Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Crux of Christianity

I was watching a PBS special on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and one of the interesting questions that came up was "Does the sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5- 7:27) embody Christianity?"

Bonhoeffer was influenced by a french theologian named Larrere at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. Larrere stressed the importance of the Sermon on the Mount as the essence of the Christian Faith. Because of that he was a pacifist (See Matt.5:39, "...But whosoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.")

Now, I don't agree that the Sermon on the Mount is the 'essence' of the Christian faith. The primary problem with this view is works righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount emphasized a standard of how people are to live if they really wanted to live according to God's law. Furthermore, the Sermon is not a complete picture of salvation. You can't read the Sermon on the Mount and know how you are saved from your sins. In fact, I would argue that the Sermon on the Mount convicts you of how far you are from living according to God's true law.

Furthermore, I would argue that the essence of Christianity is summed up in Paul's letter to the Romans. In Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved..."

Christianity isn't about following the law... it's about the fact that we can't follow the law, and are doomed to God's wrath and eternal misery . But, God in His graciousness has condescended to save a wretched sinner such as me through Christ, THEN out of a love for my Savior do I try and follow His commandments.

Finally, you can't get around the supernatural aspect of Paul's statement, "and believer in your heart that God raised Him from the dead," Christianity is not Christianity without the miracle of the resurrection. The Sermon on the Mount is important and should be studied and obeyed, but it is not the essence of Christianity...Christ and who he is...is the essence of Christianity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Harry Potter, again!

Recently, I had a conversation with a Christian friend about the Harry Potter series (books and movies). My friend argued that he wouldn't let his daughter, who is six years old, watch the Potter movies because of the blatant use of magic. In fact, my friend said that Harry Potter 'promoted' magic and in a sense made it seem like something attainable.

Now of course I disagreed, see my review on the Goblet of Fire. Fundamentalist Christian have shot themselves in the foot, again. The issue with the Harry Potter series is not the use of magic and witchcraft, that's a surface, the deeper issue is whether the Potter series is good literature (or a good story) or not. This is a clear case of focusing on the trees and not the forest.

J.K. Rowlings, for those who have read the book, (in most cases the Christians I've talked to about the series have NEVER read one book!) uses the magic as part of the fictional setting of the book. As Dr Jerram Barrs points out in his talk on Harry Potter,
The magic is simply a part of the imaginative worlds that Lewis, Tolkien, and
Rowling have created. In such an imaginary world, people can become invisible;
animals talk; mythical creatures like unicorns and centaurs exist; and rings and
spells work wonders.
The use of magic and witchcraft is not the main point of the books, and this is were most Christians get stuck. Dr. Barr also points out the following positive points about Harry Potter

1. These books are great fun (just consider a game like Quidditch!)

2. J.K. Rowling has created a delightful world of the imagination. She has
constructed an alternative universe, another dimension (rather like C. S. Lewis’s Narnia or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth), but, right within our world.For those who have a problem with the idea of fantasy and alternative universes - we need to recognize that almost all children play imaginative games in their minds starting at a very young age and have no difficulty whatsoever in distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

3. The books are well written. Try reading them aloud – this is the simplest test of good writing.

4. The multitude of characters in the books. J.K. Rowling has brought into being an entire portrait gallery of people, adults and also children who are growing up book by book.

5. Additionally, the Harry Potter books send a strong message about moral behavior.There are beautiful and enjoyable human relationships among the characters, and there is a depth of commitment and service among them.The characteristics celebrated in the relationships are friendship, loyalty, integrity, kindness, and self-sacrifice. Harry Potter himself is prepared to set aside his own success, in order to serve his friends. These are qualities in which we can all delight. There is also a very clear portrayal of the distinction between good and evil — Both the appalling destructiveness of evil to human life And the beneficial fruit of treating people with justice, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, and integrity. It is particularly significant that the books recognize that goodness and faithfulness in relationships have a cost. Virtue is rewarded primarily in terms of character development and the increasing depths of relationships among the characters, rather than through the attainment of popularity or success. J.K. Rowling also has a very deep understanding of the folly of those who turn their eyes blindly towards evil and of evil’s destructive consequences.

6. Finally, I see the books as valuable because they consistently include the
three fundamental themes that can be found as a subtext in almost all good
literature: -The beauty of creation -The appalling reality of evil -The
universal human longing for redemption — for a better world -These themes touch
the way the world truly is, the way God has made it

Dr. Barr is not all incompassing in his assessment of Harry Potter, but one would have to note that beyond the magic there is something good about the series. Christians do a disservice by only focusing on the superficial aspects of literature and not on the ultimate questions of goodness, beauty and truth.

Lazarus, the Fourth Evangelist?

Ben Witherington writes an interesting article for BAR titled "The Last Man Standing." In it, Dr. Witherington puts forth the possibility that it was Lazarus and not John who was the last man standing at the cross, and furthermore it was Lazarus and not John who wrote the Fourth Gospel. Also you can check out Dr. Witherington's web site here.

(Note: You have to subscribe to view the complete article.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A President's Day Treat

I just finished reading 1776 by David McCullough. If you don't understand God's work of Providence, then I would suggest reading this book. The confluence of people, events, and timing is amazingly displayed in McCullough's book.

I don't mean 1776 is a religious version of the American Revolutionary War, but what you do see in the pages of this narrative is that events outside the control of the individuals shaped the very outcome of the War. For example, Washington's retreat from Brooklyn was successful only because the British Navy didn't have a favorable wind to tack up river and thereby cut off the Continental Army's retreat. Or the fact that General Lee, second in command of the American Army, was captured by the British while eating breakfast freeing up Washington to eventually make his bold move on Trenton.

By every account the Continental Army should not have prevailed, and we should still be British subjects. The British were better equiped, more powerful, and commanded the seas, yet America came out the victor and won her independence. You definitely get a sense that it was only by the providence of God that America eventually won the war. I'm not implying that America is the new promised land or anything like that. But what I am suggesting is that all of history is God's History. The American's didn't win because of Washington's perseverance, as McCullough concludes, America won because of God's providence in Washington being in that time and in that place. As the Psalmist wrote, "The steps of a man are established by the LORD"(Ps. 37:23), that is something you can't really forget as you read 1776.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Engineering Dream Jobs (Is it Possible?)

I've been an engineer for over 11 years now and I wouldn't call my current job a 'dream, (I'm a bridge engineer - hence the picture of a bridge). But I found an interesting article concerning engineering dream jobs. Check it out here.

My question is 'what constitutes a dream job?' Is it making a boat load of money? Or is it performing some task that just gives you immense joy? Or is it a job that gives you a little satisfaction at the end of the day? The article doesn't go into the 'philosophy' behind the 'dream job' only highlights 10 engineers who have their dream job. But the philosophy or "worldview" that motivates a person to seek a dream job interest me. Is there a standard which we all follow in seeking the job of our dreams? Is there some criteria for the ultimate dream job? To be honest, I don't know but it's interesting to ask the question, though.