Sunday, June 23, 2013

Speaking of Jesus (Book Review)

"Jesus is the point of the Bible. It all points to him. I don't have to be the Bible's defense attorney. All I have to do is speak of Jesus and He will draw people to himself."

This is a quote from Speaking of Jesus (David Cook, 2011), written by Carl Medearis. This book is excellent! The particular idea above is just an example of the terrific messages found in this book.

Perhaps the greatest part of the book is the chapter about speaking "Christianese." Medearis brilliantly examines our use of certain words. First, he mentions Christian, which only appears three times in the New Testament. The term, he argues, has become so loaded that it means all kinds of things to all kinds of people. In some parts of the world, it has political meaning. In some places, the label identifies a person as someone that "kills Muslims" while in other places it is equated only with Roman Catholicism. There are countless interpretations and assumptions connected to the word Christian, so many so that Medearis simply suggests replacing it with the phrase "follower of Jesus." This is solid advice as it cuts through the clutter to focus on the main thing.

Next, the author takes on the word church, a personal favoite of mine. The Greek word ekklesia often gets translated as "church" in English, but it actually comes from a German word kirke. This is important because church has come to be associated with a building (i.e. "go to church", "be at the church at 9:00", "the church is the house of worship"), which it virtually never meant in the Bible. Originally, the church (ekklesia) simply meant the "called out ones." Essentially, the church is an organism, not an organization. Rather than a place to go, it is more accurately an identity to be expressed. The mis-use of this word is the cause of great confusion today!

Another word is Bible, which interestingly enough, the Bible never calls itself! Then, Medearis addresses the problems with the word evangelism. Here is some of what he says:
"I think part of the reason [that so many Christians are weak in their faith] is
that we tend to promote the evangelism method of spreading Christianity
rather than the discipleship model of Jesus. We get people 'in' and then try
to go out and get others. After a while, everybody's 'in' and nobody has any
idea how to mature in their faith...Making disciples, as opposed to evangelism,
is a journey of relationship that encompasses support, trial and error, and difficulty."

Finally, there is missionary, another word never found in the Bible . This word is like the others in that it carries with it baggage filled with all sorts of preconceived ideas. The point with this whole discussion is that we need to be careful with our vocabulary. As a colleague of mine often says, "Words matter!" Our language is important because we are constantly expressing something, and it may not be what we intend.

It might be wise to ask people to define the terms they use and ask, "What do you mean by that word?" Then, maybe some genuine, fruitful discussion can occur.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Friendly Dialogue (Book Review)

What do atheists and Christians have in common?

I recently finished reading a book (Zondervan, 2006) that recorded a multiple-day conversation over numerous topics between Luis Palau, a Christian evangelist, and Zhao Qizheng, a Chinese atheist. I was struck by three points.

First, Zhao states, "I read the Bible, but I am not a believer. Why? Because I cannot understand God" (p. 17). This sentiment echoes a common atheistic argument I have heard before. Basically, if God cannot be understood on their terms, then He must not exist. This seems like strange logic to me. I would think it would be just the opposite - that if God could be completely understood by the human mind, then that would be the evidence that He is not real. Am I alone in that thought?

Second, another objection to theism, in general, and Christianity, in particular, is that there are many religious people who do bad things. A few summers ago, I read works by well known atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Some form of this claim showed up often in their writings, too. It goes like this: if followers of a deity do bad things (i.e. Crusades, wars, etc.), then that means the deity can't be real. Again, I just don't get the logic. The truth is that these tragic historical events carried out in the name of religion are undeniable, and they are further evidence that professing disciples of Christ can fall very short of God's perfect standard. Sometimes, people get so mixed up in their belief systems that their actions don't resemble Jesus at all. A bad job of following does not equal proof that no one is leading. Palau's response seems appropriate: "Religion causes troubles sometimes, but Jesus? No" (p. 120).

Third, what Palau and Qizheng demonstrate is that it is very possible, and even not that difficult, to have a courteous dialogue despite having opposing views. Both men were highly respectful and complimentary toward each other. They were genuinely appreciative of one another's background, insight, and contributions to society. Hopefully, we can follow their example.