Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Religion of Bailoutism

After years of ecumenical influences, America has resultantly become a nation of virtual Christianity.  Evangelicalism, having been turned on its head, has become a kind of meaningless label for a movement that only survives as a miniscule minority.  Here is a sad but interesting article regarding America's most popular views about who will inhabit heaven:

By CHARLES M. BLOW

Published: December 26, 2008, The New York Times

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.  This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

What on earth does this mean?

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

Also, many Christians apparently view their didactic text as flexible. According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all. In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible.

Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it ... for goodness sake.

This is an interesting read.  If anything, I might conclude that the numbers may still be a bit generous regarding those who profess Christ and hold to inerrancy with true conviction.  It is a sad state of affairs – but the whole of our culture has come to believe in the religion of Bailoutism (or if you prefer, Ba'aloutism).  This is the religion of helpless victimization, non-responsibility, and the expectation that no matter how indifferent or rebellious a man may be, he can expect to be rescued in the end - simply because the entire universe owes it to him.  

Sadly, we’ve been here before (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11), and won’t see the end of it until Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.

Dagon 2.0

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What God Owes Us

Throughout my life as a youth I had no better regard for Christmas than an alcoholic might have for a cheap bottle of booze.  For me, the only value of Christmas consisted of the food, free time, cash, and toys that I received during this festal season.  Of course, all of these base impulses of mine were well concealed beneath the veneer of my freckled smile and youthful charm.  I merely endured the holiday formalities so as to anticipate the morning of the 25th - and this I did with the pained anxiety of an addict.  As I look back on those days, I now realize that I never saw the depth of my blindness, and my utter lack of regard for much of anything else other than my own desires.  I do recall one Christmas morning where my hedonism had reached its peak.  In particular, I remember making an extra effort to detect the "goods" that I expected to receive that year.  To do this, I would carefully inspect the bags and packages as they were ushered into our house, and I even tried to probe my parents for information with the earnestness of a military tribunal.  I was so sure that I would be buried alive in a treasure trove of goods, unlike any other Christmas in the past, and this only intensified my anticipation for payday on the 25th. 

To my horror, it was the most meager gift exchange in the history of our family. 

I will never forget the dark feelings of resentment that I had for such an anticlimactic morning.  Sadly, instead of feeling rebuked for my selfishness, my overactive mind yielded a never ending supply of thoughts which justified my narcissism.  The smiles and thanks that I offered to my parents that morning only masked the darker reality from within - I wasn't thankful at all.

In many ways, this is a picture of the natural man who does not give thanks to the very One who showers mankind with the daily gifts of His beneficence and kindness (Romans 1:21).  This is even true when it comes to the Father's matchless gift of His beloved Son - Jesus Christ.  Frankly speaking, the natural man looks at the manger scene with contempt and disappointment - whether he might be a secularist or a religionist.  Now the secularist will reveal his contempt unhesitatingly; but the religionist is rather deceitful with his ingratitude.  Many religious people feign appreciation for God's greatest gift to the world, but their real view of the manger scene is one which belies its true value.  How often do I hear men speak of God's "gift" in terms which seem to emphasize the world's supposed worthiness.  Such preachers portend a deity who is so focused on mankind's value and need that he seems to be indifferent to his own justice and glory.  I have heard some preachers say - "If you were the only person on earth, God would still send His Son to die for you."  Despite the better intentions of this expression, many offer this teaching with the following connotation: God gives His gifts based upon the value and worthiness of the recipient.  Now if this were truly the case, then we ought to refrain from calling Christ "God's gift" to mankind and instead refer to Him as "God's payment" to a worthy world.  In a paradigm of thinking such as this, it is as though God owed us the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This is the best that the religionist can do - in the bondage and slavery of his own heart and mind he can only transform the 1st Advent celebration into a payday; but the reality is that God owes us nothing.  He doesn't owe us the next breath nor is He indebted to give us our next heartbeat.  He doesn't owe us fruitful seasons, human joy, or even the glory of the Heavens above; and He certainly doesn't owe us eternal bliss and forgiveness through the sacrifice of His Beloved Son.  The incarnation, perfect life, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Son of God was nothing less than an unmerited gift offered freely to a very unworthy and thankless people (John 3:16).  If one wishes to bloviate about the matter of what God owes us - then let him remember this: God does owe mankind His just and eternal judgment (John 3:18, 36).  Those who believe that they deserve a payday will in some sense get what they were looking for, but it won't be what they were expecting.  In short, all religionists are like selfish little children huddled around the festal tree, seeing the gifts that are offered as being that which they deserve as good and worthy people.

Let me now end with a second Advent tale.  In 1982 I was in the military and was thousands of miles away from family.  I barely had two pennies to rub together, and the Christmas tree that I had was nothing more than a pine branch taped to a cardboard platform - it was all quite tacky at best.  From the world's perspective it would all seem quite pathetic, and yet for myself it was the best 1st Advent celebration that I had ever celebrated in my life, because it was my first Christmas celebrated as a Christian.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that God had graciously refrained from giving me what I actually deserved and instead gave me the precious and undeserved gift of salvation through faith in the One who was crucified for my sin.  For the genuine Christian, the celebration of the 1st Advent of Christ is not merely an annual event - it is a perpetual remembrance and celebration of that gift which no man deserves.

Update:  With video -

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Love of Discipline

It was recently reported that Grace Community Church, in Jacksonville Florida, is going through quite a trial right now.  Foxnews.com reported that GCC is in the midst of a church discipline matter - the story became national news as of last night (story here).  We can thank the Lord for the church's resolve in this matter.  On the other hand, it is quite odd that the person being disciplined has expressed such regret over the publicity of her case - and yet she is the one (it is reported) who disclosed the matter to foxnews in the first place.  This is, no doubt, a rather tangled matter - but we do pray that God's glory would be revealed through the faithful perseverance of his people...