Is it reasonable to believe in God? If there is a God, how do we go about getting to know him / her / them? Has science ruled out the possibility that God exists?
These are a few of the questions that people who are seeking tend to ask. When someone is seriously asking these questions it is helpful to gently and lovingly point out their blind spots so they are able to see all the possibilities.
The Ignorance of Tolerance
Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesterton
Tolerance is a desirable virtue. Someone who is tolerant is someone who is peaceful and respectful of other’s beliefs and values.
However, we can be peaceful and respectful and still point out flaws. In fact, it is a loving thing to point out that it is a bad thing to harm yourself or others in the name of religion, for example.
Most people simply go along with tolerance as an ideal because it is the foundation of our society (when it comes to various religions) because it is the path of least resistance.
You know the story of the blind men and the elephant right?
A king asks six blind men to determine what they are touching by feeling different parts of an elephant’s body. One blind man feels a leg and says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a pipe.
Then the king explains to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.”
What’s wrong with this story?
This story is told to indicate the truth that can be found in all religions. Any religion that makes exclusive truth claims (such as, “Jesus is the only way to God”) should learn from this parable and be more tolerant of other religions.
I can think of at least three problems with this parable (If this comes across as being intolerant of foolishness, so be it.):
I will never smile like this at the dentist
I hate the dentist’s office.
Notice I said I hate the office and not the dentist. My dentist seems very nice. I’m pretty sure she didn’t become a dentist so that she could torture me.
That’s just a guess.
All I know is the dentist’s office is the hardest place on earth for me to be like Jesus. Of course, that’s assuming we could know how he would act since I’m pretty sure he never had to endure a cleaning or a root canal.
For my part, I generally walk into the dentist’s office grumpy and it usually just gets worse from there.
The last time I went to the dentist’s office, the visit was especially frustrating. I got there 15 minutes early and they finally called me in 20 minutes late. I thought I had allotted enough time for some other things I needed to do that morning but the chances of me getting out of the dentist’s office in a timely manner were looking grim right from the start. (There’s always somewhere else I need to be when I’m at the dentist’s office.)
So I’m grumpy. I’m annoyed. And to top it off, when I’m finally brought in, it’s a dental assistant that I haven’t met. It’s always amazing to me how they can ask questions to try and get to know you when it’s impossible to answer:
“Where are you from?”
But it never stops them from asking more questions.
And then it happens. The dreaded question that’s going to make me feel guilty for the rest of the week:
Me: "I've seen lots of movies. I must be relevant!". Hermione: "Huh?"
Is Christianity still relevant in a postmodern and pluralistic culture?
A lot of Christians pride themselves on how relevant they are. They do their best to understand and empathize with our culture.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are misguided in their attempts to become more relevant. They watch lots of movies, wear the right clothes, sip expensive lattes, and immerse themselves in CNN and the New York Times thinking they’ve cracked the cultural code.
I love what Ed Stetzer says about “being missional”. He said, “Seems like everyone wants to be missional but when they say “missional” they really mean “edgy,” “innovative,” or “contemporary.”
We should connect with our culture but how do we do so with Biblical and personal integrity? Let’s look at three ways we think we are connecting (but aren’t) and one way to truly connect.
Three ways you might think you are connecting with culture, but probably aren’t
1. You are watching what they are watching
Watch more movies, that’s the answer! Right? TV and movies are like windows into the minds of our neighbors. They must be gifts from God!
That might’ve been a bit sarcastic but pop culture does have some value. Movies like Religulous show us how Christianity is perceived (or caricatured) and points out some of our own faults. Movies like Napolean Dynamite generate a cult following. TV shows often influence the way our culture thinks about sex and relationships.
Book Review: The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind by Alister McGrath (InterVarsity Press)
Atheists think that Christians are intellectually dim.
Sometimes they are right.
In Passionate Intellect, Alister McGrath does an amazing job of helping Christians step up their game while simultaneously debunking the myth that Christianity is unreasonable.
I highly recommend this book! McGrath gives you six chapters on the purpose, place and relevance of Christian theology. Then, he turns to actually confronting various issues such as how we should think about science, atheism, and creation and evolution.
The following excerpt is just one of the many ways McGrath shows his superior rhetorical skills. In this section, he exposes and demolishes the arrogance of the new atheists who claim to be more “enlightened” than 90% of the world who believe in God. In fact, for awhile they even tried to get people to refer to them as “Brights”. Here is how McGrath responds:
Timothy Tennent is the president of Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of Theology in the Context of World Christianity. I had him for a class on World Missions in 2007 when he was still a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
I’m including some of the highlights from a lecture he presented on the 7 Megatrends Affecting Global Missions in the 21st Century:
1st Megatrend: The Collapse of Christendom
› For the longest time, Christianity was at the center of American culture. It was socially acceptable and sometimes even profitable to be Christian in our society. In the 21st century, however, Christianity will move more and more towards the periphery.
› Hendrik Kraemer said, “The Church is always in a state of crisis; its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it.”
› We are moving from a state of belief to a state of unbelief.
› We are moving from a denominational to a global identity. Being Presbyterian or Methodist is not as important today.
2nd Megatrend: The Rise of Postmodernism
› There are theological, cultural, and ecclesiastical crises that arise from postmodernism. People no longer believe that truth is true. The power of the word is lost for most people. For a preacher who believes that God has revealed Himself through words, this is a dangerous mindset.
3rd Megatrend: The Collapse of “the West Reaches the Rest” Paradigm
› The emergence of a Post-Christian West (4,200 people are leaving the Christian faith per day in Western countries).
› The emergence of a Post-Western Christianity (In non-Western cultures, Christianity is blossoming, for example, in Africa alone Christianity gains about 24,000 new members per day!)