Posts tagged Heaven and Hell

VIDEO: Creepy Teaching On Heaven

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This is a teaching on heaven from the 60’s (I think). It is CREEPY! Watch it because it gets even weirder as you go on. VERY strange part at the 2:19 mark. See you in heaven!

Horror, Heroes, & Hell

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This weekend I saw a dark comedy slasher flick and it got me thinking about Hell. (Incidentally, it was called Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and it was hilarious. I think it is destined to become a cult classic in line with the Army of Darkness. Be warned: It’s got plenty of blood and guts mixed in with the humor.)

Anyway, I started wondering why I like horror flicks so much. Am I I really messed up? Am I facing the very limits of gore and fear thereby proving my manhood–like some American Indian right of passage?

>Horror films are primal, with little pretense, and they quickly get to the point of illuminating true character.

I’m no expert, but I think every successful horror film has a singular purpose, and it’s not to be gross. The grossness simply helps accomplish the goal.

Any horror movie worth its weight in screams and gore uses the monster to reveal what’s truly lurking within. As the characters feel trapped and isolated with no apparent way out, the impending doom exposes their true qualities. Sometimes self-serving characters transform into sacrificing heroes. Or characters you like at first end up leaving everyone behind to save themselves. The monster without reveals the monster—or the savior—within.

That’s why I love them. The evil is easily identifiable.

>And I think the evil portrayed in horror movies perfectly matches what hell is to Christianity. The idea of hell reveals a lot about the Christian faith and those who believe in it.

It’s no secret that hell is probably the most uncomfortable aspect of the Christian faith. For many years I was content to ignore it and simply think, Everyone goes to heaven. When that stopped making sense—in light of the evident evil in this world—my conclusion evolved into this: Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. But that started to break down, too, as I realized that “good” is measured on a sliding scale, and everyone has a different standard. Some twisted minds even view obvious evil actions as good.

I realized I had to do some more investigating of this idea of hell, though I wondered what good could come from it. To say that I hate hell, and that I especially hate talking about it, is a huge understatement. But if I’m going to find the true value in the teachings and person of Jesus (and the Bible), I have to deal with this issue.

And so I did. It something we all need to do.

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[Download the rest of my thoughts on Hell from my book for FREE right here]

Fear, Judgment, and The Birth Of Jesus

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It’s the holidays. It’s a time when we see family…and try to ignore awkward tensions and not fight. Speaking of, did you know noted atheist Christopher Hitchin’s brother is a devoted Christian? AWKWARD! His name is Peter Hitchins. I wouldn’t want to be eating with them on Christmas no matter how good the ham is. In any event, this is a time when we celebrate the birth of Christ. To many, this is a great relief and brings peace. But others see it as an event that brings judgment and pain–since they don’t believe. Here is an amazing excerpt from Peter Hitchin’s book on this very matter:

What I can recall, very sharply indeed, is a visit to the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, a town my girlfriend and I had gone to mainly in search of the fine food and wines of Burgundy. But we were educated travelers and strayed, guidebook in hand, into the ancient hospital. And there, worth the journey according to the Green Michelin guide, was Rogier van der Weyden’s fifteenth-century polyptych The Last Judgment.

I scoffed. Another religious painting! Couldn’t these people think of anything else to depict? Still scoffing, I peered at the naked figures fleeing toward the pit of hell, out of my usual faintly morbid interest in the alleged terrors of damnation. But this time I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions. On the contrary, their hair and, in an odd way, the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me and the people I knew. One of them — and I have always wondered how the painter thought of it — is actually vomiting with shock and fear at the sound of the Last Trump.

I did not have a “religious experience.” Nothing mystical or inexplicable took place — no trance, no swoon, no vision, no voices, no blaze of light. But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves  rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.

And what if there were? How did I know there were not? I did not know. I could not know. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death. I had simply no idea that an adult could be frightened, in broad daylight and after a good lunch, by such things. I have always enjoyed scaring myself mildly with the ghost stories of M. R. James, mainly because of the cozy, safe feeling that follows a good fictional fright. You turn the page and close the book, and the horror is safely contained. This epiphany was not like that at all.

No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion. I could easily make up some other more creditable story. But I should be even more ashamed to pretend that fear did not. I have felt proper fear, not very often but enough to know that is is an important gift that helps us to think clearly at moments of danger. I have felt it in peril on the road, when it slowed down my perception of the bucking, tearing, screaming collision into which I had hurled myself, thus enabling me to retain enough presence of mind to shut down the engine of my wrecked motorcycle and turn off the fuel tap in case it caught fire, and then to stumble, badly injured, to the relative safety of the roadside. I have felt it outside a copper mine in Africa, when the car I was in was surrounded by a crowd of enraged, impoverished people who had decided, with some justification, that I was their enemy. There, fear enabled me to stay silent and still until the danger was over, when I very much wanted to cry out in panic or do something desperate (both of which, I am sure, would have led to my death). I have felt it when Soviet soldiers fired on a crowd rather near me, and so I lay flat on my back in the filthy snow, quite untroubled by my ridiculous position because I had concluded, wisely, that being wounded would be much worse than being embarrassed.

But the most important time was when I stood in front of Rogier van der Weyden’s great altarpiece and trembled for the things of which my conscience was afraid (and is afraid). Fear is good for us and helps us to escape from great dangers. Those who do not feel it are in permanent peril because they cannot see the risks that lie at their feet. (The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith, 101-104)

Powerful.

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The Unpopular Jesus

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We all know the popular Jesus—the one who said so many generous, patient, tolerant, and graceful things. Everyone loves the popular Jesus. Everyone likes to quote him in speeches to support personal causes. At Easter and Christmas, the popular Jesus helps sell merchandise and fill churches. Many forward-thinking people quote the popular Jesus to resolve problems. World leaders tackle current events relying on the words of the popular Jesus.

But that’s not who I’m taking about.

>The unpopular Jesus is not that marketable. Some of his statements are blunt and tactless. These aren’t quoted much.

Here’s one of them: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.”-John 14:6

He also said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” -John 5:24

And this: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”-John 11:25-26

Clearly, Jesus needs to brush up on his marketing techniques. Some people don’t even know Jesus said things like that.

Many people don’t understand that Jesus came to call people to a decision, because God calls people to a decision. Jesus wanted to communicate in word and action how much God loved them, so they would choose to love God.

>Anyone who’s interested in spiritual matters must decide if he believes these words of the unpopular Jesus, and if he’ll accept them.

I have another question: Does God, through Jesus, require exclusivity? And is that even fair?

For some reason, I have a problem with allowing God the right of exclusivity.

If God doesn’t allow each individual to discover his or her own way to the afterlife, I call him cruel. I even say he isn’t transcendent, or any kind of God who’s worth loving, especially if the resulting consequence is an eternity absent from his presence (hell, if you will).

But does that really make sense?

After all, I practice exclusivity in my own life. And others expect it from me. If I told my wife on our wedding night that she would have to let me share love sexually with others for the sake of love itself, our marriage probably wouldn’t work. I might try to convince her that the more love we share with others, the more love we will contribute to the world. I could love my wife, the neighbor lady, and the woman in the grocery store and whoever else was willing to share. This communal love would bring more good, and the universe would become a better place as we added and added and added, right? She would probably call me a pig and send me packing—appropriately so. She wants exclusivity in our relationship. She wants fidelity. That is, if I truly love her.

>So I think my problem with the idea that God would require exclusivity is actually something else. It’s a problem with a relational expectation I don’t think God should have.

Nevertheless, I’ve come to see that God, in his faithful love for us, doesn’t want us to devote ourselves to whatever “god” on the smorgasbord tickles our fancy. So I settle on a connection with God being relational in nature, and, therefore, exclusive in practice—in a healthy, authentic way.

>I have to ask myself whether I’ll accept such a nonnegotiable relational expectation from God.

Will I allow him to require loyalty and faithfulness? If so, I have to allow him to define that loyalty as he sees fit.

I think it’s fair to let God require exclusivity in the relationship. And I don’t think it’s about a monopoly on belief, religion, or belief systems. It’s about God wanting a relationship with us and wanting us to spend eternity with him. Certainly, any of us is free not to establish that relationship.

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[portions of this taken from here]

Does Jesus Really Matter?

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There’s been a lot of talk of Heaven, Hell, and everything in between. As of late–and this is nothing new–many popular Christian leaders are challenging mainstream Christianity’s understanding of these things. While these subjects are uncomfortable, especially Hell, they are necessary. Why?

>Because in the end, nothing else matters. 

The trend seems to be to create a sort of faith that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘judge’ anyone. After all, the logic is, we know God would never judge anyone. To do this, you must begin to water down Jesus because he said plenty of offensive and judgmental things that don’t get a lot of airtime–if you’re trying to create a feel-good faith.

>That means we must decide how much Jesus really matters.

The focus of this trend seems to always come down to the same thing: being good, doing good, and making the world a better place. This is often put in the context of healing: heal hearts, relationships, and even the environment are often the focus. Overall, I agree. But it’s the vanilla version of Jesus that doesn’t seem right.

If being good and making the world better is the goal, wouldn’t it be more effective to leave off any mention of God or Jesus?

Since discussing God and Jesus can so often be divisive, why not create a new secular humanist faith that avoids all that? One that’s totally dedicated to promoting good deeds and good will among all. This would probably be more readily accepted. Coexistence and harmony between all creation—man, animals, and environment—would create universal peace and a heavenly state. Who could argue with that? This less offensive, more congenial religion would probably have more impact on society and culture as a whole.

>All we have to do is leave God and Jesus out of the equation.

Sounds familiar? Isn’t this an application of Christianity that is some quasi-universalist, pseudo-Buddhist, completely indistinct Frankenstein of a religion in which, although it claims so, Jesus is not really essential?

So what do you do with statements of Jesus like:

“…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” -John 14:6

This implies that without acknowledging Jesus as supreme and central, you’re actually lost. This Jesus always gets explained away to fit the Frankenstein faith. It just doesn’t seem right.

Ultimately, everyone must decide for himself or herself.

I have.

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Farewell Rob Bell

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[Update: Rob Bell is going all Hollywood with an ABC show loosely based on his life]

I’m not sure if you know who Rob Bell is. Within Christianity, he’s kind of a big deal (pretty much the inverse of Jason Berggren). Well, he’s jumping ship.

>This weekend he announced he’s quitting the church, Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he founded.

Most recently, he has gotten a lot of attention for his book Love Wins. I read it and had several problems with it, which I wrote about in my post Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies. Why? Well let me just let you read some of my summary points.

From reading Love Wins I gathered that apparently all us crotchety, outdated, grandpa-like Christians need to realize (or else!):

• When God says He will reconcile all creation to Himself, He means everyone can get into Heaven regardless of your belief in Jesus
• God will let people decide to accept Jesus even after death, if necessary He will take as long as needed to convince them to come in
• You’re making people think Jesus came to rescue us from God, whom you seem to think is hot-tempered, switches modes, and is inconsistent
• While there needs to be room in Christianity for a wide range of opinions and views, there just isn’t room for your finite views on Hell, sin, or salvation
• Don’t worry about confessing the name of Jesus to be saved, just make sure you are living His story out in your own life
• There is a vein of God’s story in every culture, so whatever that plan of salvation is, it is perfectly acceptable to God and don’t judge them either
• Jesus died on the cross because that’s what they needed and understood back then, and that wouldn’t need to happen today since we’re, like, way more smarter than that
• Being ‘spiritual’ is probably enough for God, so don’t worry so much about being Biblical
• The Hippies had it right because it is actually possible to meet Jesus through smoking pot
• If Jesus and Christianity have put a bad taste in someone’s mouth, God doesn’t necessarily need them to follow Him because wherever they find truth is fine with Him

These are some things I even wrote about in my own book 10 Things I Hate About Christianity: Working Through the Frustrations of Faith:

Since discussing God and Jesus can so often be divisive, why not create a new secular humanist faith that avoids all that? One that’s totally dedicated to promoting good deeds and good will among all. This would probably be more readily accepted. Coexistence and harmony between all creation—man, animals, and environment—would create universal peace and a heavenly state. Who could argue with that? This less offensive, more congenial religion would probably have more impact on society and culture as a whole. All we have to do is leave God and Jesus out of the equation. No biggie.

>So why is Rob Bell leaving his church?

From the church’s own site it says:

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.

What do I think? I think it’s good and bad.

In a way, Rob has been part of my life for eight years. I have read nearly all of his books, used several of his NOOMA videos as a basis for small group discussions, and listened to hundreds of his teachings (I even explained why I stopped listening to him on July 29th, 2007, which is another story altogether). I have deep affection and great respect for Rob. It is hard not to.

But I’m worried.

Now Rob is free to go off the deep end. He doesn’t have the responsibility and role of ‘pastor’ to hold him accountable and measure his actions against. That’s not a good thing.

>Perhaps, since he doesn’t seem to hold to some foundational Christian doctrines, this is the right thing to do. 

I’m mixed.

Of course, I wish him all the best. He is an amazing communicator. In fact, I am jealous of his ability. I guess I should think what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:8:

“The important thing is that in every way, whether for right or wrong reasons, they are preaching about Christ. So I am happy, and I will continue to be happy.”

I’m still worried, though.

Why? Rob has a lot of influence due to his gift of communicating. I am afraid that Rob will further present an application of Christianity that is some quasi-universalist, pseudo-Buddhist, completely indistinct Frankenstein of a religion in which, although it claims so, Jesus is not really essential.

I know I have many problems and likely have some of my interpretations of the Bible wrong. I’m human. That’s a certainty.

>I’m just worried that Rob will get away from the urgency and importance of knowing Jesus, that he died for our sins, and that we must believe, accept, and follow him in order to spend eternity with him.

So farewell Rob Bell. I do wish you well–with some caution.

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Apparently Christians Are Pro-Israel Because They Are Actually Anti-Semitic

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Did you know that Christians are supportive of Jews and are Pro-Israel because they are actually anti-Semitic? That’s what the notorious M.I.T professor, activist, and Communist Noam Chomsky says.

Chompsky’s basis?

Well, because Christians want to hasten Armageddon, the end of the world, and the return of Jesus. And apparently we are tricking Jews back to their Holy Land only to quicken their slaughter and world war as depicted in the Book of Revelation. Their presence in the Middle East seems bolster this end, so we are manipulating events to bring the end times.

This is Chompsky’s view of Revelation and most Christians interpretation of it. Watch the hard leftist who teaches our young adults partially funded by tax-dollars in the interview below. It’s disgusting, arrogant, and ignorant:

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Grace Over Karma…And Is U2 A Christian Band?

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If you are trying to be a ‘cool’ Christian, you have to like U2. I mean really like U2. In addition, whenever talking about good and evil, you have to work in mentions of Mother Teresa or Hitler. This is especially true of Christian writers and speakers. Yes, I do all this in my first book. What can I say…it works! And yes, I really like U2. In fact, I’d say they’re my favorite band of all time. Hey, they always have been!

Christians are often perplexed over whether or not U2 is or was ever a Christian band. For example, there’s no doubt when listening to October that there are is an overt Christian theme running through each and every song. Now, Achtung Baby is another story. So when we can’t figure it out, we wonder whether some of the members of U2 are at least Christians.

Here are some very interesting and compelling comments from Bono taken from an interview captured in the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. His words capture a true clarity with regard to God, Jesus, and the nature of the Gospel.

Bono’s comments deal with the difference between the grace of God and karma. It is the difference between legalism (earning your place with God) and forgiveness (accepting the place He has given you because he simply loves you).

Here are some of my favorites:

  • There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.
  • … at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
  • if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
  •  I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
  • No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going:OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched

Very interesting and revealing words from Bono. They are thoughtful, concise and accurate. In fact, he gives me, a Christian since my teens, a run for my money in his understanding of the deep theology in all this. You can read more of the interview here.

Forget about karma, it’s all about grace.

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Weird Zone Christianity

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There are a few elements of Christianity that often get avoided. For obvious reasons, we don’t like talking about some strange areas and elements of our faith. Perhaps, rightly so. I mean who wants to talk about sin, Hell, or the Devil? No one.

If you don’t know, I attend North Point Community Church. Yesterday (Sunday), my church ventured into the weird zone of Christianity and talked about Hell in the series Shocking Statements of Jesus. Of course, it was done very tactfully. I’ve been attending there 6 years and listening to their messages for 9 years, and I can’t remember this subject ever being breached so clearly. I’m probably wrong, but at the moment that’s what I seem to remember.

Now, I understand why. Weird Zone Christianity doesn’t help a church grow, make friends, or make for good marketing. But it needs to be talked about. Why? Because it brings the gut-level perspective we so often need.

I’m not saying we need to talk and learn about that stuff all the time. But if we don’t ever talk about these things, it gives the impression that we have to apologize for God or be ashamed of what He says? We have to be familiar with and be willing to talk about the full council of God (as I call it). That includes the harder issues (like hell even), but apologize, hide, avoid, or feel ashamed? No. It’s all part of the territory. Otherwise it also gives the impression that those areas of Scripture aren’t all that valid or worth defending.

We need to keep in mind what’s really going on here, because it can even affect our day-to-day. For example, perhaps a fellow Christian has a habit or personality trait that drives you nuts, maybe you even think it’s a negative trait that needs to change. No one’s perfect, after all. As time goes on, you never talk about this trait with them and eventually decide to end the relationship because you deem it ‘unhealthy’. Sure, you pray about it and for them, of course. That’s the spiritual thing to do, right? Not really. You’ve lost perspective of the big picture and what’s really going on here.

The spiritual thing to do is to talk to your fellow Christian right away as is modeled in Matthew 18:15. Go to him or her, because there is a real enemy here–and it’s not that so-and-so is too sarcastic or talks too much. The real enemy wants to get a foothold via some stupid trait and ruin your relationship and ruin all the peripheral relationships as well.

When something as simple as a personality trait never gets talked about it can lead to gossip (as you’re likely talk to other people about this problem, but never talk to the actual person you have a grievance toward), pride (as you become oblivious to your own flaws), and religiosity (since you’re ‘praying’ for and about this, but never actually doing what the Bible says and go to the person). And by the way, ‘going’ to the person does not include dropping a bomb on them and listing all the things wrong with them as reasons for ending the relationship. That’s mean and cowardly–and not spiritual. And the enemy wins here as pain and destruction rain down on these relationships.

If we don’t talk about sin, Hell, and the Devil then we don’t really understand the good stuff of forgiveness, Heaven, and God. And we won’t understand reconciliation and how important it is to handle relationships correctly.

So I am trying to learn to talk about the weird zone of Christianity tactfully in order to keep the big picture in perspective.

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So What About The Failed Rapture?

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I’m about to talk a little religiously today due to current events. According to Harold Camping, this past Saturday (May 21st) at 6 PM was suppose to be the Rapture.

Who is Harold Camping and what is the Rapture?

Harold Camping is a Christian radio broadcaster. He is president of Family Radio. More important for dozens of years he has been a Bible teacher via the radio and a few television syndicates.

In Christian eschatology (study of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell), the Rapture is a reference to the being caught up as referred to in the Biblical passage 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Most Christians believe that in the End Times, Christians of will be gathered together in the air to meet Jesus Christ. Probably, the primary passage used to support this idea is 1 Thessalonians 4:15–7, in which Paul cites “the word of the Lord” about the return of Christ to gather his followers:

…and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

 

Yes, the Rapture sounds strange. For me, it is not essential Christian doctrine. What I mean is, it doesn’t affect my daily life or how I go about my desire to follow and be like Jesus. I don’t go around having long conversations talking about it. In general, I simply try to live with a sense of urgency because none of us knows how many days we have left. But since it’s made the news, I thought I’d mention it.

I also wanted to talk about what to think about all this. Most people probably think that Harold Camping is a loon at best, and a charlatan at worst. After all, many people have sent their life savings to him to help him spread his Rapture message.

But according to the Bible, it is much worse. Harold can now be considered a false teacher. He has claimed to understand secret codes and teachings in the Bible and been found wrong.

Did you know that he also predicted the end of the world to be May 21, 1988, and September 7, 1994? And since he was wrong this time, he revised his numbers again. Did he say May 21st? According to him, he misunderstood the secret code. It’s really October 21st this year.

Oh brother…what a dope!

There shouldn’t be another person listening to his programs or supporting him with their dollars. It may sound harsh, but this isn’t simply a ‘misunderstanding’. This is a guy who claims to have direct messages from God that have turned out to be totally wrong.

So leave Camping to his own demise. Don’t listen to him. Don’t send him a nickel.

I do not wish death on him or evil to come to him. I’m not gonna call his show and taunt him. I’m not gonna litter his email box with spam. I simply think he needs to be ignored now. Although, some people may want to ask for a refund of their money and I support that!

So join my movement and ignore Harold Camping and anyone like him. It’s actually what we’re supposed to do. They do a disservice to God.

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How Could A Loving God Create Hell?

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Hell again? Yes, I find these questions fascinating. LIke when I discussed how a person ends up in Hell. Or when I dissected Rob Bell’s answer to this in his book Love Wins. So today, here is the big question:

How could a loving God create Hell? That’s the real question.

Often we are tempted to invent some type of safety-net view of eternity, because we are uncomfortable with the idea of Hell.

As brutal as the idea of hell is, it makes sense to me that decisions we make in this life would affect the afterlife. Evil needs to be dealt with. I think everyone would agree with that. But for some reason, there’s a departure from this rationale when we add the afterlife element. We don’t want it to be true in respect to that.

It’s as if we want to be able to live by our own standards and invent our own senses of morality, but we also want everyone to be rewarded in the end. Like when every kid on every soccer team these days gets a trophy, even the kids that finish in last place. No one’s better than anyone else, and no one’s s right. Everyone’s good in his or her own right. But that just doesn’t make sense to me.

Hell makes sense.

Should a Mother Teresa be rewarded along with a Hitler just because they both lived sincerely in accordance with their own heartfelt convictions? I can’t accept that premise. There must be some standard to figure out and enlighten ourselves with—if there’s a God.

Otherwise, God is a liar.

If God is real, how could he be content with a moral vacuum? I’m not. That’s why I hate it when true justice doesn’t play out in our legal system. But for some reason, I still have a problem accepting the next logical conclusion—that there might be true justice applied in the afterlife.

I certainly don’t have a problem accepting the idea that people might be rewarded in the afterlife for the good they did on earth. And when it comes to the idea of retribution in the afterlife for wrongdoing, maybe my only reason for squeamishness is selfish. I don’t want to get in trouble for the wrong I’ve done, so to let myself off the hook, I let everyone off. Everybody gets a trophy!

It’s a paradox. Though I can accept the principle of reciprocity, I still want to blame God for carrying it out, as if he’s some sort of savage for actually adhering to the principle I want him to stick to.

Isn’t that the most loving thing to do?

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Heaven, Hell, And How Do You Get There?

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If you believe in the idea of Heaven or Hell in the Christian context, you probably have one of two views on how a person ends up at one or the other. If you don’t believe this, you might want to go back to checking your email or something. It’s been an interesting week for me. Following my review of Love Wins by Rob Bell titled Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies, I have been inundated by many messages. So I thought it’d be good to drill down on these issues a bit more.

With regard to Heaven, you probably either believe that everyone is in unless they opt-out

-or-

…everyone is out unless they opt-in.

Before I explain what I mean, let’s talk about how this all plays out. The Bible ends in the book of Revelation with Jesus handing out final judgments for all of creation. Meanwhile, the devil, his fallen angels, and anyone whose name isn’t found in “the book of life” are thrown into “a lake of fire.” Some refer to this as the Judgment Day, a term that conjures up a host of emotions. (Don’t you hate talking this stuff? Awkward!)

We are also given an extraordinary picture of Heaven. It shows God living permanently among his people. There’s no evil, no temptation, no night. There are no more tears. There’s no more death, no more pain. No one will ever be thirsty. No one will ever be hungry. Everything’s bright, lighted, brilliant. Precious gems and metals are everywhere. Oceans and rivers are crystal clear to the very bottom. What’s rare on this earth is in abundance in Heaven.

Of course, we all want to get there. So how do we do it?

The secret is to have your name recorded in the “book of life.”

And how does that happen? That’s the key here. I think the answer is found in several passages in the Bible. I’ll name just one. You probably know it well: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) If that concept’s uncomfortable, don’t get mad at me. I’m just the messenger. You’ll have to take it up with the one who’s quoted as saying this—Jesus. That is, if you believe in such things.

So with regard to Heaven, is it that everyone is in unless they opt-out or everyone is out unless they opt-in?

I believe there are different measures of Hell in the same way there will be different levels of reward in Heaven. So perhaps these one word descriptions that only communicate monolithic extremes are somewhat lacking. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is how do we end up in the “inner court”–that place where we are with God all the time?

Is it that if we accept and believe in Jesus we are in? Or is it that everyone is in unless they have outrightly rejected Jesus? In other words, if a person never follows Jesus, never believes in and accepts him (as the risen son of God), but never outrightly rejects him either, will they be allowed in that “inner court”?

This is a question I often think about. And if you would like to read my detailed analysis of Hell, please download the chapter of Hell from my book for FREE here.

Either way, with Heaven in the balance, Hell does what it’s supposed to. It causes me to take stock of my life, examine who I am, challenge what I’m doing, and question why I’m here.

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[portions of this post were taken from here]

Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies – A Review of Rob Bell’s Book

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Love Wins is “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell. This is important stuff for sure, which is why I tackle it in my book, 10 Things I Hate About Christianity: Working Through the Frustrations of Faith, as well. So I come to this review with some knowledge on the subject. If you’re interested on a comparison you can download my chapter on Hell here for free.

In a way, Rob has been part of my life for eight years. I have read nearly all of his books, used several of his NOOMA videos as a basis for small group discussions, and listened to hundreds of his teachings (last week I explained why I stopped listening to him on July 29th, 2007, which is another story altogether). I have deep affection and great respect for Rob. It is hard not to. That is why this review is so difficult.

That being said, let me begin by stating what I agree with in Love Wins:

• God is love and more generous than we can comprehend
• People we don’t expect to see in Heaven will be there
• People we expect to be in Hell may not be there
• We are commissioned to bring healing to this earth with our lives
• Our eternal destiny will ultimately be of our own choosing, either Heaven or Hell
• God is displeased with misrepresentations of his character and nature by his alleged followers
• Yes, is his fairness, God will allow children, the mentally challenged, and the Pygmy in Africa (or anyone else) who has not had the chance to decide on Jesus into Heaven

Beyond that, Love Wins is ambiguous, dangerous, and angry.

I wanted to like Love Wins. I really wanted to like it. But I didn’t. That doesn’t mean Love Wins is poorly written, dull, or unoriginal. On the contrary! In true Bell fashion, it is passionate, deep, and relevant. But if a movie has forced acting, a half-baked story, yet manages to come through with stellar special affects, it is still a bad movie. With all the perfect expressions, appealing conversational tones, and deep passion, Love Wins left me confused and frustrated—to such a degree, in fact, I still cannot determine what the book is truly about. Other than ‘talking’ about this stuff, I cannot figure out what the overall point is.

Love Wins is purposely ambiguous. It poses many questions and answers very few. While Bell loves to try to emulate Jesus by answering questions with questions, he misses one BIG thing: an answer always came when Jesus was around. Jesus simply posed questions that invoked a pre-existing answer in the heart of the individual. Jesus also had another approach; he would enter the temple and teach from the Scriptures, explaining and answering in great detail.

Jesus wasn’t at all ambiguous on the essentials, nor evasive; he was not ‘hard to pin down.’ Jesus provided clarity at a time, and to subjects, that desperately needed it. So much so that we are still talking about his answers 2,000 years later. It’s very fashionable to pose questions, remain distant, and commit to nothing. To most, it sounds enlightened (and keeps everyone liking you), but it’s also insincere and elusive.

Love Wins is dangerous because its use and explanation of Scripture is manipulative. Sure, if a person has a pulse, then that person has a bias. We are all prone to interpret the Bible through whatever lens or worldview we have. But when a bias becomes an agenda, or even activism, with regard to Scripture, it can become very dangerous.

For example, Bell does not seem to believe in a Hell with flames of any sort or at any level, as most of traditional Christianity has held for the last 2,000 years. He believes it will be either a state (or condition) we create through our actions and choices or just a separation from God. (I elaborate on all three in great detail in the chapter on Hell in my book.)

So while explaining the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, Bell deals a fatal blow to the meaning of it. His assessment? This is not really a parable about Hell and the afterlife. It’s about the Rich Man holding on to his pride, status, and cultural hierarchy, because, even in his torment, he wants Lazarus, the beggar, to ‘serve’ him. For some reason, the Rich Man begging for a cool drop of water on his tongue because he “is in agony in this fire” or his plea for a special warning to his family about the potential torment in the afterlife goes completely ignored by Bell. Sure, pride can be an application of this story, but it is not the thrust. It merely serves to accentuate the seriousness of the afterlife, since the Rich (Jewish) Man is in the torments of Hell, while the (Gentile) beggar is in Heaven. It is clearly a warning about Hell and the afterlife.

Bell appears to courageously jump to the end of Revelation, since it cannot be ignored when talking about Hell. He elaborates on all the great descriptions of Heaven and healing and being reconciled with God—we all love this stuff. Unfortunately, he conveniently ignores the whole “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15)

Woops!

There is more, but Love Wins tumbles like a house of cards on these two areas of Scripture alone. What exactly are we being saved from then? Just our bad habits and attitudes? Bell enjoys blasting the reader with an assault of seemingly contradictory verses. Then, while the reader is dazed, confused, and off-guard, he seizes the emotional moment to introduce a controversial view. It leaves the person feeling like, “Of course this must be true…I must be an idiot if I don’t agree with it.” The Bible is filled with apparent contradictions, if you are willing to bastardize and ignore context. It is a manipulative and condescending tactic to use, since it attempts to trick the reader into agreement.

Love Wins is angry because it has all the makings of an immature, rebellious teenager trying to teach his overbearing old-fashioned parents a lesson about the new ways of the world. First and foremost, if you (or any Christian) believe that Jesus is absolutely essential to salvation or in a literal Hell with flames, Rob would like you to know that you are helping perpetuate a ‘strain’ of Christianity that is destructive, violent, toxic, venomous, and abusive. Got it?

While Bell presents himself as very magnanimous in interviews and graciously expresses that he has no desire to call out or criticize his detractors, he has done far more in this book. Bell uses fighting words throughout. If believing 1) the name of Jesus is essential and 2) there is a literal Hell with flames, makes me a fundamentalist, pre-modern, unenlightened, barbaric, blind, villainous, and idiotic, then so be it—although I would dispute the charges. Sound at all passive aggressive? It is. I know because I ‘are’ one.

So apparently all you crotchety, outdated, grandpa-like Christians need to realize (or else!):

• When God says He will reconcile all creation to Himself, He means everyone can get into Heaven regardless of your belief in Jesus
• God will let people decide to accept Jesus even after death, if necessary He will take as long as needed to convince them to come in
• You’re making people think Jesus came to rescue us from God, whom you seem to think is hot-tempered, switches modes, and is inconsistent
• While there needs to be room in Christianity for a wide range of opinions and views, there just isn’t room for your finite views on Hell, sin, or salvation
• Don’t worry about confessing the name of Jesus to be saved, just make sure you are living His story out in your own life
• There is a vein of God’s story in every culture, so whatever that plan of salvation is, it is perfectly acceptable to God and don’t judge them either
• Jesus died on the cross because that’s what they needed and understood back then, and that wouldn’t need to happen today since we’re, like, way more smarter than that
• Being ‘spiritual’ is probably enough for God, so don’t worry so much about being Biblical
• The Hippies had it right because it is actually possible to meet Jesus through smoking pot
• If Jesus and Christianity have put a bad taste in someone’s mouth, God doesn’t necessarily need them to follow Him because wherever they find truth is fine with Him

It’s funny, I commented on the last idea in my book a couple of years ago:

Since discussing God and Jesus can so often be divisive, why not create a new secular humanist faith that avoids all that? One that’s totally dedicated to promoting good deeds and good will among all. This would probably be more readily accepted. Coexistence and harmony between all creation—man, animals, and environment—would create universal peace and a heavenly state. Who could argue with that? This less offensive, more congenial religion would probably have more impact on society and culture as a whole. All we have to do is leave God and Jesus out of the equation. No biggie.

I guess my overall problem is that I read Love Wins in the context of Rob Bell being a pastor, not a writer. One of the primary roles of a pastor is to bring clarity, predictability, and truth whenever possible. But I suppose this isn’t really feasible if you believe all truth contains a vein of the truth and is therefore equally true. This explains the evasiveness and confusion. I do not believe Bell to be willfully deceptive, but I do believe he is still knowingly guarded in his opinions. He should simply be more honest, rather than opting for the creative guise of cool and distant. You just can’t have it both ways—or should I say all ways.

Bell admittedly likes to interpret Scripture as pliable and versatile (his words) if at all possible. This takes particular shape if a Scripture is especially uncomfortable. In doing so, he unavoidably opts for the guilt-free feel-good trappings of moral relativism and philosophical pluralism. I wish I could do the same. I wish it were all true and this easy. But in his framework, the Hebrew story of God and the Christian experience with God is of no affect and no importance, since following Jesus specifically or confessing his name is not totally essential. In fact, why should I even follow Jesus if everyone gets a pass in the end? Because he was really nice or said neat stuff? So what. So did a lot of historical figures. Why not live a life if debauchery and hedonism? Basically, it doesn’t really matter, right?

These thoughts fill me with great sadness. Why? Because based on what Bell says, God cannot hold us to his own standard, since He will not hold Himself to His own words.

I can make no other conclusions, according to what Rob has presented, than:

1. Love doesn’t win because there is no true choice and subsequent consequence (and this is what the nature of love is built on).
2. Christianity loses the very punch line of the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’, since Jesus is not essential to the story.
3. God is a liar because he has called us to righteousness (and to follow Jesus) while rewarding apathy.

I am left wondering, what the heck is Christianity, what does it mean to be a Christian, and does that even matter? How does love win? Love should win because God sent his son to be a substitutionary atonement for our sins and to save us from them and Hell: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). That is the extent of His love. Nowhere does Bell make that abundantly clear. To me, that is the real story behind Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person whoever lived.

I love Rob, but I hate Love Wins.

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VIDEO: Rob Bell Cold On Hell

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Rob Bell. That’s a name that engenders all kids of emotions. He is in the news lately because of his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person That Ever Lived.

I first heard of Rob Bell in 2003 when I heard a session of his from Catalyst Conference on cd. He was famous for starting a church by teaching through the book of Leviticus. Although this seemed like a bad idea (Leviticus is notoriously boring), the church exploded.

His session at Catalyst was so moving, which made sense of it all. Something about what Rob said changed me forever. And from then on I made sure to never miss a message. I listened to him teach every week via his church’s website. He had a way of teaching that was deep, passionate, and relevant to my life. I still have hundreds of his teachings in my computer. In addition, I consumed his supplemental resources NOOMA. Week after week I received from the well of Rob Bell.

Until July 29, 2007.

That was the moment he really jumped the shark. The series was “God Is Green“. I listened to this series four times to make sure I was hearing what I was hearing, because I knew this might mean a departure for me. I suspected I could no longer support or recommend Rob, so I wanted to be sure of what I was hearing.

This was a series about creation and the environment. Now, I’m all for being responsible and taking care of God’s creation. But there is a fine line. I don’t worship it. I am not subservient to it. I worship the Creator, not creation. That is a form of idolatry, as the Bible might say. And I felt God is Green crossed that line.

Yes, I believe the environment is important. After all, I live in it. But I felt Bell elevated it to a status that it was not meant to have:

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles… They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. -Romans 1:22,23,25

Bell went so far as to say that disrespect for the environment was a sanctity of life issue. That went too far. Sure, we all love the family pet, but Spike isn’t on the same level as my children. The sanctity of life is a concept that has it’s origins in Christianity. Specifically, it refers to humans because of their obvious difference from the rest of creation–we have souls. We are God’s crowning achievement. That’s what this term refers to.

Up to then, I had begun to sense a drift in Bell’s teachings over the course of a year or so. There was something evasive. It was as if he wasn’t saying some things he really thought regarding some foundational Christian doctrines–namely, Hell, sin, the nature of the death of Jesus, among other things–and some others were becoming questionalable (like in “God is Green”). There seemed to be a faint pluralism creeping in. And “God Is Green” is where I drew the line. In fact, I indirectly reference some of his themes in my own book (the problem of exclusivity, Hell, and sin)  entitled 10 Thing I Hate About Christianity. Of course, these deserve exploration.

But I never listened to another Rob Bell message again.

Now, I kept up with all his books. He’s still a great communicator. I just couldn’t listen to him teach his church Sunday morning representing the office of pastor, so to speak. It may sound strange, but it was a line I had to draw.

So now Rob has a new book called Love Wins. It’s safe to say, my suspicions were right. It is creating quite some waves across the face of Christendom. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to challenge the process and question the status quo, but that doesn’t mean you’re right–or I’m right–or he’s right. I am in the process of reading it and a review is forthcoming (probably next week).

But I wanted to show a video of a recent interview he did on MSNBC with Martin Bashir. What’s interesting is that it seems like Bashir is the Christian here. Yes, oddly enough, he seems to be the one defending traditional Christianity–not Pastor Rob Bell. That was a bit of a surprise. Bell even seems a bit uneasy in the clip. This I understand as I have done nearly 100 interviews for my book (two for ABC News)

The irony is, I suspect that Bell has developed what he believes to be a faith that will crossover. By redefining Hell, sin, and consequence he likely hopes it will appeal to people who are not generally open to Christianity (like the main stream media). But in reality, they are not buying into it (I have seen other interviews that have gone much the same way). It makes even them suspicious.

Here is the clip:

Book Review: The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails-Pt. 2 of 2

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[Click here to read part 1]

So let’s continue.

Context doesn’t matter. That one was a little jab. Of course, this is not a stated value of the book, but this is certainly the practical application as the arguments play out. The authors have little regard for context in regards to the areas of Scripture they do analyze. As a result, they are completely incapable (or unwilling) of determining if a particular area of Scripture is meant to be a special circumstance or a timeless principle. For me, this is a daily and mandatory discipline. But rather than try to determine the context, they liberally vacillate between the literal and metaphorical understandings—depending on which will more readily support their current point or eviscerate Christianity more.

In the same vein, they also make no distinction between the religion of Christianity and those actually desiring to be a follower of Jesus. For example, I did not join a ‘religion’ or belief system (and I did not grow up a Christian). I simply wanted to try to follow the teachings of Jesus and apply them to my life.

Religion kills, Christianity is the worst, and Atheism is all sunny days and yummy milkshakes. If someone in history has claimed to be Christian and done horrible things, like Timothy McVeigh (He is a favorite example of Atheists, although McVeigh was a self-proclaimed agnostic, but I’ll let it stand for the sake of argument.), it was because he was a religious nut and religion is to blame (it made him that way). However, if someone was an Atheist or agnostic and did terrible things, like Mao Zedong, his godless worldview is not responsible. It was just because he was crazy or bad. Christianity is held accountable while Atheism gets a pass.

Plus, Atheism is awesome because it has never had missionaries corrupting societies or hurt anyone. So in the “Age of Reason” France never banished pastors, converted churches to temples of reason, and punished people for claiming to “know the truth” I guess? This is a good place to introduce the 2nd major flaw of the book.

Flaw #2-“The Original Sin”. What is the Original Sin of this book? It takes shape as a HUGE oversight. It does not even delve into the very reason for religion. That is to say, it doesn’t offer one thought as to how this all started or where we all come from. More fundamentally, it does not even do a cursory mention or a courtesy bow to the idea of how you get something from nothing. If you’re going to write a whole reference-type book on debunking Christianity, you better offer something on this.

That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? That’s why I believe at all. Where did this all start? What about our origins? Saying “Darwin” or “Evolution” isn’t enough. Give me “Cosmic Goo” or “X” the “Big Bang.” It isn’t an explanation, but its something. What started this all? Did aliens seed all this as noted Atheist Richard Dawkins said could be possible? To not offer anything is a major flaw of a book seeking to destroy Christianity and promote Atheism. You better offer something, or at least say why you’re not offering anything. But let me say, in offering something you may only put forward what science can prove and test. Remember, the natural (or physical) world is all that we may believe in or that can guide us. That means nothing that can be construed as “extraordinary” or hint at something “supernatural” may be proposed. I suppose that may be why our origins is ignored in this book. It is difficult to explain.

How do you get something from nothing?

Christianity can’t be because it isn’t. Christianity can’t be true because it probably isn’t the only religion you (or I) tried. That’s a major contention. They hold that I must treat every religion with the same amount of validity. If I want to have any integrity I must flush out and try each one before I am allowed to decide.

The Outsider Test For Faith. What I gather to be one of the benchmarks of the book is described as the Outsider Test For Faith (OTF). This is somewhat related to the point above. It is something the editor and main contributor, John Loftus, builds his very Atheism on. Unfortunately, he never stated exactly what the Outsider Test For Faith is. I read the chapter several times to try and find it. He laid out questions that he uses to guide his skepticism based on the OTF, answered objections based on the OTF, but never defined clearly what the OTF was/is. In addition, I know he wants us (Christians) to subject the same amount of skepticism to Christianity as we do other religions. I suppose that is what it is. Still, I’m not sure. Nowhere did Loftus say “The OTF can essentially be summarized as…” and then build from there. Perhaps, I missed it. I guess I failed the test.

Marxism and Atheism. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that most Atheists are Marxists in regards to their socio-political philosophy (most are Socialists and a few admit to being Communists). And I extend this assessment beyond the confines of this book. I find this somewhat inconsistent and even humorous. It is a true lapse of the ‘unwavering’ logic they profess. They don’t have the integrity or decency to be anarchists at best (the only ‘survival of the fittest’ socio-political philosophy) or Libertarians at worst (the only amoral one). Atheists are so often averse and upset about the influence of religion on society and its ‘oppressive’ morality. Their perfect, reasoned, and logical solution? To revert to another form of moralism. They seek to employ all the authoritarianism of a theocracy, minus the God part.

Miscellany.
*The book alleges that the Bible promotes a “flat earth” view of cosmology because it employs such terms as the “four corners of the earth”. This is to show how primitive framers of the Bible were and, subsequently, must have been wrong about God too. Somehow there is no understanding of the poetry and parallelism in Hebrew writings and banter. For example, Jesus once said to take the plank out your own eye before pointing out the piece of sawdust in someone else’s (in regard to being judgmental). This may come as a surprise, but Jesus did not in fact think we are all actually made of wood. It was a creative metaphor.

*The book contends that we are all moral relativists because we view someone else’s view of morality as relative to ours (often a clear distinction between belief and non-belief). But that’s not what I view as moral relativism. I am not a moral relativist because I believe in absolutes that are intrinsic and fixed. Perhaps we are operating from two different meanings of ‘relative/ist.’

*Christians must give opponents of Christianity more validity than promoters of it if they want to truly find the truth. Of course, no one ever does this. Do the environmentalists look to skeptics to learn how to protect the earth? Do pro-choice advocates glean wisdom from pro-lifers when weighing their decision? (And so on) This is simply hedging and an air of moral superiority, because we’re all guilty here—even Atheists.

*Science picks up where philosophy leaves off, is what they say in this book. In direct contrast, I say the exact opposite in my book. Philosophy offers a theory or explanation when science can’t.

*Atheists get mad that Atheism often gets called a religion by Christian apologists. While I understand Atheism is not a religion, in that it is not a belief system and is more accurately non-belief or non-religion, can we agree that sometimes this is an argument about semantics? Religion can be defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. Does Atheism not sometimes fit that description when having these debates? Perhaps Atheism can sometimes be viewed as a religion with a little “r” and not a big “R”, as it is not an organized and formal religion. But you get the idea, academically speaking, when we’re having these talks, don’t you?

*Atheists also dispute Christianity because there are so many variations of it (with the denominations, non-denominations, and cults, to a lesser degree). In essence, Christianity (and Christians) can’t agree with itself, so it must be false. So am I to understand that because there are varying viewpoints on a particular subject (the result of free will, mind you) then none can be correct or worth considering? That makes no sense. Bring that into a marriage or friendship and see where that gets you. Not to mention, this isn’t exactly a fair point to make at all. Atheists only have to agree on ONE THING: there is no God. In the inverse, Christians unanimously agree on this point (that there is a God). And they agree on the most important element of Christianity: Jesus. Beyond that, there can be no more comparing, since we have doctrine, principles, and lessons to learn from and interpret. If Atheists had the same to consider they would obviously find themselves in the same predicament.

Flaw #1-“The Epic Fail”. The very title “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails” is an epic fail. That is to say, the very premise of the book fails. Why? Because Christianity is alive and well. In fact, it started with just 12 followers 2,000 years ago and has bad BILLIONS of followers since then. If we put this in an empirical and scientific context, as Atheists claim to guide their lives with, we see that the evidence proves that the title breaks down in a major way with very little analysis—because faith hasn’t failed.

In fact, the very first sentence of the first chapter confirms my point. It opens with, “One of the great mysteries is why, despite the best arguments against it, religion survives.” There it is: an inadvertent admission that the title does not stand up under the weight of its own scrutiny. And if that’s the case, then doesn’t the whole premise of the book fail? Perhaps a better subtitle would be something like “Why Faith Should Fail”. A title with a qualitative word in it helps to deliver on the promise. This is something I learned writing my own book. With all the contributors claims of intellect, experience in academia, and fancy letters after their names, how did they miss this epic fail?

Lastly, a word to Atheists:

I do not hate you. I am not trying to convert you. I do not want to control you. I do not want to create a theocracy. I understand your frustrations and doubts—I have them weekly. I believe in God. You do not. I believe there is a spiritual element to life. You do not. I believe Jesus was the Son of God. You do not. But make no mistake:

I believe because I know it to be personally true. Sometimes resolute and sometimes strong. And sometimes a little more dimly. But I know this:

I will always believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. To me, that’s just the best news ever.

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Book Review: The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails-Pt. 1 of 2

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http://universalheretic.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/christiandelusion.jpgI recently finished reading The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (TCD) in order to review it on my site www.jasonberggren.com. It was recommended to me by one of the contributors, Edward Babinski, who is a reader of my blog (named above). I’ve had many pleasant back-and-forths with him and was excited at the prospect.

I suspect I was approached to read TCD because of the title of my book 10 Things I Hate About Christianity: Working Through the Frustrations of Faith —that I am perhaps a borderline Atheist convert, or a “New Atheist” as they’re called. It’s a fair point, but it is not the case as many Atheists have discovered (and then gotten mad about). I suppose there is a frustration that I used such a shocking title, but used it for good (to build faith and bring attention to Jesus) and used it before they did/could. The irony is, much that is covered in TCD I discuss in my own book.

So what about The Christian Delusion?

Following are my overall impressions and thoughts. By the end of this, I will also reveal the three major flaws of the book, as I see them. Please keep in mind, when I refer to Atheists in this review, I am referring to the contributors of this book only unless otherwise noted.

I appreciate the content of the book. It was well written and presents many valid points. I think it’s important to constantly review the objections many raise concerning Christianity. They are questions worth asking and discussing. We, as Christians, should never resist these dialogues. We should be committed to healthy, productive, and respectful discussions regarding our faith. Unfortunately, the ‘respect’ part is difficult in this heated subject from both sides of this aisle.

Let’s get started.

Summarizing Atheism. Let’s begin at the foundation. From what I gather, Atheism hinges on two rejections (in regard to religion in general): 1) there is no spiritual element to life and 2) there is no such thing as the supernatural. That’s my bottom-line description. For this reason, the physical world can be the only guide. What can be tested and proven with scientific methods can be the only evidence for living. This is summed up quite well by Richard Carrier, PhD on page 296, “That’s why I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead: it simply isn’t a plausible event, and is not supported by any sources I trust.”

Intellectual honesty. That was perhaps the favorite phrase in this book when critiquing Christianity. Much was made of our (Christians) intellectual dishonesty. In other words, Christians would cease to be Christians if they were intellectually honest about…(and so on). But anyone who is intellectually honest will realize that much of the counterpoints to faith in this book are not exactly intellectually honest themselves. But then again, I am no intellectual, to be honest.

For example, there is a railing of Christian apologists for not being authentic in their approach since they seek to prove their faith—that they shouldn’t enter into the endeavor with a defined bias. It’s a fair point. But nothing is said of many apologists becoming converts by doing precisely this. At face value the Atheists make the same mistake (regardless of what they may say). They also enter into their undertaking with a defined bias: they seek to disprove God and Christianity. Personally, I could care less. Just be honest about it rather than assuming some level of moral superiority, especially when you do the same.

Humorless, condescending, and cynical. That is the overall tone of the book. One of the last lines of the introduction is, “To honest believers who are seeking to test their own inherited religious faith, this book is for you.” Sounds so magnanimous and polite, right? As if we are all just sitting around a coffee table together after Thanksgiving Dinner just shuckin-n-jivin. Unfortunately, up to that point the introduction spends a great deal of time talking down to people of faith.

For example, if you are a Christian, have faith, or believe in God this book has no lack of descriptions or directions for you. Allow me to elaborate about you (and these are no exaggerations). You are mentally ill, an obstacle to society, unenlightened, uneducated, brainwashed, sexist, prejudice, primitive, stupid, gullible, superstitious, uncivilized, racist, ridiculous, inferior, embarrassingly incompetent, perversely dishonest, wildly deluded, a liar for Christ, a tragedy, programmed to distrust skeptics, in a cult, and scary. You will hopefully evolve out of your need to believe, must realize that Rome didn’t really persecute Christians all that much, should know there has never been much of an effort to destroy the canonical evidence of Scripture or supportive artifacts, must be open to Atheists ideas (but not vice versa), may not use the Bible when discussing faith with Atheists (although Atheists can use the bible in every argument against it they make and are allowed any other bit of supporting work, theory, innuendo, or otherwise to proselytize their non-God worldview), believe in a savior (Jesus) who was an ignorant xenophobe, should be a socialist, should follow Marxism at least (according to most) and Communism at best (according to a few), contribute to the violence in the world, need to appreciate that Atheists are patient enough to ‘deal’ with you, and need to realize that the Apostle Paul hallucinated himself into belief because of guilt. Oh yes, and you have also likely hallucinated and have low self-esteem (which explains your need to believe).

Now you may be wondering why I included so many direct descriptions. Believe it or not, this is just a small percentage of what the book included. I think it’s important to point out that the book attempts to cloak itself in a guise of respect, reason, and magnanimity (as I stated before). But as you can see, these words are quite antagonistic. This dialogue environment is not egalitarian and altruistic as it claims to want to create. These are words of anger and revenge. And if that’s the purpose, again, then just be honest about it.

“Insiders” of Christianity. That is the claim of nearly all the contributors—that they were former ones, that is. I am very suspicious of this because of the blatant disregard for context (which I will get into later). It just seems to me, if this is true, there is quite a but of willful ignorance as the arguments play out. Or perhaps they had very bad mentors when they were “insiders”.

The Bible has NO credibility. Any source seems to be more valid than the Bible to them. Even one with only one or two copies citing a particular event holds more weight (so long as it casts doubt on Christianity) than the thousands of manuscripts of the Scripture. If two books record the same event, the Bible is automatically wrong. Why? Well, because it’s the Bible, of course! Aren’t you paying attention? This is a good place to introduce the 1st major flaw of the book (in descending order) and end part 1 of this review (part 2 posts tomorrow).

Flaw #3-“The Idiot Genius Contradiction”. In my observation, this is a major pillar of the Atheists (again, I refer to the contributors of this book) contention to Christianity. And in order to accept it, you must accept two contradictory theories at the same time and believe them both simultaneously. Although they should largely negate each other (if we are ‘intellectually honest’), somehow they survive each other, together.

The contradiction is this: Christianity (and Judaism to a lesser degree) is built on the brilliantly maniacal manipulative writings of an elite group of people (i.e., the Bible). This group has been able to translate, re-translate, craft, and re-craft the Bible in a way that has enabled them to control the masses, proliferate their religion throughout the centuries, and maintain their own positions of power. With it and through it they prey on fears, promise rewards, and punish disobedience.

And at the same time

Somehow this elite group was not smart enough to make God perfect, his followers flawless, and his will universal and clear as the Caribbean waters in those same writings. Obviously, this would require no apologies and phony justifications while helping this elite ensure more power, influence, and amass more money. Instead, in the Bible, they make much of alleging God (and often his followers) is an ethical tyrant, moral monster, racial hatemonger, oppressive master, violent father, indifferent to suffering, and permissive of evil. But somehow we were all tricked into following this God while reading all this. In short, this elite crowd was not smart enough to frame a God that didn’t seem bi-polar and is at least good, yet somehow invented the most successful religion (Christianity) ever. It’s very similar to the 9/11 conspiracy theories: somehow President Bush was an evil genius that destroyed the Word Trade Center to line his (and his cohorts) pockets by starting a war for oil without leaving a hint of evidence but was the biggest bumbling idiot at the same time.

So the Bible is brilliant and stupid all at once. Somehow both are true. That’s the Idiot Genius Contradiction.

Got it?

[Click here for Part 2]

Will Homosexuality Keep You Out of Heaven?

7

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So I was doing a radio interview recently. Again, due to the title of my book, it was not a Christian show, station, or host (that I know of). The station branded itself as featuring liberal (aka progressive) talk radio. I get the opportunity to do this a lot, which is awesome (and sometimes nerve-racking).

Whenever doing interviews like this there are always some common themes that I get challenged to discuss (like Hell which I mentioned here). This day was not different. So the host blasts me (he was respectful, though) with this question:

I’m a homosexual male…will that keep me out of Heaven?

Ouch! That was awkward. I stumbled for a split second. This is when I said, “Um..” to gather my thoughts for a moment. Now, you’re not supposed to say um because it doesn’t make for a good public speaking. But it was short and quick and I immediately asked him to clarify his question.

Specifically, he wanted to know if the alleged ‘sin’ of homosexuality would keep someone out of Heaven.

I explained that as I understand the Bible and teachings of Jesus, no particular ‘sin’ will keep a person from eternity with God. In fact, I explained that I am quite a sinner myself.

As I understand it, no particular action or set of actions (rituals/legalism) can earn you your way into heaven. And no set of actions will necessarily keep you out of Heaven. The message of Jesus is about believing in him and faith, not rituals and repetition–something that religious people of the day lost sight of. First and foremost, it is about faith and belief.

I referenced my favorite phrase of Jesus at this point. I told the host that Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

I explained that, from my perspective, what you believe about Jesus said here is what determines you eternity with God, not your actions specifically.

I also explained that I am very thankful about this because i would never be able to ‘earn’ my way into Heaven, since I am quite imperfect.

But this does not mean we are totally off the hook.

I did also mention that Jesus challenges us all on how we live. If we believe in him, we do have to answer for our actions and may even have to change them. In fact, as imperfect as I am, I have had to change many things in my life in order to try to be more like Jesus. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves, our actions, and what we believe.

But Heaven itself is about what we believe about Jesus.That’s what I told the host.

At the end, the host actually thanked me for my answer. WOW!

They don’t all go well, but that one did.

Is There A Real Hell?

5

I was doing a radio interview recently. It wasn’t a Christian radio show. My book has given me the opportunity to talk about my faith in front of audiences that would otherwise be ambivalent. This is something I am very thankful for.

Those are always the most interesting to me. They are also the scariest because I never know what’s going to happen. Will I be up all night thinking about something I shouldn’t have said? Or something I should have said?

It’s odd, but when doing interviews like this some of the same issues always come up. Without fail they reoccur. And that’s what happened on this recent interview. So the host starts out at a full gallop right out of the gate and asks:

So do you believe in a literal Hell? And how does one end up there?

Wow! I said I guess we’re going to hit the ground running (with a chuckle).

Sometimes this question is a trap. Sometimes people are curious. It’s always the question your uncle (or someone) asks you at the end of Thanksgiving, which ends up ruining it. It’s always something that we want to avoid answering–especially if we believe in Hell.

Yes, I do. I answered it.

But what I like to do in this instance is to quickly turn the focus on Heaven instead, and talk about how to get there. This way I focus on the positive. So I said:

It doesn’t matter what I believe about this. It matters what you believe. Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) We all have to personally decide if we believe that or not. Either he was crazy, a liar, or he was really the Messiah.

What that answer also does is take the pressure of me and put it on the asker. It also diffuses the natural tension that this question carries.

It went as well as could be expected. So much so, that the host asked me to describe, from my understanding of the Bible, what Heaven will be like.

It’s not fun talking about some topics. But we have to figure out a way to do it respectfully if we’re going to have influence with others and be able to talk about our beliefs.

>>>

Is Satan Real?

3

Last week I watched this video from Nightline Face-off and it was really good.

In this third installment,
philosopher Deepak Chopra and Bishop Carlton Pearson will face-off
against Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church and Annie Lobert,
founder of the Christian ministry “Hookers for Jesus” about the
existence of the Devil.

Both sides are interesting. Whether or not you believe, I found Deepak’s main point a little empty. His basic premise is that God is infinite, so we humans cannot understand Him. Furthermore, because God is infinite, we humans do him a disservice by trying to define him like religions do. Deepak’s approach is to seek enlightenment. And if you limit God by trying to understand Him in human terms, you are not working toward enlightenment. You are a primitive. You need only know that he can’t be known–and that he is love. Whatever love means in this ambiguous context.

So let me get this straight, the purpose of enlightenment is to discover that nothing can be known? Seeking truth only reveals there is no truth? Searching for knowledge only reveals nothing can be known? Yea, that makes sense…

If there is a God, and he is worth worshipping, than he better define his expectations a little. He better tell us what he likes and what he dislikes. Otherwise God is like an abusive father. The kind where the kids never know what to say or how to act. They just walk around the dad in fear afraid that the slightest thing will set him off, but they never really know what that is. What kind of relationship is that?

I think truth can be know. I guess I’m a primitive…

I highly recommend watching it. It’s a great debate.

So watch it when you get a chance: Does Satan Exist?

*Update: I just finally got to watch the last segment. Did anyone notice in the last frame (when all the panelists were saying goodbye to each other) that Deepak refused to shake Mark’s hand when he extended it? Wow! Not very enlightened…

Hell is Disappearing

1

Last week I talked about the 3rd thing I hate about Christianity in my book. If you didn’t read it, it was Hell.

I found this new survey that reveals that Hell is disappearing, at least in the minds of people:

The Pew survey, significant for the breadth and depth made possible
by its unusually large 35,000-person sample, found that 74 percent of
Americans say they think there is a heaven, “where people who have led
good lives are eternally rewarded,” while just 59 percent think there
is a hell, “where people who have led bad lives, and die without being
sorry, are eternally punished.”

I guess more and more people hate the idea of it because less and less people say they believe in it.

Of course, I would like to forget all about Hell myself. That would be easier. But I can’t.

Jesus talked about Hell quite often. Most people don’t realize that. They just know the cute little baby Jesus wrapped in a blanket taking a nap in a feeding trough with cute little barn animals looking at him tenderly. Or they know the ‘buddie’ and ‘pal’ Jesus that sells jewelry and bookmarks.

But what about the Jesus that warned us about Hell? Is it a good idea to ignore that aspect of his message because it’s uncomfortable?

I guess you’ll have to read my book to find out more…

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