I’ve recently been observing numerous Christian agencies (camps, youth groups, schools, etc.) instruct kids to identify their points of idolatry, and then completely abandon the idol. I find this model troublesome for a variety of reasons. The primary problem with idolatry is not the idol itself, but rather the disproportionate amount of affection the idol receives from the idolater.
According to some estimates, there are over 4,200 religions in the world. How would one go about adjudicating between this mass of beliefs and determine which to be true, if such a thing as truth even exists? Surely some measure of research must be performed in order to make this judgment, but how could the religious seeker take on this daunting task and still maintain hope of efficiently spending his time? While number of adherents does not determine truth, it would seem logical to begin such a study by examining the largest religions of the world – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. This mass reduction certainly helps narrow the scope of religious study, but there still remains the question of which major religion to analyze first. Christianity should be considered by the truly reasonable seeker before any other religious tradition because it is evidentially testable, has a distinctive message of grace, and provides for consistent logical thought that accurately deals with life’s most pressing issues.
The most prominent distinguishing element of Christianity is its evidential and testable central teaching; the Bible says, “if Christ has not been raised, then our teaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” This type of language is incredibly foreign to traditional sacred texts because of the immense weight that is placed on a single historical event. If this event could be studied and denied on reasonable grounds, then the religious seeker could abandon Christianity and move on to other religions. Buddhism and Hinduism require extensive immersion into their systems of thought before their experiential and existential value supposedly shines through. This does not mean they are incorrect, but with over 4,200 religions to study, the wise seeker would turn his focus toward the resurrection of Jesus Christ before other religious traditions. If it can be reasonably proven that Jesus did rise from the dead, then the search is complete and the truth has been found; however, if untrue, Christianity can be quickly discarded and the seeker will maintain plenty of time to search out other religions.
Beyond the evidential nature of Christianity, the skeptic should want Christianity to be true more than any other religion because the Bible teaches salvation is completely free. God’s merit and favor does not have to be earned, rather, it is freely given to any human who will accept his gift. Contrast this with the merit-based conceptions of salvation within Islam, Judaism, and others and it becomes clear why the skeptic should desire Christianity to be true. Again, this does not mean that Christianity is true or false, but merely points out that most people like free gifts, so the free gift should be investigated before the gift that takes a lifetime to earn. This teaching, called “grace” is unique to Christianity, offering unprecedented peace of mind for the believer since salvation is not perpetually at risk due to his good or bad behavior.
Along with its evidential base and distinctive of grace, Christianity should be considered before other religious traditions because its teachings encourage adherents to live consistent lives of logical and rational thought. This may not seem like a distinctive at first, but consider Zen Buddhism that insists on embracing irrationality. Buddhism asks its followers to become detached from the rules of logic and the external world. However, this can only be held in a religious sense, for no one in their right mind will deny the reality of the external world or the most fundamental rules of logic when it comes to traffic rules or their private property. In this sense, Buddhism requires a compartmentalized life. In contrast, Christianity teaches that believers should be, “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Interestingly, the Greek word referring to Jesus, translated in John 1:1 as ‘Word’, is the same word that can also be translated ‘logic.’ It is not a stretch to say that Jesus not only teaches logical thinking about his truth, but himself embodies logic and in fact is ‘the logic.’ This unifying element of Christian thought should bring it to the top of heap as the seeker attempts to determine the order in which he will conduct his analysis.
Finally, the Christian view of the world has incredibly sound and simple explanations for life’s most pressing issues. Christian Scientists must describe evil as illusory, proponents of New Age thought deny an objective moral standard, and any religion that adopts a machine-like view of humanity will struggle to explain why humanity through the ages has demonstrated such a strong appreciation for beauty. On the contrary, Christianity not only acknowledges the reality of evil, but also answers its origin and termination. Beyond this, the Christian God reaches down into human affairs to redeem the world from the suffering that humanity brought upon it. In conjunction with this teaching, each person’s moral intuition finds proper grounding in the Christian view of the world. Finally, the Bible teaches that humans were created in the image of a creative God who appreciates beauty. It logically follows that persons made in the image of a God who prioritized beauty in his creation of the world would also value beauty in the natural world, even if they do not comprehend why they value that beauty. All things considered, the Christian view of reality offers an impressive synthesis of explanations for the most universal experiences known to mankind.
Today’s world is shaped by an ever expanding smorgasbord of religious beliefs which can lead to an overwhelming task for the rational seeker of truth. This task can be greatly reduced and simplified with a relatively small amount of observation before engaging in a full-fledged analysis. When beginning a religious journey, the reasonable seeker will start with Christianity based on its historical and evidential testability, free salvation, basis in logical thought, and superior explanation of universal experiences of mankind. Certainly the presence of these factors does nothing to prove that Christianity actually is true, but they do provide a strong foundation for beginning a comprehensive study with the God of the Bible.
Until June 30, I had had a pretty basic pregnancy. No risk factors for complications. No scares. Normal sickness. Until then, the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting was pretty accurate for me…
Justin had been away for almost 2 weeks. The entirety of his trip, I worried that something was going to happen with my baby while daddy was too far away. As the days passed without event, I convinced myself that I was crazy… On the 30th, I picked Justin up from the airport in the early evening, just 2 hours later the “fake contractions” I had been having morphed into something else. They came about every 5 minutes and didn’t go away, and my back hurt. That was different. The ER nurse in me balked at the thought of going to the hospital only to be sent home after finding nothing amiss. Later, with influence of my family the doctor was called and I ended up at the hospital on the other end of the needles. Within a few hours, we found that I was probably having a partial abruption. This would have been much less exciting, but I was already well dilated and effaced. We spent the night waiting to see what my body would do—it decided it was time to have a baby. My labor was quick. Less than 3 hours after they broke my water, I was babyless. Its times like that night that I can’t decide if I wished I knew less about the complications of having a baby early. Every time the doctor stated what she found in her exam, my heart raced knowing that everything she said pointed to having a premature baby- not what I expected.
The 10 minutes prior to Tessa’s arrival are a whirlwind to me. I opened my eyes to find the room that had been occupied by only Justin, my mom, our wonderful labor nurse, and me was suddenly teeming with people- 14 to be exact. I didn’t realize how thankful I would be for the skills of the team tucked into the corner- the neonatal resuscitation team. When my baby arrived, there was no cry, no offer for daddy to cut the cord, no tossing a screaming, slimy newborn onto mommy’s chest. My baby made no effort to breathe on arrival. I saw her only when the doctor raised her into my line of vision as he passed her to the people who would save her life. Soon they whisked her out of my room to the neonatal intensive care unit after one more quick glance. It would be four days before I held my tiny baby- not what I expected.
That began our journey to and through the NICU. Our journey there was incredibly short compared to most; still, it is an adventure all would prefer to forego. Over the next 4 days, Tessa would be intubated to be placed on the ventilator 3 times, experienced CPAP breathing, be placed on bili lights for her jaundice, be poked for numerous tests, and the list goes on. My heart broke every time she attempted to cry on the vent. The tube infringed on her vocal chords, so the cries were silent- just a red, sad, little face. But, I won’t forget the way her tiny head turned towards Justin when he spoke to her the day she arrived: she knew her daddy’s voice. I learned so much about tiny people while we were in the NICU. I learned what a roller coaster it is to have your baby there. All the while, God placed special, special nurses in my life to care for my daughter. Two ladies in particular cared for Tessa and became my friends- Page was part of the team who resuscitated Tessa initially and Ashley worked nights and fell in love with Tessa. As we spent hours together, I learned that both ladies loved Jesus- allowing them to truly love my daughter. I will always be thankful for them- they were certainly not what I expected.
It took Tessa a few days to “catch up to her life.” On the 10th, she came off all her breathing assistance. The next goal became gaining weight in order to go home. As soon as Tessa figured out the breathing thing, she did so well eating we were able to convince the doctor to allow us to come home on July 13th. All the details and ways God provided for us would make this post way longer than it already is… So, I will close with the thought that helped me be tough and mostly calm. That first day, with tears coming down my face as I looked at the tiny baby that had been inside of me, the only response I had for the nurse speaking to me was “there is a God in heaven who knew all this.” With each set back, God still knew. While the end of my pregnancy and a NICU stay was far from what I expected, God, in His rich mercy, was intimately acquainted with each detail.
Did Eve think going topless was a good idea? Most people would immediately think this a dumb question, as it is quite obvious from Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve were naked and without shame. But I’m not asking about Eve before the Fall. After her eyes were opened and she realized her shame, did she still think that going topless was a good call? Consider Genesis 3:7, “and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” I’m no fashion expert, but loin coverings don’t bring about the connotation of upper body coverings to me. Continuing on into verse 21 we read, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” The implication is that Adam and Eve only felt compelled to cover their genitalia, and God came behind them, correcting their error by making more appropriate clothing.
Why is this worth considering? From literally the very moment that humanity fell, their judgment became forever scarred, even in matters that seem the most self-evident. I mean, how many people really think that women walking around topless is a good idea? Of course, Times Square has the “naked cowboy” and his counterpart, the “naked cowgirl”, but it doesn’t take a great deal of sense to realize that categorizing him as an anomaly is being generous. I digress. The point is you should not trust yourself because your judgment is just as broken as Eve’s was! How often do we fail to live our lives in light of the truths we profess?
While most Christians would agree that the Fall dealt every aspect of humanity a devastating blow of brokenness in every aspect of being, very few act upon this truth. Ask yourself, ‘when is the last time I asked a peer or older saint to critique my judgment so that I could avoid the error of putting too much trust in my fallen intellect?’ More importantly, when is the last time you consciously asked God to direct your thinking through the day in issues that seem like minutia? Psalm 127 rings true, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Unless you commit your thinking and your judgments to the Lord, they are in vain. Certainly it is not exciting to think of ourselves as this fallible. But then again, when did excitement become the judge of the truthfulness of a claim? Today I challenge myself, and my fellow brothers and sisters to embrace our fallenness, for without this embrace, we cannot embrace our healing. We love to proclaim the greatness of our rational faculties, yet we often overlook the Biblical teaching regarding them. Consider Romans 12:2, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The need for renewal of mind is simply assumed, but do we even acknowledge it? Did Eve think going topless was a good idea? Perhaps the better question is which of your judgments have not been brought before your Creator prior to your acting upon them.
14 days ago, a journey started that we knew was coming; but, we thought we had a little more time before it began. To inaugurate our joint blog, Justin and I would like to share the story of our daughter, Tessa. We’ve decided to take turns sharing our perspectives of the last few weeks.
“Going in Different Directions”
After nearly 2 weeks of study at Biola University, I departed from campus at 6:15 am on Sunday, June 30 for LAX. My final flight arrived in Indianapolis at 6:30; Emily picked me up, and took me home to her freshly prepared Barbeque Chicken. After dinner, she asked me to clean up, claiming that she wasn’t feeling well. An hour later she was calling her mom, 3 hours later she was calling her OB doc. At 11:20, we arrived at the hospital. By 5:20 her contractions had calmed a bit, and I was able to close my eyes for the first time in nearly 24 hours. 2 hours later, I was up and preparing for the most drastic change my short life has known. I won’t go into great detail about the actual delivery; however, being a bedside supporter of my wife who refused the epidural, easily ranks as the most intense experience of my life. On her 4th set of pushes, we had a baby. she is one tough chic!
“Bye Bye Baby”
After popping out blue, Tessa proceeded to make zero attempt to breathe. We had 14 medical professionals in the room for delivery, and our baby was quickly whisked away to some other special unit they called the “NICU.” Of course, I didn’t know what this meant, but I figured it was something like the hospital equivalent of transitioning from AM radio to 1080p HD television. The following 13 days brought a flood of new terms, new problems, new people, but most importantly, new realization of just how merciful our God has been to us.
“I’ll Fly Away! Oh Glory, I’ll Fly Away!”
I’m driven by goals and deadlines. The main premise to departing from the NICU is that timelines don’t exist. Our last 13 days have thus felt like a giant time warp. The beauty of 16+ hours per day at the hospital with nurses working 12 hour shifts is the establishment of new relationships. After about 3 days, Tessa’s urgent needs were resolved and it became a mere waiting game for her lungs to develop and her weight gain to reach acceptable levels. While waiting, we met Sierra (a young black girl committed to spending time with her baby each day), Paige and Ashley (outstanding nurses that told us of their faith in Christ as we began to share ours), Jon (a technology geek who works for Avon schools), and Jesus (who showed me that Psalm 127 has a lot more to say than just the blessings of children). We really didn’t suffer much at all (if any), but God’s goodness was so evident. I’m so thankful that he allowed me to be home before Em went in to labor. I’m so thankful that our baby is healthy after being delivered over a month early. I’m so thankful that my wife is healthy after suffering a partial abruption. I’m so thankful for Christian nurses shaping the culture of St. Vincent’s NICU through excellent nursing care. Most of all, I’m thankful for Jesus, who died for the wretched sinner currently typing, as well as the one he helped to create. God is good, and his love endures forever.