One of the most important considerations prior to discussing anything is coming to an agreement as to the existence of truth. In an extremely relativistic society, one can’t just assume that truth is an agreed upon foundation. When coming to the discussion of materialistic atheism, both Christians and atheists would tend to agree that truth exists. To the atheist, truth is vital, as this truth is what guides lives, and this truth is what usurps God from his power as he no longer becomes a necessary explanation. It is by embracing science and its study of the natural laws and truths that we can fully know what is real and how we should act. In this way, atheists and Christians share much in common in their starting position, as both are rational positions. The major distinction lies in what evidence one allows based on certain presuppositions.
Rights are strange things. They're something which most people have not possessed throughout history. Women possessed few. Children possessed practically none. Minority groups and the lower class had few. Historically, rights just weren't recognized or given. Even today we see many groups who perceive that their rights are being infringed upon.
But as a Christian, I've struggled with this whole notion of rights. While I applaud the justice aspect of rights being received by all groups in society, I fear what such a fight has done to the church. It just seems a bit off when I see Christians mustering up fear and intensity around each election cycle, as we seek to ensure that our religious rights are secure. It seems strange to me that our personal rights or the rights of our church warrant our sacrificing of other moral requirements for political leaders, or the sacrificing of the rights of others so that our rights may be secured. The invocation of rights by Christians, especially in our politically charged climate, so often seems to be antithetical to the Bible, as we seek the sacrifice of others that we may not have to die to self.
[I wrote this article around 2010, and the thoughts and writing style may represent some of my early thinking. Nevertheless, I needed an article for this month and thought this may be worthwhile, and something to build on in the future.]
Perhaps one of the greatest problems the atheist worldview faces is the issue of the natural versus the unnatural. All of their subjective basis for morality and action (epicurianism, survival, or whatever they select) is based on nature. Nature causes us to feel pain, and pain is a feeling most would choose to abstain from. Likewise, pleasure is a feeling that humans tend to enjoy, so pleasure is generally accepted as a good thing. Morality, for the atheist, is based upon these natural things. This may not seem like an outright problem, but considering that evolution of our species is defined as a change over time, one begins to see that what is valued or valuable today may not be the standards and morality of tomorrow.
We have faced some significant and overt spiritual battles over the past few years. One of those battles involved us actually rebuking a demonic presence we perceived was oppressing our family. Upon our rebuke, the issues IMMEDIATELY (and I can't emphasize that word enough) stopped. Needless to say, for me - someone who is not very attuned to the immaterial/spiritual aspect of Christianity, that was a wake up call. It really got me thinking of the ubiquity of demons, principalities, powers, etc.
One of the big questions I had is whether or not evil spirits are able to hear our thoughts. Such an answer would be important for two reasons. First, if they can't hear our thoughts, then praying in my head, while useful and important to speak with my heavenly Father, is not a direct rebuke and confrontation of the evil spirit in my midst. To do battle, then, I should speak audibly. Second, if evil spirits cannot read my mind, then that may influence what I want to say out loud. There may be some fears and weaknesses I don't want to verbalize, which they could use to their advantage were they to know.
Photo from scop.io by Jose González Buenaposada
Communion is an extremely important event for Christians, or at least it should be. Jesus tells us that it’s something we ought to do in remembrance of him, and many faith traditions believe that there is a very real, but mystical means of grace which is manifested in the meal. Our church, and many other churches in our denomination, partake of communion weekly, as we strongly value the mystical bond of communion, not only in its binding of us to Christ, but in the way it binds the community together.
The New Testament takes communion very seriously as well. In fact, it is so serious that Paul viewed it as a life and death matter. In I Corinthians 11 Paul declares that some people have “fallen asleep,” (i.e. died) because they participated unworthily in communion. While most pastors don’t go around scaring people away from taking communion with the threat of death, most churches do remind partakers that the matter is considered a very serious one. In light of this, participants are often reminded and encouraged to examine themselves before God and repent of sins prior to taking communion. I think this is a great practice and a somber reminder to reflect on our lives and the work of God. However, it seems quite apparent that this concept of general reflection and general repentance misses much of the weight of Paul’s admonishment.
I grew up saturated in Western religious thought, which is something I didn't realize until relatively recently. But of course a fish doesn't realize she's in water until she's taken out, right? I only began to realize my bent when I started researching Eastern Orthodoxy prior to our move to Romania. I then realized how much of our beliefs are simply taken at face value, without ever exploring their foundations. One aspect of Western thought which was highlighted most significantly by a comparison to Orthodoxy is the juridical nature of our doctrines. Western thought is extremely juridical - which means it's very logical and law-like. You can tell you're immersed in that type of thinking if what I just said sounds like a positive to you, as that statement has little to no value in and of itself. In fact, there are a number of downsides to being juridical.
Bludgeoning with Peace and Purity
When news came out about Ravi Zacharias and his sexual predation, I was devastated, but not surprised. It's always heartbreaking to find out that someone you hold in high esteem is guilty of heinous evil, but history, experience, and my Christian worldview move me to expect that such things will occur. As Dr. Clay Jones says, these things aren't inhuman, they're what humans do. The state of humanity is not rainbows and butterflies, it's sin and wickedness. Without transformation and a community of accountability, sin has a tendency to work itself out to its final, hideous form of exploitation and destruction.
You won't be involved in mercy ministry too long before you come across this one particular term: "undeserving poor." A great deal of mercy ministry effort, at least in my experience, is often given not simply to help the poor, but in first making sure they deserve our help. Having participated in mercy ministry for some years now, I understand this position. When you have limited resources you want to ensure that you are using them where they will help the most and where they are needed. You also don't want to be known as a soft target - easy pickin'. And trust me, there are many who are out to take advantage of those willing to hand out resources.
Ethics has always fascinated me. While morality seems very clear to a large extent, it's easy to find conundrums and paradoxes when you look for them. I have no doubt in my mind that gray will always exist, but I also believe that we tend to do a bad job reflecting on morality. We often invoke mystery too easily, or we land on the side of whatever our moral preferences are in our given culture. I think we can often do better than either giving up or caving in to self-interest.
There are two things I particularly love about Reformed theology: its ability to drive one towards humility, and its emphasis on upholding the importance of doctrine. First, Reformed theology is perfectly equipped to drive one to humility through its doctrine - doctrine which demands introspection. The Reformed are well known for using the saying, "There but for the grace of God, go I." Due to the strong doctrine of total depravity, God's grace, and an understanding that our hearts are wicked and deceitful, Reformed believers have no grounds to be shocked when the most godly leader in the world falls, and no grounds to think that anyone is above any sin, even and especially oneself. There is a fear and trembling that Reformed doctrines should produce in our daily living, as well as a converse wonder and awe at the beautiful and extravagant grace of God. Reformed doctrines ought to drive us to humility..
Second, Reformed doctrines are equipped to drive us towards holding doctrine in high esteem. If humanity's problem is a looking to self and a forcing of God into the dark recesses of one's heart and mind, then the knowledge - the true and accurate knowledge of God and his son Jesus Christ, revealed in the Word, through the Spirit, ought to be core to our conversion and continued sanctification. Reformed faith should drive us to seek the knowledge of God in our theology, because right theology ought to cause us to become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the perfect image of God.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.