The Incredible Shrinking Church

church

I’ve been listening to an audio book called “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” by Christopher Hitchens.

Don’t get too nervous. It takes a lot to shake a belief system. I think it’s healthy to challenge mine, doing what I can to get into the minds of people that see the world through a different lens, developing more respect and empathy for others, opening the door to more effective conversations in the future.

Hitchens’s book basically tries to prove that God is an invention of man, and not the other way around. It shows how, historically, organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and bigotry, invested in ignorance, hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women, coercive toward children, and sectarian.”

No wonder American churches are shrinking.  

Some have tried to validate traditional Christianity while holding to a postmodern mindset, filtering their entire faith through Christ’s statement in Matthew 22:36-40:

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.  

A statement like this must be taken seriously. This is Jesus, someone who claimed unity with the very God that spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai. If anyone could say that love was at the heart of the Mosaic Law, despite all of its bizarre rituals and prohibitions, it would be Jesus.

Also, the disciple that knew Jesus best, the same one that claimed that Jesus was the Creator and Judge of all mankind, was the same disciple that simply stated: “God is love.”

Jesus resisted the proud and gave grace to the humble. He challenged social norms, healing people on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, speaking with a Samaritan woman, forgiving an adulterer, and washing his disciples’ feet. He used his power to heal and feed others. He spoke the truth, even when his listeners were bothered or offended by it.

This approach to Christianity seems like a perfect way to harmonize traditional faith with the trends of modern culture, giving the Church some real credibility with millennials.

But Jesus would not fit exactly with our postmodern culture. He rarely spoke against the abuses of government. He made no mention of slavery, which was rampant at the time. He even told one Samaritan woman that her people were like the dogs that eat crumbs from the table of the Jews, God’s chosen nation.

This “us and them” mentality is a core Biblical theme that will always be at odds with some of the contemporary movements that try to blur these kinds of distinctions, resisting the concept of sin, divine law and ultimate judgment.

You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. Deut. 14:2

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world.” John 15:18-19

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. II Cor. 6:17

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. I Peter 2:9

There is no way around it. If we want to be true to Scripture, we have to embrace the concept of God’s people being set apart from everyone else, while also embracing the reality of a God that is, as Jesus claimed and demonstrated, meek and humble in heart, wishing for all people to come to him.

Historically, God’s people have embraced this reality in two very different ways:

#1: Love for Self  

We’re chosen, you’re damned. We’re special, you’re not. We’re right, you’re wrong. We’re good, you’re bad.

Can all of the atrocities done in the name of God throughout history, including the murder of Jesus, be traced to this one thing?

#2: Love for Others

When God set Abraham apart to start his new redemptive program, he gave him this promise:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Gen. 12:2-3

One doesn’t have to search the original Hebrew to recognize that God wanted to use his new nation as a blessing to the world, not to create a nation of entitled narcissists, though it’s easy to see why God’s favor would draw his people in that direction.

To believe in the Bible is to believe in a Creator. And to believe in a Creator is to believe that this world and everything in it was made to function in a certain way. Anything that functions in a different way can be considered wrong. Or, to use more religious words, sinful or unrighteous.

It’s not personal. It’s just the Biblical worldview.

After God chose Israel, he set them apart from the other nations with certain moral and social laws. Some of the more bizarre laws and rituals could only be understood when Jesus came, turning shadow into substance, transitioning his redemptive program from a biologically-based nation to a spiritual and global kingdom. The moral laws would stand, affirming God’s desire for a just and harmonious society, one that was managed by an indwelling Spirit, not an impossible Law Code.

Bottom line?

God did not choose a certain group of people because he wanted them to feel special and to lord over others. He set his people apart so that they could lay aside their own rights and opinions, and allow God to work in and through them for the sake of the world.

Just like Jesus.

6 thoughts on “The Incredible Shrinking Church

  1. You’re listening to the good stuff! 🙂 LOL I can hear my mother right now: “Christopher Hitchens! Oh no, not one of those worldly wise men!” A reference to Pilgrims Progress.

    So you’re saying segregation and racism is permissible and acceptable as long as you believe in YHWH? That’s the point with this post right? Deut. 14:2 is absolutely referring to genetics not just some high spiritual concept.

    “It’s not personal. It’s just the Biblical worldview.” Is about the most calloused thing I’ve heard in awhile. And I know you’re a super tender heart. This could be the mantra as they killed their way into the promised land. Or as they kill to get there land back today. Or as we kill for them? Is it STILL their promised land, inside this Biblical worldview?

    Your highlighting by the way you’ve written your post the problem with there being an OT God aka YHWH and a NT God aka Jesus. Can we look at them separate? If you’ve seen me (Jesus) you’ve seen the Father (YHWH), DOES NOT mean if you’ve seen YHWH you’ve seen Jesus.

    It’s interesting that no one in the old testament referred to God as love. I wonder why? Hmmm… But John also calling Jesus the “creator” kinda puts Jesus on the hook for being the ‘Meanie” YHWH or at least guilty by association. But Jesus gave hints at being guilty, of being a meanie, when he called the Samaritan a “dog”. Try referring to the only black guy in the room as a dog. Then say “sorry bro it’s just a biblical worldview”. Hahahaha I’ve got a camera to watch that go down!

    As you know your post focuses on the NT version of God. Because he fits much better with America 2016. I also like that version of God far better.

    You said: “…turning shadow into substance, transitioning his redemptive program from a biologically-based nation to a spiritual and global kingdom. The moral laws would stand…”

    So you’re saying YHWH no longer cares about those specific genetics and no longer that specific dirt? He’s good with the moral laws, but cool with the physical stuff being put away? That’s why Jesus never celebrated any of the Holidays or followed any of the physical rules set down by YHWH right?

    Segregation and racism directly lead to war.

    Is war good or bad? (Insert one word answer here ____ ) Did you have to actually weigh that answer up? What does your heart tell you right off? Let me help you, WAR IS BAD. Will you really going to explain to me some carve outs where it “could” be good?

    How does war fit into the concept of loving your neighbor as yourself? It doesn’t. The core human drive is self preservation.

    Christopher Hitchens is correct: It is a fact that one aspect of the God spoken of in the bible is: “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and bigotry, invested in ignorance, hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women, coercive toward children, and sectarian.”

    I take it to be filled by that version of God would lead to those kinds of behaviors in his people. Isn’t that exactly what we see? Seems like it’s working out just as it should. An apple tree bears apples. Why are Christians wound up about this NOT being so? Because it goes against their internal hard wiring? Of course it does.

    When did YHWH say “I am not, any of those above mentioned things?” He didn’t say that, and wouldn’t say that.

    If a person disagrees with that they haven’t studied their bible.

    Thanks for writing about a hot button topic of mine!

    Sorry mom, but hey “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old…” right? Im nearly 40, so maybe the “departing from it” is coming to an end? 🙂

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    • Steve!

      So many thoughts, so little time. For the record, I knew that you would enjoy this one, and I knew what you would say, though I didn’t know if you would actually weight in. I’m glad you did.

      Obviously we can agree that war is bad, but sometimes it is necessary for the greater good. I don’t think the Bible would disagree with that. The book begins and ends in a garden with social harmony and prosperity. But what immediately follows the Fall and precedes the new earth is bloodshed.

      Isn’t bloodshed what it took to remove legalized slavery from this nation. Or would it have been better to just skip the Civil War?

      As I was listening to Hitchens (which reminded me of our conversations, by the way) I knew that he was being sincere, straightforward and unapologetic about his perceived dangers of faith, and the need for a new, faith-free enlightenment. But I disagreed with so much of his opinion on the textual criticism of the Bible and the unreliability of all spiritual experiences, because he approached the issue with a clear bias, which he explained and supported, throwing all religion into the same bucket.

      Clearly, I have a bias as well, based on my own study and experiences. I think there is plenty of room to push back at the objections that seem so clear to skeptics and atheists.

      There is ONE concept that speaks to this issue that I have never been able to express in this blog because it is much too large, and maybe a little boring to people that already believe, or too ridiculous to people that don’t.

      However, I think I might be able to make it interesting, so I plan to try starting a series of related posts in January. I hope you keep reading . . . .

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  2. Bro!

    I love the back and forth. Your flagging over and over why I have a problem with all of this. In a roundabout way you and I agree (we want peace and love), but you feel you have to keep Gods feelings and desires as explained by the bible. I just don’t feel comfortable believing in Him as the bible describes Him. I know that killing is wrong no matter what. If God wants people dead he can do it himself. He doesn’t need you and me or any other person.

    First off, there is NO acceptable reason for war EVER. When you use all caps it really gets the point across! lol The problem with faiths and religions is that they hold out that for some reason God would justify killing each other. THAT IS A HUGE AWEFUL PROBLEM FOR HUMANITY. Because if our God thinks killings ok then dont we need to respect that their God may think its ok too? Oh yea were the ones with the right God so we know the right people that need to die.

    You said: “Some times its necessary for the greater good.” Thats the weakest justification ever. Sometimes I slap my wife because Im the head of my home and it works a “greater good”. See how off putting that felt? Thats just slapping ones wife, how much more killing hundreds to millions? Ugh… man, NEVER OK. Besides if God wants death let him do his dirty work. According to the bible he’s more than capable.

    You mentioned it was needed to fix slavery. American slavery?! Your beautiful tender heart feels “all slavery” is wrong, so of course American slavery should be included in that. But, perfect example of the bibles unacceptable and contrary logic.

    As you know the ONLY slavery God, as described in the bible, cares about is if it has to do with his chosen genetic group. All others He’s cool with being slaves. Black people typically aren’t Jews. So, are you really going to tell me God supported or would call for blood shed to end slavery in America?

    There is a HUGE danger with faith and this logic. You (and others like you) are teaching your children that for some certain reasons killing is ok. Even more scary is killing is ok based on faith. Under this logic all I need to justify killing is to listen to that “still small voice” SUPER DANGEROUS. Doesn’t the news call those people terrorists? Wouldn’t you rather live in a world where it was never ok? How can we make that happen?

    Again just out of curiosity does the God of the Universe still have specific desires towards a few square hundred miles on this planet? Yes/No

    Does this same God have special plans and promises with a certain genetic group on this planet? Yes/No

    Does this same God have very specific physical rituals and living requirements that he requires of his chosen genetic group? Yes/No

    Here are the correct answers: NO, NO, NO
    Here are the bibles answers: YES. YES, YES
    I would very much like to hear your answers: ____, ____, ____

    Just for the record bro I love you super much. I feel we both want the same thing. Peace and love and all the juicy fruit of the spirit. LOL

    I know that when I stand in front of God Im going to have to answer for my beliefs. Im fairly confident that I will not be too shy telling him I never bought into thinking He would be ok with killing, racism or anything of the sort. The problem is not with God its with the writers of His guide book. But, maybe he’ll surprise me and tell me “no son I was whispering in your ear to kill a bunch of people, you just never listened” uhh, super doubt that! 🙂

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    • I doubt that as well.

      I would have to assume that you’re talking about Abraham and Isaac, because I can’t think of any other place where God asks one of his people to break one of the commandments, and go kill another person. Obviously, Abraham was confused and conflicted, but did as we was told, foreshadowing and anticipating one of the greatest moments of history, the sacrifice of God’s own Son for the salvation of the world. And Isaac was spared, just like the rest of us.

      Did God have the right to ask something like that of Abraham? If we’re still talking about it in 2016, then yes!

      I have so much more to say on this issue, but I know that I’d be wasting time, and we can talk about it later. Instead, I thought I’d mention another audiobook I just finished.

      It’s called, “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs.

      This secular guy with a secular worldview decided to take a year and try to live by all the laws of the Bible, even the crazy ones (stoning adulterers and gays, not touching menstruating women, etc.) just to see what would happen. He entered the experiment with a half-smile on his face, looking for any value or validity he could find without being too gullible.

      In listening to the CD’s, I noticed that perspective makes a big difference when we approach the Bible. I’m a believer, so I will tend to defend the Scriptures and the character of God trying not to be a fool in the process. This guy was just exploring with an open mind, seeing what he could find, so his book was not half as hostile as Hitchens’s, who sees religion as hostile to the free world.

      Reading the Bible through a certain lens can certainly influence how we feel about what we’re reading.

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  3. I have added “The Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs. to my Goodreads.com to read list. Sounds very interesting and I look forward to reading it. I love your thoughts. Keep up the great work!

    Like

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