Thursday, November 26, 2009

Response to ‘God is Not Great’ by Christopher Hitchens

One of my favorite Thanksgiving break things to do is get a cup of coffee and roam the bookstore.

Last night at Huntsville Books-A-Million I did it for about 2 hours. Read Nick Saban, Sports Illustrated, Mac OS tips, and then finished with “God is Not Great” by atheist superstar, Christopher Hitchens.

I had read parts of it before, but I took some time and read most of it.

Anytime you read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and other of the non-god media mafia you have to be impressed by their intellect. Hitchens really impresses me with his broad knowledge of science, history, literature, and logical talent.

At the same time- the arrogance and bitterness just leaps of the page to me. I don’t think it is just my bias (though my presuppositions do cloud my judgment as does theirs). It may also be a way to entertain- a wit much like Mark Twain- but Hitchens seems even darker and colder than Twain. Twain railed against the hypocrisy of religion while Hitchens stabs at the heart of the Creator. Twain seemed to hate religion, Hitchens seems to hate God.

Again, if you make this a contest between Coach Mathews and Christopher Hitchens… Hitchens wins. He is smarter than me and would run intellectual circles around me.

But this is not a battle for the mind primarily, this is a war of the heart. It involves intellect because I propose that Christianity is a logical faith- but I also propose that a dark heart provides the noose for the intellectually arrogant person to hang his own soul.

The Bible clearly points to the problem of the thoughts of a man who is at enmity with God. But here are a few of these again:

II CORINTHIANS 4:3-4 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I CORINTHIANS 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

I CORINTHIANS 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Romans 1:18-22 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Around 1050 A.D., Anselm of Canterbury introduced an idea called “Credo Ut Intelligum” which hints to an important part of God’s design. Those who shake their fist at Him and in a rebellious spirit say, ‘fill my mind.. then I will give you my heart’ are at a dangerous starting point. Knowledge puffs up, it provides the point in which we can kill ourselves. And, who can know the thoughts of God? Anselm suggests we start with belief and then comes the knowledge for support.

I can hear the screams fro the intellectual elite already!

“Lazy”- “Stupid”- “Ridiculous”- “Incredulous”

But here is the problem. As I read Hitchens, he is obviously god himself. He makes his value judgments and edicts so forcefully. He points out faults and cries foul. When you kill God, you must become god in His place.

So let’s look at some of these pronouncements:

First, Hitchens sees all religions in one big poisonous pond. We all have to agree that hypocrisy in the church (some by false believers) and error in other religions has been a huge blight on history. At the end of time, the glory of God’s story will not be man’s good service and faithful devotion- it will be on God’s good compassion.

God is not tarnished by man’s unfaithfulness. When we point to followers as proof of the bad King we are missing true analysis of the King Himself.

Secondly, I also marvel at Hitchens ability to discount people like Augustine, Pascal, Aquinas, and Calvin so easily. As true of any man, we can find flaws in their positions. These men lived in a limited space and time dimension and were constrained by mortal flesh. But these men also were great men of character and of nobler mind and spirit than I find today. Sure, I see the gram of error, but it pales in the ton of profound logic and devotion. In the advance of time, we improve on their mistakes, but we also have fewer pounds of their nobility.

A man born with Hitchens attitude and ability in the day of Augustine would do the community much worse and have little significance in the world. A man born with Augustine’s attitude and ability would do the community much better and have much more significance in the world than Hitchens would ever dream.

Finally, Hitchens has a famous challenge to theists which goes like this: "Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer."

This question shows over and over that Hitchens does not understand the gospel of grace or the biblical teaching of the nature of man. All men are capable of good because we are made in the image of God. Our understanding of ‘good’ or ‘fair’ actually comes from Him. But just as all men can do good, we ALL do evil. Our ethical statements and actions do not measure up to true goodness or perfect morality.

All non-christian faiths (including Hitchens’) are made up of a demand to live up to a standard. I’m sure I have failed Mr. Hitchens in many ways already. I have failed God even more.

Only Christianity offers forgiveness and mercy. Mr Hitchens does not love me, Jesus Christ does. Mr Hitchens would never die for me, Jesus Christ did.

And full pardon for any atheist still exists… but only for a short time.

Atheists hate Pascal’s wager, but it is not a proof of God, it is only a common sense idea. One of us is wrong. Either I am deluded and poisonous or Mr. Hitchens is. Either both of us are meeting an end of no future or a future of no end.

I will go to my end saying: ‘God is great… and He is good”.

My prayer is that Mr. Hitchens would repent but that would take a miracle that he does not believe in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I have to admit that my heart is ‘off tune’ right now as we enter into the day we set aside for thanksgiving. The longer I live, the more I am aware how easily my heart can shut down and grow rigid. Life just seems to do that.

In the book of Revelation, Ch 7, it says that “God will wipe every tear from their eyes”. I think that this indicates hardship in life. We are walking through a wasteland of phony idols and false prophets. We tend to think of the gospel as all singing and celebration, but the central message is that we are failures, morally bankrupt.

But it is precisely when we grasp hold of that and understand the grace of God that our hearts are most prepared for gratitude.

I missed my mom this week. It has been 6 years since she passed away- but I felt emptiness and pain as I returned from a fun weekend at a Florida State game. As soon as we crossed over into Alabama, on a cold and rainy Sunday- I felt a deep sense of sadness. It is a sneak attack- when you least expect it.

Monday morning was just as dreary. And I got hit with some of those thorns of personal life and pressures of professional life.

So Tuesday morning.. here I was… getting ready for some time to thank God… and all I felt was blah!

Then, in God’s gracious timing, He had Isaiah 12 waiting on me. Written 700+ years before Christ, it was there waiting on a wounded heart.

I raced through it…. Skimmed over it…. Then it grabbed me.

12:1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

This first section is a personal testimony. The ‘you’ is singular. And it is a projection… I will say “in that day”.. What day? The day of the Lord (future), and the day of my conversion (past), and any good day of repentance (present).When I get weighed down by life, I am losing perspective and I am not clinging to the Lord, I am not trusting Him.

The first step in finding that soft, moldable, and thankful heart is repentance. And receiving His full forgiveness- the great gospel message of GRACE.

2 “Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

This second section was even more a draw… the word FEAR. The older I get, the more I find fears gripping me. I have about decided that cable news doesn’t help… fear of economy, fear of financial future, my job stability, the stability of our nation. It is easy to let Obama ruin my thanksgiving.

But money, security, government… they are not my strength…THE LORD IS MY STRENGTH.

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The “you” in verse 3 now become plural.

The steps so far have been:

Life beats us down

The Lord lifts us up.


DWELLING DEEP in the gospel of His loving grace.

Then we cling to Him… He is our deliverer.

Now…. The next big step… Share it in COMMUNITY.

This is where C.S. Lewis helps me a lot- I recently re-read “The Weight of Glory” and was reminded how he counter-intuitively brings out recognizing the worth of others and our need to love and shine for others.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

I feel my heart being helped- I feel my heart being healed.

My desire this thanksgiving is to love people, to rest in Jesus, to feel His warmth and protection, and enjoy the presence of others.

Guess what this week brings? I get to be with my wife! I get to be with my kids! I get to share the sweet sanctuary of their sweet fellowship. And I want to be engaged with others… I want my family to see my thankful heart radiating with peace and confidence… with joy and celebration.

And how do we do that: reflect on the gospel- accept God’s love- share it with others… and now I say HAPPY THANSGIVING TO ALL!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Perplexities Regarding Rev. Ch 7

I wanted to record some thoughts regarding Rev. Ch 7 while it is fresh on my mind.

Previously I had been persuaded that the 144,oo and the great multitude represented the same group- Saints who had been redeemed throughout history. This was based on a similarity of 'hearing' and 'seeing' comparison to Rev 5. But I am not very persuaded in that view.

I need to make a few observations:

1) I still have a hard time believing that 144,000 represents a literal number. So much of Revelation cannot be literal, the images are highly symbolized.

2) But I have to see these two groups as two groups- the 144,ooo from every tribe of Israel and the great multitude from every tribe and language of the earth-it seems clear two distinct groups.

3) At the same time, I would have a hard time believing that there a two separate plans of salvation- one for Jews and one for Gentiles- (though some dispensationalists seem to promote that).

4) The more I read this passage, the stranger it seems. The elder asking John who these are and John's response and the elders answer- it is very unusual.

5) The term 'great tribulation' cannot be escaped here.

I also have to continually think about Romans and Paul's point about national Israel vs Spiritual Israel. I think about what Romans says about the stream of salvation for the Jews opening up when the gentile number of converts has been fulfilled.

So this passage remains a mystery to me. I get excited about the innumerable group of people washed in the blood and crying out with palm branches praises to God. I think of God's promise to Abraham about stars and sand... but that 144,000- it's really quite a small number.

Could it be very much like the parables Jesus told about the kingdom of God being small but producing fruit exponentially?

What do you think? But be warned, I get agitated by those folks who say they have it all figured out with no questions.

Man got the first coming of Jesus wrong...... I'm not very confident that we have the 2nd one right either.

I just know 2 things: He is coming (soon I hope- come quickly Lord Jesus) and I want to be in that group who are washed white in the blood.

What say you?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Just Finished Re-reading "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen

I first read "Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen in 1993 (it had been published in 1923 and I remember reflecting on it being 70 years old). I was finishing seminary and was plodding through piles of info and absorbing very little.

I picked it back up about 6 weeks ago and took my sweet time, chewing on every morsel.

I got to where I couldn't read it at night, because I would lay awake until late haunted by the prophetic words Dr. Machen used in warning us about the sad consequences if the Orthodox faith slipped in our midst.

Sadly, I feel like a dinosaur- his words are so powerful, but resonates so little in this current culture. Is there anyone who feels this pressing on them the way it presses on me?

I have copied his final few paragraphs of this very important work. Can there be some men who will rise up and once again proclaim the old time gospel? The true one? The one that sparked the reformation and changed the world?

From the last chapter, The Church:
The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church. Various causes, no doubt, can be assigned for this lamentable development. The development is due partly to the general decline of education--at least so far as literature and history are concerned. The schools of the present day are being ruined by the absurd notion that education should follow the line of least resistance, and that something can be "drawn out" of the mind before anything is put in. They are also being ruined by an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind. These lamentable tendencies, moreover, are in danger of being made permanent through the sinister extension of state control. But something more than the general decline in education is needed to account for the special growth of ignorance in the Church. The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But whatever be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied. It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians. That method of procedure would be the only fair method in the case of any movement. But it is still more in place in the case of a movement such as Christianity which has laid the foundation of all that we hold most dear. Men have abundant opportunity today to learn what can be said against Christianity, and it is only fair that they should also learn something about the thing that is being attacked.

Such measures are needed today. The present is a time not for ease or pleasure, but for earnest and prayerful work. A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith. And now there are some indications that the fiction of conformity to the past is to be thrown off, and the real meaning of what has been taking place is to be allowed to appear. The Church, it is now apparently supposed, has almost been educated up to the point where the shackles of the Bible can openly be cast away and the doctrine of the Cross of Christ can be relegated to the limbo of discarded subtleties.

Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair. Only, our hopefulness should not be founded on the sand. It should be founded, not upon a blind ignorance of the danger, but solely upon the precious promises of God. Laymen, as well as ministers, should return, in these trying days, with new earnestness, to the study of the Word of God.

If the Word of God be heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness. Party passions and personal animosities will be put away, but on the other hand, even angels from heaven will be rejected if they preach a gospel different from the blessed gospel of the Cross. Every man must decide upon which side he will stand. God grant that we may decide aright!

What the immediate future may bring we cannot presume to say. The final result indeed is clear. God has not deserted His Church; He has brought her through even darker hours than those which try our courage now, yet the darkest hour has always come before the dawn. We have today the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won. From another point of view, modern liberalism is like the legalism of the middle ages, with its dependence upon the merit of man. And another Reformation in God's good time will come.

But meanwhile our souls are tried. We can only try to do our duty in humility and in sole reliance upon the Savior who bought us with His blood. The future is in God's hand, and we do not know the means that He will use in the accomplishment of His will. It may be that the present evangelical churches will face the facts, and regain their integrity while yet there is time. If that solution is to be adopted there is no time to lose, since the forces opposed to the gospel are now almost in control. It is possible that the existing churches may be given over altogether to naturalism, that men may then see that the fundamental needs of the soul are to be satisfied not inside but outside of the existing churches, and that thus new Christian groups may be formed.

But whatever solution there may be, one thing is clear. There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for His unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten--it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God's Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, And sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.

Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hurts So Good- The Pain of Progress

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children, or career and making money, or
achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even
success in the Christian ministry. When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it “co-­ dependency” but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” there are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.
from Tim Keller's New Book: Counterfeit Gods

I have had a huge hurt recently, one of those that cut you to the core. This one was a deep, deep pain- the kind that keeps you up at night. The kind that is evoked in Edgar Allen Poe lore: "Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting...."

What was the source of pain? It was the beautiful letdown of a long held idol. One that had entangled my heart so deeply. This idol and I had been together a long, long time. It was with me as far back as 2nd grade where it first promised me purpose and contentment- direction and a future. And like all good false gods- it kept its promise for a long, long time.

After all.. this idol was a good thing, but my sinful heart made it a god thing. would wound me now and then- but come right back and bind the wound. The balm made me forget the source of the affliction, so the comfort only chained my heart deeper.

But God is so good to me. He allows hurt to cut deep and into the root of my sin and idolatry. I cry out to Him in pain and misery, and He lovingly stays silent. I get angry and He grows firmer in solid confrontation and coldness.

And then I wake up and realize- it is my idol that has abandoned me.

I look into the eyes of my Savior and He, lovingly, is ready to forgive. I repent and ask to begin again. He never even says, "I told you so."

I walk a lot lighter these days- a great burden has been cut away.
And the hurt was.... so good!

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus says the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!