2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Written by Derek Cooper Friday, 08 March 2013 00:00

In my recently published book, Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths, I discuss the six major non-Christian stories of the world. As I teach these different religions in classrooms and churches and discuss them with friends and neighbors, I have consistently uncovered several myths Christians believe about each of these religions, including Christianity. In this and my next couple of blogs, I will concentrate on three common myths about different world religions.

The first myth concerns Christianity. The myth goes something like this: Christianity is the only religion with a Savior. I consistently hear Christians say that Christianity is the only faith where God comes to humankind in contrast to every other religion of the world where humans are trying to go to God. Yet the truth is that many world religions, including religions that were dominant when Christianity emerged as well as contemporary religions such as Shia Islam, assume a Savior figure.

According to Hinduism, for instance, Vishnu, the God who preserves the world, regularly visits humankind to maintain order and peace. When the world is particularly in straits, Vishnu incarnates himself to save the righteous. In the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most beloved of the Hindu religious scriptures, the God Vishnu, who has incarnated himself as Lord Krishna, speaks with a valiant human warrior named Arjuna:

Whenever spirituality decays and materialism is rampant, I (re-) incarnate Myself. I am reborn from age to age to save the righteous, destroy the wicked, and establish the kingdom of God. The one who realizes this divine truth concerning my incarnation and sacrifice is not born again [in this life], but when he leaves his body, he becomes one with Me.

As these verses state, the God Vishnu incarnated himself as Krishna in order to save righteous, punish the wicked, and establish God’s kingdom. This is an example of one of Vishnu’s avatars, a Hindu word that can be translated as “incarnation,” “manifestation,” or “revelation.” There is no precise agreement on how many avatars Vishnu has had, but according to one long tradition, Vishnu’s incarnation as Krishna was his eighth of ten incarnations.

Another example of a God incarnating himself and saving humankind appears in Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism, the largest of the two major Buddhist denominations, practitioners revere a Savior figure called the Bodhisattva (“enlightened being”). Bodhisattvas are Buddhas in the making, who have made a vow to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of all others. In one Buddhist religious writing called the Shurangama Sutra the Buddha encourages all holy men to deny nirvana in order to save all other beings: “I [Buddha] urge all saints and holy men to choose to be reborn in order to deliver all living beings.”

As this brief passage illustrates, these Bodhisattvas—whether Siddhartha Gautama or the Dalai Lama—travel to earth in order to save people from the constant cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. These Bodhisattvas have made a vow that their life mission is not complete until all living beings have been liberated.

As Christians, we need not fear the similarities between the Christian faith and other religions. As one ancient Christian expression goes, “All truth is God’s truth.” The notion that God saves people is apparently a common belief throughout the world, which does negate or call into question the Christian belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Rather than fearing this commonality, we should allow it to be a bridge from which we more naturally share our faith in Jesus with Hindus or Buddhists, for instance, who already believe—perhaps because God intended it—in a Savior figure. After all, when God became a man, he not only did so at a particular time and in a particular place, but he did so in a way that was understandable to the many cultures and religions at the time.

In the next blog, I will discuss one common myth about Hinduism. You will not want to miss it!


Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. Derek’s most recent book, which was written for classroom use, church groups, and for lay readers, is titled Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths. His faculty page can be found here.

 

Written by Larry Anderson Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:00

Recently, I was at a meeting and a fellow pastor sitting next to me shared  that he owned sixty guns and asked my opinion on the NRA I shared that I thought sixty guns were enough to start a mini war, and my thoughts on the NRA are a bit biased because of their perceived lack of concern for the tragic inner-city conditions due to easily accessible firearms. He gave me the famous line that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” to which I responded “I never saw anyone shoot someone dead with their finger.”

The debate over Christians carrying firearms is alive and well. On one hand, we can spiritualize all the danger away and easily say ‘the full armor of God,’ as described in Ephesians 6, doesn’t include an assault weapon. One could argue God is their protector, and having a weapon symbolizes a lack of faith in His protective power. On the other hand we can see the amount of home invasions, armed robberies, and senseless killings taking place and biblically reflect on the victories God granted Abraham, Joshua, and David and likewise prepare ourselves for battle.

The question we must ask ourselves is what motivates us to possess a firearm? Fear? Protection? Self Defense?

Is this about protecting my home and family? Can I read 1 Timothy 5:8, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” and recognize this as a commandment to provide protection for my family? If so, then I need to be trained to load, clean, maintain, aim, and accurately shoot the firearm so I will be equipped to do just that. I need to provide a safe place where this firearm will be kept to ensure it is not accessible to anyone but me.

Do I believe I need to carry this firearm with me daily? Can I read Luke 22:36, where Jesus tells His disciples “If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one,” as permission to bear arms because of the enemies that are out there in the streets?

Also, I must ask myself questions like:

Am I on the enemy’s radar because I carry large amounts of money, drive a car, or wear attire that draws envious attention?

Do I travel in areas during the evening hours which place me in harm’s way?

Am I simply arming myself because I know others out there are armed?

Whatever reason we use to justify carrying a firearm, we should be sure not to have uncontrolled anger issues. Additionally, we must also be sure that we do not allow the weapon to give us excessive confidence because they should never be a real option unless our very life depends on possessing them

Finally, I ask you to wrestle with the question of whether or not carrying a gun is a Christian argument or simply a security issue? If your pastor carried a gun, would your faith increase or decrease?


Larry L. Anderson, Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.

 

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 06 March 2013 00:00

My wife is a neonatal nurse, so this story about premature twins in critical condition caught our attention:  http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_c4#/video/us/2013/02/22/ra-pkg-sylvester-power-of-touch.hln.   One of the twins was going into lung failure; on almost a whim, a nurse put the other twin in the incubator with her. The healthier twin (instinctively?) reached out and put her arm around her ailing sister, which somehow sparked a rebound. Both twins eventually recovered completely, and today are healthy, normal teenagers – to the extent any teenager can be described as “normal,” that is.

The premature twin putting her arm around her sister became an international sensation – the picture appeared in Life magazine.  But not only that, the incident made medical history. It prompted a whole movement in neonatal medicine called “Kangaroo Care,” in which the value of bonding (especially with the mother) and loving, human touch is employed as a deliberate aspect of good, holistic medical care.

It’s hard to miss some of the larger implications of this. “Have you hugged your kids today?” has been a national campaign to try to recapture and foster the formation of healthy families, good child rearing, and better parenting.  At one level, that can be simplistic and superficial.  At another level, though, the point is deep and profound.

It’s interesting how Jesus’ healing ministry often involved actual, physical touch.  Wouldn’t it have been much more efficient to just snap His fingers and just generally, indiscriminately heal “all those in the crowd with any kind of problem”?  But Jesus didn’t do it that way.  Some televangelists might.  But Jesus didn’t.

Is there a larger point here that we should heed?  Good ministry is not about efficiency and cost-effective calculations of how to capitalize on resources. At least it’s not just that.

I won’t speak for you, but I can tell you that I need regular reminders of the need to take the time and energy to invest in the “inefficient” ministries of individual conversations, individual care, individual touch. Jesus had three years of ministry to walk the earth and demonstrate “how to do it” as God incarnate in human flesh. A disproportionate amount of His time was spent talking with and touching the “nobodies” of the world.

I can’t even write that without feeling the pinch of conviction.  Can I get a witness? 


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Todd Mangum Tuesday, 05 March 2013 00:00

This video clip of Muhammad Ali from 1972 has recently surfaced on youtube – in this clip, he’s in his prime, 30 years old, talking about what he’s going to do when he’s “an old man, ready to retire” (i.e., age 65): http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_ embedded&v=HsDH9SXKZtI.  

It is eerie watching this, if you know or remember Muhammad Ali at all.  (I know I’m aging myself by acknowledging I remember him then.)  But it’s haunting anyway, just recognizing that these are the words of a cocky, robust young man imagining and musing about distant remote events that now are actual reality. Watching it is like unto entering the Capuchin Crypt, its walls mounted floor to ceiling with human skulls for whom the crypt serves as final resting place, with a memento mori plaque on one wall reading, “As you are, we once were; as we are, so you also will be.”

Muhammad Ali today is 71 years old. Twelve years after this youtube-recorded interview, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and has since lost his speech and much of his regular physical function.  If you are under 30, you may know Ali only as the frail, elderly figure who sometimes makes cameo appearances at sporting events or charity functions.

But he was once the greatest boxer who ever lived. That I can say that without qualifying adverbs – or really much argument from anyone who knows anything about the history of boxing – is testimony to just how great he was as a boxer. His quickness, punching power, and skill were accompanied with an acid tongue; he was the consummate trash talker, inside and outside the ring.

His tongue was one of his boxing weapons. But, as the youtube clip demonstrates, that’s not all he could use his tongue was for. He had important things to say.

In 1964, he converted to Islam and registered simultaneously as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War – for which he paid at the time a dear price, both in terms of his public image and his career. He was suspended from boxing for four years at the height of his career.   That he was able to regain all three boxing heavyweight titles despite being an “old boxer” four years later, was a feat that was received with both aggravation and adulation by the boxing world.

After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, one of the things he said through debilitated lips and with his now nearly-unresponsive tongue was that God had afflicted him with this disease for his arrogance, in making his moniker “I am the greatest” when only God is greatest.  God humbled him, and he had it coming was his assessment – his self assessment! Even if you dare agree with him, that’s pretty remarkable that such a person could come to such lucid (self) awareness before God. 

Even before that, though, even the youtube clip shows a man who, even amidst all the hubris and swagger, is remarkably self-aware . . . theologically. His conscious of the reality of eternity, of the implications of there being a God, of there being eternal residencies of heaven or hell.

Now, I’m a recovering fundamentalist. It would be easy for me to gravitate towards the too-easy, tongue-clucking, pity-the-poor unbeliever kind of take from all this. And make no mistake: I really do wish Muhammad Ali displayed more cognizance of the central importance of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. But listen to what he says in that youtube clip – he’s changed his name (from Cassius Clay) to Muhammad Ali, but his Baptist upbringing isn’t too far from memory.  I’d love to have a conversation with him about all that.

That aside for a moment, though, if we can allow that: if “theology 101” is, “God opposes the proud and gives His grace to the humble,” there’s no question that God has done quite a bit to humble this man, once known as “the greatest.” Yes, there is definitely a cautionary tale here.  But that’s not all.

Even as a cocky thirty-year-old boxing champion, his words and warnings echo with Matthew 25:31-46.  Not knowing the details of his actual practice or beliefs or heart (which only God knows, right?), his words sound more like those of a sheep than a goat by the Matthew 25 demarcations. (Hard not to correlate this with Matt. 12:33-37 or Luke 6:44-45, too.)

In any case, let’s leave it here: this full-of-himself Muslim celebrity sports figure is wise enough to think about to what degree he is ready to meet God.  I hear more reflective insight in his comments than I do from many Christians.  He says he plans his life around the question, “Am I ready to meet God?”

How about you?  (Or me?)


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 04 March 2013 00:00

Three things have happened to me in the last three days that have brought vividly to mind this question:

  1. My travel plans for chairing an accreditation visit to Dallas, TX came at the same time that the yearly inundation of “life insurance deals” came from AAA.  (I doubled my life insurance coverage for travel, by the way).
  2. I attended the funeral of the mother of one of my colleagues here at Biblical; a good Baptist worship service and celebration of her home-going, it ended with a poignant invitation to give one’s life to Christ then and there. “My mother is with her Lord right now!” said her son. “Are YOU ready to meet God?”
  3. In Saturday’s class, we went through a section of Jesus’ teaching that sends a chill up my spine every time I read it – Luke 12:1-7.  Take a look at it.  I always engage this passage in theology class when we talk about the “fear of God” and what it is – I’m telling you, if you read this passage thoughtfully, it will create more than just “reverential awe.” . . .  It’s downright scary. 

First of all, Luke clarifies that Jesus is speaking “first of all” to His DISCIPLES. The natural instinct of too many preachers and teachers is to write off this passage as directed to the “White Throne Judgment-bound” unbelievers – but it isn’t.  It is directed first and foremost to His DISCIPLES – would be followers of Christ (you and me?).

His warning is against hypocrisy – being something different when people are watching than you are when no one is watching; no one but God is watching, that is. . . .

And then He warns (again, His DISCIPLES): “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

What’s that do for you?  How do you feel about everything you do in private being open to full disclosure?  Does that make you nervous at all? 

And then, as if that weren’t enough, He goes on to say, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do.  But I’ll show you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed your body can throw you into hell, too!  Yeah, that’s right – fear Him!!” 

How does your private life measure up to the scrutiny of God?  How will you feel about what you talk about behind closed doors being opened up and brought to full exposure? . . .

That’s just one of three sets of contemplations I’ve gone through in the last three days that’s raised afresh for me the question: “Are you ready to meet God?”   How are you doing with that question? . . .


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Susan Disston Friday, 01 March 2013 00:00

Professor Mike Kelly assigns a profound book to his students every year in his course, "Reading the Old Testament Missionally." It’s only 63 pages long, or 67 pages if you include the appendix. It’s in the appendix that you’ll find the 19 points on biblical justice.

This book is aptly titled, The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible’s Teachings on Justice by Chris Marshall (Good Books, 1989). But under its cover is more than a little insight on biblical justice. The author tackles topics such as the justice paradox, justice in the biblical worldview, elements of biblical justice in action, and Jesus and justice.

According to Marshall (who is a theological educator in New Zealand), the justice paradox is this:

We all know that justice is important, we all feel obligated towards the demands of justice, we all sense the primordial pull of justice. But we cannot say exactly what justice is, or how best to define it, or why standards of justice vary so much through the centuries and across different cultures. (p. 6)

The rest of the book is Marshall’s concise and cogent attempt to resolve the paradox for his readers. He presents nineteen points about biblical justice for the reader to consider, including these three from the appendix: (pp. 65-67)

  • Jesus defined his own historical mission in terms of bringing justice to the poor and oppressed. His message represented a threat to the existing powers, which is why they opposed him.
  • True knowledge of God entails understanding God’s own devotion to justice and striving to emulate God’s justice in one’s own manner of living in the world.
  • Biblical justice involves showing a definite partiality for the welfare of those groups in society who are most vulnerable to exploitation. God sides with the poor and weak in order to secure greater equity in society. 

And one more point: 

  • Without the commitment to seek justice, all other means of worshipping God are bankrupt. A lifestyle of justice is the essential mark of holiness.

 To get the other fifteen points, you’ll have to find them for yourself in Marshall’s book (it’s little and it has a little price, too. My copy was $4 at The Friendly Bookstore— This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). 

This is an important book for Christians. I commend this book to readers of this blog, especially if the justice paradox is a reality in your life. This book will stimulate your thinking, give you sound insights, and maybe even change your life. 


Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

 

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 25 February 2013 00:00

At some point in our lives, we all experience a breach in a relationship. Division happens among friends, family, acquaintances, and members of the same faith. Sometimes the breach we experience is the result of a perceived wrong, sometimes a true injustice. Sometimes we are the ones withdrawing, other times we are the offending party.

Reconciliation a Bad Objective?

When a breach happens, and you want the relationship restored, it is common to seek reconciliation as the primary objective. I want to argue that reconciliation is a mis-guided objective. Even though we are called to be agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:16f), it is not a direct objective that any of us can accomplish. Recall from your strategic planning training that objectives ought to be tangible and obtainable. Objectives are designed to move toward an overarching goal or dream. Since reconciliation requires at least two parties to agree, it makes for a bad objective since we can’t guarantee that the other will be willing, able or ready to reconcile.

Not convinced? Consider this example. I grow tomato plants. I have the goal of eating tomatoes by early July. I set objectives such as when to plant seeds or purchase plants; when to water, fertilize, cage, etc. But, I cannot set an objective of producing tomatoes. It is not something I can make happen. I can only cultivate the plant in ways I understand will encourage tomato production.

Better Objectives?

If you desire to reconcile with someone after a breach in a relationship, there are some achievable objectives you might want to consider. If you are the offending party, you might consider objectives such as,

  • Offer to hear (live or through others) of the damage you have caused; or allowed due to complicity
  • Acknowledge the impact of your attitudes and actions, the harm done; make an apology
  • Provide ongoing evidence of repentance…without grumbling
  • Make sacrificial amends, seek to return what was wrongfully taken
  • Avoid pointing out the wrongs committed by the offended party; make no explicit or implicit demand for reconciliation

If you are the offended party, you might consider objectives such as

  • Speak the truth in love
  • Assert need for justice and grace
  • Avoid vengeance taking
  • Acknowledge evidence of repentance; point out evidence of deception
  • Clarify concepts of forgiveness, grace, restitution, reconciliation
  • Ask God for a heart prepared to forgive

When Reconciliation Isn’t Possible

Notice that the above objectives can be met even when the overarching goal of reconciliation fails. There are times when reconciliation is not possible or desirable. Attempts to force the outcome will do significant damage—not only to victims but also to those who foreclose on repentance. Just as forcing a diseased tomato plant to produce fruit may result in the destruction of nearby plants, so also forcing reconciliation when repentance is not present may result in more injustice and deception.

So, the next time you find yourself in a broken relationship, focus first on objectives within your grasp and give back to God the final goal. Be open for him to do miracles but stick to the thing he has placed in front of you. Like the woman who has just enough oil and flour, bake your cake. Let God take care of the bigger picture.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

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