Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More than a stumble?

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

Is this one for the people? Is this one for the Lord?
Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford?
You can jumble them together, my conflict still remains
Holiness is calling, in the midst of courting fame
Cause I see the trust in their eyes, though the sky is falling
They need Your love in their lives, compromise is calling

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?
You never turn in the heat of it all
What if I stumble, what if I fall?

Father please forgive me for I can not compose
The fear that lives within me
Or the rate at which it grows
If struggle has a purpose on the narrow road you've carved
Why do I dread my trespasses will leave a deadly scar
Do they see the fear in my eyes? Are they so revealing?
This time I cannot disguise all the doubt I'm feeling

What if I stumble?
Everyone's got to crawl when you know that
You're up against a wall, it's about to fall
Everyone's got to crawl when you know that

I hear You whispering my name, you say
"My love for You will never change" Never change

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall? You never turn in the heat of it all
What if I stumble, what if I fall? You are my comfort, and my God

Is this one for the people, is this one for the Lord?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jesus is who he is, so who is he?

Everyone has an opinion about Jesus, it seems. This is not a new phenomenon; it has in fact always been the case. In the first century people formed more than a few groups around their opinions of Jesus of Nazareth. Many believed he was God in the flesh; others believed he was a mere wise man; still others believed him to be some sort of Gnostic incarnation of some sort of secret knowledge. Nonetheless, Jesus was more than a mere historical figure. He seems to naturally bring out the strongest opinions in people. This reaction is especially complicated in this postmodern setting we are all living in presently. Some say Jesus merely offers one of many potential ways to be saved in an age wherein metanarrative has been deemed less than reliable. My generation is going as far as to say that as expansive truth building is concerned, and personal opinion, in some sort of strange philosophical twist, Jesus has been promoted to truth. Over the centuries the idea of Jesus being truth personified has not been traditionally hard to accept; even if one does not put personal faith in Him for their salvation. Today, perhaps more than ever before, followers of Jesus need to be able to properly differentiate between opinion and the basic truths of the Biblical story. Jesus himself said “I am the way the Truth and the Life, no mans comes to the father but by me.” The question than becomes is that an exclusive statement or inclusive? The answer is a personal choice.

The problem isn’t postmodernism, or the philosophical idea that an expansive metanarrative is impossible, or the religious idea that there are in fact many, many paths, by which Jesus’ way stands as an alternative. These concepts are all very realistic. They are as realistic as the idea that an identifiable and relative set of consistent questions remain with us, in spite of the varied contexts of our historic settings, as we universally journey within and through our own contextually-bound and historically evolving communities. I would suggest that such concepts are also beneficial to Christianity in that they celebrate inherent uniqueness and consequently substantiate the basic claims of the Christian faith. No, the problem isn’t postmodernism, pluralism, or the basic Christian message. The problem is ethnological; Christians don’t really know their own story well enough to establish themselves as a unique way within this postmodern culture of daily life and living. We have been reduced to irrelevant within our culture by our own lack of understanding of our present setting and our inability to discern the times. When one is sways in the wind with the latest inspired trend within Christianity it is impossible to properly differentiate between opinion and the basic truths of the Christian story.

So, where do we begin the necessary renaissance to regain our balance? Why not start at the basics? Christology - or the Study of Who Jesus is - would be a fine starting point. Many people today have deemed Jesus to be nothing more than a social revolutionary or one of many in a long line of special spiritual gurus. He is both, of course! And he is so much more! A concentration on Jesus’ social and economic message of justice is absolutely necessary, but not at the expense of his message of personal salvation and heart transformation. Jesus holistically preached and pointed towards a way of life that divinely addresses and non-violently subverts the normative social, religious, and political spheres of life and living in this world. Followers of Jesus must proclaim this holistic Gospel of social justice and personal salvation. Jesus is the social prophet and the redeemer of the world. This basic truth of the Christian story elevates Jesus well above and beyond the world’s collection of spiritual gurus and/or teachers.

A soft humanism has found its way into many, many churches and it has resulted in the demotion of Jesus to a supporting role in the world’s religious drama. Jesus, according to many expressions today, is not the only way to God, but one of many ways. Yes, Christianity is one of many ways in this world, but it is the only way that describes its founder/god in such terms. It is a unique expression living in a world laden with many expressions, its uniqueness is directly sourced from its basic story. A humanistic expression of Christianity is only Christian in that it makes liberal use of familiar vocabulary and theological concepts inherent to the basic Jesus story and its context. It also minimizes the incredible uniqueness of Jesus Christ in its vain attempt to cite the impossibility of metanarrative while simultaneously trying to create one by recklessly smashing all expressions together in the name of pluralism. The Christian embrace of this sort of humanism is as unnecessary as it is unfortunate. A basic understanding of the Jesus story would relieve the seeming need to trek in such a confused direction.
Jesus is so much more than just a wise spiritual teacher. He is the Savior of the world. This truth is made known to all by the Holy Spirit and a perusing of the Jesus story, in its most simple and basic form.

For further reading on this topic a good read is "The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Societal Ethics

In my approach to ethics and their implications on politics of a pluralistic society, it is necessary to reveal my background that serves as the basis of these ideas. My philosophy is influenced, but hopefully not blinded, by my Christian faith. My experiences with diversity and pluralism is from basic education of world religions and sociology, along with experiences abroad and in my own communities, I will apply my understanding of these experiences in my perception of the human state, the natural ethical implications of that, and then the political implications for American citizens.

I believe that all of humanity can be found in a certain state. There exists one absolute truth that holds the definition of right and wrong. This form of moderate realism suggests that only in the mind of God can this normative understanding of a “common good” exist. It is impossible to be defined by humans, existing outside humanity. Humans have an instinct of what is good as a natural moral sense. As stated in natural law theory, there is a basic understanding of right and wrong found in human nature that can be discovered through reason. I believe there is evidence to this natural moral sense in history and psychology. Humans naturally understand good and bad although they may not always act accordingly. The relationship between God and humanity does much to explain this natural understanding. People were created in the image of God and God is described as love. Therefore, in so much as humans are like God, they are able to recognize the absolute right and wrong. Yet, humanity is in a fallen state, unable to completely define and comply with our instinctive moral sense. People are always distracted by another natural sense, selfishness. Because humans are separate from God, they are susceptible to distractions from the “common good”. These distractions have been termed sin in the religious world and are driven by selfishness and pride. The latter being the first sin, the source of all other sins, and the worst of sins. Pride led to the fall of Lucifer, (Isaiah 14:12–15) perfect in beauty, (Ezekiel 28:12–15) and the fall of humanity to our current state. According to Thomas Aquinas, pride is an "excessive desire for one's own excellence which rejects subjection to God." It is the worst sin, Aquinas argues, because it is in its very nature an aversion to God and His commandments, something that is indirectly or consequently true of all sins.

So, within each person are two conflicting senses, one which reveals the right and good way of love and the other which seeks out self interest. Reason is the capability to decipher and choose between the two. I believe that all humans have the ability to reason. Rational people will reason to do what is right. Through historical evidence we know that people do things that seem blatantly wrong. These people are not reasoning rationally, using their natural instinct of good. They have been distracted, either for selfish reasons, like power, or by a misunderstanding. By misunderstanding I mean the person has been misled through something like abuse to believe they have a good purpose for their actions. Overall, I believe that through reasoning, humans are able to recognize ethical responses from within their basic instinct of right.

Given the above understanding of humanity, ethical implications can be made. The natural moral sense of absolute truth contains two things, love and empathy. The natural instinct for love is evidenced in human’s dependency on relationships, including parent-child relationships, marriage and friendship. Humans yearn to be known and loved by others. Empathy for others implicates that rational people should not harm innocent people and also that rational people should help those less fortunate than themselves. Love and empathy then impose ethical standards on living. Humans have an ethical responsibility for reciprocity. The natural instinct for the “common good” of love, peace and respect creates a thin understanding of the good life, allowing humans to pursue it in different by protecting liberty of all. To practice the natural moral sense of empathy and love means pursuing equality. Humans have the responsibility to uphold mutual respect of each others basic rights. Empathy and love are inherent ethical standards that should govern individual reason within society.

The American society is greatly diverse in the views of the good life held by its citizens. Different religions, ethnicities, cultures, and economic levels exist under a single government that has pledged freedom for all. I believe with the instinctive understanding of good described above, all humans have the ethical responsibility to show empathy to their fellow citizens. Basic rights and equality are two examples of empathy’s governance in politics.

Protecting basic rights of all citizens is a form of liberalism that addresses individual and minority freedoms in a democratic society. All citizens have basic rights, such as a right to basic resources (food, shelter, etc), freedom to pursue happiness, and self-rule through a democratic government. In order to assure these basis rights, citizens have the responsibility for involvement in government as an action promoting justice. It is unethical for citizens to ignore this means for helping others with their instinctive understandings of love and empathy. Citizens have the responsibility to vote so as to protect the liberty we gained with blood or it will be lost with words. People should not force their specific understanding of the good life upon others. Plurality can not be denied; therefore, under the ethic standards already developed, equality can be pursued. This means that citizens with very different backgrounds ought to respect each other’s views for the sake of equality, an empathic and loving standard. Their vote and other means of political involvement must aim protecting rights of those within the society, encompassing their personal moral or metaphysical beliefs.

In addition to basic rights, responsibility to empathy within politics obligates citizens to recognize and act against injustice. Citizens must be in dialogue with others in order to develop a greater understanding of others and to avoid the dangerous tendency to stereotype and marginal those who are different than themselves. Education should incorporate multicultural studies along with national history and English literature. This dialogue allows citizens greater awareness of injustices within the political structure. Again, a citizen ethically has the responsibility to involve oneself in the governmental process of change. Injustice must be recognized as inherent with certain minorities. It is not ethical for a reasonable person to recognize the inequalities inherent to a certain minority or individual and at some level not stand against it.

It is out of a natural sense of good that citizens of a government must seek out equal basic rights. Ethics should be judged according to the state of humanity, divided between an instinctive understanding of good and selfish desires, but with the ability to reason. Empathy summons reasonable citizens to require equality and basic rights within a pluralistic society.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Relativism vs. Moral Absolutes

On the CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS & RESEARCH MINISTRY website, Matthew J. Slick put it very simply, that is, assuming to begin with one believes there is a God. “If there is an absolute God with an absolute mind then he is the standard of all things – as well as morals. Therefore, there would be moral absolutes.”

That’s the thing though, in today's post modern thought the question is not is there moral absolutes, but rather, who defines any moral absolutes, a divine, omnipresent being or merely oneself? In W.T. Stace’s, Introduction of Philosophical Inquiry, he stated that, “The genetic basis of ethical relativism is usually something like sociological relativism, the belief that there are many moral laws and these laws are relative to the place, times, and circumstances of a people.” Both sides agree to the truth of sociological relativism because it is descriptively true. The crucial question is whether or not it ought to be true. Ethical relativism is not a platitude because the relativist is committed to the belief that one action that is right in one group is wrong in another group. (The relativist is not just saying that the action is considered right and wrong.) It is obvious that moral ideas differ from country to country and period to period. But this fact does not imply that there is not any universal moral standard. The fact does imply, however, if there is a universal moral standard then it is not followed in different cultures. If we thought sociological relativism implies the lack of the possibility of a universal moral standard, we would be committing the ad ignorantiam fallacy.

Brian Schertley, a secular humanist by his own omission, has a little nugget of wisdom that has slowly become an accepted and adopted social mindset. He says, “For the secular humanist, the source of ethics, morality and law is not God but man. The secular humanist says that ethics are whatever man happens to say they are at a given point in time. In such a system moral law is merely opinion, custom, "community standards," what the state says (or the supreme court, or an intellectual elite). Man determines what is right and wrong for himself, and if man changes his mind, then what used to be wrong is now permissible—even virtuous. Morality is relative to the situation one finds him or herself. ”

Now that’s a scary thought. This view of ethical relativism is simply the denial of ethical absolutism. More precisely, ethical relativism denies that there is a single moral standard, which applies to all people, all times, and all places. Ethical relativism is the theory that holds that morality is relative to the norms of one's culture. That is, whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. The same action may be morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another. For the ethical relativist, there are no universal moral standards -- standards that can be universally applied to all peoples at all times. The only moral standards against which a society's practices can be judged are its own. I disagree, if ethical relativism is correct, there can be no common framework for resolving moral disputes or for reaching agreement on ethical matters among members of different societies. That being so, in relation to ethics, there are certain ethical practices that could or couldn’t be considered appropriate.

The question one faces at that point is whose moral standard do you adhere to, Gods or your own? C.S. Lewis, in his understanding of human nature at its core, observed in humanity an innate sense of right and wrong void of moral relativity. This Universal Morality must then have came from someone or somewhere. Being made in the imagine of God, this fundamental standard of trust exists within us that, outside of reality (reality as perceived by God and not man), has been marginalized by human constraints. Absolute truth, void of human corruption, exists in the Word of God:The final standard of Truth.

I would like to think a great deal less grey area exists than my generation perceives.

Works Cited
1. There Are No Absolutes - Pop Occulture.
2. Ethical Relativism Discussion between Boston University Academy and the Edmund Burke School
3. Ethical relativism

Friday, January 18, 2008

Theological Reflections on Church Planting

In his book Church Planting, Stuart Murray first lays some foundational theological frame work of Church Planting. He makes sure that the reader recalls that “Theology refers primarily to the study of God and by extension to the activities of God within creation.” In doing so he then explains that to refer to “a theology of church planting” seemed “increasingly problematic.” Such phraseology, though popular and superficially impressive, may in fact hinder theological reflection. He goes on to say that “to suggest that there is a theology of church planting is surely to confuse strategy with theology and processes with principles.” He instead likes the terms “theological perspectives on” or “theological reflections on”, saying that these are a more accurate use of language, which reserves the term theology for the central task of reflection on God.

Now with this terminology in mind, Murray then goes on to talk about three fundamental theological concepts. The first is the mission Dei. (mission of God) He says that missiologists are “increasingly drawn to this phrase to express the conviction that mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of God.” The second theological principle is that of incarnation. Stating that “If mission originates in the character and activity of God, the means by which God engages in mission are paradigmatic for those who participate in this mission.” And lastly the “Kingdom of God”. This Kingdom mind set provides a framework within which a more wholistic understanding of mission can be understood.

He concludes the book by exploring the church’s role within the Kingdom of God and His mission in order to better understand that the church’s primary task is the mission Dei.