second problematic area is that the worship of God is being allied to a particular place. This is clearly contrary to Jesus own teaching that God is not to be worshipped in a particular place but ‘in spirit and in truth.’ This idea reflects not only a faulty understanding of true worship but is, we are told in the article, part of wider trend where people want to discover God in new ways. That brings to mind the old adage ‘you worship God in your way, and I’ll worship him in his way.’

The new trend towards pilgrimage reflects the spiritual confusion of our age- the smorgasbord effect as Os Guinness once called it. It calls us to once recognise the need to present the Christian message with biblical clarity and not to be conformed to the spiritual values of our age.

You can read the article at-

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/24/AR2007062401422.html

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There’s Nonsense and then there’s Nonsense

June 24, 2007

Writing in the Times comedian David Baddiel says, ‘Logically religion is, of course, nonsense. Attacking it with logic, especially if you are as bright as Dawkins, causes its arguments to disintegrate so quickly that it can seem like bullying, like breaking a butterfly on a wheel.’ Its not without irony that Baddiel begins his article by noting how out of date he is with cultural trends! It has obviously completely by-passed him that religious belief has not crumbled away under the supposed genius of Dawkins. Indeed it has often been Dawkins’ ‘logic’ that has been exposed as absurd.

Baddiel then goes on to offer his own explanation of religion. He rejects a Darwinian explanation of religion and argues, ‘what drives us are not the basic positives any more but the basic negatives: anxiety, fear, incomprehension, the desperate need to think that we know, to be “right”all the time, and, above all, to be parented – and there you have him, God.’ Obviously the exposure of the Freudian explanation of religious consciousness has also passed him by. Religion cannot be reduced to some Freudian father-complex since not all religions have a father figure.

I have a problem with a certain breed of atheist. My problem is with these smug characters like Baddiel who dismiss religion as being nonsense but then proceed to argue their case based upon such palpable nonsense themselves. They try to defend their views as being different from religion since they have things coolly analysed. However it becomes clear that they have decided to reject religion on grounds that has nothing to do with careful intellectual analysis.

Rightly the Bible says it is the fool who has said in his heart ‘there is no God.’

It’s That Man Again

June 21, 2007

So Christopher Hitchens continues to promote ‘God is not Great’ otherwise known as ‘Why I am Smarter than God.’ I saw this statement he made in a recent Q&A session in the Times newspaper.

‘I have a challenge that I have issued in America which I’ll put to you. You have to come up with a moral statement made, or a moral action performed by a believer or a person of faith, that could not have been uttered by an unbeliever. I haven’t so far had anyone come up with an answer to this and I’m genuinely interested to see if they can. My point is therefore that religion is optional and if you say, “Well I think we should free the slaves because Jesus wants it”, I think it is a fatuous thing to say but it is not a wrong thing to say. It ought to be enough to say “I think we should free the slaves.” There is no scriptural authority of any kind for freeing the slaves, none, but there’s a good deal of scriptural warrant for slavery, which is why it lasted as long as it did and why it persists, especially in the Muslim world. Because it is indeed warranted by the text, which emancipation is not. It is a very important question. In my book there is a good deal of material about the conditions under which Jews can have slaves and what they are allowed to do to them. A lot of it is in Leviticus and Exodus, I believe.’

Obviously Hitchens thinks this is the Gordion Knot revisited. Rather it is as usual good knock-about stuff. Also as usual it misses the point. No-one denies that an atheist may perform a moral action or make a moral statement. The real question is what is it that determines the morality of an action? When an atheist performs a moral action whose code of morality is it according to?

As for the comments about slavery he as usual doesn’t bother too much about facts or context. A careful reading of the OT would show that slavery was only regarded as a temporary condition and often regarded as a means whereby a man could regain economic independence. Furthermore slaves had rights under the OT law and could not be mistreated. Slavery is recognised as a social reality and not an ideal. In the NT it is again clear that slavery is never regarded as ideal. A slave should gain their freedom if they can. A Christian slave owner should respect his slaves. And slaves should respect their masters because in serving their masters they are in fact performing a service to Christ who is the great liberator. Of course Hitchens skilfully forgets that the impetus to end slavery came not from humanism but Christianity.

But of course we’re getting into facts again. Sorry Christopher.

Those Who Honour Me

June 19, 2007

I was reading an interesting story in Philip Orr’s book, The Road to the Somme, which relates the story of Ulster soldiers in WWI. This incident recounts how one young recruit found himself at the training camp in Clandeboye estate in Bangor away from his Armagh home for the first time. On his first night when bedtime came he wondered what he should do as it had been in practice at home to pray before getting into bed. However he was worried that should he kneel and pray he would be made a laughingstock in his barrack. Eventually he decided he should. So he told his new colleagues that he was going to pray. To his surprise not only did a number of his fellow recruits join him but there was silence throughout the barrack. He noted that this was the first of many fruitful prayer times with the other soldiers when they enjoyed a sense of God’s presence.

On reading this simple yet encouraging story of one young man’s faithfulness I was reminded of those words of God  in 1 Samuel 2:30, which feature in a fictional incident in the film Chariots of Fire, ‘those who honour me I will honour.’ As we are faithful to God he is not found wanting and is faithful to us.

The Christian Hope

June 17, 2007

I came across this account of the work of Henry F Gerecke with Nazi war criminals. It is a fascinating and moving story. It is also a deeply humbling one of how these men guilty of such heinous crimes turned to Christ. A reminder that here may I as vile as they find all my sins forgiven.

You can read it at

www.faithtacoma.org/content/2006-04-16-pm.aspx

Contemporary Blog Atheism

June 15, 2007

Recent post on Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins introduced me to the world of discussing atheism in this blog and elsewhere. And it has been an eye-opener. It was an eye-opener because I was regularly hearing Christianity(or religion- atheists seem incapable of distinguishing between the two) roundly condemned as ignorant and intolerant. So I was expecting to hear enlightened, reasoned, sophisticated arguments from the atheist community. What did I find? I found ignorance, arrogance and stereotyping. You may of course argue that Christianity can be guilty of all of these- which of course it can. My point is that I was having it stuffed down my throat- to use a favourite atheist description of expressing the Christian viewpoint- about how superior atheists were. And what better people they were.

I found ignorance-of Christianity, of the distinction between religious beliefs, of a fundamental understanding of history and indeed the case for atheism

I found arrogance- anyone who is not an atheist must be an idiot- as I was called on one occasion. Obviously Western civilisation began with Dawkins! No atheist has ever said anything stupid or done anything wrong

I found stereoptying- obviously every Christian approves of everything that has been done in the name of religion from the Crusades to 9/11

One other thing. Much of the discussion in which i found myself involved centred around the issue of morality. The atheist answer to the basis for morality is that society tells us what is right and wrong. No-one has been able to give me an answer to the question of what happens when whole societies get it wrong, i.e. in Nazi Germany. No-one has given an adequate answer to the question of why this society was wrong and those who opposed it were right.

I Will Build My Church

June 13, 2007

I came across this account of the growth of the church in Ethiopia recently and think it really deserves to be more widely known. Sudan Interior Mission (now known as SIM) began its work in Ethiopia in 1919. By 1938 the last SIM missionaries left Ethiopia due to the Italian invasion. When they left there were less than 150 believers. During the following war years SIM had no contact with the Ethiopian believers. When they returned to the country in 1941 after the Allies had pushed out the invading Italian army they found a church of 10,000 members! By 1943 there were over 40,000 believers in almost 300 churches. By 1950 there were over 350 churches. Today despite a history of persecution, famine, poverty and political unrest in Ethiopia there are over 5,000 churches.

It is yet another wonderful story of the many that could be told of how Jesus is fulfilling His promise that He will build His church and not even the gates of Hades will overcome it.

Mission in Reverse

June 11, 2007

The Washington Post carries an article today on what it terms ‘reverse mission’ considering the phenomenon of Christian missionaries coming from the traditional mission fields of the Two Third’s World to evangelise the traditional sending countries in Europe. It is a great story. It is great to see how these churches are establishing parity with the western church and establishing a voice in their own right. It is good news also about the evangelism of Europe. It is also good news that as churches in these countries take on the great commission have been able to go into countries which are largely closed to western missionaries.

One concern however is about the gospel that is on occasion being preached. It is sometimes a version of the prosperity gospel that has been exported into the Two Third’s World and is now being re-imported to the west. Where that is the case it is rather alarming. I don’t know much for example about the International Christian Community mentioned in the Post’s article so I looked up their website. There was a rather alarming lack of reference in their material about either sin or atonement which lie at the heart of the true gospel. It would be a tragedy if Europe is now being evangelised with a gospel that is no gospel at all but is simply seeking to meet the felt needs in the empty lives of secularists.

The whole episode is also a rather sad comment on the state of European churches, especially the established churches, which across Europe are at the heart of the decline in Christianity as they have embraced liberalism. This whole situation should awaken western Christians to the needs of the west.

True Conversion

June 8, 2007

I’ve just been reading John Owen’s Pneumatalogia, his treatise on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He notes in the course of the treatise that there is often a preparatory work of the Holy Spirit that some view as true conversion but which reality falls some way short of true conversion. He notes the following five marks of true conversion through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit-

  1. Our will is changed so that we are now inclined to obey God
  2.  There is a new sense of excellency in the truth revealed in the gospel
  3. Our conscience is now purged of dead works
  4. The Holy Spirit fills us in every part and fixes our affections upon Christ
  5. That the work of the Holy Spirit touches every faculty

In an age when there is little self examination of ourselves as Scripture exhorts us to do and the idea of being Christian sits lightly with many, Owen’s marks of true conversion are well worth our consideration.

Sorry

June 5, 2007

Sorry. I know I have broken my own dictum about saying nothing about Christopher Hitchens because he does not deserve to be taken seriously. And now I am about to break it again. I can’t help myself, his writings are so ludicrous.

Hitchens writes, ‘We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion.’ In this statement Hitchens instantly runs into the problem of how we decide what is ethical if there is no God. If there is no ethical authority then we either descend into utilitarianism, where morality is governed by public opinion. Or we become our own authority in these matters, in which like Hitchens, we substitute ourselves for God. True morality needs an absolute moral standard. It requires a judge who will ensure that righteousness will prevail in the end.

Hitchens mistakes his personal values for ethics. In reality Hitchens is really more to be pitied than laughed at.