Monday, December 28, 2009

A Christian Nation

One of the more bizarre arguments in American politics is the argument over whether or not America is a Christian nation. I've seen many Christians try to make this claim and many more who are willing to defend it. I find this bizarre because, as a Christian, I don't think any nation should call itself a Christian nation.

A Christian nation is one that exercises its authority in the name of Christ. Nations exercise and maintain authority by using force, but this is not how authority works in God's Kingdom. Many nations claim to exercise authority in God's name, but none of them exercise authority the way Jesus did when he came to earth.

As I have already said, no political entity can take the place of God's Kingdom. God's Kingdom is distinctly different from the nations of this world. Hence the phrase "Christian nation" is a contradiction in terms. Nations wield authority in a way that is fundamentally at odds with God's Kingdom.

As Christians our hope is not in some great Christian nation that will oppress the whole world in the name of Jesus Christ. Our hope is that the power of love and humility will one day overcome all the nations that rule by force. When we try to build a "Christian nation" we are working against God's Kingdom.

This is why I don't find it troubling when people say that America isn't a Christian nation. In fact, I find it more troubling when people try to associate political forces and institutions with Christianity. Doing so only serves to confuse the message of Jesus.

If we want to stay faithful to the message of Jesus we can't be going after political power. Jesus' message is about loving others, serving them and valuing them above ourselves. If we make it about having power over them, having the ability to control them through political means, then we're abandoning the work that God has given us to do. That's not something I'm prepared to do.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What is the Holy Spirit?

I have a few ideas for posts I'd like to write in the near future. These posts have to do with the Holy Spirit. I decided that before I write these posts I aught to write a post describing exactly what the Holy Spirit is, just to make sure that everyone knows what I'm talking about.

The Holy Spirit is perhaps the least understood member of the Trinity, particularly in the West. When the it comes to the holy Trinity, most people understand that the son is Jesus, and they understand that the Father is the one who sent Jesus, but they don't always understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

This is our loss, because the presence of the Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian life.

When Jesus died for us on the cross he died so that we could have fellowship with God. That fellowship is realized when the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is how God makes Himself known to everyone who believes in Him. It is no exaggeration to say that the whole point of Jesus going to the cross was so that we could be made ready to receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus went to the cross so that we could be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is how God makes Himself available to us. It is through Holy Spirit that God speaks to us and it is through the Holy Spirit that God lives within us.

This is why I say that the Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian life, because through the Spirit we have fellowship with God. In a sense, this is the only purpose of the Holy Spirit; to bring us close to God. There is more to the activity of the Holy Spirit, but all of it is aimed at drawing people closer to God.

For example, the Holy Spirit transforms us, allowing us to obey God's commands. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to please God, but with the Holy Spirit we are able to do what God asks of us. This is one practical way that the Holy Spirit helps us to draw near to God.

Additionally, the Holy Spirit empowers us to do the work that God has called us to. Through the Holy Spirit we receive God's power in various forms. We receive these gifts so that we may bless others. We receive them so that we may extend the love of God into the world around us. In this way the Holy Spirit allows God draw near to us and to those around us.

I know that for many of us, some of the gifts on that list seem a little strange. We are ignorant about the supernatural and we like to pretend that it doesn't exist. But this is a part of who God is. Part of getting to know God is learning to embrace those things that seem weird to us, the things we don't understand.

To summarize, the Holy Spirit is what allows us to have fellowship with God in the here and now. The Holy Spirit causes God to dwell in our heart. The Holy Spirit transforms our character so that we can obey God. And the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to experience God's supernatural power here on earth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Television Tropes

I normally update the blog on Mondays. I'm going to experiment with doing less serious mid week posts to change things up a bit. Let me know if you enjoy the post. I will continue to do the usual Monday posts.

Today I'm going to talk about a marvelous time waster. If you have anything that you need to get done today then you probably shouldn't click on any of the links below. The site I'm about to link you to can be highly addictive and incredibly entertaining.

The site is tv tropes and it's an entertaining wiki that talks about many of the common conventions of television shows, as well as books, films, comics and other forms of entertainment. It's a fun site and a great time waster.

Most people associate the term wiki with the ubiquitous wikipedia, but there are quite a few wikis out there. Wikis have a few interesting properties.

First of all, you can utilize the collaborative nature of the wiki to quickly produce a lot of content. The result is that sites like wikipedia and tv tropes have thousands of pages.

Secondly, because they are extensively cross-linked, wikis make it easy to define new terms. You just create a page describing the term and link it. If the term is popular it catches on and soon everyone on the wiki will start using it. If the wiki is possible enough the term starts to crop up in other parts of the internet as well. (I personally found tv tropes when I was reading a forum discussion about whether or not a particular character qualified as a magnificent bastard.)

For example, many of you may know that the phrase "jumping the shark" refers to the moment when a good show begins to decline in quality. But do you know a phrase that describes that moment when an initially poor show starts getting better? On tv tropes it's called "growing the beard".

The end result, at least in the case of tv tropes, is that once you start reading you'll spend hours following all of the links and learning about all of the strange tropes and conventions used in fiction of various types. Which is why I told you not to click any of the links if you have stuff that you need to do today.

I'm sorry about that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Science and the Supernatural

Today's essay is going to be about scientific knowledge and how it relates to God. First I'm going to talk about how scientific knowledge works. Then I'm going to talk about how that relates to God. I'm going to conclude by talking about knowledge that depends on faith.

Science seeks to make sense of the complex universe we live in. Science explains staggeringly complex natural phenomena in terms of relatively simple theories. The behavior of light and of electrons is explained in terms of quantum theory. The behavior of planets is explained in terms of Einstein's theory of relativity. These theories might not seem simple, but they are much simpler than the events that they seek to explain.

Because the goal of science is to simplify matters, scientific theories never explain natural events in terms of divine causes. Planetary motion is complex, but it is much simpler to understand planetary motion than it is to understand the mind of God. The Bible tells us that God's wisdom is unsearchable. For this reason, explaining something natural, like planetary motion, in terms of God's will is counterproductive. We end up with a theory that is more complex than the events that the theory explains.

Therefore God must necessarily be left out of any purely scientific explanation of the universe. This doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. It means that no scientific theory can accommodate an unsearchable being such as God. This is because science is only concerned with things that can be fully understood.

Since science is limited in this way, there are some things that can't be scientifically understood. Scientists study the universe and learn about it's history and about the laws that govern it. In the lab scientists can recreate the conditions of the early universe. But there's no way for scientists to study the creation of a new universe.

We can observe and study the universe as it currently exists, but we can't study the first steps of the process that formed it. We know a lot about our universe, but we don't know how it came about. In other words, what is known was formed by that which is unknown.

This makes it difficult for scientists to answer some basic questions about the nature of our universe. For example, why do the laws of the universe allow complex matter to form? Why was the universe initially in a low entropy state? These questions both deal with the same concern. If the universe had been significantly different from what it is now, then we would never have existed.

These facts give me confidence that God exists. The fact that the universe was formed in such a way that life could evolve suggests that it was not some random or arbitrary process. It also suggests that the universe itself is not arbitrary or meaningless, but that it has a purpose. Or, to put it another way, that God had a purpose in making it.

I think we have good reason to believe in an eternal being that created everything. Unfortunately, we can't study this being the way we study black holes or supernovas. As I said above, what is known was made by that which is unknown. Even the bible tells us that no one has seen God and that God is unknown to us.

God is unlike the rest of creation, in that he cannot be directly studied. Indeed, we would not know anything about God, except possibly that He must exist, if God had not revealed Himself to us. We cannot begin to know God unless he first reveals Himself to us. This is why I encourage people to ask God to reveal Himself to them.

I would like to conclude by clarifying the nature of faith. Some people think that faith is merely belief without evidence. I would argue that faith in God is a belief in something for which there can be no direct evidence. God is beyond our ability to understand or comprehend. Whatever we believe about God we have no choice but to believe without evidence, because there is no evidence to consider. That is what it means to have faith.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Politics and the Kingdom of God

In my last post I talked about how authority works in the Kingdom of God. Today I'm going to talk about how that teaching applies to politics.

In the prior post I compared political power and authority with power and authority in God's Kingdom and I showed that there are some incredible differences. The basis for political power is force, which is used to coerce people. The basis for power in God's Kingdom is love, which is used to transform people.

If we can grasp this truth then we will realize that the Kingdom of God cannot be brought about by political means. Even if our political agenda is holy and righteous and pure and good, it can never take the place of God's own love. And no political agenda can take the place of our obligation to love others.

When Jesus came into the world He gave up His power. He allowed Himself to be killed so that we could be healed. In the same way we are asked to give up power, to lay down our agendas and love people so that they too can know the love of God and be healed.

We have two options. We can choose to follow Jesus or we can choose to pursue power. When Christians make the latter choice, several unfortunate consequences inevitably follow.

First and foremost, the message of Jesus gets obscured. The Kingdom of God is central to Jesus' teachings. If we replace God's Kingdom with a political message we lose the heart and soul of the good news that Jesus preached. The Kingdom of God isn't a nation or a system of government or a party platform. God's Kingdom is altogether different. When we let a political entity take the place of God's Kingdom, we end up with a kingdom that's not all that different from the oppressive kingdoms of the world.

As a result it becomes harder to share the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus becomes associated with a political message. Anyone who opposes the political message will usually feel some antagonism toward Jesus as well.

Of course, it isn't just outsiders who will be repelled by the political message of the church. Often times fellow Christians will find themselves at odds with "Christian" political views. This can result in groups of Christians splitting off and forming their own church. More often than not, the new church will have its own political agenda, which only makes the problem worse.

Before I finish let me just say that I don't think its wrong for Christians to be involved with politics. I just want to stress the point that God's kingdom is not a political kingdom. God's Kingdom is one of love and humility rather than political power. It is important that we remember that.