Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why Christianity Should Die...

Reasons why Christianity should die...

Reason #1: Jesus and the first Christians were lunatics. Jesus claimed to be one with God, able to forgive sin, and preexistent to the Jewish patriarch Abraham. The early Christians claimed that a crucified Jesus had resurrected and appeared to many, including 500 people at one time. They died (some murdered even) professing this to be true, even claiming Jesus was a divine being worthy of worship (something no sane Jew would ever do). They even put these ideas in stories Christians call the New Testament, which leads me to reason #2...

Reason #2: The New Testament is full of contradictions. One gospel account says there were 2 angels at the resurrection of Jesus, another mentions only 1. Some gospel accounts have Jesus having supernatural abilities to read minds and predict the future, others depict Jesus as ignorant of future events and unable to do miraculous works. Clearly, the lunatics (see reason #1) did not sit down to collaborate and ensure we'd have a consistent story-line. If they were smarter, they would have worked out these kinks in the first century to ensure consistent ideas and practices. This naturally leads to reasons #3...

Reason #3: Christians are inconsistent practitioners. Christianity is a divided mess. They have pacifists and war-mongers. They have Mary-worshipping Catholics and Bible-worshipping Evangelicals. They allow Mother Teresa and George W. Bush to both claim to be Christians. In history, the Catholics kill Lutherans, the Lutherans kill Baptists, and the Baptists kill liberals (at least in the voting box). Why does such a divided, confused, and inconsistent religion still exist in the 21st century? Why hasn't this thing died off yet? It almost proves Christianity's belief in sin, ignorance, and the fallenness of humanity (but we can't give them that). It's almost as if something (or Someone) is behind all this. This makes me think of yet another reason...

Reason #4: Christians believe God is the power behind everything. Christians believe God created the world. Christians believe God is the ultimate cause behind all that happens in history (some Christians even say, God plans and purposes the evil actions of humans and demons). Such backward, pre-scientific, premodern, neanderthal ideas should have died. Surely, science and human thought can work out the origins of the universe, morality, and human dignity without looking to answers outside of space and time. Who needs God to know what's right and wrong? Hasn't all the wonderful things of the 20th century proven that science and atheism make countries more wholesome and peaceful? (Just don't look at the Soviet massacres, the evolutionary morality that propelled Hitler's Aryan race and the Holocaust, or the horrors of communist China and Vietnam, or the culture of death that has slaughtered millions of babies in the name of progress in the "enlightened" nations of the West.) Keep pointing those fingers at the lunatic Christians and their belief in a single deity who rules the cosmos. Such idiocy...oh, and one final reason.

Reason #5: Christians will never know till death if they are right. You can't test their beliefs in a laboratory. All their ideas are "pie in the sky," hopes of heaven. They think future happiness is to be postponed, that personal sacrifice and acts of love now are the way to ensure long-term, eternal joy. Such fools turn away from certain forms of physical pleasure and sexuality. They miss out now on what could be theirs, putting all their hopes in a future they won't even know is true until they die. They prize martyrs who gave up their lives for love and religion, but we know those martyrs were just lunatics. Mother Teresa was a fool. Eric Liddell an idiot. Christian doctors giving their lives among Ebola patients are crazy. Missionaries who give up the bliss of Western civilization to feed the hungry and share the message of Christianity don't have a clue. Darwin is right: it's all about survival of the fittest. The way to honor my species is to grow strong, populate widely, and ignore the weak. Let science be king and all else proven liars.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Neil Postman’s classic on the nature of television received the intriguing title, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). Jacques Ellul penned The Technological Bluff (1990). Now in 2017, Tony Reinke writes a fantastic book, filled with penetrating theological insight, rigorous research, and probing analysis on the nature of the smartphone and its users, and the only thing that falls flat is the less-than-alluring title, Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

In 2016, Time magazine declared the iPhone as the most influential gadget of all time. The world of smartphones is far different from the world of silent movies or Atari. To minister in such a world, the church needs an army of servants, teachers, and shepherds who can personally find freedom from lurking smartphone dangers. Only then can we assist others to handle these amazing gadgets to the glory of God.

But what if you struggle with smartphone abuse as I do? For instance, my smartphone overuse at home is the most common argument between my wife and me. My kids will sometimes stand in front of me and say, “Dad, I thought you weren’t working today,” while I sneak in a quick email. Quite unconsciously, in the middle of meetings (that in my pride I have determined as boring) I will pull out my phone to check my favorite teams’ sports scores.

To whom shall we go? Answer: Jesus, and Reinke’s book can help. This book cannot save you, but the God to whom this book points can.

Each chapter stirs our affections, challenging us to look away from our device and instead toward our satisfying Redeemer and Creator. In the end, Reinke’s counsel related to the smartphone turns out to be a tutorial on human engagement with all technologies.

With compelling sentences, Reinke forces theological inquiry in the face of technological temptation: “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?” He offers a well-crafted turn of phrase, one after another, such as, “The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for.”

Later in the book, Reinke argues, “It is better to lose the capacity to scroll for pornography than have your whole body thrown into hell.” Fitting words for someone like myself, greatly thankful that God freed me from a pornography addiction before the onset of smartphones. Sadly, this dark sin still shackles others with Tinder, chat rooms, and images squalling feverishly for lost souls in cyberspace. Others racked with crippling loneliness turn to their phones to deal with relational fears, believing the lie that through a few million microprocessors and network connections isolation will end.

So, read the book. Find freedom in Christ. And Crossway, after this book goes through its first printing, consider a retitling of the book (the existing title can serve as a subtitle), such as, Swiping Our Souls to Death, Seeking a Screen Savior, or iSwipe Therefore iAm.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Review "Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter"

In 1989, I spent hours playing "Think Quick" on my father's new computer (the Atari got put aside to investigate this new game fought out on keyboard instead of joystick). This adventure/learning game captured my attention. It was the dawning of digital for me personally. It promised adventure, excitement, and the thrill of victory. I mastered the game, tasted sweet victory, and now almost 30 years later, I wonder if I was the thing mastered, if the technology took more than it gave, if it over promised and under delivered?

These are the running concerns in David Jax's 2016 work Revenge of the Analog. Jax's journalistic talents show up throughout the book. You feel the tension of the digital download generation. You feel the sense of lostness in a world of constant streaming sound. Soon you too see the hope of owning a record player, touching the plastic mold, marveling over the album cover, and placing that needle carefully upon the record so that sound flows forth.

Jax includes the insights of technology gurus such as MIT Professor Sherry Turkle who observes, “It [technology] promises friendship but can only deliver performance.”

He takes you on a tour of the famous Camp Walden, where technology is still nearly banned for weeks of a kid's summer. Then, he askes the Camp director why technology is at odds with the purposes at Camp Wadlen. “[Sol] Birenbaum [head of Camp Walden] didn’t hesitate to answer. ‘We look at the heart of what we do, and it is interpersonal relationships.’” (page 236, epilogue)

Sure, the iPhone has it benefits, but to bow before its (near-idol like) promises and power can only mean a loss of humanity. Life was meant to be felt, shared, and experienced with human persons. Or as Jax explains, “Ultimately, analog pursuits connect us to one another in a vastly deep way than any digital technology can. They allow bonds to form in real time and physical spaces, which transcend language and our ability to communicate with just words and symbols.” (239, epilogue)

Jax's book is a fun tour of several aspects of life (schools, work, music, games, films, etc.) that all show that digital cannot and should not be received without a wary eye. What Jax's book lacks is thoughtful theological and philosophical reflections on why digital doesn't satisfy (Turkle is one of the few exceptions).

For those looking for deeper answers than a journalistic tour of the world, you'll need to turn to the likes of Neil Postman's classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) or Jacques Ellul's The Technological Bluff (1990). And there's a fantastic new book (2017) by Tony Reinke (don't let the less than thrilling title fool you) Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

Here are a few nuggets to encourage you to read Reinke's book:

 “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?”

“The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for.”

Jax's book is a fun snapshot of culture. It's the other books that better ask and answer why culture and souls cannot find hope or salvation in the promises and patterns of digital living.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Quote of the Day: John Chysostom (349-407)

“The gospel produces the exact opposite of what people want and expect, but it is that very fact which persuades them to accept it in the end."

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Review "For the Glory"

Duncan Hamilton's 2016 biography of the famed Olympic great, Eric Liddell, For the Glory details a modern tragedy in the vein of an ancient Greco-Roman demigod.

Like all great tragedies, the life behind the tragedy speaks volumes for centuries. Liddell gave up a near certain 100 meter gold in 1924 to honor his views of the Christian Sabbath. He gave up future Olympic glory to keep his vow to missionary work in a dangerous mission in late 1920s China. He honored his missionary agency's request to stay in enemy occupied territory when WWII erupted. Like other non-combatants, he was held in a war camp for simply being British when Japan was at war. He sacrificed for the sake of other inmates day in and day out for over 18 months. He loved, he forgave, he served, and 5 months prior to his war camp's release, he took his last breath.

Eric Liddell (immortalized in both athleticism and character in Chariots of Fire) was a full soul, not just a great body. His dedication to excellence, service, and humility comes across as an act, but it's near perfection for 4 and 1/2 decades has no holes, no guile, no gild. In fact, the one missing piece of Duncan Hamilton's rich story is the power behind the life. Hamilton paints Liddell as a saint, and surely he was. But saints aren't built by human hands. Truths Liddell conveys over and over, but truths that get lost in Hamilton's account.

Hamilton notes that Liddell based his life on the Sermon on the Mount. Liddell even penned a short devotional work on the truths of the Sermon. The secret to his whole life (and the life of any who would follow after God) was summarily described by Liddell as "knowing God." One quote in a work by Liddell noted this, "A disciple is one who knows God personally, and who learns from Jesus Christ, who most perfectly revealed God. One word stands out from all others as the key to knowing God, to having his peace and assurance in your heart; it is obedience."

The centrality to Liddell's life was focusing on Jesus Christ, the one who perfectly revealed God. Only in Jesus Christ can someone have peace and assurance in the heart. Obedience will follow, indeed. But obedience flows from faith. We don't obey to be saved, but we obey because we're saved.

So read Hamilton's majestic book on a majestic person, but know that the power, peace, and assurance, the fueled Eric Liddell was Jesus Christ--his life, his death, his resurrection. As I read Liddell's life, I saw a life of glorious renewal and the power of God's grace. It exposed that I fell short of God's holy standard. But the solution isn't to lace up and try to run like Eric. The solution is to know the God that Eric knew.

This God allowed Eric to write these words, the very last words to come from his pen, words that speak to hope beyond this life, hope procured by Jesus Christ's bloody death and glorious resurrection, words that can be true for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ. These words: "All will be well."