Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tastes Great, But Less Filling

I do not know about you, but I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with where I see mainline Christianity going these days. When I look around at the trends I see in churches, I am reminded of the beer commercial that said, “It tastes great and it’s less filling.” I think the Christianity that is seen by most Americans looks good on the outside, but it fails to deliver in changing people’s lives. Most of the time I see Christians who are just as selfish as the ever were, but they have just clothed it in Christian language. I see Christians who are greedy with their money, who have a total lack of interest when others in the world are starving, who want to turn to violence whenever a conflict happens, who worship Christian stars instead of God, who use the Bible to exclude others from the church…. I could go on and on.

I know that last paragraph was pretty harsh, but I think it needs to be because I believe the church desperately needs a wake up call. Before I move into some specifics, I do want to say that I believe Jesus was and is God and I believe that Jesus came to bring salvation to the world. I am not criticizing Jesus at all; I am criticizing out lack of effort in trying to actually follow Jesus. I believe when the church truly seeks to understand and follow Jesus, the church transforms the culture. When the church seeks to follow its own selfishness, the church allows the culture to transform it.

That being said, here are several issues I see the church having to really work on in the future:

1. Pop-Christianity: When I survey the places I see the church growing I am reminded of my middle school days when New Kids on the Block was famous. Every girl in my middle school was swept up by this band. Of coarse there have been several bands that have replaced New Kids on the Block as the popular band, but the phenomenon is still the same. It seems that we always want somebody to be famous so we can look up to them.

When I look at the contemporary Christian movement, I see a similar pattern. We, even as Christians want to place our worship leaders and great speaks as celebrities so that we can look up to them. We hang on every word they say and every lyric they sing without ever stopping to wonder if it is actually Biblical or not. We flock into churches that put on weekly concerts where the music vibrates in your chest. We watch live rock stars that are flown in from out of town perform and then we say we have experienced God. We listen to the same speakers over and over and we begin to think the words they have spoken must be the only way to every read the Bible.

2. Prosperity Christianity: The greatest challenge our society has is that we are greedy. Our whole economy is based upon greed. We are always asking ourselves how we can get more money and accumulate more things.

My wife always runs in to turn the channel when I watch the Trinity Broadcasting Network because I get so angry at what I see. I normally hear the message that if you give money to God by donating to TBN, then God will bless you monetarily and spiritually. If you just have enough faith, God will heal you from your sickness. It seems to me that we are taking the same principles we find in our society and making them Christian so that we do not have to face our greed problem.

3. Calvinistic Christianity: The fastest growing group of Christians is among Calvinists. Calvinism is a theological system passed down from John Calvin. One of the things that distinguish Calvinism from other theological systems is that they teach that God elected or chose particular people before the world was formed to receive salvation. This means that all of those persons who were not chosen or elected, God chose to pass over, leaving them outside of God’s mercy and grace and leaving them condemned to their sins.

One of the reasons I think many people are turning to Calvinism is that this type of theology allows for persons to exclude the people who are different from them. If you believe God excludes most of humanity, then as human, we surely have the same right to be exclusive on earth.

For the time being I have pointed out three things that I see as becoming popular among Christians today and I find all three of these things troubling. The main reason they are so bothersome to me is that they seem to go against the very things that Jesus himself modeled in his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus taught us that we were to worship God only, that we were to pick up our own cross and follow Jesus. We are to be inclusive in that Jesus welcomed people who were on the outside of society.

The gospel was never meant to be easy or comfortable. Jesus’ choice to follow God meant that he would die on a Roman cross. Paul’s choice to follow Jesus meant that he would also die at the hands of the Romans. Christianity is not popular or cool. It is a dangerous and hard commitment. I do think that God wants us to be BLESSED, not necessarily HAPPY all the time. Blessed is a peace that comes from the inside that tells us in the midst of life, God is with us. It is a joy that does not always taste great, but it will always be filling.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Screwtape and the Christian Life

I have just finished reading the book Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. This makes the third time I have read the book and I love it every time. The book contains fictional letters written from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is a young tempter who is trying to make sure his patient rejects God. Throughout the book, Screwtape gives advice to Wormwood through these letters. Lewis deals with a number of themes related to the Christian life as he cleverly writes these letters.

Screwtape’s first effort is to help Wormwood keep his patient from becoming a Christian by keeping him from thinking about Christianity as true or false, ut for him to see it as just another opinion. Once he fails at this and his patient becomes a Christian, he tries to get Wormwood to attack his patient’s Christian faith by leading him to worldly friends, attacking his chastity, and by attacking several important aspects of his spiritual and devotional life. When this fails, Wormwood thinks he can lead his patient down the wrong road by using the war to break his faith. Screwtape tells Wormwood to keep him alive because if he were to die in the war, all hope would be lost for leading him away from God. Sure enough, Wormwood looses and his patient dies in a bombing raid.

In the last letter Screwtape says that in the end the patient saw Wormwood, who had been tempting him and then understood all along all the things that had been negatively affecting him. Reading this book for the third time made me raise some interesting questions about spiritual warfare. Do we really have a demon or demons who are out there trying to tempt us? Do we also have angles helping us? How real is spiritual warfare?

Most of the time I attribute my sin to the fact that I am a fallen person who still has some pride issues. When I think about all the things that I have done wrong, I can’t help but realize how selfish I truly am. I can account for all my wrong doing by attributing it to myself. However, thinking about spiritual warfare makes me wonder how much of the things I do can be attributed to evil forces in the world.

Even if there are demons in the world, I guess the main point is that I have to be able to take responsibility for my own actions. If we believe temptations are psychological or produced by demonic forces, we are the ones who can say yes or no to the temptation. In taking responsibly, we can also take action by praying that God would give us the means to lead us away from temptation and that God would deliver us from evil. After all, Jesus died on the cross to defeat the evil in the world.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

“My Lord is Gone, Where Have They Put Him”

Over the weekend my wife and I picked up a book at Books A Million called, The Jesus Family Tomb. We were curious about the book because we knew that the Discovery Channel would be airing a “documentary” claiming that they had found the tomb of Jesus. I spent the weekend reading this book and I have been fascinated by the reading.

Apparently in 1980, while bulldozing for construction for an apartment building, a tomb was found in the side of a hill in Jerusalem. A group of archeologists were called in to extricate the articles in the tomb. They found 10 ossuaries (boxes containing bones) in this tomb. After they finished taking out the articles from the tomb, they only had nine ossuaries to examine. Six of these ossuaries were inscribed: (1) “Jesus, son of Joseph” (2) “Yose” or “Joseph” (3) “Maria” or Mary in Hebrew (4) “Mariamne” or Mary in Greek (5) “Matia” or Matthew (6) “Judah, son of Jesus.

At first, the book claims the original investigation did not point to the Jesus of the Bible because the name “Mariamne” could not be traced to him. However, through the course of examining, it was found that Mary Magdalene was referred to as Mariamne in some of the Gnostic texts.

The writers of the book decided to test the probability that this was Jesus' tomb by examining the statistical evidence that all of these names which relate to Jesus would show up in the same family tomb. In the tombs that have been found, the name Joseph has appeared 14% of the time and the name Jesus has appeared 9% of the time. The estimated population of males was 80,000. So, the authors calculated that there were 7,200 Jesus’ and 11,200 Josephs’. 1008 men would have been Jesus son of Joseph. Then, a quarter of the population would have been named Mary. Although this sounds like a lot of Jesus', Josephs and Marys, they calculated that there was a 1 and 2.5 million chance that all of these names would be in the same tomb. However, when you take percentages away for the missing names from Jesus' family, the odds go to 1 and 600,000, which are still good odds.

The book proposes that the following story may explain what happened to Jesus’ body after his death. Jesus died just before sun down of Friday, meaning he had to be buried in a hurry. He was placed in a tomb of a follower until he could be buried in his family tomb. The disciples came and took the body on the Sabbath, because nobody would have been guarding the tomb. They brought him to his family tomb where he was laid down for a period of a year. Then, after a year, his bones would have been placed in an ossuary. They propose that there were two different types of followers of Jesus, the ones in Jerusalem which they call Ebionites, who followed the Jewish law, but believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah and there were the Gentile Christians. After Rome was destroyed in 70CE the Ebionites were displaced and died out. However, they believe there were still some cell groups that existed underground. The book also theorizes that these Ebionite groups new about the tomb of Jesus and shared this information with the Nights Templar. This secrete may be what caused the church to persecute and kill the Nights Templar. Of coarse the book does say that this is all speculation, but it is a theory that could have happened.

The icing of the cake for the writers of this book is that they suspect that the missing tenth ossuary was the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus. If you will remember back a couple of years ago, this same group who aired this show on the discovery channel Sunday night, also aired a show claiming that they had found the ossuary of James. After the show this allegation was quickly discredited, however, the writers of this book are still convinced of its accuracy. Because they believe the 10th ossuary is James’, they believe they have overwhelming proof that this is the family tomb of Jesus. Of coarse this would not be that big of a deal, except for there were bones discovered in Jesus’ ossuary.

I am not a Bible scholar, a historian, or an archeologist. I do love the Bible and I truly believe that the study of history and archeology is important to helping us understand the Bible. I do though, despite my lack of knowledge, want to comment of some of the questions that stuck out in my mind as I was reading through this book.

(1) Why would Joseph, Jesus’ father, be buried in Jerusalem? The New Testament tells us that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and it is quite likely that his dad, Joseph, died when he was quite young and still living in Nazareth. Nazareth is a good distance from where this tomb was discovered, so why would Jesus’ family tomb be this close to Jerusalem.
(2) The book makes it clear that only royalty or wealthy folks would have been buried in these tombs with ossuaries. Jesus was from the family of a carpenter. His family was probably not wealthy and he was not royalty. Jesus was placed in the tomb of a wealthy person, but this again, would not explain his father, Joseph.
(3) If this is a family tomb, it would contain more than one generation of people. It seems like it could have contained 3 or more generations. If this is the case, then the statistics mentioned in the book would be wrong. Instead of 80, 000 men, you would have to multiply by 3 and get 240,000 possibilities for men alone.
(4) If there were only 10 people buried here and a quarter of all the women were named Mary, it is possible that the tomb had 2 Mary’s. It is also likely that it would have a Joseph and a Jesus, just by the percentages. Richard Baukman argued that there were proably more than 30 people burried in this tomb.
(5) The name Matthew still poses a problem because Matthew was not related to Jesus. He was a disciple of Jesus. If this is Jesus’ family tomb, then Matthew should not have been included.
(6) Of course there is some debate over Mary Magdalene being the wife of Jesus, but here being in the tomb is also odd. The Gnostic Gospels due show Mary Magdalene as a true disciple, but they do not show her as being married to Jesus. The gospels due not show Jesus as being married. Even if Jesus had an affair with Mary, she still would not have made the family tomb.
(7) Jesus did have a brother named Judah, which was also a common name, but Judah was not his son. Judah, son of Jesus, should cause us to ask serious questions about the validity of this being Jesus’ tomb. The authors of the book claim that Judah was Jesus’ son all along; but that the writers of the NT covered it up for his protection by saying he was Jesus’ brother. Although this theory takes a good deal of imagination, it has no grounding.

Overall, I found this book to be a fun read, but it would take a great deal of faith to believe it was true. I guess the question is: Does the evidence really line up? I think not. Honestly, even if Jesus did not resurrect in bodily form (which I believe he did) I doubt it can be proven. There are just too many people with the names Joseph, Jesus, and Mary to be able to claim it is the Jesus from the Bible. I tip my hats off to Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino for writing a good book with lots of great back ground. I believe it took some guts to do this research, but in the end I still believe my Lord was resurrected!

If you want to know more, go to and

Ben Witherington is a great biblical scholor whom I trust in greatly. I hope you enjoy his blogs!