Archive for the ‘Culture’ category

Of Church Heretics and Heroes

April 16, 2019

The Tyndale Monument, Gloucestershire, UK was built in honor of William Tyndale, a translator of the Bible, who was born nearby.

I listened recently to the Unbelievable podcast on the subject of William Tyndale. (Unbelievable? Why William Tyndale’s Bible changed the world: Melvyn Bragg and Ben Virgo) Tyndale lived from 1494-1536, during a time in which illiteracy was the rule, not the exception. The Bible was read only by the educated elite.

The 1600’s was also a time of great corruption in the church itself. The church was the largest employer in the land. It had great power, and it was corrupt. The vast majority of people, including clergy, were ignorant of Scripture. According to the experts on the Unbelievable podcast, many clergymen didn’t even know the 10 commandments. This was a very dark period in church history, the culmination of centuries of church/state alliance that twisted the Gospel to serve the power of kings and popes who lived like kings.

Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther who also a rebel that opposed the church consensus and power structure of the day. Tyndale was influenced by John Wycliffe who a century before had translated the Bible into middle English, but the church opposed the “unauthorized” translation and rejected it. The church even declared Wycliffe a heretic after his death, and the Wycliffe Bibles were not widely distributed.

Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the Bible into English for the common man. Though Wycliffe had already done that, the Bible was virtually inaccessible, and even clergy were ignorant of it. He suffered exile for his efforts and was eventually arrested, jailed, convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and his body was burned at the stake.

We celebrate Tyndale now as a martyr for the faith who took up his cross and followed Christ even unto death, a leader of the reformation that led believers out of the corruption of the organized religion of his day.

He and other “rebels” paved the way for the Bible to be made available worldwide in every language spoken on earth. Wycliffe is the organization name that translates the Bible into the rarest languages of the farthest flung tribes of the world. Luther is the namesake of a major church denomination. Tyndale is the name of a major Christian publishing company.

Just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees and Sadducees in the 1st Century, Tyndale opposed the popes and bishops in the 16th Century. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop Jesus and had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spreading the Gospel, the popes and bishops tried to stop Tyndale, had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for translating the Bible (including the Jesus preached) into English.

The main opposition to Jesus, and Tyndale, came from the religious leaders. Those religious leaders employed the power of the state to oppose the spread of the Gospel (in Jesus’s case) and the spread of the translation of the Bible into English (in Tyndale’s case). When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify [Jesus]?”, the chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

I think about these things in light of the current religious and cultural climate. Tyndale was viewed as a rebel and, a renegade, a heretic. He opposed the status quo, including the status quo within the church. He was despised. He was opposed by the church. He could not even return to his homeland, England, for fear of his life, and he eventually lost his life to the church and state authorities of his day

Today, the church and state are no longer joined in power as in Tyndale’s day. Many Christians rue the loss of power and advantage, while modern secularists would like to negate completely all influence of religion on society. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, instead of Trump, most Christians feared an incremental loss of power and influence in the affairs of our nation. Under the Trump administration, the church has gained an audience, power and influence.

But is that a good thing? We all know of the challenges, difficulties and even persecution of the church that result from state government that is opposed to the church, but history suggests that the confluence of state power with church governance leads to corruption of the church. Would we rather accept corruption in the church to avoid challenge, difficulty and persecution?

Listening to Tyndale’s story, makes me wonder, “What about the church today is like the church in Tyndale’s time?” What influence lingers or has crept in to modern Christianity that will cause future believers to look back and wonder at the corruption of the 21st Century church?

Who are the heretics of our time who will be hailed as heroes in future generations?

The Roots of Modern Ethics in the Ancient Near East

April 10, 2019

Jerusalem: The Temple Mount from the time of the Second Temple

When I was in college, the first class I took was World Religions. Though I graduated with an English Literature major, I also had enough credits to be a Religion major. I didn’t need the dual major. I only took the religion classes because they interested me.

I also became a believing Christian during my college years. It was a transition that took place between that World Religion class and the summer between Sophomore and Junior years. It’s a long story that I might tell in detail some time, but the point for now is that I did a lot of reading and thinking about these things in those years. It doesn’t make me a theologian, but I have more than a passing interest.

Early on I learned that the creation story and flood story in Genesis, among other things, have counterparts in other religions, including other religions in the same area of the world – the Ancient Near East. Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, and other people groups had similar myths that have been uncovered.

Zoroastrianism, in particular, was said to share many attributes similar to the ancient Hebraic view of the world, including the idea a singular creator  God, a dualistic cosmology of good and evil, the ultimate destruction of evil, judgment after death, etc. The conjecture when I was in college was that Zoroastrianism may have predated Hebraic thought and influenced it.

It occurred to me at the time, not having any reason to doubt that speculation, that Abraham may have been particularly open to his encounter with God if, indeed, he had lived in an area of the world and in a time in which there was this kind of influence. It made some sense. He was the right guy in the right place with the right influences for God to reach.

Wikipedia acknowledges that Zoroastrianism has “possible roots dating back to the second millennium BC”, though “recorded history” of Zoroastrianism only dates back to the 5th Century BC. (Wikipedia). Obviously, dating the roots of Zoroastrianism back to the second millennium BC is only conjecture if records of Zoroastrianism only date to the 5th Century BC.

If we date the accounts of Abraham and his descendants according the biblical chronology and references, that history goes far back into the second millennium BC, but a loose consensus of modern archaeologists and theologians reject that dating in favor of first millennium BC dating. (See Wikipedia, for example) Modern scholars don’t take the Bible at face value. In fact, they affirmatively dismiss it for its face value.

This isn’t the end of the scholarly views of course. Not by a long shot. Some notable evidence and analysis exists that the modern consensus is wrong about the timeline for the life of Moses, the Exodus and other things. (See for instance Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy) The Patterns of Evidence conjecture is that historians and archaeologists who assume a particular timeline for certain events are not apt to see the evidence for those events if they occurred in a different timeline.

The Patterns of Evidence thesis is that evidence for the events described in biblical narrative is there if we look adopt the right timeline and look for them in the right time periods. Specifically, the biblical accounts of Moses, the Exodus and entry into the land of Canaan are apparent in the archaeological record and historical data on the biblical timeline (second millennium BC), not in the first millennium where modern scholars are focusing.

Certain archaeological finds, like the Ebla Tablets, also raise questions about the modern scholarly consensus. The importance of “looking” in the right places according to the right timelines is explored in Timing the Walls of Jericho.

Back to Abraham, though, he was reportedly from the area of Ur (southeast Iraq), which is quite a distance from the area of Canaan (later Judea) where he ended up – about 1600 miles in fact. In Ur, he may have come in contact with Zoroastrians and other influences. That intrigued me in college, and it still does today.

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On Acknowledging and Rising Above Evil – A Message to the Church

April 9, 2019

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particular faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately.

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

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Perspective and Worldviews

January 25, 2019


It’s always interesting to listen to people who come from outside our own circles. I have become a religious listener of the Unbelievable Podcast hosted by Justin Brierley in the UK. The difference of perspective that is driven by our different experiences, individual, familial and cultural, is the subject of this piece.

Two recent podcasts come to mind. The first included two Christians, one with an egalitarian view on women and the other with a complimentarian view on women (Unbelievable? #MeToo and the Church: Egalitarian vs Complementarian • Natalie Collins & Phil Moore). The egalitarian position is the progressive view, and the complimentarian position is the conservative view. That seems obvious enough. What interested me was not only the difference in opinions, but the influences that shaped those opinions.

The other podcast (Unbelievable? Render unto Caesar – Should the church keep out of economic politics? Andy Walton vs James Price) involved two more Christians, one with a view that the church should speak to politics, and another with a view that the church should not speak to politics, but should stick to theological things. These guys, being from Great Britain, turn the American views of these things on their heads. Thus, a difference in perspective that prompts me to write this blog piece.

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The Intersectionality of Jesus Christ

December 24, 2018


A recent podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, Debating the Statement on Social Justice – Jarrod McKenna and James White, sparks my thinking this morning. One might wonder what social justice has to do with Christmas Eve that I should be thinking about it. Quite a lot actually.

Before tying up that loose end, though, I feel the need to comment on the discussion. James White was a drafter of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Statement is to clarify the meaning of the Gospel in order to guard against false teachings creeping into the Church through modern “sociological, psychological, and political theories”. Certainly, concern over false teachings and false gospels is a theme we find as far back as the Gospels, themselves, and the Pauline letters. We are right o be concerned.

On the other hand, as I listened to the discussion, another concern occurred to me. Yes, we are not of the world, but we are in the world, and the world is our mission field. Jesus left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, becoming all things to all people so that he could reach them with the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Though Paul was concerned about false gospels creeping into the Church, he was also concerned about relating to the lost world.

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Responding to the Journalism Crisis

October 25, 2018

business man, aggressive businessman with typewriter and hammer


via Responding to the Journalism Crisis

We need to find a way to talk to each other, and not just at each other. We need to listen to each other, and not be so quick to respond with a put down or a label or an accusation.

Does the present state of journalism reflect our current attitudes toward “others”? Or does it drive our attitudes towards “others”?

Maybe its both.

We wouldn’t “buy” what they are dishing out if we didn’t want it. The biased, clickbait journalism that we consume is, sadly, just a reflection of who we have become. Maybe it’s who we always were?

At the same time, the hyped up “news” outlets of the left and right variety to a good job of stirring up the division among us and agitating us to fight with other. We toss meme hand grenades into the social media foxholes of our “enemies”, while we rally the troops hiding in the trenches, and they are fueled by a nonstop barrage of media assault.

What are coming too? Where does this end? Is there any hope?

Maybe, but we need to become better news consumers and demand more integrity from our news sources. We need to become more astute in our vetting of fact and eschew the clickbait headlines that dangle in front of our faces like garish posters advertising the wolf boy at a carnival.

We need to stop ourselves from posting knee-jerk responses on social media, labeling those we disagree with and parroting our talking points without really listening or engaging in independent thought. We need to stop the us-against-them mentality when it comes to politics and worldviews and see ourselves as neighbors who have different perspectives.

Yes, worldviews matter, but relationships matter more. No one is winning the social media debates. We are losing our connectedness in a sea of disjointed, clamorous rancor.

Followers of Christ should seek to set a better example. We should be salt and light. We should have a different flavor. We should not defined by the political positions that we hold, but by the love and character of Christ.

Is Belief Merely the Product of Geography & Culture?

September 14, 2018


Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist turned Christian minister and apologist, was interviewed on Justin Brierley’s podcast, Unbelievable!, with Peter Atkins, the famous Oxford professor of chemistry and avowed atheist. If you haven’t listened to Justin Brierley’s podcasts, I heartily recommend them. He handles very difficult subjects with people on opposite ends of the spectrum in a very gentlemanly, informed and thoughtful way.

The Hugh Ross/Peter Atkins interview (debate) was no exception, though Peter Atkins was a bit less civil in his discourse than Hugh Ross and the host. Brierley, who seems unflappable, didn’t miss a beat, but I was particularly impressed by the kind patience of Hugh Ross, though disappointed that he was often interrupted and not allowed to finish what he was saying.

I recently read a post interview statement from Hugh Ross that puts things in perspective. It provides some background and insight into the interview and the reason, perhaps, of the hostility evident in Peter Atkins demeanor. But first, let’s consider the position that Peter Atkins takes before we consider why he was so hostile.

Peter Atkins takes the position, that Richard Dawkins also takes, that people largely believe what they are conditioned to believe. People’s religious beliefs, therefore, are dictated by where they grew up, the culture and tradition to which they are exposed and other conditions that have nothing to do with the truth of the particular religious or philosophical proposition. Belief, according to them, is entirely an accident of external circumstances and conditions.

Both Atkins and Dawkins claim to base their worldviews entirely on the scientific evidence and on the scientific evidence alone. Both claim that Christians believe what they want to believe, ignoring the actual evidence or in spite of the actual evidence (“in the teeth of the evidence” as Dawkins puts it). If we know a little bit about their own stories, though, we see an immediate disconnect. And, if we think about the story of Hugh Ross, and others, that disconnect gets even more pronounced.

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Ted Parker, Jr.

Photographer of People, Music and Life - Husband-father-son-brother, son of the King. Soli Deo Gloria

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