On Tuesday, April 25th, we began a new bible following the structure of a book by Pastor Tim Keller called "The Reason for God." About 30 people were in attendance, and we had a lively conversation about how choosing to have faith in God not only opens the possibility of eternal life in Christ but is the only thing that makes sense in this broken world.
We discussed the book's introduction that says that "there is a great gulf today between what is popularly known as liberalism and conservatism. Each side demands that you not only disagree with but disdain the other as (at best) crazy or (at worst) evil. This is particularly true when religion is the point at issue. Progressives cry out that fundamentalism is growing rapidly and nonbelief is stigmatized. They point out that politics has turned toward the right, supported by mega-churches and mobilized orthodox believers. Conservatives endlessly denounce what they see as an increasingly skeptical and relativistic society. Major universities, media companies, and elite institutions are heavily secular, they say, and they control the culture. Which is it? Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today? The answer is Yes."
One true fact remains, "The world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time." As citizens of this broken world, "We have come to a cultural moment in which both skeptics and believers feel their existence is threatened because both secular skepticism and religious faith are on the rise in significant, powerful ways. We have neither the Western Christendom of the past nor the secular, religionless society that was predicted for the future. We have something else entirely." so this class is giving, at the very least, a safe and nurturing environment for us to begin addressing this concern.
The introduction had another fascinating idea of embracing doubt, not as an evil thing to avoid but as an access door that provides access to more of God. Pastor Tim says, "A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection." Further more, Pastor Tim says "Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends' and neighbors'. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt."
After considering the introduction for most of the class, we talked about chapters one and two, respectively.
Chapter one addresses the statement, "There Cant be Just One True Religion" which most of the unchurch struggle with. Many people who don't believe in Christ struggle with Christianity's boastfulness, which we must overcome. This was a question for all of us.
What is your biggest problem with Christianity? What troubles you the most about its beliefs or how it is practiced? One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity.
"If Christians continue to insist that they have 'the truth' –and if other religions do this as well—the world will never know peace." - #3
"If Christians are right about Jesus being God, then Muslims and Jews fail in a serious way to love God as God really is, but if Muslims and Jews are right that Jesus is not God but rather a teacher or prophet, then Christians fail in a serious way to love God as God really is." – #4
One student insisted that what mattered was to believe in God and to be a loving person yourself.
It is widely believed that one of the main barriers to world peace is religion, and especially the major traditional religions with their exclusive claims to superiority.
Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slippery slope in the heart. Each religion informs its followers that they have "the truth," and this naturally leads them to feel superior to those with differing beliefs. Also, a religion tells its followers that they are saved and connected to God by devotedly performing that truth. This moves them to separate from those who are less devoted and pure in life. Therefore, it is easy for one religious group to stereotype and caricature other ones. Once this situation exists it can easily spiral down into the marginalization of others or even to active oppression, abuse, or violence against them. - #4-5
Once we recognize how religion erodes peace on Earth, what can we do about it?
There are three approaches that civic and cultural leaders around the world are using to address the divisiveness of religion. There are calls to
Outlaw religion, -- not more peace and harmony, but more oppression… Religion is not just a temporary thing that helped us adapt to our environment. Rather it is a permanent and central aspect of the human condition.
Condemn religion, or at least to – Elevate or diminish everyone to the same virtue. Elephant story… there is someone who know is a whole elephant. There are more than a few concepts to consider.
Radically privatize it.
How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?
There is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth it is in fact an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to [all others]…We have to ask: "What is the [absolute] vantage ground from which you claim to be able to relativize all the absolute claims these different scriptures make?" #9
At the end, of this Chapter. Tim estates that Christianity has the power to saved the world. He says... "chapter I outlined the "slippery slope" that every religion tends to set up in the human heart. This slippery slope leads all too easily to oppression. However, within Christianity—robust, orthodox Christianity—there are rich resources that can make its followers agents for peace on earth. Christianity has within itself remarkable power to explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart." So this means that rather than boastfulness about the certainity that we have in Christ, we need to push for "To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8 --- because "Christianity has within itself remarkable power to explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart." So let us practice humbleness, and we pursue a more intimate and purposeful relationship with God.
Then we addressed chapter two, and the question " How could a good God allow suffering?" Keller explains that suffering is a result of the Fall, or original sin, and that God allows it as a means of discipline and refinement for God's people. Tim also states that God entered into our suffering through Jesus Christ, and that we can find hope and comfort in his love and presence in the midst of our pain. Ultimately, Keller suggests that our understanding of God's goodness must come not from a naïve belief in his protection from suffering but from a deep trust in his sovereignty and redemptive plan for the world.
Tim says "Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order."
He also states "Horrendous, inexplicable suffering, though it cannot disprove God, is nonetheless a problem for the believer in the Bible. However, it is perhaps an even greater problem for nonbelievers. C. S. Lewis described how he had originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty of life. Then he came to realize that evil was even more problematic for his new atheism. In the end, he realized that suffering provided a better argument for God’s existence than one against it."
"In short, the problem of tragedy, suffering, and injustice is a problem for everyone. It is at least as big a problem for nonbelief in God as for belief. It is therefore a mistake, though an understandable one, to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle." anyhow "Though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.
At the end, Tim closes the chapter with this "The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater."