The Problem Is… Jesus

Post #2 in direct response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven? (Newcomers, please join the conversation.)

Avant Garde: “…in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant “your” God the Son alone leads to heaven!”

You are correct. I really meant that only Jesus – God the Son – leads to heaven. Can Jesus reach people through religions that aren’t Christianity? I address this specific issue under C* below. Faith comes from God but “religion” and religiosity are human constructs.

Meanwhile, I should tell you why I believe what I believe. Maybe you will write me off. Maybe you will continue reading. I respect your decision and point of view regardless. I do not expect you to change your mind. That would take a miracle. But I do hope that you will understand me.

A. Someone is “wrong” from everyone’s perspective

Everyone assumes that someone is wrong when it comes to religion. There are the obvious examples of Christians saying that Muslims are essentially wrong and vice-versa. But what about “All religions are true”?

Even the claim that “no one is wrong” assumes a group of people who are wrong: those who deny that claim and typically implies “everyone is wrong” about the ultimate realities of eternity.

To claim “I don’t/can’t/shouldn’t make claims” is a non-committal cop-out… and is often, in fact, not true of the one who says it.

Christians make ridiculous claims, but that does not mean that these claims are either untrue or more ridiculous than the claims that everyone else is making.

B. The Bible tells us what Jesus claimed

Not all those who profess to be Christians accept the teachings of the Bible in the same way. There are many issues, such as a six-day creation, which seem to be open to a greater deal of interpretation. But on the issue of Jesus, there is much clarity. The Bible deserves fuller treatment, but I can summarize my basic belief: if God exists and he is good, then he would have used just such a means as the Bible to reveal himself to humanity. (Re: Bible’s self-testimony, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless…” Psalm 18:30).

C. This is what Jesus himself claimed

Jesus was crucified for claiming to be God in ways that were true of himself and of himself alone. He spoke with authority over the written scriptures. He healed, loved, served and led others as if he were the ruler of creation.  For example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).  ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).  His sacrificial death on behalf of humanity could only be done by him, for he alone is fully God and fully human. If humanity needs saving, then we have never had a clearer savior.

D. Jesus saves in mysterious ways

Some churches give the impression that all you have to do is say his name in a prayer. The truth is more personal. We are saved by faith. But this isn’t any sort of will-power that we muster up. It’s a relationship… which God himself initiates. Jesus himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Paul, one of the first generation of followers, wrote, “”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8).

*Some have suggested that there are “invisible Christians,” who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus either without publicly professing such faith or without even consciously knowing this. For example, a Buddhist or a Muslim could be a Christian without knowing it by loving God and loving others. Many Buddhists and Muslims find such ideas highly offensive. The idea is convenient those of us who struggle with outreach to members of other religions and with the idea of hell.  The idea has strength in the precedent of Jews before Christ clearly having access to God the Father and being “saved.”

E. Either Jesus saves and he alone, or Jesus does not save at all.

If Jesus died for the sins of the world, then we need him, because we all fall short of deserving to be with God forever. If Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, then no one needs him except as an example of how to die for a fictitious cause. Either Christianity is the truest truth or it is the biggest lie. There is no middle ground. Maybe other religions have the possibility of being partially true, but because of the claims of Jesus, Christianity does not have that option.

F. These issues are a matter of faith.

I can testify but I cannot prove. (See previous post.)

Caution

There are people who profess to be Christians who disagree with virtually everything I have just said (including a particularly nasty group of radical Dispensationalists who do not believe that there has ever been spiritual salvation for the Jewish people).

Conclusion

I don’t know if I have convinced anyone, but I hope that answers the question.  If I have not, or if anyone has further questions, I am, as always, open to your input.

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Faith vs. “Knowledge”

Post #1 in response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“…how did you come to conclusion that jesus is ultimately right – was my question. I am not saying he is not right, all i am asking is how do YOU know that?”

Before I wax philosophical, let me give you the most personal answer I can give (the short version, at least). I came to the conclusion that Jesus was right because he saved me from myself. I was raised in a church-going, though not especially churchy family. During middle school, at the encouragement of the youth pastor, I began reading the Bible on my own. Convinced that, if God exists, he could and would use just such a means of conveying his truth, I became open to Christianity… and to the fact that I was an egotistical bastard (you know the type: the one who looks down on others for getting B’s). During this time, I had a vivid dream in which (abbridged) I was drawn through darkness into the light and warmth of God’s love in Christ. Since then, there have been many cogent moments of experiencing his presence, such as my near-death in a car crash and my one serious, multi-month bout of manic-depression. But, most importantly, he has transformed me into a more compassionate and loving person (though I still have a long way to go).

But that might not be what you’re asking. What I believe, I cannot prove. I can give you my reasons, my doubts, and my areas of relative certainty. Yet these bits of information are of a different quality than the fact that I exist today, depending on how you define “I” and “exist” and “today,” because Descartes can build a pretty-much air-tight case for the existence of me. No one can build an air-tight case for the need for Jesus. Such is the nature of faith. Many have tried. But this looks less like a science experiment, rooted in things tangible, and more like a court case with a preponderance of evidence, much of it circumstantial, from which you, the jury, must arrive at a verdict.

“Faith is the evidence of things unseen.”

People usually believe in Jesus first in a personal way and then grapple intellectually with the implications of this. In light of my personal faith, why have I concluded that Jesus is ultimately right? Because of the faith the he has planted in me. This is a circular argument, no doubt. But I don’t mind that, as long as you don’t. Circular arguments are only a problem if I’m trying to convince you… and I’m not. Only God can do that. But like any decent, anonymous cyber-friend I can shoot back attempted answers and counter-questions to your questions.

I apologize if this raises more questions than it answers. Faith is about the Person more than it is about the ideas of theology. Questions drive us closer to the truth and a good question is better than any half-assed answer.

Now I still need to address the elephant in the room. Avant Garde further exclaimed: “[you write] in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant your God the Son alone leads to heaven!” In my next post I will address the exclusive claims of Christianity.

King’s Pawn

Lyov Myshkin.  The Idiot.  The master.  It was a clever alias, perhaps, or a twist of fate which named my chess mentor after Dostoyevsky’s “fool.”  Homeless by choice, he rode his bike up and down the parkway, spending nights in parks and under bridges, wherever he could find freedom and his next fix.  No bills to pay, no women to interfere, he passed his days in strategy.  The game was his only source of joy, other than sauerkraut and the occasional gyro.  He passed out of sight after the last big snow.  Perhaps he is already gone.  Or maybe he’s in Vegas, reveling in his latest tournament victory.  I will keep playing, either way, compelled if not yet addicted by moments of pure mind, of my best move against yours, uninterrupted by luck or chance or fate.  Did he know what moved him?  And how will he be transformed when he reaches the other side?

Flex and Flexibility

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

“Hell is other people.”  (Sartre)

You will not hear from me for several days.  I am going camping.  I will travel for two and a half days, each way, in order to spend one night on the trail.  But if you have to ask why, maybe you haven’t been to western North Carolina.  Or maybe you don’t have friends like I do.  I pray that you do.

I love my friend, but my life is more complicated because of them.  I may say the same thing about my wife someday, if I am ever so blessed.  My life is better, but definitely more complicated.  I remember back when I had no true friends.  Middle school.  There was Nate, but he lived on the far side of town, so other than the once a month or two, I felt like a man without a country.  Then I became a workaholic in high school and forgot to care.

College changed everything.  There are others like me, in mind, in heart, and in spirit.  I am not alone.  And there are others better than me, sharper, purer, saner even, who can make me more whole just by showing up and being themselves.  It is to spend time with men that I will trek across  six states.

 I lost my mind once.  It was a “manic episode,” part of bipolar disorder.  I’ll share the gory details in a later post, but what matters here: my friends helped me get to see a psychiatrist, before I even knew something was wrong with me.  After getting on medication, I spent a few months in rehab with my family.  Home is always a safe place, but not always a healthy one, especially as a young adult.  I had to escape.  Another friend took me in for the next six months, sedated, depressed, and marginally-employed as I was.

Few things in life are more beautiful than friendship.  The joy is sweeter and bitterness more bearable with friends.  Friends make us who we are.  It’s not just a matter of influence.  It’s a matter of context.  I am not my full self when I am not with my friends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I need alone time.  But when I emerge from the cave of my mind, I need brothers and sisters — including you! — with whom to discuss, spar, dream, and despair.  Why else do we blog?

But friendship is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and complicated.  The pay-off is huge, but it comes at a price.  I think of the lengths that God went to to become my friend in the person of Jesus.

My imperfections have grated against my friends’ imperfections, even on this small trip.  Me watching too much Pacino and De Niro, barking logistics on the phone and baffled at the contingencies. A.M. might not meet be in Chicago after all.  “Why not Nashville?  It’s on the way.  You could transfer the ticket you just bought, even though the trip is this week….”  G.K. might have to do work on the house he is trying to buy and skip out on all of the actual hiking.  J.D. has to leave a day early to be with his wife.  And I feel like I’m the only one who owns a calendar and a map.

I have a choice: I can flex my ego and refuse to accomodate, or I can do whatever it takes to make this trip happen.  So I’m getting on a bus tomorrow bound northward, so that I can travel south and east, six days on the road for one night under the stars and one night of beer and pizza.  Their beer, my pizza.  Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my meds, but friendship does.  It always will.

Your New Super-Power

What If You Had a Super-Power?  Wait… You Already Have One.

I can’t tell you how many small group ice-breakers and conversations I’ve had centering on the topic of super-powers.  And this isn’t just a conversation for the boys.  Everyone loves this one.  Who wouldn’t want to choose their super-power?

The sticking point in the mythos of any super-hero is that the hero never chooses his (or her) power.  The power chooses the hero.  It is never asked for.  It is often rejected, neglected, and misused.  Shoot, if you’re Spider-Man or the Hulk, your power doesn’t even work on command.  “With great power comes great responsibility,” and responsibility is something our culture deals with poorly.

You have great power.  You probably just didn’t know it.  Blogging.  At the push of a button, you can listen in on any number of people’s deepest thoughts and desires.  You can do so without the interference of corporeal existence (it’s without your body, dude!).  More importantly, you have effectively unlimited time to meditate your response.  No more not listening.  No more putting your foot in your mouth due to lack of forethought.  Your words have the power to give life or to take it away, to encourage or to discourage.  Choose them wisely.

Learning to Love the Opposition

What We Can Gain By Agreeing to Disagree

Most blog conversations, like most real-life conversations, represent like-minded individuals giving each other feedback.  I love it when a friend of mine posts a comment along the lines of “What you said was awesome!”  I can’t get enough of that.  In fact, the blogosphere might have even more affirmation than real life.  Maybe that’s why we love to be plugged in so much.

But what I really can’t get enough of: respectful disagreement expressed with clarity.  No matter what your religio-political-philosophical worldview, I hope you can agree: we can learn a lot from each other, especially when we disagree.

I want your atheism to help me be a better Christian, showing me the ways in which my faith and practice are lacking.  I want to see Buddhist Katy helping Mary Kay to be more Jewish.  I want Michael Moore to help W. to be a better Republican.  Why?  Because if we’re ultimately concerned with pursuing what is true and good, we help each other in that pursuit, even if our conceptions of truth and good differ as much as our ideas for how to live in light of them.

This is probably easier to show than to tell.  In the coming days I will be co-posting the first in a series of “Dialogs with an Atheist,” courtesy of Skeptigator.  I guess he and I got bored with limiting ourselves to in-depth discussion with those who are like-minded.

Every disagreement is a challenge.  Every challenge is an opportunity.  The bottom line: I don’t want to agree with you; I want to understand you.  If I can do that, I will have truly learned something and, I hope, gained a friend.