Christian Particularism

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Picturing Christ Blog
« on: September 18, 2012, 09:35:47 am »
Anyone interested in a new Christian blog that focuses on "Picturing Christ" through the historical and current events of
the world, keeping in mind many of the systemic crises we now face, please take the time to visit my blog, browse around, check out the content and share your input!
There are also audio/video sections for Christian apologetics and explorations of the New Age Movement in relation to traditional Christianity. Here are some of the articles I have written so far, with brief descriptions:
How Doom & Gloom Disappeared with the Protoevangelium - An article showing how the "first Gospel" in Genesis 3 has given us all a picture of how the evil we see around us today was promised to be ultimately dealt with as soon as it came into the world, and how that promise has been
kept through Christ.
The True Power of Pictures - My explanation of why "picturing" Christ, most importantly through the Bible, is so important and goes beyond any artistic representation that humans could create. This article focuses specifically on the Flood and Noah's Ark and its relevance to today.
A Few Thoughts on the Jews and Anti-Semitism - My opinions on why there seems to be a general rise of Anti-Semitism in modern Western cultures, and why we need to remember that there is absolutely no justification for such an attitude, secular or religious.
The Devil's Scapegoat - Applies Rene Girard's "scapegoat mechanism" to
Jesus' death on the Cross, and specifically how his dying utterance from Psalm 22 clearly showed the Devil that, this time, his scapegoating accusations against God had completely failed.
Sabbath Testimonial, On Hangovers and Blessings - Just a short testimonial about my drunken confrontation with repentance and God's providence last Sunday.
Finding a Safe Habitation for the Soul - A short article confronting the atheistic worldview and giving an example of how the naturalists have not even come close to displacing an intelligent designer as a viable explanation for the most current scientific evidence, if not the best explanation.  

Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2012, 01:21:27 pm »
People in modern cultures like to separate religion and spirituality from other areas of their lives, personal and professional. That is considered the appropriate thing to do, and in some cases it is the legally required thing to do. We always fall back on the notion of “separation of church and state” to justify this attitude, as if that catch-phrase can override the uncomfortable truth that spirituality is needed in every sphere of life, including state policy. The state obviously shouldn’t coerce people into any spiritual beliefs (which is logically impossible), and it shouldn’t have a clear preference for one spiritual tradition over another.
However, this doesn’t mean that anyone is forbidden from using their spiritual beliefs to inform their decisions, including public officials. I would argue that we should incorporate those beliefs into all aspects of our lives and be completely honest about doing so. For some [selfish] reason, people are put off by the notion that the best policies for human society may have already been given to us by a higher power, rather than cleverly worked out by humans themselves; that we are all like little children in need of clear instruction and guidance from our parents, even when we are fully grown. The truth is, though, that this is exactly what we are – dependent beings/societies that would dissolve into nothingness without the sustaining action of God along with His moral truths and guidance...
Problems discussed:
(1) The financial, social and psychological well-being of individuals and communities is being drastically curtailed by excessive levels of private and public debt, and the ever-increasing interest burdens on that debt.
(2) Our societies have become infatuated with market-based consumerism and turned every aspect of our lives into commodities defined by monetary values. This has created a level of socioeconomic inequality that only continues to grow larger and cause severe economic, social and psychological effects within these societies.
(3) Developed societies exhibit a level of consumption and waste that is destroying global ecosystems, such as forests and fisheries, and the ability of those who are less fortunate to survive, as well as depleting energy resources that these societies have made themselves dependent on.
(4) Developed and rapidly developing societies have pushed for industrialization and have sacrificed their ecosystems and environments in the process, leaving current and future generations with contaminated soil, polluted water, polluted air, etc.
(5) In tandem with over-consumption by developed populations, many parts of the world also have a problem with over-population, and therefore the resources necessary for a survival have become extremely strained.
(6) In the last century, human civilization has experienced some of the most horrific conflicts and wars in all of its history, many of which were completely unnecessary. After the advent of weaponry capable of mass destruction, any serious conflict carries with it the potential for disproportionately widespread destruction of life.
(7) The human institutions responsible for enacting and implementing policy have become hopelessly corrupt, responding to elite corporate interests rather than the will of the people.
(8) It is a credible argument that our predicaments go beyond the mere corruption of individual humans pursuing narrow goals, but also encompass active conspiracies between humans at the highest levels to pursue very broad, selfish and destructive goals. I would label the ultimate power behind such conspiracies as the spiritual entity known as Satan, but regardless of what you want to call him or it, it is clear that we find relevant warnings and solutions in the Bible.

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2012, 06:56:58 pm »
New Post:

Picturing God’s Eternal Promise
Posted on October 1, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

Many Christians believe that God has promised to eventually restore humanity to their original state in the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command at the behest of Satan. While this is a somewhat reasonable interpretation of the Bible, I believe it is incorrect. Instead, I believe the Bible reveals to us something much greater – a brand new creation that will be perfect and will act as a much greater reward to the faithful in Christ than anything Adam or Eve experienced. The reward for innocent humans in Eden was an Earthly paradise, but the reward for redeemed humans will be a heavenly Utopia.

There are many Biblical reasons to believe that the Garden of Eden was less than “perfect”, in the sense that most Christians use that word. When Adam was created by God, he was tasked with working in the Garden and taking care of it, which implies a good deal of physical effort (Genesis 2:15). After the Fall, we see that God tells Eve and Adam that they will experience more pain and more physical effort, which implies that pain and physical work were already present before the Fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Although the level of these physical burdens were relatively small in the paradise of Eden, they still existed and therefore Eden was less than perfect.

Another way in which we can picture this lack of perfection is through the physical laws of the Universe. All of these laws are intimately related to the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the Universe has been in a continuous state of “decay” from its beginning. We find some Biblical support for this law in the Bible, when Paul talks about how “the creation was subjected to futility… because of him who subjected it [God]” and how “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:18-22). These statements seem to imply that the Universe was created with its physical laws in place, including thermodynamic decay, as a part of God’s ultimate purpose (the exposure and redemption of humanity from sin).

(full post at link)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2012, 10:22:54 am »
New Post:

The Thin Line Between Global Collapse and Faith
Posted on October 3, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

I am pleased to present my first guest post here on Picturing Christ – an article by reader “JT”. His article focuses on one of the most basic questions that inspired me to start this blog in the first place – how do we truly respond to the systemic trials and tribulations that humanity faces in the upcoming decades? There are many blogs and websites dedicated to documenting these predicaments and offering advice on how to prepare for them.

Some of them even venture into questions of spirituality and faith from time to time. My own writings at The Automatic Earth over the last few months regularly touched on these issues. However, I recently started to feel like the constant divide between our Earthly predicaments and my spirituality was much too forced and arbitrary. I had the sense that there was a fundamental flaw in the process of offering insights and advice when they were artificially divorced from spiritual truths.

So, with that in mind, I was very glad to hear that fellow Christian and reader of PC also felt the same way, and decided to put those concerns into writing. As Christians, we cannot hesitate to rely on the word of God when it comes to all spheres of our lives. The fact that we may be talking about economics, finance, geopolitics, energy and environmental issues, psychology, etc. shouldn’t make a bit of difference. All of these issues are inextricably woven into the underlying philosophies of spirituality and faith, and, specifically, the God of the Bible and His word.

We are now living in a world where the structures that have come to dominate human civilization are crumbling. Financial contagion from the global banking crisis has spread to all regions of the world and is destroying economic growth. Tensions between Western nations and those in both the Near and Far East are growing, with several theaters of war already firmly established. Our total reliance on fossil fuels and industrial processes for global economic activity has destroyed our natural ecosystems and warmed our atmosphere to extremely dangerous levels, while also depleting those resources and creating the potential for systemic environmental, economic, political and social collapse.

So, before getting to JT’s excellent article, I would like to offer my own personal (yet brief) opinion on these grave matters of collapse and faith. The trying circumstances and events that confront all of us in the years ahead are exactly those which require us to remain resolute in the unconditional truth and morality of our faith. Jesus tells us that there will come a time in which “many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another… and because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold“. (Matthew 24:10, 12).

I believe that whether we are actually living in that specific time or not is irrelevant, because the underlying lesson applies to all times of tribulation before the second return of Christ. And there is no doubt in my mind that severe tribulations have already started to descend upon us, and that they will only grow more imminent and threatening to humanity over time. Therefore, we must always remember to be on guard and ensure that we are NOT the ones who are falling away from God’s truth, the ones hating each other or the ones watching our love for our fellow humans grow cold.

If our understanding and fear of systemic collapse ever begins to lead us towards such a mindset, then, regardless of whether we are physically prepared for Earthly concerns or not, we must immediately re-orient ourselves back towards our faith in Christ.

That being said, here is JT:

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2012, 11:04:38 am »
New post on the remarkable intersection of modern science and Christian faith:

The Entire Universe Revolves Around Humanity
Posted on October 7, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

One of the most common arguments Christians run into from atheist or agnostic skeptics is what I would call “the problem of God’s perfect plan for humanity“. It is related to “the problem of evil” and other similar concerns about the nature of God, but it is also different in very important ways and encompasses a much more broad philosophical and scientific spectrum. Let me illustrate it with a hypothetical dialogue between a Christian and an atheist:

Christian: God allowed evil into the world because He has a plan for humanity, in which we will experience the shortcomings of the imperfect, material world and the seriousness of sin. Through this process, however, we will also be able to experience the immeasurable grace, love and redemption of God through Jesus Christ, and eventually the faithful will be perfected and return to exist in the presence of God.

Atheist: But if God’s ultimate plan is to perfect humanity in such a manner, then why did He decide to go through the whole trouble of allowing evil and suffering into the world. Surely, an omnipotent God could have just created humanity in a perfected state from the beginning, and saved us all the “blunders” of human civilization in between.

Christian: True, He could have… but the plan was much deeper and more loving than that. He wanted to create humanity in His own Image and allow us the capacity for free will and freely chosen faith, trust and love. Our original ancestors exercised their free will in rebellion to God’s wise commands, and therefore we have inherited their sinful spirits throughout succeeding generations. God correctly values the redemption of humanity from corruption more than he values pure, untested innocence.

Atheist: OK, but even if we are assuming all of that is true, why did God have to wait tens of thousands of years before finally providing humanity the ultimate atonement for sin through the incarnate Christ. Why couldn’t He just do all of that a few generations after the Fall? It seems like an omnipotent God could have concluded this whole business of sin, redemption and perfection many years ago.

Now, this may be the point at which many Christians get stuck. Why did God have to wipe out all human beings except Noah and his family with a flood, and then create the nation of Israel to imperfectly carry out His commands and transmit the promised Messianic seed down the generations? Wasn’t all of that a very roundabout process to achieve the final goal of forgiveness and redemption through Christ? I believe the answer to these questions rest in two primary concepts – 1) the unparalleled importance of humanity in all of the Universe, and 2) the inability of humans to fully grasp God’s perfect wisdom.

(full post at link above)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2012, 03:54:18 pm »
New Post:

The Biblical Testing Method
Posted on October 21, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

Christianity is unique from every other religion in its ability to rest peripheral and core theology on vast amounts of history and science. It possesses the only set of texts that obligate us to examine everything carefully and confirm the truth for ourselves. In fact, the Bible provides the original basis for the most rigorous testing method conceived – what we now call the “scientific method”. Most people don’t even realize that this method was derived from natural philosophers who examined the Bible carefully during the Reformation era, when such examination was finally encouraged.

They saw that the Bible repeatedly used a specific format for explaining what had happened and why. These accounts typically provide an opening frame of reference and a set of initial conditions, followed by a narrative description of certain physical events. Towards the end of the narrative, the writer provides final conclusions that flow from the previous conditions and descriptions. The Bible also covers the same descriptive material in many different places, allowing one textual passage to complement and inform others. A great example of this chronological format is found in the Genesis creation accounts and the numerous other books that deal with aspects of the creation narrative, such as the Book of Job.

The curious lay theologian trying to figure out exactly what the Bible is teaching must take all of the texts consistently, allowing specific accounts to validate the interpretations of more general ones. All of the Biblical evidence must be considered carefully and reconciled. Since it is imperfect and fallen humans doing the interpreting, our interpretations must remain fluid and subject to revision in light of any new evidence. Using this method, we can determine the truths of the Biblical texts with reasonable and increasing certainty over time. That, of course, is exactly what scientists have been doing for the last few centuries with their models of the Universe, starting most notably with Christians such as Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.

(full post at link above)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2012, 06:41:24 pm »
Suffering For God’s Purposes

How do we reconcile all of the evil, pain and suffering that has existed throughout human history with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God? That is a question that has plagued people for many centuries, skeptics and believers alike. It is one of the most popular criticisms of the Christian God among atheists and agnostics, and it also seems to be one that believers are generally ill-equipped to handle. We frequently fall back on the idea that humans were created with free will, and evil was simply the price God had to pay for giving us such a capacity.

Although there is a lot of truth to that line of reasoning, it is also a simplistic and incomplete argument. Ultimately, the free will argument alone is not a satisfying answer to such a deeply emotional question. Most people in the world have either suffered great tragedies in their lives or have witnessed great tragedies occur around them, and they all deserve an honest answer about God’s involvement. The truth is that God is an omnipresent being who is sovereign over his entire creation, which means that no forms of evil or suffering are outside of his control. So, again, the question is why does God allow his children to suffer?

There is no easy or concise answer to such a question. First and foremost, it requires a humble mindset by the person asking the question – we must understand and accept the fact that we are limited in our understanding of God’s ultimate purposes for humanity. This limitation is a fundamental one that is similar to the uncertainty principle of quantum physics. No matter how much technology we develop or how much knowledge we gain, we will never be able to precisely gauge all of the variables in a given physical system. The same logic applies to all of the variables that determine God’s optimal plan for humanity.

Secondly, we must seek to continually bolster our understanding of God’s redemptive plan, including all of the evil and suffering it entails, by carefully examining the scriptures. That is exactly what Joni Eareckson Tada does in her book, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. In this book, she provides a list of 36 purposes that God has for our suffering. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, or one meant to settle the question entirely, but it provides a Biblically sound foundation for understanding the issue and witnessing to others who have major difficulties with it. It is critical to remember the concept contained in the title of Tada’s book – there is a divine purpose to our suffering; our sufferings matter.

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2012, 01:48:35 pm »
How to Tame a Proud Human Heart
Posted on November 9, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

pride - a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.

It is no overstatement to say that pride can be deadly. This is true both physically and spiritually. We are told that God’s most glorious angel fell into rebellion because of his pride (Ezekiel 28:17), and then tempted Eve into sinful rebellion as well. It is not just Eden where pride festered early in human history, but everywhere in the world since then as well. There are many times in the lives of all human beings when we experience just how quickly our proud thoughts and actions can lead us into states of fear, anger and depression. It is no coincidence, then, that the Bible constantly warns against human pride – that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

The Bible also constantly reinforces the message that we are utterly dependent on God. It is God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, enlightens us and redeems us from our spiritual depravity. Modern culture, in stark contrast, programs us to believe that we can be self-reliant; that we can enlighten ourselves and govern each other through various institutional mechanisms. Politicians promise us that they will enact the policies and regulations that force human society to run smoothly and efficiently, with little or no reference to God and his word. It is really no surprise that such ambitious minds always fall short of taming the human experience.

The history of human civilization has been one in which we have tamed various animals for purposes of both work and pleasure. The Bible teaches us that all of these birds and mammals were created by God with “nephesh” (soul) of mind, will and emotion, just as humans were (Genesis 1:24, Strong’s Concordance 5315). Nephesh or soulish animals nurture their young, relate to one another and are also capable of relating to and bonding with humans. Our early human ancestors quickly learned that some of these animals were very easy to tame, such as goats and donkeys, and some were very difficult to tame, such as horses, wolves and lions.

It is interesting to note that the animals which are difficult to tame usually develop a much stronger and more pleasurable bond with humans than the ones we can tame with ease. We see that there is a trade-off between this work of taming and pleasure of bonding for human beings. The book of Job teaches us that there exists one of God’s creatures which no human being can possibly tame, though. In this remarkable piece of wisdom literature, God rhetorically asks Job and his friends whether they can tame “Behemoth” and “Leviathan”, most likely the hippopotamus and crocodile, which are notoriously dangerous to humans in the water and nearly impossible to tame (Job 41:15-24; 42:1-2).

(more at link)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2012, 02:22:49 pm »
Our Lord’s Discipline & Punishment
Posted on November 15, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

One of the most famous works of French post-modernist philosopher Michel Foucault was his book, “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison“. It documents the transition from public displays of state justice in Western monarchies to the modern penal system of Western democratic governments. Foucault primarily viewed this transition as a means for centralized institutions to reinforce discipline and standardization among subject populations, using the great intellectual and technological advances which accompanied the industrial revolution to their benefit. According to Foucault, it was no coincidence that these two historical developments accompanied each other.

Instead of the modern penal system simply being the result of humanitarian concerns, it was primarily a means of exerting state control in a more efficient and powerful way. Foucault pointed out the similarities in physical structure and operation between prisons, factories, schools, hospitals (mental asylums especially) and military barracks. These institutions all employ temporal and spatial restrictions, constant observation, performance evaluations, labeling/classification systems and feedback mechanisms. At a certain point, those subject to these institutions internalize the disciplinary mechanisms and self-regulate their behavior out of desire for social and material rewards or out of fear of similar punishments.

Each disciplinary institution is usually justified by a corresponding academic discipline, such as criminology, psychology, medicine, economics, etc. I have previously written on Foucault’s theories in the context of neoliberal finance, which had experienced an unprecedented explosion since the 1970s and culminated in the global financial crisis of 2007-08. The institutional arbiter of speculative finance can be thought of as the U.S. currency reserve system established in Breton Woods and all associated organizations, such as U.S. multinational banking corporations, the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund. This system was structured to coerce people, households, businesses and nations into taking on debts they could not afford relative to their cash flows, and to alienate or punish those entities which refused to subject themselves to debt servitude.

(more at link above)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2012, 02:33:26 pm »
Is There a Holocaust of the Unborn?
Posted on November 26, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

I used to be very agnostic about abortion. If someone asked my opinion on that issue, I’d say I was pro-choice and anti-abortion, which, in my mind, meant something along the lines of, “I would prefer not to see abortions happen, but ultimately the mother’s ‘right to privacy’ and her decision should be respected”. More than that, I thought the whole thing was just a convenient political distraction that conservatives could use to rile up their base and keep people from focusing on more important issues, such as the economy or foreign policy. If anyone claimed that abortion was a “holocaust of the unborn”, I would automatically dismiss their views as a form of reckless extremism.

Despite all of the politics and the abundance of ulterior motives surrounding this controversial abortion issue, the underlying question still remains and must be answered – are we a dealing with a modern holocaust? Such a word cannot be used lightly. I believe the best way to answer this question is to set up a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that the U.S. Constitution was amended and state legislatures began establishing a regulatory system that allowed women the right to justifiably kill their infant children who are less than a week old, under certain circumstances. One such circumstance would be if the child was a result of rape or incest, for example. Another circumstance would be if the child was born with severe mental retardation or another debilitating condition.

I’m sure everyone agrees that this system would be a gross perversion of morality. So the question becomes, is there any reason to assign a different measure of protection to the unborn child than we would to the day or week-old child? In terms of Christian theism, I believe it is very clear that they must be afforded equal protection, as they are both made in the image of God and derive full human status from conception. Scripture repeatedly reminds us of this status for the conceived yet unborn. Job rhetorically asks, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same form us both within our mothers” (Job 31:15).  God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah saying, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you“.

As we approach the incarnation, an angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah and tells him that his son, John the Baptist, will be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Elizabeth later tells Mary that “the baby in my womb leaped for joy” at the sound of her greeting (Luke 1:44).  Above all, we are reminded that we “do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child” (Ecclesiastes 11:5). Considering all of the above, the scriptures portray the sanctity of the unborn child’s life as being equal to that of a born child, and warns us not to arbitrarily decide when a human soul or spirit is imparted to an unborn child, because that is solely within the purview of our Creator. Yet, we may still ask whether science or philosophical reasoning confirms this perspective of Biblical scripture.

Is their any scientific reason to treat an unborn child as being any less human, or any less deserving of protection, than a day or week-old child? I believe the clear answer to that question is no. It turns out that science supports the Biblical notion that an unborn child becomes a distinct, living and whole human organism from conception. Scott Klusendorf is an outspoken pro-life advocate who presents compelling scientific and philosophical arguments in his book, The Case for Life.

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2012, 03:07:41 pm »
Absolute Truth and Freedom
Posted on December 4, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

In Our Lord’s Discipline and Punishment, I talked about Michel Foucault’s theory of disciplinary societies and how there is no escaping some form of discipline and punishment in human civilization. The only thing that must be considered is whether we are coerced into the world’s materialistic disciplinary system, many times unaware that we are even within its grasp, or whether we are voluntarily and knowingly submitting to God’s spiritual discipline and justice. Another aspect of Foucault’s work was his emphasis on the intersection between truth and power or oppression:

“Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” (Foucault, Truth and Power, p.131)

Foucault was a great admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche, from whom he derived many ideas about the nature of truth and power in human society. Nietzsche saw claims to “absolute truth” as being a means for those making the claims to exert control over large groups of people and exploit them for personal gain. He viewed “absolutism” as nothing more than the ideological mechanism through which certain people express their “will to power” at the expense of others.

"What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins." (Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense)

We also find this theme of truth claims and oppressive power embedded in the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded by the Gospel accounts. Jesus repeatedly castigated the Sagisees and Pharisees of his day, who had upheld themselves as the sole arbiters of God’s truth and used their religious traditions as a means of greed and oppression, rather than a means of faithful worship. He told them, “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition… thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down… and many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13)

In the words of Pastor Tim Keller, “when Foucault, Nietzsche and Jesus all agree on something… it has to be true!

(more at link above)

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2012, 11:08:23 am »
Revolutionary Grace
Posted on December 20, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”
-John Newton

A hallmark of human history, and especially our world today, is people pointing their fingers at other people. No one is immune from it. The democrats point at the republicans, the progressives at the conservatives, the socialists at the capitalists, the debtors at the creditors, the conspiracy theorists at the bankers and governments, the theists at the atheists, and vice versa, so on and so forth. It is an endless cycle of finding some alleged ignoramuses or agitators or elitists or sociopaths to blame. Where does any of that pointing get us? Does it bring us any satisfaction or any closer to the truth of our situation? Any closer to the solutions for our human predicament?

Jesus certainly knew better than that. His teachings revolutionized how people thought about sin, human nature, God and salvation. Instead of people pointing the finger at the sinners “over there”, he showed us that God wants us to help our fellow brothers and sisters by pointing the finger at ourselves. Instead of people toiling away to reach God through their rituals and works, he showed us that God will sacrifice for us out of pure love and bring us to him. Instead of people being redeemed through their legalistic loyalty or obedience to others, he showed us that we are redeemed by his amazing grace and by that grace alone. We find these revolutionary concepts captured brilliantly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #12 on: December 24, 2012, 11:14:08 am »
Only the Church and the Candy Cane
Posted on December 24, 2012 by Brother of Sorrow

An interesting thing happened after I was brought into the Christian faith – I began to view the Christmas holidays with a lot of skepticism. Instead of looking forward to presents, parties, skiing trips, obscenely large meals and festive holiday cheer, like I did when I was agnostic, I began to ask questions about what it is we are actually celebrating. Too many Christians cling onto cultural traditions without critically examining them and making the appropriate sacrifices when those traditions fall short of Christian ideals. We are steeped in the practices of this world and we are afraid of what other people will think about us if we take a few step backs from the world. Yet, as Christians, the only thing that should truly matter is how we appear before God and no one else.

Christmas is allegedly a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, there is absolutely nothing in scripture that suggests Jesus was born in Winter, let alone on December 25.  Scripture does give us plenty of clues to suggest that Jesus was born in the Fall season, though, most likely during the month of September. Does that mean we should switch Christmas celebrations to a September date? No, not at all. Paul relates to us that Jesus told his disciples to honor his death through communion, signifying God’s new covenant with humanity, not his birth (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). It is important to know Jesus’ birthday in order to destroy the currently ingrained myth of Christmas. Here are some evidences for a September birth:

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2013, 10:28:35 am »
When God Sent Forth His Spirit
Posted on January 10, 2013 by Brother of Sorrow

This gulf in understanding [life's origin] is not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna” – Paul Davies, Physicist

It would be a miracle if a strand of RNA ever appeared on the primitive Earth” -Leslie Orgel, OOL Researcher

Terrestrial explanations [for homochirality] are impotent and nonviable” - William Bonner, Organic Chemist

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.

(Job 12:7-10)

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

(Psalm 104:24-30)

Since the time of Darwin, many people have replaced what their minds and hearts tell them with what popular culture advertises to them. There is no better venue for Western pop culture then the public school. Darwinian evolution is presented to children as fact instead of theory, complete with cartoons of knuckle-dragging apes becoming upright human beings. Very few people stop to question the dogma of biological evolution, asking whether the increasingly abundant evidence actually supports or undermines the theory. The more we learn about the realm of life, the more enigmas develop for natural explanations of its origin and development.

Many theists (especially Christians) have adopted evolution as God’s method of creation, because they think a) scientific evidence supports evolution and b) it will make the faith more popular and easier to accept. Yet the Bible is clear that the truth is what’s most important, as revealed through scripture. And scripture minces no words when describing God’s direct creation of life on this planet over four progressive ages (days 3-6), resting from creation in our ongoing seventh age. A lot of important theology actually rests on creationism – for example, the concept that humans are unique in kind from the rest of the animal kingdom and created with the imago dei or “image of God”.

Although people have learned to automatically associate a progression of simple-to-complex life on Earth over billions of years with Darwinian evolution, the fact is that this scenario exactly parallels the Biblical accounts of progressive creation by God, and these accounts were constructed thousands of years ago. The existence of all these different living organisms is one of the most powerful testaments to the existence of an intelligent and personal God. If there were no supreme intelligence, or divinity took the form of some impersonal force, we would not expect to observe such methodically and exquisitely crafted beings on this planet, which reflect all the tell-tale signs of creative design that we observe in human civilization.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2013, 10:31:06 am by Ashvin Pandurangi »

Re: Picturing Christ Blog
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Christian Peace: Thanking, Thinking and Serving
Posted on January 23, 2013 by Brother of Sorrow

During a recent trip to Kochi, India, I visited an interesting modern art exhibit called the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which premiered on 12/12/12. Amid all of the creative and highly symbolic paintings and sculptures and photographs, I stumbled upon a plain white piece of paper that was stuck to the wall, and simply had the following message printed on it (the thing caught me so off guard, I forgot to take a picture of it…):

“Try thinking nothing but positive thoughts about people for 24 hours.

Then try it for 72 hours.

Then for a week.

Then for a month.

See how that attitude changes your life for the better.”

I have to admit, one of the first thoughts to cross my mind was something a bit negative about whoever posted that piece of paper on the wall. I thought – “is this person really serious?” Do people actually believe that consciously avoiding all negative thoughts will bring something positive into their lives; that tuning out the negative realities of our world will transform them into living beacons of peace and happiness? The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how common this attitude was, and how many people would probably stroll by the piece of paper and take its “wisdom” to heart. It is a modern take on Eastern philosophy that does tremendous injustice to historic Western AND Eastern thought.

We often witness a similar effect when very distressing things happen in the world and make it into the mainstream news outlets. When I was visiting relatives in Bangalore, India later on in the trip, I made a few remarks to them about a brutal gang-rape that occurred in December in New Delhi, in which the 23-year old female victim had subsequently died of her injuries. It had certainly left the country in a somber mood before and after the New Year. I wanted to know how such depraved crimes affected them personally and intellectually, but I found that most of my relatives didn’t want to think about it. One of them even remarked, “it’s better not to think about such things”.

This attitude of focusing on the good and tuning out the bad seems to be just as common where I live in the United States as well. One thing I’ve noticed about the immediate politicization of the recent mass shootings in America is that it serves as a rather convenient way for people to ignore the dark realities and details of what is happening in our culture of violence and alienation, while focusing all of their intellectual and emotional capacities on general political issues of gun control, big government vs. small government, etc. Why is this our natural response to these horrendous events? The events themselves will be swamped under various political issues until they are dimly remembered artifacts of American history.

What is most clear to me is that this attitude of “tuning out the bad” or “sweeping the bad under whatever emotionally-charged rugs we can find” is in direct opposition to what we are taught by the Bible and historic Christianity. As is so often the case, the Bible provides us with a revolutionary, yet surprisingly level-headed analysis of our situation. We are reminded of simple truths in a world that consistently obscures them from view. Perhaps the best and most concise statement of “Christian peace” comes to us from Paul’s letter to the early church of Philippi.