Monday, March 21, 2016

Bananas, Nuts and Living Art

Sermons on Evolution send me bananas. I have heard my fair share of sermons on evolution and read a number of articles on the topic. I’ve even written one. And I apologise. Why am I sorry? Why do they bother me?

Because you can’t find Evolution in the Bible. You have to preach it from somewhere else. Every evolution sermon I’ve heard spends the majority of its time building a case against evolution using science. That’s like helping a drowning person by giving them a drink.

Using the scientific method to pull apart something built using the scientific method is forgetting who we are as Christians. As Biblical teachers, we are not meant to be scientifically proving or disproving anything. As Christians, we are not naturalists but theists. It makes as much sense to ‘borrow’ your neighbour’s lottery tickets to see if you won as it does to borrow his worldview and teaching method to prove your faith.

We are meant to be teaching the themes of Scripture using Scripture. We have been given a story that comes with its own worldview and its own teaching strategy. This worldview is not based on logic and this teaching strategy is not the scientific method. We have been given a story - THE story - of Divine interaction with humanity. We are meant to be telling this epic story from within Scripture’s pages.

God speaks through story. That’s why the Bible is 75 percent story. If God wanted us to have a big list of logic proofs, He would have filled the Bible with lists. Instead His Book is filled with stories of truth. The only lists are names - lots and lots of names - each part of a greater story. And yet, steeped in the scientific method, we pull those stories apart and create proof texts. Shame on us!

The worldview given by God’s Word is one based on Logos, not logic. It is the product of God’s mind and hands, not ours. We need to get out of our heads and into God’s - by reading, praying, teaching and living His Word.

Why do we feel compelled to prove things? Why do we use the scientific method in church? Why do we feel it is right to do so? Because we are steeped in naturalism and a scientific worldview - so deeply we don’t realise how embedded we are - in today’s culture, thinking and way of being. It’s a worldview which has been developing for hundreds - even thousands - of years.

There is a theistic worldview which reaches back to before time began. It comes not from the mind of mankind, but from the mind and heart of God. We were created to live, think, teach and love His way. Our worldview should not be natural but supernatural. As believers in God, our worldview should be theistic; founded on allowing the spiritual to explain all things. Not naturalistic - which demands that things explain the spiritual. That's a quick recipe for a Godless universe - in your head, anyway.

Turning Inward
For much the same reason that sermons about evolution send me bananas, many sermons about morality drive me nuts. It has been said that anything that can be put in a nutshell, belongs there. I feel this way about a lot of sermons I hear and articles I read about Christian character development. Not because they are bad, just because they come from a different worldview than the Bible.

There are lots of books that teach strategies for being a better person. And there are lots of sermons being preached from those books. But, to a large extent, those books are built on a naturalistic worldview rather than the theistic worldview of the Bible. Let me show you what I mean.

I recently received a letter from a pastor who stated that good Christian leaders need to have ethos, pathos and logos to earn respect. Because these words are in Greek, we stroke our chins and say, “Ah, yes. Greek! The New Testament is written in Greek. This must be Biblical.” But, it’s not. These three things, which basically mean ethics, emotions and logic are strategies for building persuasion by reason - called “the three artistic proofs” by their creator, Aristotle. They are the foundation for presenting a good version of you in which you compare yourself with other people and your previous self - growing ever more persuasive as you increase in moral virtue.

The journey from the mind of Aristotle to the pen of a pastor is one of nearly 2500 years. Aristotle was a student of Plato. Plato was a student of Socrates. All three were the founders of the worldview whose rule we live under today - naturalism. In short, these three philosophers described the foundational rules on which are built mathematics “of two things, each is one and both are two”, science “the matter of knowledge is existence” and philosophy "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” From there, two thousand years later, naturalism and her bedfellow the scientific method evolved.

A handful of centuries after these three men started spinning natural answers for supernatural questions, the Christian church began to form, and with it, her first apologist, Paul. The Apostle Paul was a Jewish thinker. He was also a Greek thinker. And he knew the teachings of these three men - teachings being developed and taught in The School of Athens for generations. Paul saw how the society around him was being shaped by these ways of thinking. And he said a lot to counter naturalism with supernaturalism.

In Greek thought, you are the hero in your own story.

In Biblical thought, you are a single player in the storyline of God’s epic narrative in which He is the Hero.

Paul worked hard to rescue the Christian worldview from the Greek worldview permeating the world around them. He wrote many letters (and preached many sermons) explaining that God’s people are to build their lives on God’s thoughts, not their own. Christian character development is not about making yourself more persuasive - through developing ethics, emotions or logic - but about showing God and His Truth as more persuasive through faith, hope and love.

Faith - looks back.

Hope - looks forward.

Love - looks everywhere.

All are outward focused. None are self-centred.

All three are from God, for God and in God.

If you spend your days becoming a better version of yourself, your story starts and finishes with you. But if we spend our lives focusing on Jesus, His story, which has neither beginning nor end, will increase and embrace - leading others toward Jesus and into the Kingdom of God.

Stop looking at yourself.

Look to Jesus.

He will shine through you into the world.

And He will change you, from (your) glory to (His) glory - to the glory of God the Father.

Living Art
Imagine you’re living on a painting of a sunset. For years no-one knew it was a painting. It was just life. Then, people started chipping little bits of paint off the ground and anylsing it. These scientists come back after many years of research and declare “It’s pigment, resin, solvent and additives - That’s what the world is made of!" Everyone nods and agrees. Clearly, they are right.

Then, one day, someone fastens a little plastic bag to their back and, using a rubber-band found in the easel tray at the bottom of the world, they launch themself off the top. And, look back at the world.

“IT’S A SUNSET!” They say when they come back to Earth.

“What’s a sunset?” everyone asks.

“The painting we are living on,” the parachutist says.

“No,” the people say, “What is A SUNSET?”

“I don’t know,” he says, “I just read the title above the painting.”

This is how the scientific method works. We chip away at the natural world around us and slowly explain it. We think we are reaching deeper knowledge and greater understanding. But, we are just reading the signs.

There are questions that can never be answered with paint chips.

“What is a sunset, really?”

“Who is the artist of the painting in which we live?”

John, in his gospel, had a bit to say regarding how the Biblical worldview of the Christians really was very different to the naturalistic worldview all around them. Once we realise how pervasive the Greek culture was becoming, we begin to understand why John wrote what he did.

“In the beginning was the Word! The Word was with God! The Word was God!”

He’s arguing against the dominant worldview of the day: “Logic is king. Logic explains everything. I think, therefore I am.”

John says, in effect, “Not Logic - LOGOS!”

“In the beginning was the Logos! The Logos was with God! The Logos was God!”

In his usage of the Greek word Logos, John is talking about a “Holy Word,” a “Divine Speaker,” an “Eternal Storyteller.” Logic starts in your mind and ends in your mind. If you trace logical thought back, it goes to the mind of Plato. Then it stops.

Not so with the Holy, Divine, Eternal Logos. It is from before time. And, amazingly, John goes on, “The Logos became flesh, and lived here with us!” The supernatural became natural and tented in our campground. He tabernacled among us and then empowered us to tabernacle in the world. We are his Temple and His priesthood. That's epic. That's our God in action through us!

Without this amazing Biblical narrative, we have nothing as believers in Jesus. Without His life, death, resurrection and power over creation - over every chip of paint on the canvas - we are just telling stories. But with it - we can change the world - one story at a time.

It is saddening and desperately destructive that Aristotelian logical thought has so informed our worldview that we believe such a phrase as “just a story” is a reasonable one. We are a storytelling creature - given the most powerful story in the universe - and empowered to live it.

The wonderful thing is that today, a new worldview has emerged - yes it has its issues - which takes stories very seriously. A true Post-Modern thinker hears a story and says, “Is that true? Does it work for you?” If we answer yes that it is true for us it is given a chance to be true for them, as well.

I’m ashamed that I used logic to present this article to you. But, I wanted you to hear it. I wanted you to see it. I want you to shake free from the compulsion to prove truth and embrace the call to proclaim it - through story.

If I had written this article using a Biblical worldview, I would have told a story from beginning to end. I think I might have started it, “In the beginning God…”

I’ll leave the rest for you to tell.

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