One of the things that often comes up in my conversation with religious believers (mostly Christians, per circumstance) is that even if there is no God, to dissuade someone from faith is still somehow morally reprehensible. Most often, they run down a laundry list of ways in which the institution of religion—independent of the veracity of its truth claims—makes a positive impact on the world.
A derivative of a common example used is that of an elderly woman on her deathbed. Perhaps she has been a non-believer her entire life, but she finds that as her life comes to a close she is fearful of its end. She decides to suspend her skepticism about religion and posit belief in some God. Wouldn’t it be wrong to convince her otherwise? “No Grandma, there is no God, when you die your mind will cease to function and your body will rot!” I’m no counselor, but this doesn’t seem to be comforting.
What about the social function churches (and other religious institutions) serve in our culture? Churches can provide a sense of belonging, a safety net, and very basically friendship shared over common interest. Furthermore, an exorbitant number of homeless shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, free medical clinics, rehab programs, etc. are operated by religious institutions around the world…
Dr. Doug Matthews is perhaps one of the most popular professors at the small evangelical university where he teaches. He has served as a youth pastor, a university cabinet member, a chaplain and as a professor of theology. Last year he was voted as the professor of the year for his brilliant lectures and out-of-the-classroom concern for his students.
Despite my de-conversion, Dr. Matthews is easily my favorite professor. During my de-conversion process, I studied systematic theology and Christian beliefs under him, and he was the primary reason that I remained a Christian as long as I did.
Because of how much respect I still maintain for the man even during my post-Christian days, I was excited to find that he would be speaking in chapel last week. He gave a half-sermon, half-lecture about “Which God?” During his talk, he discussed criteria for determining which ‘god package’ students should chose and briefly outlined some reasons for his turn from skepticism to Christianity.
I am thoroughly convinced that Dr. Matthews is a man of brilliance, charisma, and sincere concern for his students. He could surpass Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias or Lee Strobel easily. For that reasons, I feel it is relevant to share some of his thoughts and some of my reflections…
I have been reflecting for some time on the idea of “separateness” that is so often espoused by Wesleyan theology. John Wesley built an entire tradition of Christianity on the notion of holiness. As a Christian, I believed Wesleyan theology to be superior to Calvinism and other options because Wesleyanism seemed to take the idea of holiness seriously. In a very poetic sense, Wesleyan theology is desirable because it purports a fallen creation that can be redeemed in this life.
Considering that I attend a Wesleyan-holiness Christian college, it is a safe assumption that the faculty and students of this institution should be an adequate case study in what it means to be “set apart.”
First, let’s establish the foundation of what Wesleyan theology claims of holiness. It references such passages as Hebrews 6:1, Philippians 3:15 and 1 Corinthians 2:6 which all call Christians to be “perfect.” There is a particular fondness for 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless.” Now, I have to give Wesleyan theologians credit where it is due. I am glad that they at least take their own Scriptures seriously. Instead of rationalizing “be holy as I am holy,” they embrace the notion…
Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Christian faith, at least in our time, is the notion of unfettered love. The idea of a God who loves unconditionally, and seeks to empower mankind to do the same is desirable in a seemingly disinterested world. I will admit that still yet I find the idea of an omni-benevolent God to be psychologically alluring. But I am not certain that the Biblical God fits that criteria.
Everyone who has ever attended a Sunday School class knows John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” 1 Timothy 2 states that God wills for “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That is a nice thought, but does God’s track record as recorded by his own followers in the Bible match up to that idea?
The story of Israel is one that is at first glance very beautiful. God chose an unworthy people to be his. In the midst of their suffering, their sin and their imperfections, God chose them. God protected them. He led them out of bondage and into the Promised Land. In the eyes of a contemporary reader, it can be a profound analogue to their own lives: in spite of the readers infirmities and so-called rebellion against God, he chose them and knows their name…