Monday, March 22, 2010

Are You One of the De-Churched?

Over at the Out of Ur blog, there's an interesting article about a new segment of Christianity that has been labeled and is currently being discussed in seminars all over Christendom.

For a while we've known about the churched and the unchurched. The churched are the ones who've got it right and their mission is to bring the unchurched into both a saving relationship with Jesus, and a tithing relationship with the local church.

But there is now a new group: the De-Churched. These are people who were at one point involved in a local assembly, but have left the conventional structure of church and are now experiencing God in a different way.

Now, don't get all judgmental; sheathe your Sword of Rebuke. They've not abandoned the faith and they haven't forsaken the assembling of themselves together, they're just burnt out on the church machine and they're doing it a different way.

This article over at Out of Ur explores several different reasons people are leaving the church in alarming numbers. First, referencing the below video of Mark Chandler, pastor of the Village Church near Dallas, the exodus of young people is attributed to:

. . . the proclamation (explicitly or implicitly) of a false gospel of "moralistic deism." This understanding of the Christian life says that if you obey God's rules he will bless you with what you desire. This represents a form of the prosperity gospel . . . The problem arises when God's blessing doesn't come-or doesn't come in the form we want. Divorce, illness, poor grades, failed relationship-virtually any hardship has the potential to destroy one's faith in Christ and the church that represents him. So, according to Chandler, people walk away. They enter the ranks of the de-churched.

The article goes on to explore other reasons why so many of the churched are becoming the de-churched:

These Christians have simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it's become a drain on time, resources, and energy. It feels like a black hole with a gravitation pull so strong that not even the light of the gospel can escape its organizational appetite.

I'd love to know your thoughts.

So, what are these de-churched people doing to express and grow their faith? In the next post we'll look at the burgeoning Simple Church movement.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Skeptic Month: Hey, Babe, Shut Your Pie Hole!

Continuing with the skeptic theme here at Pastor Kip, we come now to a very uncomfortable section for the conservative fundamentalist: the issue of a woman's place in the church. According to the critic, this one issue deals a serious blow to the Bible's claim to both relevancy and inerrancy.

The Declaration
In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the Apostle Paul clearly states that he does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man, She must be silent and learn in quietness and full submission. Paul remains consistent on this teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, going so far as to say it is "disgraceful for a woman to speak in church."

The main reason for the woman's subordinate role, and a passage that you'll rarely hear preached on, is that, while man was created in the image and glory of God, woman wasn't. She is the glory of man. This according to 1 Corinthians 11:7-9.

As you can imagine, this ruffles quite a few mother hen feathers.

The Response
The Biblical inerrancy crowd has several different reactions to this one. Some take it for what it says and do not allow women to hold authority over men in a church. It's fine for them to change diapers, run the children's ministry, and oversee the activities of the Women's Auxiliary, but their privilege of service ends there.

Then there are those more progressive types who teach that Paul's admonition isn't applicable today since it dealt with a situation specific to the culture at that time. Women, emboldened by the liberation given to them by Christianity and apparently insensitive to the most basic sense of decorum, had begun to ask questions of their husbands in the midst of the church service. This was distracting to say the least, since (according to some sources) men and women were seated on opposite sides of the room, the questions had to be shouted across the aisle.

Then there are the liberals who teach that, ages ago, church officials actually changed the language in the Bible in order to subjugate women. They claim that wherever the word "man" is used in this context, it should more appropriately be translated "husband". In other words, Paul was merely setting forth the order of accountability in a Christian home, not the administration of church leadership. I sat under a pastor who taught this, and I asked him if he was bothered that this might bring the whole authority of Scripture into question. He admitted that it was a risk, but he felt it was worth it to correct the teaching.

The Critic's Response to the Responses
The first response is both the least acceptable and the most honest. These people teach the inerrancy of Scripture and are determined to follow every jot and tittle in spite of social and political objections. And why shouldn't they? They are following the word of God.

The second response of cultural differences must then concede that, at least on this issue, the Scriptures do not apply to this day and time. In other words, the infallible word of God has failed to be relevant to our culture.

The third response is the most damaging to the integrity of the Scriptures. The preacher who holds to this teaching - that the Bible has been vitiated by human bias - has seriously weakened his ability to teach anything from Scripture with any authority. He cannot honestly claim to believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

Finally, not one of these last two responses deals with the basic reason Paul gave for the woman's subordinate role: she was created subordinate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Skeptic Month: Giants, Josephus, and More Giants

Here at Pastor Kip we’re continuing on with Skeptic Month. Today we’re looking at a remarkable event described in the book of Genesis that critics say gives credence to the idea that the Bible is on a par with other ancient books of mythology.

In Genesis 6 we’re told that the Nephilim were on the earth in the days of Noah. Nephilim is rendered in some translations (such as the revered KJV) as “giants”. We’re also told that the sons of God were attracted to the daughters of men and had children with them. These children became “. . . heroes of old, men of great renown”.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Sounds a lot like Greek mythology, doesn’t it? We learned in school that the Greek storytellers told of how the gods intermarried with humans and had children by them, and we call those children “heroes”.

Hercules was a hero – son of the god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene.

Now, Christian apologists like to quote the Jewish historian Josephus as an extra-Biblical source proving the existence of Jesus, because he mentions Jesus twice in his work Antiquities of the Jews. It bears mentioning that one of those references (called the Testimonium Flavianum) is highly suspect because it makes overtly Messianic proclamations that Josephus did not espouse.

But did you know that Josephus also mentions Hercules? Yep, three times in fact – here are the references: 1.15; 8.5.3; and 10.11.1. Now, to be fair, one of those (8.5.3) is a reference to the temples of Hercules, but the other two speak of Hercules as a historical figure.

You’ll hear many sermons quoting Josephus on Jesus, but you’ll never hear an evangelical preacher mention Josephus’s references to Hercules. Why? Because it makes it easy to argue that Jesus is on the same level as Hercules. If, as it is sometimes alleged, Hercules was a true historical figure around whom many mythologies were constructed, why couldn’t the same be said about Jesus?

And what about those giants? We’re told in Genesis 7:21 that all creatures other than Noah and his family were annihilated in the flood, but then these giants show back up in Numbers 13:33. Where did these Nephilim come from?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Skeptic Month: Holy Postpartum Discrepancies!

Only two of the Gospels record Jesus’ birth – Matthew and Luke. They come at the story from different perspectives and there are no real problems between the two, until we read about the events that came after the birth.

In Matthew’s account, there is some major stuff going on! The wise men come to see the child in Bethlehem, and are warned in a dream to not return to Herod because he’s planning an outrage of epic proportions. Likewise, Joseph is told to take his family and flee to Egypt because Herod is looking to destroy the child.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt and Herod slaughters all the male children under two years old in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. Once Herod dies, Joseph and his family return to Nazareth. Matthew points out that this was done so that the word of the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

In Luke’s account, Jesus is circumcised eight days after the birth and they remain in the area of Jerusalem for about forty days (to complete the time of purification) and then they take Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Nazareth and the child ". . . grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."

No dramatic flight to Egypt. No devastating slaughtering of the children.

Why the difference? Did Luke simply choose to leave out a few major details because he didn’t consider them germane to his purpose in writing the story? Or was he ignorant of the additional stories in Matthew?

Are they reconcilable? Or are these just two versions of the same myth?

To understand what's going on this month at Pastor Kip, click here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Skeptic Month: Jesus' Jumbled Genealogy

We are in the midst of Skeptic Month here at Pastor Kip. The first two challenges we dealt with (here and here) were extraordinary events to say the least, but they could be explained away as being miracles. I’d like to shift gears now and deal with some direct contradictions and alleged inconsistencies that bolster the skeptic’s claim that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God.

The first we’ll consider is the problem of Jesus’ lineage. This is an important issue with Christianity because, in order to lay claim to being the Messiah, Jesus had to have descended from the royal lineage of David. So, both Matthew and Luke determine to lay out the foundation of Jesus' ancestry.

Problem is, they don’t match. And it’s not even close.

Both genealogies trace Jesus’ ancestry from Joseph back to David. In Matthew 1:17, Jacob begat Joseph and there are 28 generations from David to Jesus. In Luke 3, Joseph is the son of Heli and there are 43 generations from David to Jesus.

The conventional fundamentalist wisdom is that the genealogy in Luke is best seen as being the lineage traced through Mary, even though Mary is not mentioned. This is explained away as typical Jewish misogyny – women weren’t normally mentioned in genealogies – and where Joseph is said to be the son of Heli, it could just as easily mean son-in-law of Heli in the original language.

That’s all well and good, except it is traditionally agreed that Luke was a Gentile writing to Gentiles. Would he be so careful to observe Jewish tradition in this manner and risk confusing his Gentile audience? Moreover, Matthew was most definitely Jewish and was writing to Jews to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah – and his genealogy mentions four different women.

And that still doesn’t address the issue of the dramatically different numbers of generations.

In the notes on this passage, the venerable Believer’s Bible Commentary offers this advice:
What attitude should the Bible student take toward these difficulties and seeming discrepancies?

First, our foundational premise is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Therefore, it cannot contain errors.

Second, it is infinite because it reflects the infinity of the Godhead. We can understand the fundamental truths of the Word, but we can never fully comprehend all there is in it.

So, our approach to these difficulties leads us to conclude that the problem lies in our lack of knowledge rather than in the Bible's fallibility.

Basically, there are two rules when it comes to Bible difficulties:
  1. It’s the Bible and it’s inerrant.
  2. If you happen to stumble upon an error or contradiction, see rule 1 and stop thinking about it, reprobate.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Skeptic Month: Jesus and the Zombies

Continuing on with the theme of Skeptic Month, here’s a hard one for even the most die-hard fundamentalist to defend.

According to Matthew 27:51-53, upon Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection graves around Jerusalem were, ". . . opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised."

And this wasn’t just some secretive act of necromancy carried out in the dark of night. Verse 53 tells us that these disinterred patriarchs then took their party into the holy city and appeared to many. Wow.

Now, this is hard to believe. But even if you chalk it up to an incredible miracle, don’t you think there’d be some extra-biblical source out there to corroborate this? Wouldn’t the Christian’s favorite historian Josephus have something to say about it? But, no, there is nothing outside of these three verses to verify this extraordinary event. Not even another mention anywhere else in the Bible!

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t exist, or that he wasn’t an influential figure in human history. The point is that the biblical account of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is suspect at best. And while it may contain some historical facts, the story (along with all of Scripture) is vitiated by mythology and human bias.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Skeptic Month: Does the Bible Contain Mythologies?

Is the Bible made up of mythology?

This is a common criticism: the Bible does contain certain historical and geological truths – often proven by archaeology, but it also comprises a significant amount of wild stories and mythologies.

This is noteworthy because a lot of Christian doctrine is based on these narratives. Pastors guide their congregations based on principles learned from these ancient stories, and these exhortations are given authority because they are assumed to have come from the word of God.

But, the critic would ask, what if they didn’t come from God? What if they are simply man-made stories passed on through generations until someone wrote them down? What if we are being led by nothing more than a collection of fables?
Case in point: Joshua, the Amorites, and the Sun.

The tenth chapter of the book of Joshua tells about the battle between Joshua and the Amorites. After all the warfare and a miraculous hailstorm (that kills off a bunch of the Amorites but apparently misses the Israelites), there is just not enough time in the day for all the God-ordained killing. Joshua orders the sun to stand still and we are told that the sun stood in the midst of heaven, “and did not hasten to go down for about a day.” The moon, we are told, also stood still – apparently to preserve the natural order of things. We can’t have the moon gallivanting around while the sun is in timeout, now can we?

Okay, quick show of hands: how many out there would say, “I have no trouble believing that the God of Miracles could stop the sun as it traveled about the heavens”?

Wow, there are a lot of you out there!

Okay now, those of you who raised your hands, how many of you understand that the sun doesn’t actually travel anywhere? You do realize that the sun stands still and the earth revolves around it, right?

And now the million-dollar question: Doesn’t the geocentric nature of this story reveal that it was created by man? Certainly an all-knowing, creator God would have gotten this little detail correct.

Now, Christians dismiss this pretty flippantly by saying that it was simply told from man’s perspective and is no more damaging to the veracity of the Scriptures than the weather man’s giving the time of today’s sunrise and sunset is damaging to the science of meteorology.

Fine. But then you're left with the idea that in the Joshua story, God actually stopped the earth’s rotation for about a day! Are you comfortable with that? Do you realize what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning? One astronomer has imagined that very scenario:

Earth is rotating at a speed of about 1100 miles per hour. If our planet suddenly stopped rotating, the atmosphere would still be in motion at that speed. The atmosphere would be moving so fast it would literally sweep the land masses clear of anything not anchored to bedrock, this would mean rocks, soil, trees, buildings, people and animals. All would be swept up into the atmosphere.

Now, you can still say that God is the all-powerful, creator and sustainer of all things, and by Him all things hold together. If He so ordained that the earth should stop its natural course of action, He is more than able to maintain everything as it should be.

But, the laws of nature are important; we often explain away such natural disasters as earthquakes and hurricanes by blaming them on the natural laws of creation. Cold air mass meets warm air mass and trouble ensues – because that’s the way God designed it. And if it is to be believed that God is so cavalier about upsetting the natural order of the universe, why did He bother to include the little detail about the moon stopping as well? Either He was concerned about that, or the person who made up the story was . . .

In his excellent study Bible, John MacArthur says that this story, ". . . is best accepted as an outright, monumental miracle", and therein lies the problem for many. When the Christian literalist's back is finally pushed to the wall, he's left with the simple, feckless assertion that God did it, which reduces the power of God to an absurd deus ex machina.

How do you respond to this criticism?
To understand what's going on this month at Pastor Kip, click here.