Evangelical Update

A resource for lefties who want to understand conservative Christians.

Friday, March 24, 2006

MORE--Tony Campolo

Wes at Living in the Kingdom has a great link to more info on the previous topic--you can LISTEN to it HERE.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gender, Homosexuality, Celibacy--Confusion!!!

In the first six weeks of gestation the fetus has undifferentiated gonadal tissue with primordial structures that have the potential to develop into either male or female genitalia, the report said. What does develop is determined by later genetic and hormonal influences as the fetus grows.

Note: I clarified where I was going with the bottom portion of this post since I first posted it. I think that there are two different, but related, issues here and I felt the need to clear up where I was trying to go. So if you've already commented you might want to re-read the bottom two paragraphs.

Many people are not MALE or FEMALE--in other words, if I can be blunt: The doctor says, "I'm sorry, we don't know if it's a boy or a girl". If homosexuality is a sin then if a person does not have a definite sex, what are they supposed to do? The whole thing makes my head spin!!!!

I’ve had this post in draft from for quite a few months now and have been meaning to address this issue for a long time, but quite frankly, I have been chicken—bock, bock, bock! There are just certain issues that bring out the meanness in people and are very debate oriented. EU is a great place to discuss these things. Alice brought the issue up a while back on her site so I thought that we would dig it back up.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to take a view either way. I myself am still trying to figure it out and I am not sure that we can OR that we need to. Therefore, I am going to refrain from giving too many of my personal thoughts. Frankly I have some opinions that may be considered liberal and some that may be considered conservative, but as Doug would say, “I DON’T KNOW”. Did God even mean us to know?

In a great book I read, there was a story about a person who was born with deformed gentiles—he or she was not a he or she, but she or he, identified more as a man. I was completely touched by the story and since then I have been wrestling with what God might have intended for these people. Then that leads into another subject: What truly is God’s intention for homosexuals and why? These things have always bothered me but I went along with the conservative view on them for many years and never really questioned it, but if God made us—all of us—and even in the Bible there are people such as this, then what should they do?

Recently I watched Oprah’s show on Identical Twins, When One Twin Changes Gender. If you have not seen it, you might want to check it out. It is very informative and, as Oprah does, she asks a lot of questions, mainly “why”, in order to help us all begin to understand this. Her questions and answers brought more confirmation to me on what I had already been learning, thinking, and asking God.

Another person she interviewed was born a man but always felt that he was a woman. Eventually, later in life, he began the sex change process. Now he is almost a complete woman. So Oprah asks “her now” what gender “she” was now attracted to. Her answer, “Women”. You should’ve seen Oprah’s face—utter confusion! I think that her face represents the feelings of many, including myself—it is so confusing! My initial thought here is that this “originally” man was conditioned all of his life to be attracted to women. He dated women and never felt an attraction to a man. However, he felt as though he was a woman, so he became one.

So this brings up another issue: Are these people gay or do they just have to discover their sex based on their feelings? Should they be celibate? It then flows into another HUGE issue: Are those who are gay born that way or is it a product of environment? I know that this is a BIG issue so maybe we will do another post on this. Anybody up for it?

So in my quest to know more and to understand, I began some research on the Internet. I ran across THIS SITE and a GREAT DEBATE going on about that issue. There are letters from two gay men with two different views. Justin is gay and supports same-sex marriages, and Ron, who is gay, believes that gays should live a life of celibacy. There is a lot to read here on both sides of the issue, but I would ask you to check out as much as you can before you share your thoughts with us here.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Certainty

Certainty - These nine letters are, in my opinion, what separate many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians from those of us who are looking for a different way. It is because these nine letters claim to provide something that the Word of God does not provide as often as we would like to think. In fact, the more I have studied scripture the more I am convinced that this different way must include A Theology of I Don't Know.

Let me begin by telling you a little of my story. I was raised in a thoroughly evangelical church, but I made no decision to follow Jesus until February of 1996. In April of 1996, God and I started talking (arguing) about me attending seminary. After losing this argument with God, I began seminary in the summer of 1998. I went to what would be considered a conservative seminary by anybody's standards, but I was introduced to two professors who would change my life. These two men introduced me to a conversation that I am still part of today. This is the conversation about the emerging church. These two men introduced me to authors like Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet. One of the first things I noticed is that these two professors and these two authors did not claim to have all of the answers. They all agree we are fellow seekers. They all allow for God to continue to be a God of truth and mystery at the same time. The more I read and prayed, the more I realized how little we finite humans can actually know. This led me to begin developing a theology I tentatively call A Theology of I Don't Know.

Before you off and start calling me a heretic (I could consider this a compliment depending upon who is saying it), let me give you some scriptural support for my position. Corinthians 13:9-12 says:

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.


I believe God is clearly telling us that we do not have the ability to understand everything about him until Jesus returns. Now I am not one to throw things out there without showing how it affects us in real life. So let me begin by questioning one of the major tenants of faith help by the vast majority of Christians throughout the world.

I believe the evangelical and fundamentalist churches have put too much importance on the doctrine of the trinity. In fact, I don't believe this belief really matters much at all and I don't believe the Bible provides unequivocal support for this doctrine. Typically two arguments are made to support the doctrine of the trinity:

1. God is clearly presented as Father in parts of the Bible, Holy Spirit in other parts and the Son throughout much of the New Testament.
2. Matthew 3:16-17 clearly show God present in all three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, therefore the trinity must be true.

Those that do not believe in the trinity would answer these by saying God has three separate expressions of himself - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These expressions do not equate to separate persons. They might also respond that Matthew 3:16-17 is simply God showing up as all three expressions at once. They would also point out that if you truly believe God to be all powerful than you cannot argue he could not express himself as all three at once.

It becomes easier to see that maybe, just maybe, we don't have all the answers when it comes to whether God is three in one or simply one.

At this point, you might be thinking that this is still a little too theological. You might be thinking it needs to be more practical. I would agree, so let's consider how this affects our politics.

In the United States being an evangelical or fundamentalist Christian has become synonymous with being a Republican. I have heard people go as far as to say that God must favor the Republican Party because of its stance on the issue of abortion. These kinds of statements would actually be very funny if the people saying them were not so serious, but they are very serious. Now let me be the last person to tell you that God is a Democrat. How do you think God stands on the following issues?

1. Tax cuts? Tax increases?
2. Social Security? Social Security reform?
3. Government anti-poverty programs?
4. Public education? Government support for private education?
5. Ethanol?
6. Oil?
7. Tobacco subsidies?

You might have your beliefs on some of these issues, but do you think you know God's stance. I sure don't. Yet, one political party has become God's Only Party or GOP. I would like to tell you that maybe God just doesn't care that much about some of these issues, but the truth is I Don't Know.

By now you might think I am a heretic (see earlier comment), but if you read this right you will notice that I never said if I believed in the trinity or not. I never said if I vote Democrat or Republican or how I believe on any of these issues. I didn't because it is not about what I believe, it is about what God believes and I have to say, I Don't Know.

I may not be certain about some things, but I am certain I would appreciate your comments and feedback.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Salvation

We've discussed Condemnation at length in an earlier post here. But what about the reciprocal issue of Salvation? The topic of "who will be saved" or even what is meant by "saved" among fellow Christians generates a myriad of responses, even within people of the same denomination.

On one side of the issue, extreme conservatives and orthodox Christians assert Salvation is only through spiritual means (NOT BY WORKS), and is granted only to a relatively small number of people (and exactly who "gets into heaven" can be based on a wide variety of beliefs in the relative importance of certain behaviors, admissions of faith, baptism, and many other things).

Are we "saved" if we merely confess Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and yet go on sinning?
Are we "saved" if we do this, but make an earnest effort to change our wickedness, but periodically slip back into old habits?
Are we "saved" if and only if we sin no more? (in which case, heaven is emptier than a West Texas library)
Are we "saved" by faith alone? Or by works alone? Or a combination of the two?
Are we "saved" though baptism? What if we refuse baptism, but believe in Jesus -- does this matter?
Are we "saved" regardless of what we do?
Are there levels of salvation?
Are we rewarded for our works in heaven?
Are we allowed into heaven, but punished for our sins nonetheless (somehow)?


The belief that we are "saved" and can look forward to an after-life is one of the assurances that Christians hold in the highest regard. It's also a point of criticism from agnostics who claim that Christians design their faith to ease their fear of death, and nothing can be more compelling than joining a belief in something that alleviates the single greatest fear of all humanity: That we're here for a short time, and then gone forever. But for now, let us assume we are open-minded and not cynical to start with. We are seeking a truth and trying to "get there."

Here is a brief summary of some of the beliefs about Christian salvation that I have found:

bulletFundamentalist and other Evangelical Christian denominations generally teach that only that small minority of individuals who trust Jesus as Lord and savior will be saved. They are justified through faith. (i.e. they are "brought into right standing and into a right relationship with" God. 1 Thus, a person's actions, works and deeds have no impact on their salvation. However, once they are saved, the will exhibit their new status in the good deeds that they do, because they have become a "new creation in Christ." Salvation forms a major part of their faith -- it motivates many believers to save as many other people as possible from the horrors of Hell. A group of leading Fundamentalist / Evangelical leaders, including Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and Charles Stanley, signed a joint statement in 1999-JUN which confirmed their beliefs that:
bulletJesus Christ "is the only way of salvation."
bullet"The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ."
bulletThe Bible is inerrant and infallible -- without error. 2

The Southern Baptist Convention altered their internal statement of faith, called the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000-JUN to read that "there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."

bulletRoman Catholicism teaches that infants are "justified" when they are baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. Later, when they mature to the point where they are accountable for their actions, they lose their justification whenever they commit a mortal sin. Church sacraments can restore their status so that they are once more justified. Thus, a person's actions and regular presence during the sacraments are of paramount importance in determining whether they will make it to heaven.

Historically, the Church had taught that everyone who is not a Roman Catholic cannot be saved; all will go to Hell when they die. A series of Church documents during and since the Vatican Council II in the mid 1960's were written. They recognize that people who are Eastern Orthodox have the same opportunity for salvation as do Roman Catholics. Christians from other denominations, or are followers of other religions have a chance to be saved. However, they are generally at a severe disadvantage compared to Roman Catholics. More details.
bulletLiberal Christians generally reject the idea of Hell as a place of eternal punishment. They feel that it is incompatible with a loving, caring, tolerant, rational, understanding, and just God. Some interpret Hell symbolically. Thus, they consider the topic of salvation to be relatively unimportant. Those liberals who believe in the existence of heaven expect that everyone will eventually go there after death.
bulletMainline Christian denominations teach beliefs that correspond with those of Evangelical Christianity, or liberal Christianity, or which lie somewhere between these two extremes. Individual members do not necessarily agree with the stated position of their denomination.


Now, rather than get into a discussion about who is going to Hell, can we discuss who is getting into Heaven, and why? This may seem like the same discussion, but I also think it brings another dimension to play, and one that needs more discussion. God wants for all to be saved, just as God loves all humanity. God "hates the sin but loves the sinner," and that's all of us.

Is there any reason to assume that salvation is not for all humankind? Is there any reason to say that Jesus' death on the cross did not save all humanity? This sometimes infuriates fundamentalist Christians, because they raise the issue, "then what did Jesus die for?" In answer to that, the preterist would say that Jesus had died for our sins, and for our salvation, but that He has already returned (around 70AD, coincident with the destruction of Jerusalem) during the lifetime of the disciples, which was clearly expected by the New Testament authors (MT 24).

Usually, the liberal Christian view that "all are saved" (same as "nobody goes to hell" or "hell does not exist and is symbolic") is practically considered heretical by conservative Christians. Though, there are biblical passages that do uphold this view.

Current beliefs among the American public about salvation:

The Princeton Religion Research Center (PRRC) 2 estimates that 6 in 10 Americans " completely agree that the only assurance of eternal life is a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Since the PRRC estimates that 8 out of 10 Americans regard themselves as Christians, then about 75% of Christian adults hold some doubt about inclusivism.

According to the Barna Research Group, among adult Americans:

bullet86% believe that "eventually all people will be judged by God."
bullet57% believe that good people will go to Heaven
bullet39% believe that those who do not accept Christ as savior will go to Hell
bullet46% agree and 47% disagree that all good people will go to Heaven. 3

There appears to be some shifting of opinion among conservative Christians. The 1996 Year in Review by the Zondervan News Service quoted Ron Nash, author of "Is Jesus the Only Savior?":

"1996 helped reveal serious theological differences among America's 50 million evangelicals...In the issue of salvation, a growing number of evangelicals are embracing a position known as inclusivism which teaches that while the redemptive work of Jesus may be necessary for salvation, it is not necessary for people to know about Jesus or the gospel to receive the benefits of that salvation. It seems clear that 1997 will see this dispute to become even more divisive."

Salvation is either for only a few, or for the many (or all) of humankind. If I consider myself an "inclusivist" it in no way undermines my faith in God, or my belief in the astounding sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf. But I do have a problem with fundamentalists telling me this view is non-biblical or flawed. It would seem to me that the Bible affords many different readings, but it cannot be taken wholly as literal, any more than it can be taken wholly symbolic.

And who are we to put God in a box anyway? Is it fair for Christians to condemn others as hell bound? Is there a need to convert Catholics to Protestants, or Budhists to Christians, or agnostics to fundamentalists? Or should the emphasis, rather than "getting into heaven" be on how we manage our relationships while we are here on Earth?

What kind of Christian are you? Do you consider yourself "saved"? Why? Based on your baptism? Based on a profession of faith? Based on keeping the commandments? Based on your acts of loving kindness toward others?

The wish to be "saved" is the engine that drives many churches. It is the fuel that propels many Christians to be both very good people, and sometimes very "bad" people, depending on your point of view.

What is your view of Salvation?

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sex

I had run out of ideas for this site, but I was reading Ron's series on marriage over at Northern 'burbs Blog (specifically this post), and realized that we have not discussed sex here.

Most Conservative Christians (CC's) or Evangelicals are against premarital sex. I have found, however, that many Evangelicals are very open about their marital sex lives - much more so than non-Evangelicals. I have read comments on these sweet little Evangelical ladies' blogs that make me blush or at least think, "Eeeewwww! I didn't need to know that!"

So what's the deal with CC's pride in their sex lives? Is it because they feel that marital sex is completely righteous, and therefore of nothing to be ashamed?

Considering CC women's views on wifely duty to obey their husbands, do they feel that it is their duty to have sex whenever their husbands want it, whether they want it or not?

Here are some related Barna statistics regarding the public's vs. Evangelicals'* views on sexuality:

Non-married, opposite sex co-habitation is morally acceptable
Public: 60%
Evangelicals: 12%

Consenting gay sex is morally acceptable
Public: 30%
Evangelicals: 5%

Having a sexual fantasy is morally acceptable
Public: 59%
Evangelicals: 15%

Having an extramarital physical relationship with someone of the opposite sex is morally acceptable:
Public: 42%
Evangelicals: 7%

Viewing photos of nudity or sexual acts is morally acceptable:
Public: 38%
Evangelicals: 5%
________________

Having a satisfying sex life with a marriage partner is considered to be a very desirable future condition by 63% of the public and 66% of born again Christians (Barna source).

One-quarter (25%) of born again Christians** have co-habited. Among self-identified Christian who do not hold beliefs that classify them as "born agains," 37% have co-habited. Forty-two percent of adults who associate with a faith other than Christianity have co-habited, and 51% of atheists have co-habited (Barna source).

The following population segments are more likely than average to be married: evangelicals (86%); Republicans (72%); born again Christians (65%); Catholics (63%); whites (62%) (source same as above).

*Evangelical definition from Barna: "Evangelicals" are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; contending that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

**Born again Christian definition from Barna: "Born again Christians" were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.


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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Harry Business

by Jennifer

The release of J.K. Rowling’s latest book in the Harry Potter series last week stirred up the dust on a debate that’s been brewing ever since the boy wizard’s first appearance. Many conservative Christians believe Harry is nothing more than mouth-watering candy used by Satan to lure our children away from their faith in Jesus Christ. The satirical publication The Onion caused widespread panic when it published an article about Harry when he first flew onto the scene in 1997:

"I used to believe in what they taught us at Sunday School," said Ashley, a nine year old conjuring up an ancient spell to summon Cerebus, the three-headed hound of hell. "But the Harry Potter books showed me that magic is real, something I can learn and use right now, and that the Bible is nothing but boring lies."

"Harry is an absolute god send to our cause," said High Priest Egan of the First Church Of Satan in Salem, MA. "An organization like ours thrives on new blood (no pun intended) and we've had more applicants than we can handle lately. And, of course, practically all of them are virgins, which is gravy."

Most of the well-meaning, but ill-informed, Christians who fell for the article now realize it was satire. But many still insist that the danger of Pottermania is very much legitimate.

The Exposing Satanism website states:

“There are many books out about Witchcraft but none so cleverly packaged like the latest. Satan is up to his old tricks again and the main focus is the children of the world. The latest craze is a series of books by author J. K. Rowling, known as Harry Potter.”

Take A Stand Ministries says:

“...through the often subtle and occasionally overt occult practices carried out by characters in J.K. Rowling's series, there is a general dulling of the conscience concerning the occult. Through exposure and acceptance, readers slowly begin to view the occult in a favorable light, abandoning any thought about the very real and present danger that interaction with the occult realm can and does bring.”

I picked up these bits and pieces about Harry on a trip around the Christian blogosphere:

"I've encountered an increasing number of kids since the release of the Potter books who have become deluded into thinking they have magical powers."

"Harry Potter could very well be the poster child for Neo-paganism."

Many other mainline Christians have supported Harry, not only for the dramatic rise in children’s reading skills since the series began, but also for what they see as parallels to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several well-known Christian leaders, including Chuck Colson, have compared the books to Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, both of which carry an undercurrent of Christian beliefs.

In fact, according to a search on Wikipedia, J.K. Rowling is on record as a Christian who admires C.S. Lewis. She says she did not emphasize Christian ideals in the book because her goal was never to preach or dictate a philosophy of life, but to tell a story; besides, if she had, intelligent readers would be able to guess important plot details. She is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

I think I’ve pretty much established myself here as a moderate Christian, so it probably won’t be a shock that I have no problem with HP. Earlier this week, I posted an article on my blog in which I attempted to draw a parallel between the witch hunts of Salem, MA in 1692 (which began with young children reading a book), and those determined to vilify J.K. Rowling and her muse. (Notice how The Onion article quoted above places the First Church of Satan in Salem?)

To the non-Christians out there: What do you think about all this Harry business?

To the Christians who oppose Harry: What makes HP different from Narnia and LOTR, both of which contained occultic references and pagan symbology, invoking magic as well as fantasy?

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Friday, July 15, 2005

The Two Gods and Interpretation

There is a division in the Christian Bible: Old Testament and New Testament.

It seems that those who want to challenge Christians can easily begin by pointing out that the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament (plagues, floods, Joshua slaughtering an entire city) conflicts with Jesus' peaceful message (turn the other cheek, love your enemy) in the New Testament. Since Christians believe that Jesus IS God, how are the two conflicting portrayals reconciled?

I've noticed that conservative Christians (CC's) who study the Bible have the ability to interpret a passage to meet today's standard of understandability. I've rarely encountered a CC who will admit that the passages are out of cultural context for our day. And when they do occasionally admit it, I wonder: where does one draw the line between objective truth vs. an antiquated relativism?

If one is creative enough, he/she may explain away any sort of conflict in passages. (I know, some of you will say there are no conflicts...) How do you feel about creative interpretations? Is it fair to interpret the Bible rather than taking it at its face value?

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