Friday, March 27, 2020

How much time are we willing to give them?

Yesterday afternoon, it was necessary for me to make a brief trip to the parish office. My intention was to get in and out as quickly as possible. However, I had not been inside but a few minutes when a raggedly dressed gentleman came knocking on the door.
“Can you give me some help with my light bill?” he asked.
I had seen this fellow before. He frequently drops by, making the same request.
“Sir,” I said to him, “no one is going to be turning off your lights right now.”
I went on to explain to him that, because of the present circumstances, utilities companies are pretty much giving everyone a break. After a minute or two, the gentleman left, apparently satisfied but still with a look of disappointment.
It goes without saying that I have to be very discerning and judicious in dispensing aid from my benevolent fund at the moment. However, this encounter has caused me to ponder a very sobering reality. Most of us probably assume that the ones who are intent on continuing life as usual during this coronavirus crisis are the privileged few who arrogantly ignore all the warnings, believing themselves to be somehow invincible. This poor soul hardly fits that category. Yet, his life is continuing as usual, quite possibly because he is entirely unaware of the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic and he, being of advanced age and considerably diminished physical capacity, is among those at greatest risk.
This gentleman is not alone. There are so many more just like him. Their life as usual means continuing to make the monthly sojourn to the church down the street (or, more likely, several churches throughout the neighborhood), repeating the same story they’ve told many times before, and begging for some small gesture of charity. They don’t live for it. They merely exist for it — and that is the tragedy of it all. Giving such persons a small financial donation, ostensibly to help them pay off an insurmountable accumulated debt, is not a gesture of charity. It’s just a way of getting them out of our hair. What they need is something of greater value than a few measly bucks to pay off a light bill. They need to know they can have a life that is far more fulfilling than mere existence. They need to hear the Good News that they are precious in the sight of God, who created them in his image and sent his Son to die for their sins.
“How can we tell them,” we ask ourselves, “when they are not willing to give us the time?”
Perhaps the question should be, “How much time are willing to give them?”

Monday, March 2, 2020

Biblical truth for "Progressive Christians"

For reasons unknown to me, I have wound up on the mailing list of an outfit known as Wood Lake Publishing. From what I can gather from their frequent contributions to my inbox, this is a company specializing in providing teaching resources for “Progressive Christians.” I suppose I could spare myself a few gigabytes of data by unsubscribing to the list, as I do with all other junk dealers who offer products I would never purchase. However, I have elected to remain on this particular vendor’s list, and even archive some of its mailings, because the entertainment value more than makes up for the loss of data space. An outside observer, reading the detailed descriptions of the contents of the numerous titles “for Progressive Christians” could be forgiven for thinking the whole operation is some kind of Babylon Bee parody.
Consider this rather detailed blurb for Wood Lake’s latest offering, Easter for Progressive Christians, which is apparently getting rave reviews from readers who have no idea what it means to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, the Bible doesn’t really tell us much about resurrection. This is hardly surprising, because the gospel writers are trying to make sense of a story that, well, doesn’t really make sense – at least not to a rational mind. This has led people to a variety of positions that roughly fall somewhere between two extremes:
Of course Jesus never rose from the dead; people don’t do that. Anyone who says so is crazy,
Jesus rose physically from the dead and appeared to lots of people, and you must believe this or you are going to hell.
While most people lie somewhere between these two positions, they may not be sure just where exactly – nor are they always sure that they are “allowed” to be where they think they are. To put that another way, many people who understand themselves to be Christian struggle to accept the idea that Jesus physically rose from the dead, but are afraid to say so.
The “two extremes” here are caricatures set up as straw men for the express purpose of marketing the book as a reasonable “middle way” between them. It is a tactic so old and tired that it warrants no effort at refutation. It is a better use of time simply to consider the obvious absurdity of the first sentence. How can one read even a small portion of the Bible and claim it “doesn’t really tell us much about resurrection?” Even if you were to leave out the Gospel accounts, you would still have the witness of the Apostles throughout the book of Acts; frequent references in the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John; and John’s apocalyptic vision on Patmos; not to mention the numerous prophecies of the Old Testament that can only be understood in light of the resurrection.
So, how can one read the Bible and claim it “doesn’t tell us much about resurrection?” The answer is as obvious as the absurdity of the claim. Anyone who says “the Bible doesn’t tell us much about resurrection” has not read the Bible, at least not as the Word of God. That sad fact is made clear in the remaining portion of the blurb:
This guide does not set out to “prove” or “disprove” that Jesus physically rose on Easter Sunday. Instead, it invites participants to engage with the biblical stories of Christ’s resurrection to try to understand what the gospel writers meant to tell us, what they wanted us to take from these stories. After all, they did not set out to prove a point of history; they wrote them down because these stories had transformed their own lives, and the lives of many others at the time. Hopefully, reading and exploring these stories can enhance our lives too. Ultimately, how we experience Christ today is what matters – not what might have happened 2,000 years ago.
Part and parcel to so-called “progressive” Christianity is the reduction of any semblance of objective biblical authority to subjective human experience. To “Progressive Christians,” the Gospel writers were only recording “stories” that “had transformed their own lives, and the lives of many others at the time.” Never mind if “these stories” were true or accurate or even plausible. They made people feel good (about themselves, apparently) and they inspired them to tell others so they could also feel good (about themselves).
None of this, of course, even remotely resembles the authentic Christian faith and its belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The Gospel writers were not merely relating their own individual experiences. They were proclaiming the Good News that God had sent his Son to suffer, die, and rise again in order to bring forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to all who put their faith in him.
Here is what you might call some Biblical Truth for Progressive Christians: Ultimately, what did happen 2,000 years ago matters as much today as it did then. What we believe about Christ today can only be the same as what was believed about him by those who were eyewitnesses to his life, death, and resurrection.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)