Monthly Archives: May 2012

Am I a Monster?

Yesterday I caught a mouse. Today, as far as I know, that mouse is still alive and suffering. And I am feeling like a heartless monster.

After several hours of hearing scrapping noises in our den, my wife finally was perturbed enough to call me at church and ask me to come home and find out what was going on. Upon lifting up one particular chair, I noticed that the mousetrap I had placed behind that chair was missing. That, of course, was the clue I needed. So, I started looking for that trap and soon found it, hidden behind a magazine holder.

When I lifted the magazine holder out of the way, there was the trap, with a mouse caught by the leg. As soon as its hiding place was uncovered, the poor mouse took off on its three available legs, dragging the trap with it. Clearly, this was the sound that had so alarmed my wife. The mouse actually moved pretty quickly, under the circumstances. In fact, hampered as I was by the determination to insure that my hand didn’t come within biting range, he almost eluded me. He tried to run behind the TV stand, where I couldn’t get to him without moving heavy furniture. But his downfall was that he attempted, mouse-like, to go through a space that was plenty big for a mouse but too small for the trap. So, I had him.

But now, what to do with him? I was holding one end of the trap, with the mouse dangling from the other end. I’m sure I must have appeared to him to be a monstrous ogre, intent on his destruction. And, of course, that was the truth. The purpose of mousetraps is the destruction of mice. But they are supposed to be conveniently dead before I have to deal with them. This one was very inconveniently alive, and contorting its body so as to move toward my hand holding the trap. I felt I had to act quickly, so I had my wife give me some plastic bags into which I placed the trap and mouse. I then tied the bags and put the whole thing into a garbage can out in the garage. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

All night and into today I’ve been thinking about that mouse. At the least it probably has a broken leg, from which it must be feeling much pain. I don’t want that. I have no ill will toward mice (actually, I think these field mice are cute). I just don’t want them running around and contaminating my house. So, I set traps. But I was really disturbed last night, lying in my comfortable bed while a fellow creature, by my action, was suffering pain and destined for a lingering death. I have not been intentionally cruel, and even now I don’t know how else I could have handled it. But I wish it had not happened.

Perhaps there are deep theological implications to this type of situation. If so, I don’t feel like even trying to think them through. I’ve just been praying for the mouse, that it will not suffer too much and will die quickly.

And that I am not a monster.

Can God Be Deduced?

See my article God, The Creator at The Word In Life blog.

Recently, Prayson Daniel had a blog post that asked, “Can the Universe Exist Without God?” That kicked off a discussion with a blogger called Abandon TV, who posed the question of whether the existence of God can be deduced from available evidence, or whether it is only a social construct that must be transmitted from person to person. Abandon TV’s point is that if people cannot deduce that God exists without somebody telling them that He does, that amounts to proof that God’s existence is only a social fabrication, and not an observable fact.

I (among others) responded to Abandon TV’s question, with the aim of demonstrating that the fact of God’s existence can indeed be independently deduced from the design of the universe. That resulted in what I think are some interesting exchanges, so I am reproducing them here. Please feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion.

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Abandon TV May 7, 2012 at 13:50

I wonder if anyone can argue against the logic of the following.

If you or I had been born without a Christian upbringing we are rather unlikely to end up becoming Christians (although it is certainly possible).

If you or I had been born in some culture where Christianity was not the dominant religion there is a high probability we’d end up not a Christian – especially if being a Christian went against the dominant religion of our family, peers and local community and therefore made us somewhat isolated, or even ostracised, from local community life (worship, marriage, festivals etc).

If we’d been born in an area were there is no practice and no *knowledge* whatsoever of Christianity (such as some remote rural community in a distant land which had never been invaded by Europeans) then we *definitely* would not end up a Christian. We would have no knowledge of God, Jesus, the Bible etc as defined by Christianity. We might worship (or simply be in awe of) the sun, moon, stars, wind, nature, trees, seasons, life cycles and the glory of creation in our own way. But we would be literally unable to become Christians. And if in later life we were ever exposed to this religion we would be highly unlikely to take it seriously (as being the truth), and even less likely to adopt it. That is unless we were influenced or coerced into adopting the religion by factors such as force, indoctrination, monetary and material incentives (infrastructure etc) and peer pressure.

In other words, belief in (and adoption of) the Christian religion (or any other organised religion for that matter) can ONLY be transmitted from other human being to another. It is has always, and only ever been, transmitted from one generation of humans to the next.

Unlike laughter, sex, hunger, dancing, cooking, hunting, hugging, crying, building shelters, being affected by beauty, fearing heights, enjoying sunshine etc etc Christianity is NOT something which comes to us from within, or without. We can ONLY become Christian if we are exposed to other human beings who are already Christians and who must then teach us what Christianity is (just as someone taught them). And even then we are still just as likely to reject it as we are to adopt it as a religion.

Humans all over the world may indeed be spontaneously develop organised religions (and they have!) but no two religions are ever the same (except where humans have travelled between cultures and mixed up their different religious ideas by themselves).

This is in stark contrast to the universe itself which exists and is consistent wherever you are. Its existence is NOT dependent on instruction from other humans.

Therefore, using standard logical criteria, we can say that the universe exists, but that ‘God’ (Christian or any belonging to any other religion) is, by definition, a social construct. God is *entirely* dependent on social interaction (instruction from fellow human beings) to be defined and adopted as an entity. Without this social instruction God will (as all the evidence shows) simply not exist.

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Abandon TV May 7, 2012 at 16:39

. . .

My point was there is no evidence or reason to indicate it is possible for a human being to encounter Christianity (or any other organised religion) in any way EXCEPT through culture ie from one person to another.

. . .

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RonFCCC May 14, 2012 at 04:48

Abandon TV,

You say, “My point was there is no evidence or reason to indicate it is possible for a human being to encounter Christianity (or any other organised religion) in any way EXCEPT through culture ie from one person to another.”

Actually, as a Christian I agree with this point. So, I believe, does God. That’s why He went to the trouble of instituting a whole nation (Israel) for the purpose of ensuring a human mechanism through which specific truth about Him could be transmitted through the generations. He took the further step of having much of that knowledge recorded in a form not subject to transmission error (the Bible). However, when you extend your argument to the existence of God, I believe it fails on grounds pointed out by the Bible itself:

Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Romans 1:19-20 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

The claim here is that knowledge of God’s existence is independent of culture and requires no human mechanism for its transmission because it is self-evident from the design of the universe. That is to say, the existence of clock-makers is implicit in the existence of clocks. The idea that the existence of an intricate mechanism necessarily implies a designer is one that occurs independently to many individuals without the necessity of it being transmitted from person to person. Whether you agree with that idea is immaterial to your claim. The fact that the observation of design in the universe brings many human beings to a belief in God independent of any social transmission answers your argument.

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Abandon TV May 14, 2012 at 11:40

“…The claim here is that knowledge of God’s existence is independent of culture and requires no human mechanism for its transmission because it is self-evident from the design of the universe. That is to say, the existence of clock-makers is implicit in the existence of clocks. …The fact that the observation of design in the universe brings many human beings to a belief in God independent of any social transmission answers your argument….”

OK, I would agree with you that the universe is unfathomably exquisite in its construction One may indeed call it ‘design’ but to then use mundane logic to deduce a hidden ‘designer’ (ie God) immediately creates another logical problem as great (if not greater) than the first. Here is the logic:

The universe is complex and exhibits (what we think of as) design (sea shells, DNA etc)…. therefore a designer is required … therefore we shall deduce a designer and call him God.

The problem is that the same logic we use to deduce the existence of God must also be abandoned as soon as we have deduced the existence of God, otherwise this logic will force us to ask the same question again: “Who designed God?” By your own logic the ‘existence of an entity as complex as God proves the existence of another God who must have designed God ……and so on forever. One could use the argument that God is extra special and as such requires no designer, but why not then apply this same logic to the universe and say that all creation is so extra special (and we know it is!) that it requires no designer?

Therefore, God represents not so much an explanation of the wonder and mystery of the universe, but rather an agreement to encapsulate all of that wonder, put it in a folder (named ‘God’) and never think any further on the subject. God is, in effect, a full stop to mark the end of a sentence. A sentence which would otherwise carry on forever because it is pondering the nature of the universe. God represents the end of our thinking and questioning.

Science goes the other way and dismisses all the apparent ‘design’ in the universe to pure mathematics, randomness, chance. This is also a kind of full stop to prevent eternal pondering.

What both approaches do is focus our attention outside of ourselves to a third party (either God or science). But all we can really say is that the universe ‘is’. And all we can really do is take our rightful place in that universe, as part of it. There is nothing about us which is not just as awesome and mysterious as anything else in the universe. We ARE the universe and our consciousness can (if we allow it) expand to become aware of the entire universe – giving us the answers we seek, in ‘knowing’ rather than words.

But both science and organised religions steer us away from knowing the universe directly in this way. Instead they encourage us to refer to a third party instead, whether this be a computer, a text, an equation or a priest. And this limits the scope of what we can know and achieve as humans – which is probably why the ruling classes have always encouraged us to see the world through religion and/ or science. But that’s another subject….

My point is that logic must be applied consistently. If you are going to use logic to determine the existence of God you must be consistent and apply that same logic to the existence of God as well. The existence of God also implies a(nother) creator – even more so than the the existence of the universe does. You can’t insist the existence of a watch points to a watchmaker and then refuse to ponder how that watchmaker came into being. That is not applying logic, it is just reciting a myth.

To me the logical (and magical) stance would be to simply proclaim the universe itself to be ‘God’. In this case God and the universe are interchangeable terms, one did not create the other, the universe/God simply IS. Suddenly the universe is no longer divided into the mundane watch (everything) and the magical watchmaker (God). Everything becomes magical, including us. We become God. Without this God/ universe division human consciousness itself blossoms. And perhaps most telling of all, when we realise God and the universe are the same thing all systems of hierarchy become ridiculous, including all organised religions. Organised religions are supposed to be bridges between the mundane world and God. When everything is properly identified as God, religion becomes something resembling a bridge in the middle of a meadow! (the bridge does not connect us to anywhere new). Without this function of connecting us to God, religion can be revealed for what it’s really all about: aggregated wealth, a hierarchy of authority, religious dogma, child abuse and a history of genocide and persecution. The control of the many by a few through the manipulation of ideas and emotions, and through brute force (violence).

To speak the truth about organised religion – and to reject it – is not to reject God…… it is to reject evil and to seek God. God is not ‘up there’ and religion is not the bridge allowing us to connect with another realm where God the watchmaker resides looking down on us. God is right here – we are God, as is everything else. To wipe away organised religion is to enjoy a direct connection with God, perhaps for the first time ever. It is to swim in the glorious ocean, rather than read about the glory of the ocean in a book or have someone preach to you about it, before then taking your money and telling you how to live your life.

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RonFCCC May 14, 2012 at 15:17

Abandon TV,

I think that in your analysis you have fallen into several subtle linguistic and logical traps.

(1) You have slipped in a redefinition of the word “God.” Thomas Aquinas saw God as the “uncaused cause” and “first mover” of the existence of the physical universe. I think his formulation has specific bearing on your argument:

“But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”

The point I am making is not about the validity of Aquinas’ argument (although it directly refutes your claim and has withstood centuries of the most critical examination), but about the last sentence in the quoted statement: “and this everyone understands to be God.” When you assume that God must have had a designer, you are no longer working within the accepted meaning of the word “God.” You are talking about something else that no one claims to know anything about. When people deduce “God” from the design of the universe, what they have in mind is exactly Aquinas’ Uncaused Cause, and not this other thing that was itself designed.

(2) Another attribute that is embodied in the accepted definition of “God” is that He is not entrapped within Time as we are. Time is a construct that has meaning only from the moment the universe began, which we now know that it did – it literally started with a bang! When you posit that God must have had a designer, you slip in the implicit assumption that God had a beginning. But what does “beginning” mean from a non-Time frame of reference? Once again, you have implicitly redefined God as something within time rather than, as the accepted concept of God requires, being outside and in fact the inventor of Time. Any attempt at logical deduction about the non-Time in which God exists, and which human beings are not equipped to even imagine, is ludicrous.

(3) Speaking of logic, upon which you so heavily rely, what exactly is it? In a universe that “just happened,” human beings are nothing more than accidents of evolution, bio-chemical machines that have been conditioned though natural selection to react to certain stimuli along predetermined lines. In that scenario what you call “logic” is no different in kind to the conditioning that causes birds to build their nests a specific way. The greater apparent complexity of the conditioned responses of humans is irrelevant. There is no rational process at work – just environmental influences, genetic inheritance, and blind chance. You “think” the way you do for no other reason than the mechanism called “you” has been conditioned to respond in that way. Therefore, once you assume the universe to be Godless and undesigned, to say that “logic” requires a particular conclusion is inherently fallacious.

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Abandon TV May 15, 2012 at 11:11

1. If those who believe in God define him as a ‘first mover’ (ie he came into existence from nothing, to put it simply) then that is fine. They’re free to believe this. But they must accept it is just a belief. What they can’t do is pretend to be using *logic* to deduce God’s existence – specifically the logic which you put forth which is that the universe shows design and therefore it requires a designer.

What I was saying previously is that you can’t have it both ways. If the universe requires a designer then God requires a designer too. If God (in all his complexity) can come into existence out of nothing and from nowhere then so can the universe (in all its complexity).

2. “…Another attribute that is embodied in the accepted definition of “God” is that He is not entrapped within Time as we are…”

My same argument applies here to. (Linear) time is a human invention (and a relatively new one too). Linear time is simply a way of handling the universe. One way out of many ways. The idea of the universe being eternal has been considered by humans much longer than the idea of the universe being finite and starting with a big bang. What came before the big bang? Scientists simply don’t know. Only a few decades ago scientists thought atoms were the smallest building blocks in the universe. Science (as we know it today) is a relatively new endeavour barely a few centuries old!

Once again, we can just as easily propose the theory that the universe is outside time, or that like an iceberg in water there are areas of the universe which lie outside of what we call linear time. There is no need to invent a God, and there is no reason to invent a God to solve any problems with creation.

3. To clarify: I am merely pointing out logical fallacies and inconsistencies in the logic commonly used to argue for God’s existence and to define what God is. I am testing YOUR logic rather than bringing my own to the table.

The notion of watch requiring a watchmaker is a *logical* argument which YOU made. I was merely pointing out the inconsistency of applying that logic to argue for God’s existence but refusing to apply that same logic to God himself when you refuse to ask who designed God. You attempt to get around this logical inconsistency by turning to another argument, namely that not everything is required to be ‘moved’ by another and that as such God can be a ‘first mover’. I then pointed out that the same can be logically be said for the universe itself. You then argued that God was outside of time. There is no logic which suggests that the universe isn’t also outside of time. Linear time may exist only within the universe itself – in fact we already know that the nature of time changes dramatically depending on where you are in the universe and what you are doing (such as travelling a certain speeds). Again, defining God in this way in an attempt to prove his existence is logically inconsistent.

“… There is no rational process at work…”

Yes there is. Logic is not the same as ‘truth’ (facts) where the evidence might be interpreted differently, or require first hand experience which is not available to all of us (such as eyewitness accounts presented to a jury).

Logic is available to all of us. Logic (or rationality) is a way of handling the information which is currently available. Put simply, logic simply requires that the statements and propositions we make are consistent and can be applied universally.

I am merely pointing out the inconsistencies in your argument which you present as logical but which are not.

To be clear: I am not arguing against what you believe. I am merely saying your *logical* arguments do not hold. What you argue is therefore exclusively in the realm of belief, faith (ie a myth which you have chosen to believe). That’s fine by me. My only issue is your incorrect presentation of that myth in terms of logic

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RonFCCC May 15, 2012 at 20:33

Abandon TV,

Where to start?!

Before I get to the points we’ve been discussing, let me tell you about an experience I had the other day. During the winter we often have field mice seek shelter in our house. I’ve found that by sitting still, they won’t notice you. So, I was able to overhear a conversation between two of them.

One said, “Wow! This is the neatest burrow I’ve ever seen. In fact it looks as if Someone actually designed it. Yes! That must be the case. I think I’ll call the designer Architect.”

The other looked at him with scorn and asked, “If Architect designed this burrow, then who designed Architect? After all, you can’t deduce the existence of Architect without also being able to say who designed Him. That’s just logic.”

The first mouse replied, sadly, “I guess you’re right. We should accept the fact that this burrow, even though it looks so complex and intricate, just happened. But I was so excited about Architect. It’s too bad you proved He can’t exist.”

A couple of very wise mice, huh?

(1) The 3-letter sequence G-o-d either has some agreed upon significance or it is as meaningless as X-q-j. You can’t claim that Xqj requires a designer without imputing some specific meaning to Xqj. If you insist that you will treat Xqj as signifying one thing, while the rest of the world, including those who don’t believe in the existence of Xqj, agree that it signifies something else … Well, you can do that, but it makes meaningful discussion about Xqj impossible.

(2) Perhaps I wasn’t clear about the point I’m trying to make concerning time: In talking about what the generality of people throughout the world, except yourself, mean by the letter sequence G-o-d, to speak of His beginning is not meaningful since doing so assumes an attribute (time-boundness) that is not part of what G-o-d means. For a timeless being, terms like beginning and end are meaningless. In other words, when people deduce the existence of God from the design of the universe, the God they deduce is someone who is outside of time and for whom, therefore, the question of His own designer does not arise. You can tell them that they have no right to deduce that particular God, but I’m afraid they’ve already done it.

(3) You say, “I am testing YOUR logic rather than bringing my own to the table.” Oh, the irony! Isn’t it clear that you can test my logic only be accepting my frame of reference (God exists)? If you logically deduce that my frame of reference is invalid, then you must accept (as I showed in my previous post), that no such thing as “logic” exists. But if no such thing as logic exists, then you cannot have logically disproved what I assert. But if you accept what I assert in order to disprove it … Makes you dizzy, doesn’t it?

Anyway, you can’t take hacks at my reasoning without putting yours on the table as well. Long ago, when I was first considering the issues we are discussing, I reached the conclusion that the existence of God was highly improbable. But then, after examining the case for the other side, I had to admit that the only thing less probable was that He did not exist. So you can’t stop with just saying there are holes in my case – of course there are. I think very few people would make the claim that the case for theism has no holes. It’s just that compared to the alternative, the case for theism is the Rock of Gibraltar.

Some of these issues are addressed in a video, Pointers To God: Clear Evidences for God’s Existence.

The Persecution Trap

The Persecution Trap: When sincere believers who are making questionable decisions won’t listen to correction because they consider it to be persecution.

The unfettered opulence that characterizes the lifestyles of some prosperity gospel teachers has caught the attention of Congress. Senator Charles Grassley (R, Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has conducted a congressional investigation of six TV ministries that feature prosperity teaching, looking to uncover any financial misconduct. Several reactions to that probe are featured here, including an article by J. Lee Grady that was first published in Charisma Magazine. In my response to Grady’s article, I say the following:

I don’t like it that government is investigating Christian ministries. I like it much less that government HAS to investigate these ministries. Obviously, the church is not doing the job of self-correction. By that failure we open the door to a level of government intrusion that should make us all uncomfortable.

I found especially telling Grady’s question, “How can anyone … think that it is a wise use of God’s money to pay $10,000 a night for a hotel room on the way home from a foreign ministry trip?” Perhaps the real issue is that we have allowed ministry leaders to forget that it is God’s money and not their own that pours into their ministries. Leaders of ministries are not owners but stewards. And as Paul says, it is required in stewards that they be found faithful.

The fact of the matter is, if we Christians don’t hold our own ministries accountable, the government will. That’s just reality.

Why doesn’t the church at large hold accountable ministry leaders who live extravagant lifestyles on money donated to their ministries? Actually, many Christian leaders have been quite vocal with their critiques. (See, for example, Albert Mohler’s comment in my article, “Prosperity Gospel Or Gospel Prosperity?”). The problem is that the prosperity teachers aren’t listening. Their theology has built-in defenses against remonstrances about their lifestyles from people outside of the prosperity gospel movement.

First of all, prosperity teachers genuinely believe in their theology, which tells them that any believer who is faithful and faith-filled should expect to live large. In the recent New York Times article on Paul and Jan Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, there is this telling comment:

Relatives and former employees agreed that Paul and Janice Crouch seem to have deep spiritual feelings and believe they are doing the Lord’s work — a belief, according to a former employee, Troy Clements, that seemed to justify almost any extravagance.

So, far from it bringing any consciousness of doing something wrong, prosperity teachers see their ability to live lavishly on donated money as vindication of the truth of their theology. And because of that theology, they are impervious to criticism by non-prosperity gospel leaders. In fact, they expect such criticism because of the apostle Paul’s admonition that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). To these leaders, any criticism of their lifestyles is evidence of the persecution they expect to be subjected to.

In a Christianity Today article entitled Prosperity Gospel on Skid Row, Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches, puts it this way:

Most clergy who preach a prosperity gospel would interpret for their congregation any conflict, scrutiny, or questioning as an attack of the Devil and proof that they are following God.

This is what I call the Persecution Trap. When sincere believers are making questionable decisions, but won’t listen to correction because they consider it to be persecution, they trap themselves into continuing on an ungodly path in their lives. And by the very nature of the trap, no one can help them to escape it. Outside pressure from other Christians just confirms them in the belief that they are under satanic attack because of their faithfulness to the gospel.

And yet, the whole idea that we don’t have to listen to correction by other believers because we know we are right is unbiblical. Many verses in Proverbs, for example, make that point:

Prov 15:12    A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, Nor will he go to the wise.

Prov 13:1    A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Prov 9:8    Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.

It is always dangerous, and a sin against humility, to just shrug off, without examination, attempts by other believers to correct us. Instead we need to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), and, like the Bereans, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. Then God can get past our defenses and show us when we are missing the mark.

All of us, as the body of Christ, need to be praying for our leaders that the Holy Spirit will be able to minister humility and truth into their lives (and our own as well!). That, I believe, is the only escape from the Persecution Trap.

What do you think?

Prosperity Gospel Or Gospel Prosperity?

The prosperity gospel: the belief that God rewards faith with wealth, health, and happiness.”

The “prosperity gospel” has given biblical prosperity a bad name.

Take, for example, a recent New York Times article that highlights the lavish lifestyle of the founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). The article begins this way:

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The article goes on to say:

The lavish perquisites, corroborated by two other former TBN employees, include additional, often-vacant homes in Texas and on the former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.

A number of other secular media outlets, such as Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and CBS News, have published major (and very critical) prosperity gospel stories in recent years. The Atlantic Magazine even had an article seriously questioning whether prosperity teaching caused the recent financial crash!

Many Christian leaders see all this as a terrible testimony to unbelievers. For example, in the NY Times TBN article, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, made his disdain for prosperity teaching very clear. “Prosperity theology is a false theology,” Dr. Mohler said. “Between its message and its reputation for high spending, TBN has been a huge embarrassment to evangelical Christianity for decades.”

I think Dr. Mohler’s critique of the way some ministries have taught and misused prosperity theology is on target. Too many ministry leaders have forgotten that it is God’s money and not their own that pours into their ministries. Leaders of ministries are not owners but stewards. And as the apostle Paul says, it is required in stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor 4:1-2).

However, the statement that “prosperity theology is a false theology” can be misunderstood. I would rather say something like, “prosperity theology, as taught and practiced by some prosperity teachers, is a false theology.” Why the difference? Because I believe there is a true biblical prosperity that has nothing to do with the “health and wealth” gospel. In fact, I happen to be preaching about prosperity right now, in a series of sermons based on Psalm 35:27:

Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause; And let them say continually, “Let the LORD be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant”  (Psalm 35:27, NKJV).

God does want prosperity for His people! But that prosperity has little to do with mansions and limos and private jets.

The Hebrew word translated as prosperity in Psalm 35:27 is shalom, which speaks of welfare in all aspects of life: things like health, peace, safety, and wellness, as well as financial provision. So biblical prosperity has to do with wellbeing in every area of a person’s life. That’s what God desires and promises for His people.

But does that mean that God wants to make every believer rich? That’s not what the Bible indicates. In fact, Scripture is pretty emphatic that for a believer to seek, or even desire, material wealth is dangerous and damaging to their spiritual health. Look, for example, at the apostle Paul’s teaching:

1 Tim 6:6-11    Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11  But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

That seems to me to be pretty conclusive – believers are not to be focused on attaining wealth. This does not say that God intends for His children to be poor – far from it! In His time and for His own purposes, God may well give the stewardship of great wealth into our hands. Proverbs 10:22, for example, assures us that “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (NIV). So, it is not wealth but the seeking of wealth that Scripture forbids.

Some have criticized the prosperity gospel on the basis that it is disproved by the fact that many sincere believers remain financially poor. As one well known Christian leader says, “I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty.” That seems to imply that for some Christians, poverty is the position in life that God has ordained for them, and nothing in the gospel gives them promise of anything different. I don’t believe that! Look, for example, at David’s testimony of God’s provision for believers:

Psa 37:25    I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.

I read this verse as saying that God’s design is that none of His faithful children should remain all their lives in bread-begging (food stamp) poverty. Certainly, many believers start out poor. I myself was raised in the projects. But I believe it is a grave disservice to the message of Scripture to communicate to poor people that God has made no provision for lifting them out of poverty. Both Scripture and experience demonstrate the opposite.

1 Thess 4:11-12    that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, 12  that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.

Paul says that a faithful follower of Christ should expect to reach a  place where, by the blessing of God on their hard work, they “lack nothing.” And that is what happens repeatedly when people are converted and begin to faithfully live the Christian life. It’s called, Redemption and Lift, a term coined by Donald McGavran, who was a missionary to India, a missionary historian, and the founding dean of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Redemption and Lift

McGavran studied how the church grew from big evangelistic movements among poor people in various parts of the world. He documented that one of the consistent results of these poor people getting saved was … they stopped being poor! They abandoned their lifestyles of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity and drug addiction, and became honest and hard-working members of the community. And their poverty turned into prosperity!

True biblical prosperity is not about “sowing a seed” in order to reap wealth. It is about following God’s pattern for life, and thereby being brought to a place of well-being in every area of life. In other words:

PROSPERITY IS THE OVERFLOW OF A GODLY LIFESTYLE!

That, I believe, is the message of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdomof God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

I love what the prophet Jeremiah records concerning God’s promise of shalom to His people:

Jer 29:11 (NIV)    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

That’s gospel prosperity!

What do you think?


Should Christians Continue To Fight Same-Sex Marriage?

With North Carolina’s recent approval of an amendment to its constitution forbidding same-sex marriages, there are now 31 states with some kind of ban on homosexual marriage. Yet the tide of opinion in the country actually seems to be running the other way.

A recent Washington Post article cites the work of public-opinion specialist Greg Lewis, who has been studying attitudes toward homosexual rights for two decades. Looking at the results of many different public opinion polls over a number of years, Lewis concludes that “support for same-sex marriage has increased by 16 points since 2004,” and at the end of 2011 stood at about 46 percent – up from 30 percent in 2004. And with President Barack Obama’s newly declared support for homosexual marriage, gay rights advocates see this as a pivotal moment in history for their cause.

So, given that our highly secularized society is moving more and more toward acceptance of same-gender marriages, should Christians continue to resist that tide, or just move on to more winnable fights?

The day after President Obama’s announcement of his new position on the subject, Kevin DeYoung published a web article entitled “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage.” His list included the following:

  1. Every time gay marriage has been put to a vote, the people have voted to uphold traditional marriage.
  2. The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good.
  3. The term marriage has meant something throughout history. We should not concede that “gay marriage” is really marriage.
  4. Legalizing gay marriage further normalizes what was until very recently, and still should be, considered deviant behavior.
  5. Once we surrender the (same-sex) marriage fight, the cultural pressure will not stop until it achieves the elimination of definitions (of marriage) altogether.

All these are valid reasons to continue the fight. But there is an additional reason not on DeYoung’s list that I think merits a great deal of attention. There are a lot of people out there who are deeply spiritually deceived about this issue. I’m not talking about secular proponents of “marriage equality.” I’m talking about people who are in church on Sunday and profess themselves to be both Christian and homosexual. I’ve been interacting with some of these folks online, and I’m convinced that for their sake, and perhaps more importantly, for the sakes of those who might be influenced to join them, the battle must still be fought.

Homosexual Christians”

The self-professed homosexual believers I’ve been interacting with are very deeply entrenched in their belief system. Many are quite bitter about the way they are received (or not received) by other believers. They are very quick to accuse Christians who advocate for continuing the legal ban on same-sex marriage of violating their rights and demonstrating hatred toward them. They usually insist that God’s love sanctions their same-gender relationships, and that Scripture passages that speak of God’s hatred for homosexuality are just misinterpreted. Their great justification for their lifestyle is, “I was born homosexual.”

To be frank, I have so far seen little evidence that people who are committed to their homosexual identity are open to biblical truth on the subject. Their armor of denial is too thick. And in order to protect that armor from being breached, they typically refuse any serious examination of the actual texts in Scripture that address God’s stand on homosexuality. They have an array of quips, evasions and superficial talking points at the ready to avoid being dragged into any discussion of what Scripture actually says.

But in light of Isaiah 55:11 (“My word … shall not return to Me void”) and James 5:20 (“he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death”) it is well worth continuing to make the biblical case that homosexuality is not acceptable to God. Plus, I’m finding that these discussions are strengthening my own ability to share what Scripture teaches, so that I am better prepared to influence people who are not yet so deep into the homosexual lifestyle.

Issues and Answers

Here are some of the issues homosexuals who profess Christ typically raise, along with the way I have addressed them.

Scripture doesn’t say God opposes homosexuality. That’s just your interpretation. You have your interpretation, I have mine.

Let’s look at what the apostle Paul had to say:

Rom 1:26-28    For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. 28  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;

Although I have challenged a number of self-professed Christian homosexuals to do so, I have yet to have anyone even attempt to give a pro-gay interpretation of this passage. It’s very difficult to see how a rational and intellectually honest person can objectively read it and still think that “being gay is of God.”

To condemn a loving homosexual relationship is hypocritical and hateful.

It would be hypocrisy only if all forms of love were equally valid. But that is not the case. Some relationships, however loving they may be, are simply not allowable. For example, most people would rightfully condemn my actions if I decided to pursue a “love” relationship with your wife (while she is married to you) or your 8-year old daughter. Those relationships are out of bounds no matter how much love I might have. Labeling as “loving” a relationship that is impermissible on other grounds does not redeem that relationship into moral acceptability.

It is not hateful to tell a homosexual the truth about what God thinks of his lifestyle. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Is it hatred to tell a diabetic that his habit of eating 10 or 20 Twinkies every day is physically damaging to him? No! And neither is telling a homosexual, on the basis of the clear teaching of Scripture, that his lifestyle is spiritually damaging to him. It is, in fact, the most loving thing you can do for him.

But Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation in Christ.

True. But should homosexuals rest easy because of that? I strongly urge them not to! The practice of homosexuality is identified in Scripture as being extremely grievous to God (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-28).

In 2 Cor 13:5 the apostle Paul urges all believers, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you are disqualified.”

How might a spiritual self-examination show a person who professes Christ that they are in fact “disqualified”?

1 John 2:4 says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Clearly, 1 John 2:4 is saying that a person who persists in a lifestyle that is in direct violation of the commands of Christ has no right to claim to be “in Him.” Since Scripture is clear that God severely disapproves of homosexuality, people who profess Christ but continue to practice a homosexual lifestyle should be very concerned about their spiritual state. Unless they repent and allow Christ to truly be Lord in their lives, they are indeed in great danger of condemnation.

But I was born homosexual!

I am not aware of any passage of Scripture that directly addresses the question of whether individuals may be born with a preference for same-sex relationships. But what is clearly addressed is that it is not permissible for any person to be sexually active outside of marriage or with a same-gender partner. Your issue is no different from that of an unmarried heterosexual. Outside of a one man, one woman marriage, you must remain celibate. That’s the biblical standard, and if you obey it, the question of “born gay” doesn’t even arise.

It is a violation of homosexuals’ rights to not allow them to marry. We need Marriage Equality!

None of us has an unlimited right to marry anyone we may love. If I love my sister, or even, in many states, my first cousin, I am not legally allowed to marry her. So, the idea that any legal restriction on my choice of whom to marry is inherently a violation of my rights is fallacious. The ban on same-sex marriage does not take away any existing rights from anybody. Homosexuals already have exactly the same rights to marry as anyone else. What they now are asking for is a redefinition of the institution of marriage to give them marital rights that no one ever had before.

Legal bans on homosexual marriage now are just as discriminatory as bans on interracial marriage were in the past.

Interracial marriage and homosexual “marriage” are not comparable issues. Bans on interracial marriage by definition illegally deny rights based solely on race. That is forbidden by the 13th and 14th Amendments. Laws that prohibit same-gender marriage make no legal distinctions between persons – homosexuals have exactly the same rights to marry as anyone else. Such laws simply forbid the redefinition of marriage to something fundamentally different from what it has been. That is not discrimination.

Should Christians continue to fight same-sex marriage? Yes! Let’s keep planting seeds of truth.

What do you think?