The Danger of “Rules” Without the Gospel

Pretty much everyone knows that American popstar Katy Perry, or Kathryn Elizabeth Hudson, used to be a gospel singer.  Raised in a pastor’s family, gospel music was all she knew; she was evidently not allowed to listen to big bad secular music when she was growing up and thus listened to, and eventually sang, gospel songs.  One such song is quite ironically titled “Faith Won’t Fail,” and here is the chorus from that:

For He’ll prevail
In the midst of all my trials and tribulations
And He’ll prevail
In the midst of all my sin and temptations
He’ll prevail
When I fall and He will pick me up
For time and time again
My faith won’t fail
Time and time again
My faith won’t fail

Cheesy, perhaps, but true.  Far more meaningful than the following, anyway:

We drove to Cali
And got drunk on the beach
Got a motel and
Built a fort out of sheets
I finally found you
My missing puzzle piece
I’m complete

Let’s go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance, until we die
You and I, will be young forever

[Chorus]
You make me feel
Like I’m livin’ a
Teenage dream
The way you turn me on
I can’t sleep
Let’s run away and
Don’t ever look back,
Don’t ever look back

That’s from Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” a song about how she’s living a teenage dream when she’s in her late mid-twenties.  There is much to ridicule in this song, but while I do love me some good mockery, I do not wish to unpack what “teenage dream” probably means.  Maybe some other time :).

Katy Perry has gone on to marry the very unfunny, promiscuous, and frankly pretty creepy-looking British dude Russell Brand in a Hindu wedding ceremony, a marriage that I would be surprised lasts more than five years (high five for cynicism!), and she has generally embraced the image of a sex symbol and pop idol in American culture.  She’s rich, she’s famous, and she has obviously departed from her strict Christian upbringing. Continue reading

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Disaster at Penn State and the Sinfulness of Man

I’m sure pretty much everyone, even those who don’t know a lick about college football, has heard about the allegations of child sex abuse by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  College athletics have had their fair share of scandals, but this particular story is unprecedented, not only because it involves the horrific abuse of kids, but also that people in power–people whose responsibility is to be leaders of their institution–seemingly failed miserably to stop Sandusky over a period of years.  For some, it almost looks like it was a cover up, with a couple of men now being indicted for perjury.  It is a sad, disgusting story, and one that most people still have trouble digesting.

Against my better judgment, I read through the Grand Jury indictment of Jerry Sandusky and the ugly details of his allegations.  The mental images from the reported testimony made me close my eyes several times and wince, but it wasn’t TV I was watching so that didn’t exactly help.  Basically, the report describes the shameless exploitation of children through a charity by a predator, a predator who was not stopped despite several opportunities.  It is mindboggling how this could go on at one of the most well-known athletic departments and at one of the more famous state schools in the country.  There are already casualties:  Several people have lost their jobs, including the athletic director, the president, and now recently Joe Paterno.  More will undoubtedly come.  Of course, the real victims, the real casualties, are the many children were taken advantage of and were not protected as they should have been.  Emotional scars from that kind of abuse can last a lifetime.

Stories like this shake people’s faith in mankind, particularly those who think that men are inherently good.  It is a stark reminder that this is simply not true; when people find themselves in positions of power where they feel like they can get away with things, it is remarkable what they can do.  It is also remarkable to see what people do, or don’t do, when the stakes are high for doing the right thing; reporting this nine years ago, as it should have been, would still have cast some negative light on Penn State, and that seems to be a reason why the higher ups didn’t do much about this.  For Sandusky, he was given the opportunity to satisfy his evil desire and potentially get away with it, and he took it (many times); for others at Penn State, they were given the opportunity to avoid dealing with the situation and took it.  These were all educated men, respected men, and men who had done many good things in their lives.  However, the Bible is clear that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  Not even the most beloved and respected people are good enough in God’s eyes, for they all have sin in their lives.

This, I believe, is the real problem.  Many in the world think that we just need more education, stricter punishment for child sex abusers and for those who fail to report it, and better preventative measures.  And don’t get me wrong, I think those would all be very good ideas.  However, the true problem for this, as well as all other acts of evil, is the heart of men.  That can be restrained by the law and social factors and in many ways it can also be outwardly conformed by them, but those cannot bring about true change of heart.  Only dealing with the deep-seeded sin problem will change people, and that only comes through one person.  Obviously, Christians are not immune to falling, as we see all the time, but for true believing followers of Christ, there is a true change of heart and a subsequent trajectory away from sin.  This is not because we are inherently better than others, but because we have Christ.  He is he only solution to the sin-problem. Continue reading

Redeeming Love: Good as Allegory, Not so Good as Marriage Advice

Last spring, while I was visiting my girlfriend, I found out that she was reading the popular Christian novel, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, with her accountability partner.  Although I knew full well that it is a book targeted towards females, I picked it up and shot through it fairly quickly.  To be honest, while it was obviously a book geared towards, uh, girly emotions, it was not bad at all.  The book is relatively well-written and has some good theological truths to teach.  In a nutshell, the book is about how a girl who has had a hard life and has grown up in prostitution is pursued by a Christian man named Michael Hosea.  The girl, Sarah (also named Angel) at first resents him and abandons him numerous times, but he keeps coming back to rescue her from her stupidity because God told him to marry her.  At the end of the story, she not only sees his love but sees and experiences the redeeming love of God.

Now, if the book is read with the understanding that Michael Hosea’s character is a reference to the prophet Hosea, whom God told to marry a prostitute to represent God’s faithfulness to unfaithful Israel, then the novel creatively teaches an important truth about God:  That while we were still sinners, Christ pursued us and ultimately died for us (Rom. 5:8).  A unifying theme in Scripture is God’s pursuit of sinners who have turned their backs on him repeatedly, and that pursuit led Jesus His Son to willingly give himself up for our sins.  It is, indeed, a mind-boggling type of love, and there is none greater.  If this is what people get from this book, then all I’ll say is, “Amen.”

However, one thing that irked me about the book is its continued portrayal of Michael Hosea as practically a Christian Superman who tried to come rescue Sarah from a myriad of bad decisions; heck, in one episode, after she left him to go back to work in her brothel, he followed her and beat up everyone there to bring her out.  The reason this bothered me is because I am well-aware of how many Christian girls think about finding a husband:  They want to find a guy who will arrive on the proverbial white horse and “rescue” them.  Of course, they won’t openly admit this or say it as crudely, but you can tell by their attitude and actions that they’re looking for a guy who will cover up all of their insecurities, affirm all of their emotions, etc.  Absent in many of their considerations is their own understanding that they have an individual walk with God for which they are responsible and that their future husband/boyfriend cannot do for them. Continue reading

Christians and the Need to be Academically “Cool”

Two semesters ago, one of my assignments for a class was to read an article by Norman Geisler titled, “Beware of Philosophy:  A Warning to Biblical Scholars.”  Geisler is a well-known Christian philosopher and apologist, and in this article he references Colossians 2:8 where it seems to say “beware of philosophy.”  After that, he lists several philosophical movements and philosophers, discusses briefly how each are contrary to Christianity, and pretty warns aspiring Christian scholars to be very wary of them.  The tone of the article is pretty heavy-handed, as Geisler often is, and it can give off the impression that he’s telling Christians to stay away from philosophy altogether.

I honestly didn’t like the article that much for several reasons, chief of which is his very rough treatment of Colossians 2:8.  I know it is not meant to be an exegetical article, but a quick look at the original language shows that the adjective should apply to both nouns, “deceit” and “philosophy.”  In other words, the best translation is not “beware of philosophy” but, “See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” (NIV) or “philosophy which is empty deceit.”  Basically, Paul is not telling his audience to avoid philosophy altogether but to be wary of crappy philosophy or so-called philosophy.  To be fair, a great deal of philosophy out there would fall under this category, but Geisler frankly sounds alarmist in his article at times, and not all of his treatments of the different philosophies are useful.  Granted, for such a short article, it’s tough to summarize everything, but I wasn’t that impressed.

However, what I did find immensely useful in the article is his practical advice for Christian scholars.  In a nutshell, he stresses humility and warns against the vain desire  to be recognized as brilliant, open-minded, or scholarly by the world.  He correctly points out that preserving orthodoxy is more than an intellectual matter; it is spiritual warfare, and as one allows his spiritual walk to slip, his mind will follow (and vice versa).  Also, he emphasizes Christ’s lordship even over studies which will guard against such slippages in the first place.  This is all wise instruction and one, unfortunately, many Christians ignore, whether they want to be “academics” or not. Continue reading