This little series, which I expected would be nothing more than a record for posterity, has garnered much more interest in the present day than I expected. I’ve been particularly pleased at the insightful and important comments several people have left. They’re important because they reflect sentiments I’ve heard often, but which I had neglected in my posts. I’ve responded in their respective comment streams, but wanted dig them out of that relative obscurity and put them in this post where more people will see them.
And let me apologize at the start for not including every good comment. There were many, but this post is about 1,200 words as it is.
I’m going to start with the most recent posts because that’s where some of the most important conversations took place.
From Part 4: Romans 8:9:
Here, I said that I had not seen significant difference in the conduct of evangelicals versus the rest of the population, and neither had formal surveys. I argued that this was evidence against “a central doctrine of evangelical Christianity,” namely that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who gives them the motivation and power to live better lives.
Jeremiah Dahl rightly observed that the central message of the gospel is not to become a better person. “If your only idea of sin was ‘being a bad person’, then of course I can see your predicament; but that’s not what sin is. The shopkeeper didn’t need to be saved from being a terrible person, he needed to be saved from his sin, from rejecting the God who created him. … [In the] words of Christ, he is without a doubt failing to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind’ which is what Christ commands before saying ‘and Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
I think Jeremiah is so correct that I considered devoting a whole post to presenting the gospel from an evangelical point of understanding. Ironic, eh!? 🙂 Instead, I hope the following will suffice.
- Every person is sinful.
- The penalty for sin is death, which in this life means alienation from God and in the next means eternal separation from him, in hell.
- However, Jesus took that penalty on himself by dying on the cross. Because his own life was sinless, his death did not have to pay for his own sin. That uniquely qualified him to die in our place.
- We can avail ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice by “receiving him.” Evangelicals differ on what this means. For some, it means to receive God’s free gift, no strings attached. Others say that in addition, one must turn from the old life of sin and resolve to follow Jesus as Lord.
- At conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, giving him new power for godly living. Jesus’ resurrection not only showed he conquered death for the next life, but gives us victory over sin in this life. As Romans 6:4 puts it, “…we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” And two verses later, “…our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”
- Importantly, we do not earn our salvation through good works, for salvation is God’s gift. Rather, we do good out of gratitude for what God has done for us, and out of simple love for him.
From Jeremiah’s comments, I gather that his evangelical tradition differed from mine on point 5. However, where I come from that was an important aspect of the salvation story, which is why, when I did not find it to be true, it shook my faith.
From Part 3: Prayer Studies:
etnotablog saw my argument about prayer studies as “thinly veiling the much more egregious question, ‘How could a loving God allow people to suffer and die?’ question.” He continues, “Looking at why, with or without prayer, a loving God would allow any person to suffer unjustly is a question that has less to do about the validity of prayer and more to do about the nature of God and His relationship to man. Or, even further removed, does God exist at all?”
Chris responded before I did, and did it well. “The Beagle points out that it is written in the Bible that the prayers of ‘the faithful’ will be granted. Then it is demonstrated [that] multiple groups of presumably faithful people did not have their prayers answered, not just for miraculous healing but for marriage repairs as well. This then forces one to question the validity of prayer as a means to achieving any sort of end.” He continued with much more that is worth going back to read.
I agreed with etnotablog on one point: “Prayer not working says nothing about whether a God or gods exist.” However, I continued, “It is evidence against the particular God-claims entailed in evangelical Christianity, and that was my point.”
etnotablog also made a point that comes up frequently when discussing scientific studies of prayer. Citing the episode From Luke 4 where the devil tempts Jesus to put God to the test, etnotablog asserted, “We can accept that prayer is a way to interact with God (of the Bible) and believe that there is power to heal and restore found in it, but at the same time we have been told that it will not be subject to tests and trials.”
To someone like me, this is tantamount to saying, “Prayer heals, as long as you’re not paying attention.” Scientific trials are nothing more than the most reliable way of paying attention that we have discovered so far.
Besides, Dr. Byrd was not “testing” God. He is a Christian, and was trying to demonstrate God’s power. It seemed to me that his study has more in common with 1 Kings 18:16-40 than with Luke 4.
The conversation continued for quite a while from there!
From Part 2: Worthy Prayers:
Nathan thought that both Science and belief in God ought to admit that they don’t have all the answers. He closed by saying, “…at the end of the day, I don’t see any alternative than to take a leap of faith in one direction or the other.”
In response, I offered my posts, Myth, Meth, Math, Sound Method, Hierarchy of Methods, and Is Atheism a Faith?
Michael said, “Science concerns itself with the material whereas religion concerns itself with the immaterial.”
I responded, “The moment religion makes predictions about what will happen in the material world, it has stepped into the realm of science: it has made claims that are testable.” That’s what I went on to explore in Part 3.
There were other worthy comments, including those in Part 1, but I’m going to cut this short (shorter, anyway).
Next time, I’ll continue with my series, taking a fresh look at God as found in the Bible
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‘sin’ is a religiously constructed concept that I do not recognize. ‘sin’ was made so the church could view certain actions as bad and without police or control with people in a big country, the rulers could ensure that the common folks did not breach certain rules, aka ‘sins’ through the threat of eternal torture.
As a life long atheist, the whole concept of ‘sin’ is incredibly nonsensical!
“Jeremiah Dahl rightly observed that the central message of the gospel is not to become a better person.”
I think this speaks a lot about the Christianity.
Buddhism, for instance, can be summarized as: “improve yourself”.
The practitioner must equip him- or herself with the expertise to use a range of tools to outwit, outlast, and eventually uproot the mind’s unskillful tendencies.
For example, the practice of generosity (dana) erodes the heart’s habitual tendencies towards craving and teaches valuable lessons about the motivations behind, and the results of, skillful action. The practice of virtue (sila) guards one against straying wildly off-course and into harm’s way. The cultivation of goodwill (metta) helps to undermine anger’s seductive grasp. The ten recollections offer ways to alleviate doubt, bear physical pain with composure, maintain a healthy sense of self-respect, overcome laziness and complacency, and restrain oneself from unbridled lust. And there are many more skills to learn.
The good qualities that emerge and mature from these practices not only smooth the way for the journey to Nibbana; over time they have the effect of transforming the practitioner into a more generous, loving, compassionate, peaceful, and clear-headed member of society. The individual’s sincere pursuit of Awakening is thus a priceless and timely gift to a world in desperate need of help.
Interstate 66 is much better at getting to DC than is Interstate 77. Granted, I-77 doesn’t go to DC, nor is it even trying to go to DC, so any conclusion based on that fact is kinda irrelevant to the merits of I-77.
As regards Buddhism in particular, the downside is of course that Nibbana is an inane thing to want to reach. Like all philosophy based on monism, it only achieves godhead through negation.
Perhaps it does create some form of compassionate and peaceful members of society, but the view that the world is cyclical, that the individual is irrelevant and even a bad thing, and that the goal is Nibbana, gives no reason to actually created productive members of society – they’re about as unprogressive as a Christian dispensationalist (which is just as horrible a thing). Just like dispensationalism, Buddhism doesn’t bring any advancement or progress to the world.
Or on another note as Chesterton said: “It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division.”
“Jeremiah Dahl rightly observed that the central message of the gospel is not to become a better person.”
Perhaps that is the biggest problem with the evangelical “gospel”. It is utterly self-centric, focused on personal salvation, personal religious experiences, etc. Other religions are actually ridiculed for emphasizing moral behaviour and improving the world. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, when we learn that evangelicals tend to be worse than nonbelievers in numerous moral and ethical categories. (Support for war and support for torture are higher among this group than any other religious demographic, for example.)
I won’t deny that some groups within Christianity disdain progress within the world (dispensationalism for one), I’d also say that these are not the views of orthodox Christianity, but are rather deviations from them. It is true that Christianity speaks out against emphasizing moral behavior as a means to salvation, but to say that it speaks out against emphasizing moral behavior as a general rule is to know nothing of Christianity.
Granted, to say that Christianity is self-centric is in itself to know nothing of Christianity, and indeed the Bible rarely (if ever) speaks in any sort of individualistic manner. These focuses on personal salvation/experiences/etc are a new phenomena which is again, not typical of Biblical Christianity.
The problem here is that when a group is a widespread and varied as Christianity, it’s always the fringe elements that get the publicity, and therefore it is only the fringe elements that non-Christians are familiar with. These groups are then taken as being the norm for Christianity, which creates a vastly misinformed populace thinking they disagree with Christianity when in truth they have no idea what Christianity is.
> Buddhism, for instance, can be summarized as: “improve yourself”.
Buddhism can be summarized as: avoid pain.