What is a “Culture War”?

I heard someone say we are in a culture war. What is a culture war?

Sandra

That’s a good question, Sandra. A “culture war” is when one group’s ideas about what society should be like conflicts with another group’s ideas about what society should be like. One historical example of a culture war is modern slavery, as it was practiced in Europe and America from the 1600’s to 1800’s. Some believed that slavery was wrong, and others believed that slavery was just fine. They fought over these ideas for a long time, and (thankfully) the non-slavery side eventually won the legal battle. Slavery still exists, of course…so the two sides keep fighting. The difference is that while slavery was once legal in the West, it’s now illegal.

What is a Culture War?

Most religions are at odds with the culture around them. Christianity, for example, teaches that we should love our enemies. Western society, on the other hand, accepts concepts like revenge as generally acceptable. These ideas conflict, so there’s a “battle” between those with different viewpoints over how society will end up. Clearly, there’s very little actual “battle” going on about love and revenge. More commonly, conflicts occur between Christians and Western culture over moral and ethical activities related to politics and abortion and sex and freedom.

It’s worth noting that the early church (as we see in the New Testament) wasn’t engaged in a culture war. They lived in the Roman Empire and were subjects of a foreign power that threatened their existence…but “changing the culture” wasn’t a priority for them. They worked to spread the gospel. While I’m all for individual Christians taking part in the political process, the marriage between Christians and positions of power have historically caused problems. Were the church to stick with simply preaching (and living) the gospel, it’s my opinion that we would see a very different, and much better, world in a very short period of time. Christians are called to support one another, preach the gospel, and love everyone in practical ways. We are not called to change the cultures we live in, to create “heaven on earth” by dominating the political landscape, or to force anyone to live as believers should live.

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Could this be the Holy Spirit?

A GodWords reader asks:

I am not baptized but I am a Christian. I had a strange occurrence where I was consumed with love and happiness that made me light headed and trembly. I also could not hold back the tears of joy. Could this be the Holy Spirit? And what does this mean for me moving forward?

Kelly

Whether they realize it or not, every Christian has interacted with the Holy Spirit. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

That’s not the only place it says that, of course…there are several. The Holy Spirit dwells in every believer, so He’s been with you since you first trusted God with your life. This is true whether you have been baptized or not. Some people believe that any interaction with the Holy Spirit involves speaking in tongues, or prophesying, or something out of the ordinary. While those things may happen, it’s much more common to experience the kinds of things you’ve described to me. The Holy Spirit is directly involved with us in all kinds of ways, and the Bible talks about some of them. He convicts us of sin, for example (John 16:8). He helps us understand spiritual things…we couldn’t understand them without Him (1 Corinthians 2:14). He guides us into all truth (John 16:13). He leads us, empowers us to serve God, and a whole bunch of other things.

I’ve experienced what you’ve described. Sometimes it seems that my heart is wide open toward God, and that my spirit is communing with His Spirit. In those times, I’m not actually trying to do anything specific, or thinking anything in particular…my soul is simply crying out to Him. Yesterday, it happened twice, which isn’t a usual occurrence. Once was while I was singing (this happens fairly regularly), and the other was while my pastor was reading a passage from Matthew 23 (this had never happened before). I would expect that, as you grow in your walk with Jesus, you will experience this a number of times. While it’s a mistake to chase this kind of experience rather than chasing God Himself, it’s certainly not a mistake to put yourself into the right circumstances to connect with God. That’s why Christians, throughout history, have spent time in prayer, studying the Bible, singing, sitting in contemplation, being alone with God, and so on. Again…it’s not the feeling we should be looking to reproduce, but we should look for opportunities to be in direct communication with God all the time. Sometimes it will an amazing emotional experience, sometimes it will be a learning experience, and sometimes it will be God teaching you to rely on Him more completely.

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A Higher Authority: Church vs Bible

Which is the greater authority? The Bible, or the Church?

Is the Church over the Bible, or is the Bible over the Church? That’s the question Michael J. Kruger addresses, in response to an article by Friar Stephen Freeman. In his article, entitled There Is No “Bible” in the Bible, Freeman lays out what appear to be a very poorly constructed argument. Kruger’s article addresses Freeman’s main flaws better than I might, but I’d like to focus on one point in particular.

Freeman makes the following claim: The word “Bible” simply means “book.” Thus, it is a name that means “the Book.” It is a particularly late notion if for no other reason than that books are a rather late invention. There are examples of bound folios of the New Testament dating to around the 4th century, but they may very well have been some of the earliest examples of such productions. This isn’t just a bad argument, it’s ridiculous. By claiming that books are a modern invention, Freeman suggests that Biblical authority is a modern, Protestant invention as well.

First, the word book isn’t all that new. In fact, the Christian Scriptures are referred to as ta biblia as early as 223 AD. John Chrysostom wrote of ta biblia as early as 388 AD. These are well before the Reformation, and can’t be considered, as Freeman claims, a “by-product of the printing press”.

It’s easy to make crazy claims. It’s so easy that one can search the internet and find almost every claim imaginable. Unfortunately, many people are easily swayed by such claims, and are quickly led astray by claims that don’t deserve an audience. Take the time to read both articles, and think through the evidence, and come to your own conclusions.

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Steve Green – Guard Your Heart

I get a fair amount of email from GodWords readers (thank you!), and questions about avoiding temptation come up frequently. This song has helped me keep a wise perspective on such things, and I’ve been singing it to my son at night for over a decade. All temptations offer a trade: momentary pleasure for long-term suffering. The Bible acknowledges that sin is pleasant, but points out that it’s only pleasant for a short time. While the consequences of sin outweigh the benefits, we still seek the temporary pleasure.

Psalm 119:11 points to a very wise strategy. David wrote “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” When we truly understand how much God loves us, and when we truly want to live as we should, we will naturally begin to turn away from sin and temptation and turn to God instead. When you are tempted, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Pray for the strength to avoid sin.

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Darwinian Evolution: Science or a Belief System?

Is Darwinism a religion?

I love science. I always have. I can’t resist clicking to news articles that talk about the discovery of a new species, or some tech advancement, or about the chemical makeup of my favorite soft drink. At the same time, I don’t always love discussions about science. The reason is simple: most people don’t think very well.

Evolution is a loaded word. It means a number of different things. One common use of the word suggests that all animals and humans ‘evolved’ from a common ancestor. I’ve long suggested that this isn’t a scientific conclusion, but a faith-based conclusion. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest otherwise…and I’ve looked. There are a lot of ideas, and a whole bunch of leaps in logic, but I see no actual, scientific evidence. In fact, the evidence I’ve seen points away from this kind of evolution.

In this video, Ray Comfort asks a bunch of folks who believe in evolution for one simple thing: a single bit of solid, scientific evidence that shows one kind of animal turning into another kind of animal. He makes the natural and reasonable distinction between adaptation (changes in a population to match environmental conditions) and speciation (where one kind of animal, over a long period of time, becomes another kind). It’s interesting to see the different reactions from those being asked. One man appears to get angry when his viewpoint is questioned. Some seem thoughtful.

One final note: Comfort somehow got PZ Myers to appear on camera. Myers is a very well-known biologist, and an outspoken critic of any idea that challenges or competes with Darwinism. I find his inclusion in this video very telling, especially since he doesn’t appear to have a good answer to the question.

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Universalism: Will God Save Everyone?

Recently, a friend asked me to look at a blog post and let him know what I think about it. This post might not make much sense by itself, because it’s my response to that article. Please take note: I haven’t written this to demean the author, but to discuss the idea of universalism with my friend. It’s too long to post on Facebook, and someone else might benefit from reading it, so I share it with you here. I appreciate the author’s desire to know the truth, and his systematic approach to his beliefs. I wish more people – Christians and non-Christians alike – would do the same. My disagreement isn’t with him, but with the conclusions of his article. Note as well that I’m only addressing the first of a series of posts. If someone asks, I may address the rest…but when the foundation of an argument has been removed, the whole thing falls down. I believe that the points raised here are sufficient.

To see if the author’s position is flawed, let’s look at his assumptions. The primary assumption in the article is that, because God is sovereign, He always gets what He wants…and, because He wants everyone to be saved, everyone will be saved. Let’s take a closer look.

Universalism: will God save everyone?

First, the Bible does say that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Second, every Christian I know would say that God is certainly sovereign. That’s found throughout Scripture. So, why would I disagree with the author’s conclusion? Simple: he assumes that God’s sovereignty gives Him everything He wants. I’m not convinced.

It’s interesting that while the author claims that Calvinism is depraved, he duplicates their error. He claims that Calvinism’s problem is the combination of total depravity and unconditional election, but it’s really rooted in the same problem we’re talking about here: a misunderstanding of sovereignty. Calvinism teaches that God predestines some for Heaven and some for Hell and, because He is sovereign, we play no part in our own salvation. If we did, we could thwart God’s will…making us more powerful than God. That’s known in Calvinism as “irresistible grace”. The author teaches that God predestines everyone to be saved and, because of His sovereignty, everybody will be saved. That’s the textbook definition of irresistible grace…the author simply includes everyone, while Calvinists only include some. Both must ignore much of the New Testament to make their claims.

Let’s look at his use of THELO. He cites Thayer’s (the go-to Greek lexicon) to support his claim that THELO indicates God’s resolve and determination that all should be saved. Unfortunately, he’s only telling part of the story. There’s only ONE definition in Thayer’s: “to will, have in mind, intend”. That one definition has several shades of meaning:

  1. to be resolved or determined, to purpose
  2. to desire, to wish
  3. to love
    1. to like to do a thing, be fond of doing
  4. to take delight in, have pleasure

He cites Thayer, but doesn’t account for ALL of Thayer. I’m not saying that he’s being dishonest, but it does seem that he’s cherry-picking. Did Paul, when writing 1 Timothy 2, mean that God would be delighted if everyone were saved? Did he mean that God likes to save people? These definitions, without the context in which they were written, carry equal weight. In this case, the context of 1 Timothy 2 actually works against the author. Paul tells Timothy that believers should live their lives in specific ways. Why? Because God wants everyone to be saved. If everyone is going to be saved anyway, there’s no connection between the activities of Christians and the fate of unbelievers. That Paul wrote this passage presumes that it needed to be written.

Let’s look at the section where he addresses the word “all”. For the sake of discussion, let’s grant his point: that “all” literally means “every single person”. He points out the universality of the word with regard to being made alive, being reconciled to God, being justified, being offered mercy, and so on. He also (rightly) says that the subset is part of the larger group. If we’re granting his definition of “all”, and granting that the subset is part of the whole, why would we still disagree with his conclusion? Simple: none of those things are salvation.

1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t say that all will be saved. It says that all will be resurrected. The entire chapter, as one can see by actually reading it, is designed to convince the reader that Jesus was resurrected, and that everyone else will be resurrected as well. In fact, this passage also undermines the author’s claim. Verse 2 says that we are saved by the Gospel IF we hold firmly to it. Otherwise, we have believed in vain. If Paul believed that everyone would be saved, there would be no “if”. Verse 18 says that if there’s no resurrection, then “those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” If Paul believed that everyone would be saved, he would not write that ANYBODY could be lost. Verse 23 refers to Jesus’ second coming, and of those who ‘belong to Him’. Since some will NOT belong to Him, some will apparently not be saved.

The author then cites Romans 5, Romans 11, 1 Timothy 4:10, and 1 John 2:2, noting the use of “all” in each. The assumption in every case is that the passages indicate that all will be saved…but is that what Scripture, as a whole, teaches? No, it’s not. One of the best-known verses in the New Testament says that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). A lesser-known verse says that one (Jesus) died for all, therefore all died (2 Corinthians 5:14). Jesus died to take our place…that is, He died the death we deserved. Does that mean that, because the penalty for sin has been paid, everybody goes to Heaven? Look at the whole passage:

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:13 – 6:1

The author cites Colossians 1, which says that God has reconciled to Himself “all things”. Paul wrote Colossians, and he wrote the above passage in 2 Corinthians. When you look at the two, it’s clear that while God reconciled “all things” to Himself, there’s something else that must occur: we must reconcile ourselves to Him as well. God’s grace was extended to everyone, but that grace can be received in vain. Note the meaning of “in vain”…that it does no good, and doesn’t fulfill its purpose. What are we talking about in this passage? How, through Jesus’ death, God reconciled us to Himself. This passage guts the author’s view as well as the Calvinist view, because it puts the final piece of the salvation puzzle in the hands of mankind. God has done the work of salvation by coming to Earth and dying for us, but WE MUST RESPOND or it’s all for nothing.

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, expresses that mankind has both the freedom and the obligation to respond to God. From the call of the Old Testament prophets for the people to turn their hearts toward God to John the Baptist’s call to repent, our role in our own salvation is clear. Every mention of salvation in the New Testament becomes meaningless if the author, and the Calvinists, are right. Why write about turning our hearts toward God if salvation is only a matter of God forcing His will on us? If everyone will be saved, why encourage Christians to live lives worthy of respect that might lead to the salvation of another?

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the Ten Virgins, the Bags of Gold, and the Sheep and the Goats. In each section, He describes the day of His return in stark terms: some will get in, and some will be left out. There’s no indication at all that being excluded from God’s coming Kingdom is a temporary situation. The only way to find that in the text is to insert it yourself, because it’s not there. We could look at dozens of passages in which we are told to take responsibility for our salvation, and that not doing so is a grievous mistake. God, in His sovereignty, has not chosen to control us entirely. He gives us a measure of sovereignty, and expects us to use it to choose wisely.

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7 Questions about the Noah Movie

The 2014 movie Noah is clearly The Most Divisive Movie Ever, except for all of the other religious movies ever made. I don’t do movie reviews…but, since so many are asking questions about the theological content in the movie, I figured I’d better get to work. WARNING: SPOILERS.

Is the Noah movie good or bad right or wrong?

Is the movie Biblically accurate?

No. The Biblical story of Noah is the background for the movie, but the story told in the movie is a composite, created from a number of sources:

…and more. In other words, the movie is an exploration of the Noah story as told throughout history. Not only is the movie not designed to tell the Biblical story of Noah, Director Darren Aronofsky called it “the least Biblical movie ever made”. There are a few places where the movie directly contradicts the text (Genesis 5-9 ).

What’s the deal with the Watchers?

For those expecting the Bible story they heard in Sunday School, one of the most surprising elements of the story is the inclusion of “the Watchers”. Some say that these are just made-up characters designed to make the story cool, but the truth is more interesting than that. The Watchers are found in the Book of Enoch, a pseudepigraphal work. The movie tells us they were disobedient angels, exiled to Earth. The Watchers are redeemed in the end, and ushered back into God’s presence as a result of helping the main characters. Stylistically, they’re a lot like the Ents from The Lord of the Rings.

Are the film-makers trying to undermine the Bible?

No. Co-writers Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel are Jewish, and they are telling a story. In an interview with Christianity Today, both of them explained that they consider the movie to be midrash. For those who didn’t grow up with Judaism, midrash is a method for interpreting the Tanakh. This traditional Jewish practice attempts to fill gaps in the text to make difficult passages easier to understand.

As a Christian, I’m a Bible guy…so I try to stick closely to the text. I wouldn’t tell the story in this way, but it’s not my movie. Noah tells an ancient pre-Christian story, and doesn’t contain any anti-Christian sentiments at all. If Christians want to tell the rest of the story, they’ll have to make their own movie.

What are the film-makers really trying to say?

It’s clear from the interviews I’ve read that Aronofsky doesn’t consider the story of Noah to be specifically and technically true. That is, he doesn’t seem to consider it an accurate description of actual events. It’s equally apparent that he considers the story to be valuable, and to contain some truth…that is, to convey meaningful messages that we need to hear. Here are a few of those messages:

Environmentalism 101:
The underlying assumption of the movie – both expressed and implied – is that mankind is the source of all bad things on Earth. While on the ark, Noah retells the story of creation…and everything through the first 5.5 days of creation was “good”. Then, we are told, mankind came along and messed it up. While it’s true that some people do all kinds of awful things to other people and to our world, the Biblical account shows that we are part of the “good” in God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-31 ).

Environmentalism 201:
The Watchers gave technology to the descendants of Cain. This was a Very Bad Thing to do, since they then used that technology to create cities and wreck the planet. Technology isn’t the planet’s primary problem, and neither are cities. This is as true today as it was before the flood. The primary problem is sin, which is disobedience toward God, from which all creation still suffers (Romans 8:18-22 ).

Environmentalism 301:
The good guys (Noah and his family) are caretakers for the planet. They wouldn’t even pick a flower unless they needed it for something specific. The bad guys (everybody else) want dominion over the planet, using and abusing nature to suit their selfish and evil desires. The problem with this departure from the original text is that the idea of dominion was God’s: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28 ) That doesn’t mean, of course, that mankind is not to take care of the planet…we surely are. It means that God intended for us to also use the resources that He provided.

Mercy
The idea that man is irredeemable gets an “on the other hand” at the end of Noah. For most of the movie, mankind must be eliminated for the good and innocent (the animals, that is) to thrive. Only Noah’s family is exempt from destruction but, in a pivotal moment of insight, Noah realizes that he and his family are capable of the same great wickedness as everyone else. He concludes that, once the animals are safe from the flood, mankind should be no more. This adds an element of confusion for the viewer. Noah appears to lose his mind at this point in the story, and appears willing to murder to make sure that humanity does not spread beyond the ark. Right before he kills, he seems to come to his senses. His explanation is that he chose mercy instead of justice. Movie-goers are left to wonder whether Noah’s mercy was obedience or disobedience to The Creator.

Did you like the movie?

Yes and No. As movies go, it was pretty good. The movie has an all-star cast, and Russell Crowe and friends did an excellent job. The special effects were generally excellent. I didn’t notice the music, which seems just right…it helped tell the story without drawing attention away from it. The first half of the movie went pretty well, but the second half seemed to drag a bit. There were some directorial decisions that distracted, and detracted, from the story…notably that Biblical Noah’s sons all had wives in the ark, but movie Noah’s sons didn’t. In fact, a major plot point in the story revolves around this issue. Another noteworthy decision was to put a stowaway on the ark. No, it wasn’t a unicorn. It was The Bad Guy.

Would you recommend this movie?

Mostly. It’s certainly not for young children, who might have nightmares due to dramatic depictions of evil. It’s an interesting movie, but not one I’d care to see over and over.

Do you have any reason to NOT see the movie?

Yes and No. While I disagree with the environmentalist message in the movie, and question a few of the decisions to deviate from the text, I don’t see anything seriously wrong with the movie. It could be used as a springboard to in-depth discussion of things like justice and mercy, human nature and original sin, the character of God, and redemption.

At the same time, there is certainly a negative involved with movies like Noah. Many will see the movie and NOT engage in any in-depth discussion. A lot of these people will assume that the elements in Aronofsky’s film are factually accurate, in spite of the fact that the writers never make such a claim. Two recent examples come to mind:

  1. Titanic:
    A whole bunch of young people saw the movie Titanic, and thought it was just a movie. They were shocked to learn that the movie was based on actual events. This isn’t James Cameron’s fault, of course. One could make the case that he did history teachers a favor, telling a (mostly) true story. Will moviegoers believe that the movie Noah is the real Noah? I don’t really know. In the end, I’m more concerned that many will see it as Aronofsky does: worth moralizing over, but not actually true.
  2. The DaVinci Code:
    GodWords has received hundreds of thousands of visitors looking for information about The DaVinci Code. Author Dan Brown stole a story from some conspiracy theorists, rewrote it enough to avoid prosecution, and published it as a novel…but he confused a lot of people in the process. How? By stating that the essential components of his story were absolutely, without question, 100% true. I can’t tell you how many people wrote to me at that time, looking for someone to help them through their crisis of faith. While Dan Brown’s motivation was admittedly anti-religious, I don’t believe that Aronofsky and Handel have any desire to create in their viewer a crisis of faith. Still, some will watch Noah and come away confused. For that reason, I’m a little wary.

Conclusion

Noah is a pretty good movie, but it’s not awesome. It’s not a Bible movie, and shouldn’t be praised or criticized as though it were.

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