Include everybody, or you’re out!

20130812-175459.jpg

In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:

“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”

Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…

This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”

One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.

“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?

Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?

The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.

What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.

C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?

In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”

“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton

In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).

In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.

The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?

You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.

After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)

So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.

The Controversial Issue of Homosexuality & Gay Marriage

20130626-151734.jpg

It is not really news that there has been much discussion over the topic of gay marriage and homosexuality among people today on social media. The topic of discussion is nothing new, but the ability to discuss it in front of a broader audience this way is still a relatively young form of communication. And like much of technology, this has its strengths and weaknesses; there are great benefits to it, as well as potentially dark downsides. One downside is unfortunately demonstrated when idiotic statements abound, and cause some valid opinions, points of view, and beliefs to come off as nothing more than back-wooded bigotry or ignorant intolerance because we allow a few morons to paint the entire landscape of the discussion.

I’m not even sure the foolish “Westboro Baptist” type point of view could account for an entire 1% of the viewpoints held on this topic, but they certainly get a lot of air-play and media coverage, do they not? It almost makes it feel at times like there really is a large population of Bible-thumping bigots who just want to suppress human freedom and equality by any means available. Whenever there is a discussion panel on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox (whichever poison you prefer), they almost always seem to pick some of the most foolish people to engage in conversation. It’s like they hunt for those who hold extreme polar opinions and then feed off the ridiculous comments that are often spouted out; much of which stems more from emotion than careful consideration.

“If there is equality it is in His love, not in us.” – C.S. Lewis

One thing we all need to do, is stop pretending that the sanctity of marriage has been wonderfully displayed by the church over the past few decades and now all of a sudden it’s under serious attack with the Supreme Court declaring that DOMA and Prop 8 are unconstitutional. It’s nonsense and makes us sound like we’re in ignorant denial of the state of our culture inside and outside the church. As Christians, we should repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our culture as a whole. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”

For too long, we have acted as though the leaders of a church were basically just ‘Justices of the Peace,’ marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.

So many of us have this vague idea that some fifty years ago Christians comprised the mainstream in America and were fully accepted as a cultural majority. And because of that, everything in America was great, grand, and wonderful. However, history shows us that while there were many solid men and women caring for others, too many preaching “Get right and get in church,” during that time did not stand up for those who were weak and marginalized. The “good old days” so often longed for were also times of racial oppression, gender discrimination, and theological confusion. So, pining for those “moral” days of yore is like chasing a mirage. The past simply wasn’t that great for many when “Christians” had more influence.

After all, we can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time. We are to cling to the cross, stand on the rock, and remain steadfast in the hope found only in Christ. For we alone have that hope. And it is that hope which we are commanded to share with the world, whether Christianity is the cultural norm or not.

The Christian faith believes in the authority of Scripture; so if the Scriptures are not fitting with the time, culture, societal norm, or your desires; it means there is something wrong with the times and your heart, not the Scriptures. (Unfortunately, many try to solve this problem by proof-texting and manipulating the text to appear to approve or support their twisted view.) Marriage in particular, which has always been “unequal” in a sense, the yoking together two very different kinds of bodies (different minds, different histories, different strengths, different struggles, etc.), must now be “equal,” measured only by the sincerity of one’s love and commitment. To insist on the importance of bodies in our culture is to challenge the ‘sovereign self,’ to suggest that our ethical options are limited by something we did not choose. The philosophical rejection of the Bible is often used to justify moral resistance. People don’t want to be told what to do. However, as Christians, we should agree that truth is not to be simply used as a big stick, it is a mirror. Truth is not a club, or a weapon to be wielded to beat others down, rather it is a mirror to show people their lives through a better light. Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

The cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to simply rid yourself of undesirable behaviors and improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights! Living a holy life comes from having an authentic, passionate relationship with God, not out of strict rules and regulations. We cannot legislate morality or see hearts changed through the law. We must strive to be aware of how we communicate the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. However, truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.

Apart from the power of the gospel to transform human hearts, renew minds, and redirect human lives to live for God’s glory, man would never comprehend or realize the purpose for which he was created: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Because in Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, and became man. In Jesus, the world saw a man who was ferociously humble. A man who was love incarnate. A man who suffered and was tempted, yet did not sin. A man who was steadfastly obedient until death, even death on a cross. A man who while being the very essence, being of the very nature and substance God, did not consider Himself equal to the Father, but submitted to the will of God and gave up His life for people undeserving of His love. In Christ’s death, He paid our debt at infinite cost to Himself. God paid our debt with His own flesh. Jesus paid our ransom to uphold the justice and righteousness of our Father; so that He could justifiably look upon us and lovingly call us son and daughter. This good news is the substance and meaning of the gospel in which we celebrate: that God became man, to save us from ourselves, and give us life. He came just like He promised, and His love will not be silent.

All humans are created in the image of God, and should be loved and respected as His image bearers. All Christians are as new creations in Jesus Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17-21; 1st John 5:1-3), and we should remind each other that our true identity is not based on sexuality or self-expression, but on our union with Christ. The church universal, and of course the local church should strive to be a community that welcomes all those who hate their sin and struggle against it, even when that struggle involves failures and setbacks.

God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you. We are to redistribute it the same way. The church needs to remember that we don’t need more family values in the Gospel, we need more Gospel values in our families. Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.

Real transformative heart change won’t happen through simply ‘trying harder’ and following the rules better, but only through encountering the radical grace of God. We cannot legislate morality or expect the government to force everyone to act strictly in accordance with the Christian worldview. Religion stresses holiness over grace. Irreligion stresses freedom over holiness. Christianity is freedom through grace that leads to holiness. The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism, materialism, abortion, or gay marriage, but the moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ. We are all far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.

————•————

Some recommended articles:

“How to Survive a Cultural Crisis” by: Mark Dever

“How Should Same-Sex Marriage Change the Church’s Witness?” by: Russell Moore

“The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments” by Kevin DeYoung

“Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency” by Tim Keller

“Debunking Marriage Myths | The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by: Steve Watters

“Sex Without Bodies” by: Andy Crouch

“Prop 8, DOMA, and the Christian Response” by: Ed Stetzer

“Marriage in God’s Story” by: John Smidt

“Jesus and Homosexuality” by: Geoff Ashley

“The New Purpose of Marriage” by: Collin Hansen

“Homosexuality is Not Me” by: Matt Moore

“Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality” by: Dennis Prager

“Why Gay Marriage is Good (and Bad) for the Church” by: Trevin Wax

“Why is Homosexuality Wrong?” by: John Piper

“How Might Christians Respond To The Question of Homosexual Marriage?” by: Doug Hankins

“DOMA and the Rock” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

“What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality” by: Kevin DeYoung

“What Does God Expect From Gay People?” by: Matt Moore

“Orienting on Homosexual Orientation” by Nick Roen

“Honesty, Truth and Homosexuality” by Geoff Ashley

“God and the Gay Christian” by Samuel Allberry

“Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis” by: Kevin DeYoung

“The Gay Community and That One Time Jesus Called Me the ‘N-word'” by Sammy Adebiyi

“What You Should Know About ‘LGBTQ'” by: Joe Carter

“From Radical Lesbian to Redeemed Christian” by: Tony Reinke

“Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage” by: John Piper

“How Can Homosexuality Be Wrong if It Doesn’t Harm Anyone?” by: Matt Smethurst

“9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases” by: Joe Carter

“A Level Playing Field” by: Paul David Tripp

“Can a Gay Person Be a Christian? It Depends On What You Mean.” by: Matt Moore

“On Winning the Marriage Debate” by: Eric Teetsel

“Christian Responsibility and Mosaic Law” by: Geoff Ashley

“Fornicating on the Battlefield” by: Tony Anderson

“An Open Letter From a Gay Sister in Christ” by: Hunter Baker

“Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by: Brandon Ambrosino

“Rick Warren on Gay Marriage: ‘Tolerance Does Not Mean Approval'” by: Stoyan Zaimov

“I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-sex Marriage” by: Doug Mainwaring

“Sinister New Case Shows Marriage McCarthyism Is Up and Running” by: Mike Judge

“Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage” by: Jonathan Leeman

“Love Warns, Love Rebukes” by: Paul David Tripp

“Grace-Driven Effort and Sanctification” by Sam Schabel

————•————

Some recommended sermons:

“Homosexuality” by Matt Chandler

“The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality (Part 1)” by: John Piper

“The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality (Part 2)” by: John Piper

The Gospel offends our pride, not our intellect.

20130529-134418.jpg

Many of us think that our intellects are offended by the Gospel of Jesus, but actually it is our pride that is offended. So many of us say we’ve rejected the old-fashioned, outdated, back-woods, ignorant, no longer needed, archaic gospel of Christ because of our education, our enlightenment, and that we’ve evolved out of our misguided, weak way of thinking, but Jesus would say you’re actually a prisoner of your own cultural and class-consciousness. Because you see, as privileged people, educated people, cultured people, we believe the lie that we’re self-made. We believe that we are where we are simply because we worked very hard and we have earned everything we have, but the poor and underprivileged know that doesn’t work that easily; the poor understand and know that it is by grace, they understand and know that we are not in complete control of our lives, they can better see all the different factors that put us in the place we are today, if we’re successful professionals, businessmen/women, artists, musicians, etc. (This is why the term “self-made millionaire” is so oxymoronic and silly.) So many of the factors that put us where we are today are not because of what we did, but because of what God gave and has allowed us by His grace.

When the successful person says they don’t need a savior, they just need an example, they don’t need what Christ did to break through any barriers between them and God, they can do it themselves, they can be good enough, and as long as they’re a good enough person according to their own standards they will feel good about themselves; what they’re really doing is creating their own religion in which they themselves are god. Jesus taught that many are blind to this because of their cultural and class-consciousness, because they don’t want to come to grips with true reality, they don’t want to lose that false sense of ownership, that illusion of control; they don’t want to believe we need intervention from any God if we desire to be saved from the brokenness of this world. Unfortunately we cannot medicate man to perfection again, nor can we legislate peace in our hearts. We can’t educate sin (or whatever word you want to use for things that you would deem not to be right and good) from our souls, it has been there from the start. The idea that we create our own standards of everything and there is absolutely no justice in any form of an afterlife is even less of an incentive and pretty much obliterates any motivation to live a better life; at least that would do so if you were to carry it through to the logical and rational implications contained in such a worldview.

Can anyone say they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets? Did anyone you know choose the place or the hour they were born? Think then, what can anyone truly claim? Not a thing, not even their name! So try to recall just one thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything’s grace after all. If there’s one thing we can know in this life: we are all beggars.

Some people claim the Christ-centered, grace saturated gospel is nothing more than a fictitious and free “Get out of Jail” card. Advocates of this conclusion usually claim Christianity does not hold people accountable for their actions; and many don’t believe in hell or the idea of hell. They criticize the silly saying “the devil made me do it” and in this they are right, because it is just that, silly and stupid. Paul goes so far as to say, “are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” or maybe better translated “Oh hell no! You’re damned if you do.”

Within the Christian worldveiw, sin is slavery. The Bible does not define sin as just breaking rules but also as “making something besides God our ultimate source of value and worth.” These good things, which become idols, enslave us mentally and spiritually and drive us relentlessly, even to hell if we let them. You are actually being religious, though you don’t seem to know it – you are seeking to find a kind of salvation through things that can end up controlling you in a destructive way. Slavery is the choice-worshiper’s horror. C. S. Lewis’ imagining of hell can be helpful in trying to understand it. In ‘The Great Divorce,’ Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. In the story, they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. Lewis’ descriptions of people in hell are striking because they mirror the denial and self-delusion of substance abusers. When addicted to alcohol or an idol like success or money, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior or see the roots of our problem. Lewis writes:

“Hell… begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it… You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Many people today struggle with the idea of God punishing disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell – in one sense – as the freely chosen, eternal slum of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible. Here is an example of this: First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isaiah 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Psalm 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17). Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something (idols, pseudo-saviors) to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or exhaustion and drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, fear, and drivenness are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus – and the wages of sin is slavery and death… it’s hell.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’ bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their tragic delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Genesis 3:4-5), but in reality their choice has ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

Hell is no more exclusive than tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the contemporary mindset than the statement: “I think Christ is fine, but I also believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God in the end.” A slightly different version is: “I don’t think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief.” This view is generally seen as inclusive.

The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then He owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, and then we owe Him (Romans 1:17). In short, to say a good person can find God is to say good behavior is the way to God. In essence this view says, “Good people can find God, but bad people cannot.” But what happens to us moral failures? We are excluded. You see, you can believe that people are saved by goodness or you can believe that people are saved by God’s grace, but you cannot believe both at once – and the approach that appears inclusive at first glance is really equally exclusive. The gospel says, “People who know they aren’t good can find God, and people who think they are good cannot.” Those who believe their moral efforts can help them reach God are excluded.

So both the gospel and the secularist’s approach are exclusive, but the gospel’s is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.”

Christianity’s view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often these days, people say something along the lines of, “I have a personal relationship with a loving God and I’m very spiritual, but I don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the only answer or path at all.” One could ask them why and get a response along these lines, “Because God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin.” But their answer raises another set of questions, namely: Did it cost God anything to love us and embrace us? Did He agonize or cry out for us? What else is lost if we lose Jesus’ nails, thorns, and the cross? Their answer is usually something like: “I don’t think any of that was necessary.”

How unsatisfying this is in the end. In an effort to make God more loving, we often make God less loving. His love, in this understanding, required no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God (or something seen as ultimate) like this will always end up being impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder.

This more “sensitive” approach to the subject of hell is actually impersonal. It says, “It doesn’t matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow His example and/or live a good life.” But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. To say that any good person can find God or whatever they see as ultimate is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.

The gospel is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that “the core of true salvation.”

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of a loving God is filled with wrath?” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” The Christian understanding of hell is that it is both the result of a human choice (as “the greatest monument to human freedom”) and of divine judgment. God must, and does, actively judge and reject those who have rejected Him. To ignore, mock, and belittle God and His existence only sadly and ironically results in hell and the further exclusion of knowing Him.

Growing up I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I had never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me until years later. The old cliché of “turn or burn” is stupid because heaven isn’t a place for those who are afraid of hell, but a place, a reality for those who love God. In the Gospel of John, in chapter 11, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb and the text tells us that Jesus wept. Yet God is also extremely angry at evil. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God – He’s both. He doesn’t only judge evil, but He also takes the hell and judgment Himself for us on the cross. Before I had always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn’t know it also told us about how much He was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus’ love. Indeed, it is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

But then again, a naturalistic, relativistic humanist who believes we can only know what we can know empirically, would claim that nobody can truly know they are right, and therefore nobody can truly be wrong. Right? However, in saying that we all believe what we believe based on where we were born and what we were taught as children seems to be implying that we don’t really have freedom to believe in truth, but rather whatever the dice land on. (And by you saying that, your own statement and logic is then based merely on your own culture and is relative; and negates anything you say from being universal truth.) That it is not grace and human freedom intermingled, but rather impersonal fate that decides our lives. If it is arrogant for someone to claim to know something is true, how can it be humble to claim that they actually cannot know truth, but that rather truth is relative.

It is still a “power play” or “truth claim” to make the assertion that one cannot know truth, because you know this to be true how? What someone with this worldview seems to be saying is that Christianity belongs to a particular culture or maybe even to some cultures, but not to all. Dr. Lamin Sanneh, African scholar and professor at Yale, wrote a profound and important book called “Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West.” In that book he addresses the question of what culture does Christianity really belong to. The answer is that no one culture, no single demographic really owns Christianity. He mentions the fact that Africa has gone from having about a 9% Christian population to 50% in the past 100 years, that Korea has gone from somewhere around 2% to about 50% in the past 100 years, and that Japan and China have also seen exponential growth in the Christian faith within the past 100 years. According to many scholarly sources the Christian faith is growing twice as fast as Islam or Buddhism, and it is not isolated to a particular continent, culture, age group, financial class, people group, or any single measurable demographic.

Dr. Sanneh says that he is very tired (and I share his feelings here) of people saying that Christians must not impose their culture on others or try to convert Africans because they are destroying their culture. (For one thing, this would assume that Christianity itself has a culture and that some actually assume it is a white, middle-class American culture… but that is to ignore or revise much of history. We forget Christianity is an “Eastern Religion” in that it began in the Middle East amongst Jews and Gentiles alike, and it has grown to include all nations and peoples as time continues to move forward.) Because in other words, they are saying Christianity belongs to them, or a certain type of person, but it doesn’t belongs to Africans. Dr. Sanneh replies, how dare you?! He explains how every culture has a baseline narrative. Paul talked about it in the cultures of his day in how the Jews wanted power and the Greeks wanted knowledge/wisdom. Every culture has a theme, every culture has certain things they are after.

Dr. Sanneh says that African culture understands that the world is filled with spiritual forces, and especially lots and lots of dark spiritual forces. So how are they going to address that? He writes that while the tribal religions believed in those spiritual forces, they had no true answer in how to overcome them. And then they looked at the modern secularism that was coming and they realized that modern secularism just laughed at their Africaness, because it said you can’t believe in miracles or spiritual forces, especially not demons; the secular worldview just laughed at and mocked their Africaness, it belittled them and their culture. Which is really what cultural totalitarianism looks like. He goes on to say that they then looked at Christianity, and Dr. Sanneh says this is what has been happening: that Christianity answered the great cultural challenge of their hearts. People sensed in their hearts that Jesus did not mock their respect for the sacred, and Christianity did not mock or belittle their clamor for an invincible savior; and so they beat their sacred drums for Him until the stars skipped and danced in the skies. And after the dance, the stars weren’t little anymore; because Christianity helped Africans become renewed Africans, not remade Europeans or westerners. There is a true cultural diversity among Christianity, for God does not want homogeneity, He wants us all to come to Him. And then the great grace He has given us, and to every single culture, the plot-line will only find its happy ending in Him.

We all need to realize and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their first principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

In his lecture “The Question of a Weltanschauung,” atheist Sigmund Freud described a worldview as:

“. . . an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.”

Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us have decided on a set of assumptions about the way the universe works that helps us rationalize our existence and explain the “fixed place” of everything. What you think about cultural topics like food, music, movies, politics, religion, art, etc. is inevitably related to your “overriding hypothesis” that you build your life upon. Socially, people with similar worldviews tend to be your friends and those competing worldviews tend to be your “enemies.” Philosophically, where you’ve landed on the answers to life’s greatest questions (meaning, purpose, evil, justice, etc.) guides your emotional and physical responses to everything.

At its core, the debate among philosophers about the nature of rationality, at least with regard to scientific knowledge, lies in the problem of justifying the term “uniformity.” For example, on what basis can we expect that gravity will act on a ball the same way in two similar places? Or at similar times? Believe it or not, this problem has caused extreme anxiety for many philosophers.

Additionally, serious problems arise in justifying objective reality (metaphysics – How can we know anything?), values (What is good science?), conceptual categories (Why can we define things as objects, rocks, galaxies, etc.?), and the reliability of the mind (epistemology – Why can we trust what we observe?). In fact, one of the biggest puzzles in the philosophy of science is justifying at least 93 finely tuned constants, or “brute givens,” that exist in the universe to hold things together and make everything work. Just reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics will have you questioning how fast “science” would have really progressed without philosophy aiding it along the way.

A rational worldview requires a basis to explain not only all of these philosophical conundrums, but also a basis to understand the scientific, personal, and cultural systems we build on top of them. At the end of the day, the root cause of irrationality is a faulty worldview. If your first principles cannot hold their ground, then you’ll never be restful. Your life will be built upon what Bertrand Russell calls “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

The first step toward getting out of this line of irrational thought is to understand that you need not be enslaved to define your own identity and nature of reality. There’s more to life than just you. We’re all used to being influenced by outside sources (family, friends, society, culture, books, movies, etc.), so why not carefully consider what those sources are as we establish our core principles? The second step is to find a worldview that meets all of the intellectual criteria described above. I’m convinced the only worldview that meets all of them is Jesus. He exists outside of nature to define reality, justify uniformity, give us values, and provide a foundation upon which to think reasonably about everything (although admittingly, many of us that call ourselves Christians still think with fallen minds).

Jesus allows us rest in a form of knowledge called revelation, which He has given us generally in nature and specifically in scripture:

“For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” – Romans 1:20

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:15-17

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” – Hebrews 12:1–2

This is how we get out of irrationality. The worldview of faith is a gift that Jesus gives freely to anyone willing to receive it (1st Corinthians 2:12; Matthew 7:7). With our minds we understand that science is not the enemy of faith, rather it needs the Christian worldview and with our hearts we rejoice in the gracious rescue from just being accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on, unwittingly as orphans of an unyielding despair.