Friday, July 27, 2012

Grace and Truth: A Christian Response to the Culture Wars

My spirit is shell-shocked. My heart is grieved. 

Perhaps there is also some frustration and even some anger, but mostly there is grief.  My grief is due to the most recent installment of the American culture wars which have been raging for some time, polar wars between conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, faith and unbelief. We stare across the battle lines in disbelief, from whichever side we’re on, disbelief that our opponents could possibly have done or said or believed that. My grief comes not from the fact that we disagree, or even that we disagree so passionately. Passion is one of our great qualities as Americans. What grieves me is that our disagreements so often cause us to demonize and demoralize our opponents, and sadly, this has been done by both camps of the culture wars.

Recently, Christians have been labeled as hateful bigots for holding to a Judeo-Christian sexual ethic based on Biblical teaching. (And yes, this sexual ethic is found in the Old and New Testaments, including the teachings of Jesus.) On the one hand, the accusations of hate and bigotry seem like nothing more than a rhetorical strategy for shaming people out of an “outdated” Christian ethic. Who wants to be labeled as a hate-monger or bigot? On the other hand, there seem to be many people for whom these labels are more than a strategy. They honestly believe these things about Christians. Hence, my grief.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that having my heart and motives judged based on my beliefs also makes me a little angry. It’s quite unfair to be grouped in with the likes of Fred Phelps (of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church) when I and many other Christians genuinely strive to love and respect all people in our day-to-day lives, regardless of their age, gender, race, politics, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Yet while I might respond in anger to labels, I do not want to respond in anger to people, even those people who see me as their enemy. 

I know that I’m not the only one who doesn't want to be labeled, Christian or non-Christian. I know that we all struggle with the best way to navigate the mine fields of the culture wars. But I’d like to offer the following to Christians in particular as we respond to cultural attacks. These are thoughts, not pre-packaged solutions, but I hope they might be helpful.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Napoleon Bonaparte on Jesus Christ

 Napoleon Bonaparte on Jesus Christ:

"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. ... I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Coliseum and the Seduction of Sin (or: Alypius and Us)

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
Luke 11:24-26 

In his book Confessions, St. Augustine tells the story of his friend, Alypius, who later became a Church bishop in Africa. Alypus, a young man drawn and enticed by the blood-lust of the gladiator games in Rome, had quickly become addicted to the violent sights and sounds and smells of the coliseum. Augustine, although not yet a Christian, was against the gladiator games, but he did not wish to challenge his young friend in the matter for fear of straining their relationship. However, through some impromptu remarks in a lecture, God used Augustine to convict the young Alypus of his error and turn him away from the games, resolute to forsake them at once and for all. 

The alarming part of this story is what comes next. The lure of the blood sport had not entirely left poor Alypius. Augustine recalls in his confession to God:

"He had gone on to Rome before me to study law - which was the worldly way which his parents were forever urging him to pursue - and there he was carried away again with an incredible passion for the gladiatorial shows. For, although he had been utterly opposed to such spectacles and detested them, one day he met by chance a company of his acquiantances and fellow students returning from dinner; and, with a friendly violence, they drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater, on a day of those cruel and murderous shows. He protested to them: 'Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them.'