Tag Archives: World View

Are You Interpreting the Bible with a Secular World View?

In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to the church at Corinth about an offering. He is collecting the offering for Jerusalem, and he invites the Corinthians to give the way Christ has given to all humankind. He shares the example of other churches, who gave more than expected, because they gave “beyond their ability.” Paul challenges the Corinthians to give in the same spirit. Close reading of the two letters to the Corinthian church suggests that the Corinthians actually suggested that Paul collect this offering, but at the time of this letter, they had not themselves contributed as expected. Paul writes:

8   And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 6 So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.  2 Corinthians 8:1-12 NIV84

 

I do not ordinarily expect my readers to wade through such a long passage, but in this case, it is important that you read the whole thing in order to see the way Paul prepares the church for his request. Paul is explaining what wealth is. He distinguishes between wealth in the eternal and infinite sense and wealth in the time/space sense. Christ was wealthy in the eternal and infinite sense, yet he gave it all up and accepted the poverty of time and space in order to pass on eternal and infinite riches. Paul holds up these two contrasting forms of wealth in order that his readers not confuse the two. Paul intends for the church at Corinth to see clearly that time/space wealth is not something to cling to.

In case they still have any concerns about the request, Paul elaborates on the way God uses time/space wealth:

 

13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 NIV84

 

Paul is talking about the means by which God provides for our needs in time and space. He has already pointed out that earthly wealth is nothing to compare with the riches of eternity. He has held up the example of Christ who did not cling to the riches of eternity in order that he might share them human beings. Then he clinches his argument, still appealing to the importance of our trust in God’s provision, by looking back to the experience of Israel in the wilderness. The wandering Israelites were totally dependent on God to provide for their every need. God taught them to trust his daily provision by enforcing the experience that if people gathered too much manna for their needs, nothing was left over, while those who misjudged and gathered too little nevertheless had enough. They might attempt to override their need to trust God, but it was to no avail; they had to trust him, because he simply did not allow them to pre-empt his work.

Paul says that this is the way things will work out if the Corinthians are willing to share what God has given to them. They have more than enough at the time of this letter. Instead of saying, “We need to keep this surplus, because some day we will need it,” Paul encourages them to give it to the Jerusalem church, which is seriously in need. The implication is that God has provided the Corinthians a surplus precisely because Jerusalem needs it. Like the ancient Israelite who did not gather enough for himself, the Jerusalem church is falling short. Just as God graciously made up the difference for the ancient Israelite, God is making up the difference for the church in Jerusalem, and the overage in Corinth is the way he has chosen to do it. Both churches are asked to remember that God is the one who provides for all of us.

Secular thinkers have infiltrated Christian thinking to such a degree that there are actually Christian professors and scholars who interpret this text as an example of the socialist mantra of the redistribution of wealth. In 2009, the Barna Group surveyed American adults asking questions designed to reveal those who had a Christian world view; only 9% of all American adults gave answers that expressed a Christian world view. Extracting from the total number surveyed the subset that self-identified as born-again Christians, only 19% of them expressed a Christian world view. (You can read the survey here.) It should, therefore, not be surprising that even among biblical scholars, there are those who do not interpret the Bible according to a biblical worldview.

For example, in the Lutheran Study Bible (Augsburg, 2009), David E. Frederickson explains in his notes on 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, “Paul sought to create unity among diverse and geographically separated congregations through the redistribution of wealth.” Marx’s birth was 1800 years in the future when Paul wrote his letter, and twentieth century socialism had not even been thought of. No Christian of that day, especially not Paul, would have entertained the idea of the “redistribution of wealth” for one second. If such an idea had been proposed to the first Christian missionary, he would almost certainly have reacted to it the same way Peter reacted to the attempt of Simon Magus to buy the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24). Paul constantly wrote about the way God provided for him and for all Christians, and Paul was adamant that the riches of knowing Christ are not to be confused with the wealth that exists only in time and space. When he called on the Corinthians to get their priorities in order, he was not trying to assure that each church had the same amount of money as all the other churches. To reach such a conclusion requires twisting Paul’s words severely.

This is a good example of what not to do when reading the Bible. It is important that readers not project onto biblical text contemporary political and social issues that did not even exist in biblical times. It is important to read the full context of every idea expressed. It is important to look at the text from a Christian world view. (If you don’t know what a Christian world view is, you can read the report of the 2009 Barna Survey.)

Read in the context of the entire 8th chapter of 2 Corinthians, it is clear that it does not make sense to read these verses as an advance revelation of the gospel of socialism. Where or when have you heard a pastor or other Christian leader declare that the Bible teaches some philosophy or political agenda that is fundamentally unbiblical?

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What Are You Worth?

Recently a friend on Facebook posted the image below.

 Jon Stewart’s comment reveals a secular world view that is quite disturbing. He observed that the “government’s investment in her had really paid off.” The government’s investment in J. K. Rowling? Is charity toward people in need really an investment? Does the government give to the poor with an expectation of a return on the investment? Is a citizen’s human worth established by that citizen’s value to the government as a “return on investment?”

This statement contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about human beings. The Bible reveals that human beings are loved and valued by God, because they are human. Christ died for all human beings, despite the fact that humans routinely do not give God a fitting “return” for his “investment” in them. In God’s eyes, human beings have value whether they provide a “return” or not. God’s admonitions to be kind, generous and helpful to human beings in need are based on a high regard for each person’s humanity, not for that person’s potential “return on investment.”

The gospels make it plain that God’s love for human beings, expressed in Christ’s death and resurrection, grows out of the value he places on humans even before he creates them. The gospels further reveal that government is not the agency chosen by God to help human beings who suffer hunger, poverty and disease. The agent of God’s kingdom on earth is the church. When Jesus talked about an assault on the gates of hell to set free the people enslaved by sin (which shows itself dramatically in hunger, poverty and disease), he said that the gates of hell would not prevail against God’s church. Jesus did not see the government as God’s tool for alleviating human degradation and suffering.

The secular world view sees human beings very differently. In the secular world view, for example, a human being can actually have no value. A human being may even be a detriment. An unborn baby, for example, has only the value that the mother “chooses” to bestow. The mother may see the baby as an impediment to her career, to her social standing, or even to her economic comfort. If so, the baby has negative value and must be removed. The outgrowth of that judgment classifies abortion as a “preventive health service” and thereby a baby is proclaimed not to be a baby but an inconvenient parasite.

In the secular world view, an elderly woman with erratic heartbeats is unable to produce any “return” for the “investment” of giving her a pacemaker. Her life, therefore, has no value. A presidential candidate with a secular world view feels comfortable declaring that the state could not afford to invest its limited resources in her life. She should be satisfied to take pain pills until such time as she died and ceased to burden society. The panels established in the Affordable Care Act to distribute “scarce resources” will need some standard for determining who gets the resources. Will that decision hinge on the ability of the recipient to make that investment “pay off?”

Secular thinking allows human beings to judge other human beings as valuable or worthless, and the standard of measurement is the standard the human judge wants to apply.

Mother Teresa’s life was a statement of a very different world view. She cared for people who had no way of giving her a return on her investment. She loved people and valued them before she did anything for them. She loved them because they were human beings created by God. The fact that God created them gave them infinite value. They didn’t need to “pay off” in order to deserve her care and her love.

After my grandmother died, there was a great deal of work to be done in her house to get ready for the influx of family. My grandfather sat silent in his favorite chair in the living room as we bustled about. At one point, my mother pointed to me, struggling to fluff grandmother’s featherbed, and said to my grandfather, “When this grandchild was little, climbing trees and chasing chickens, did you ever think she would be coming back to help you this way?” It seemed like a silly statement to me. At a time like this we all worked and grieved together. I turned away from the conversation, shamed that she had called attention to me. Obviously my grandfather was sitting there thinking of all the grandkids and probably remembering how grandmother had doted on each one. He looked up and said, “They all help, even when they don’t come back.” My grandfather assigned value to his grandchildren because they existed, not because they “paid off.”

Christian thinking asserts that human beings have value because of the value God imputes at creation. The standards for the value of human beings come from God, not as the result of evolving thinking.

My grandfather valued people because they were people, not because they gave him a return on his investment in them. Secular philosophy, on the other hand, sees human beings as an evolutionary experiment that survived. Statist governments build on that view. Unborn babies and elderly patients may not deserve to survive. To a statist government, recipients of services from the community need to “pay off” a debt to society as certainly as any prisoner does.

The comments about Rowling include yet another secular construct – that people pay taxes in order to “give back” to the government. Government is the servant of the people, not the other way round. When citizens give the government money, the best way to view it is like giving someone the task of buying your groceries. The amount of money given should be limited to the actual cost of the groceries on the list. If some is left over, it should be returned to the giver. Only the groceries on the list should be purchased. The government should not make up a list and then put a gun to the heads of the citizens and demand they pay for what the government chooses to do.

Furthermore, government services are funded by the money citizens have already handed over. The services are rendered in response to the directives of the citizens for the use of their money, not as the government god investing in the citizens in the hope they will prove their worth later. Citizens thrive when government is small and when its powers are limited to work which protects the freedom and prosperity of the citizens. When government assumes the right to assign value to the citizens and to expect that “investment” in the citizens will produce a “return,” the power structure is upside down. Jesus directed his followers to give to Caesar only what belonged to him, and that statement defined a limited role for government in people’s lives. It pointedly rejected any notion that a human being’s value is defined by the government. People would do well to remember that when a citizen pays high taxes, the consequence is that the government, not the citizen, becomes richer and more powerful.

J. K. Rowling is a wonderful success story. Her success is due to her God-given talent for the craft and the business of writing. She is not a success because a socialist state invested in her and it “paid off.” She deserved social services because she was human. J. K. Rowling deserves respect and admiration because God created her and because she used her God-given talents with skill. The government did not create her value, and the government does not deserve anything special for doing the work assigned to it by the citizens. The glory for J. K. Rowling’s life belongs to God, not to the state.

Religion? Or Not Religion? When Doesn’t It Matter?

In 1980, Phyllis Schlafly wrote, “Secular Humanism has become the established religion of the US public school system.”[1] Tom Flynn, author of “Secular Humanism Defined”  uses this and other quotations to point out what he calls a misconception by Christians about secular humanism. This situation is an example of the sort of argument Christians often fall into as they attempt to talk with secular thinkers. Schlafly and Flynn do not really disagree on the principles which separate them. They only disagree about the meaning of the term religion.

Phyllis Schlafly, and many other Christian leaders, teachers and pastors, use the term religion for any way of thinking or worldview in which human beings value something more than they value God. Secular thinkers only use the term religion for a mindset that includes supernatural or transcendent beings. It is easy enough to end this argument if someone recognizes that the point of the conversation is not the label but rather the very real differences in worldviews that set Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Flynn in opposite corners.

Christians who have listened closely to their pastors for years will remember the sermons in which they were admonished that whatever stands between them and God becomes a false god. Secular thinkers readily concede that they exclude from their worldview anything supernatural, and they will not dispute it if they are accused of not serving God. They limit their worldview to time and space. This outlook prevents them from even acknowledging the existence of God. In that stance, there is no possibility that they will worship him. Christian teaching asserts that the secular worldview, which prevents secular thinkers from serving God, is the god that secular thinkers worship.

Secular thinkers consider this attitude to be preposterous. They assert firmly that they do not worship anything. They do not engage in worship. They believe that by avoiding the nebulous supernatural notion of any god whatsoever they set people free to become all that they can be. They strenuously do not want to be connected with a religion, and they do not want anyone to confuse the secular worldview with a religion.

Given this state of affairs, to argue whether secular humanism is or is not a religion is pointless. Yet many Christians, engaged in conversations about political and social issues persist in arguing that humanists worship something other than God. This argument sounds so ridiculous to the secular thinker that anything else the Christian may say will be dismissed without consideration.

What if it doesn’t matter whether we call secularism a religion or not? What if that label is not the point of the conversation? For example, if the school curriculum is the real issue, why not stay focused on the curriculum issues that separate Christians and secular thinkers? Most people agree that the education of children is crucial to the health of any nation. If any group of adults is asked simply to answer yes or no to the question, “Is good education important to our country?” it would be shocking if anyone in any group answered, “No.” However, the content of that education is a truly divisive issue. Whether the subject is American History, physical science, biology, or even English grammar, there will be a vast universe of different viewpoints, and most of those viewpoints will originate in divergent worldviews. It might be very good for participants in the conversation to recognize that problem before they engage in fisticuffs over sex education or evolutionary theory. Christians who want to be good citizens will certainly participate in such conversations, but it won’t be helpful if the discussion devolves into a religious war.

Christians must be well prepared when they engage in civic disagreements. Inevitably, communities include people of various religious persuasions as well as people who fervently reject any religion at all. There is no value in pointless arguments over whose definition will triumph. In order to participate effectively in government and social issues, Christians must learn to focus on the real issues and avoid verbiage that will be perceived as name-calling.

When Christians are at prayer about community problems, they are at liberty to name the supernatural enemy they face when someone proposes to teach kindergartners how to experiment with same-gender sexuality. In prayer they can ask God for his power to protect them and the children from Satan’s assaults in the voices of people who would vehemently deny his very existence, but in the conversation with other citizens, they must recognize that the community is not served by religious strife.

The solution is to pray before such conversations. Christians always say that they believe in prayer, but very often they forget to pray about the toughest problems. A school board meeting is a really difficult challenge when people of faith and people who reject the whole idea of faith try to talk about the important question, “What do we teach the children?” When Christians pray about these problems, they need to remember that in James 1:5 is a wonderful promise every Christian can claim in time of need. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5) Christians also recognize that the people who most fervently reject the idea of supernatural power are the ones least able to resist its working. Christians need to prepare for such conversations with the armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. They must study and prepare their minds for the conversation, but they must not forget that they live at the intersection of time and eternity. Christian lives are points where God’s infinite power enters into the time/space continuum. This post provides some intellectual grist for the mental challenge of living in a world dominated by secular thinking, but no Christian should attempt that task without taking full advantage of the power promised to those who have received the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a challenge to talk with secular thinkers, but it is a challenge God is ready for. In his power, Christians can be ready for it, too.


 

[1] Phyllis Schlafly, “What is Humanism?,” a 1980 syndicated newspaper column quoted by Tom Flynn in an article entitled, “Secular Humanism Defined at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=sh_defined4

Religion? Or not a religion? When doesn’t it matter?

In 1980, Phyllis Schlafly wrote, “Secular Humanism has become the established religion of the US public school system.”[1] Tom Flynn, author of “Secular Humanism Defined” uses this and other quotations to point out what he calls a misconception by Christians about secular humanism. This situation is an example of the sort of argument Christians often fall into as they attempt to talk with secular thinkers. Schlafly and Flynn do not really disagree on the principles which separate them. They only disagree about the meaning of the term religion.

Phyllis Schlafly, and many other Christian leaders, teachers and pastors, use the term religion for any way of thinking or worldview in which human beings value something more than they value God. Secular thinkers only use the term religion for a mindset that includes supernatural or transcendent beings. It is easy enough to end this argument if someone recognizes that the point of the conversation is not the label but rather the very real differences in worldviews that set Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Flynn in opposite corners.

Christians who have listened closely to their pastors for years will remember the sermons in which they were admonished that whatever stands between them and God becomes a false god. Secular thinkers readily concede that they exclude from their worldview anything supernatural, and they will not dispute it if they are accused of not serving God. They limit their worldview to time and space. This outlook prevents them from even acknowledging the existence of God. In that stance, there is no possibility that they will worship him. Christian teaching asserts that the secular worldview, which prevents secular thinkers from serving God, is the god that secular thinkers worship.

Secular thinkers consider this attitude to be preposterous. They assert firmly that they do not worship anything. They do not engage in worship. They believe that by avoiding the nebulous supernatural notion of any god whatsoever they set people free to become all that they can be. They strenuously do not want to be connected with a religion, and they do not want anyone to confuse the secular worldview with a religion.

Given this state of affairs, to argue whether secular humanism is or is not a religion is pointless. Yet many Christians, engaged in conversations about political and social issues persist in arguing that humanists worship something other than God. This argument sounds so ridiculous to the secular thinker that anything else the Christian may say will be dismissed without consideration.

What if it doesn’t matter whether we call secularism a religion or not? What if that label is not the point of the conversation? For example, if the school curriculum is the real issue, why not stay focused on the curriculum issues that separate Christians and secular thinkers? Most people agree that the education of children is crucial to the health of any nation. If any group of adults is asked simply to answer yes or no to the question, “Is good education important to our country?” it would be shocking if anyone in any group answered, “No.” However, the content of that education is a truly divisive issue. Whether the subject is American History, physical science, biology, or even English grammar, there will be a vast universe of different viewpoints, and most of those viewpoints will originate in divergent worldviews. It might be very good for participants in the conversation to recognize that problem before they engage in fisticuffs over sex education or evolutionary theory. Christians who want to be good citizens will certainly participate in such conversations, but it won’t be helpful if the discussion devolves into a religious war.

Christians must be well prepared when they engage in civic disagreements. Inevitably, communities include people of various religious persuasions as well as people who fervently reject any religion at all. There is no value in pointless arguments over whose definition will triumph. In order to participate effectively in government and social issues, Christians must learn to focus on the real issues and avoid verbiage that will be perceived as name-calling.

When Christians are at prayer about community problems, they are at liberty to name the supernatural enemy they face when someone proposes to teach kindergartners how to experiment with same-gender sexuality. In prayer they can ask God for his power to protect them and the children from Satan’s assaults in the voices of people who would vehemently deny his very existence, but in the conversation with other citizens, they must recognize that the community is not served by religious strife.

The solution is to pray before such conversations. Christians always say that they believe in prayer, but very often they forget to pray about the toughest problems. A school board meeting is a really difficult challenge when people of faith and people who reject the whole idea of faith try to talk about the important question, “What do we teach the children?” When Christians pray about these problems, they need to remember that in James 1:5 is a wonderful promise every Christian can claim in time of need. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5) Christians also recognize that the people who most fervently reject the idea of supernatural power are the ones least able to resist its working. Christians need to prepare for such conversations with the armor Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10-17. They must study and prepare their minds for the conversation, but they must not forget that they live at the intersection of time and eternity. Christian lives are points where God’s infinite power enters into the time/space continuum. This post provides some intellectual grist for the mental challenge of living in a world dominated by secular thinking, but no Christian should attempt that task without taking full advantage of the power promised to those who have received the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a challenge to talk with secular thinkers, but it is a challenge God is ready for. In his power, Christians can be ready for it, too.

 


[1] Phyllis Schlafly, “What is Humanism?,” a 1980 syndicated newspaper column quoted by Tom Flynn in an article entitled, “Secular Humanism Defined at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=sh_defined4

Unrepentant Plagiarist

Psalm 13

1      How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

2     How long must I bear pain in my soul,

and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3     Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,

4     and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;

my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5     But I trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

6     I will sing to the Lord,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

 

I love the book of Psalms. I didn’t always love it. As a child, I found it confusing. I appreciated it, but I did not love it. My Sunday School teachers called it a hymmbook, but it didn’t seem much like the hymnals I was familiar with.

I have grown to love this book, because I learned that it is also a prayerbook. When I learned that I could borrow the words of the Psalmist and use them for my own prayers, I began to love the book of Psalms. I gleefully plagiarize its prayers and grow in the discipline of prayer as I do so.

Psalm 13 is one that is easy to borrow. For starters, I have gone through numerous periods in my life when I felt beleaguered by enemies. I have felt despair, because it seemed to me that God ought to do something about the situation, and I could not see any evidence of improvement.

I have observed of myself that, like everyone else, I view my experiences from within the limitations of time and space. It is hard for me to remember that God views them from the perspective of eternity and infinity. In that point of reference, every point in time is now and every point in space is here. The resolution and completion I yearn for is already working, even as I pray, but I am not able to see it. God does not disdain my fears, my suffering, or my inability to see the culmination that is everpresent with Him. Kohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, observed that God  has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11b)

In Psalm 13, however, David summons up faith to assert, despite all appearances to the contrary, that he will “sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:6) By the time I reach verse 5 of this Psalm, David’s words of lament have worked like a drawing salve on my fear and frustration. They empty out all the things that make me need to cry out, “Help my unbelief!” I am finally able to step outside my time/space limitations and enter worshipfully into God’s throne room where my vision is expanded beyond the limits of my own worldview. David invites me to worship with the saints who see history from God’s point of view in that heavenly throne room. David’s faithful words nourish my own faith, and I am refreshed and encouraged.

I highly recommend plagiarizing David’s prayers and making them your own.