Friday, August 5, 2011

Shocked, Shocked by Holland's Atheism!

Of all the timeless lines from one of cinematography's greatest films, it's become one of the most iconic:

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

As you'll recall, it was spoken by the duplicitous Captain Renault in Casablanca, just before he was handed his own winnings.

Well, after reading a troubling BBC News article on Christianity in Holland, I felt like uttering a paraphrase of Renault's feigned incredulity myself:

"I'm shocked, shocked to see such liberal theology in Holland!"

Of course, I'm not shocked at all. In fact, the BBC article is hardly news-worthy. After all, most Americans know how atheistic Europe has become, with the Netherlands smack dab in the middle of the heresy.

Now, I'm hardly Christendom's best apologist, but the following statements quoted in the BBC article are so nihilistic that even I can't resist responding to them in faith. Indeed, I feel compelled to do so.

So... here we go:

Quotes and Comebacks

- "Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death... No, for me our life, our task, is before death."

Obviously, nobody has a "talent" for believing in a true Heaven and Hell without the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives to convince them that they're true. Technically, for people who are not saved, it's a fact that the only shot they get at making something useful out of their lives is during the time before they die. But for believers in Christ, life provides the briefest of prologues before we arrive in Heaven, where we will spend a literal eternity with our Savior. Eternity isn't something any of us - saved or not - can fathom, so expecting there to be a "talent" for doing so is unrealistic. That doesn't mean that life after death, however, is equally unrealistic, does it?

- "God is not a being at all... it's a word for experience, or human experience."

Pardon my frankness, but that's just a stupid thing to say. The Bible is replete with scriptures regarding the deity and personhood of God, and just because the term "Trinity" isn't in any of the sacred texts, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is pretty well established. To say God is not a being either betrays woeful ignorance or willful blindness, neither of which is hardly an admirable quality for any religious leader.

- "A lot of traditional beliefs are outside people and have grown into rigid things that you can't touch any more."

Well, yes and no. To the extent that some people of faith rely on legalistic practices and classifications by which they can sort fellow believers, then yes, traditional beliefs can be harmful to communities of faith. However, if by "traditional beliefs," we're talking about orthodox principles like original sin, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and salvation through faith, then no; these facts and facets of God's purposes on Earth are rigid, fixed, and closed to existential interpretation. We should find peace in the fact that God does not play a shell game with redemption. He doesn't change the rule about or make different people jump through different hoops to please Him. He doesn't have one door to salvation for one group of people, and another door for another group. He's the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow; not because He can't change, but because He knows his people can, through His strength! It's a good thing the Gospel has its rigid parts.

- "I think it's very liberating. [One of the heretical teachers] is using the Bible in a metaphorical way so I can bring it to my own way of thinking, my own way of doing."

The Bible's purpose is not so you can think about it however you want to. It's not a beta version of some incomplete religious system. It's not open to revision or editing. It's not a Microsoft Word document; you can't cut and paste parts you like out of it for your own satisfaction, or delete parts you don't like. It's the holy, infallible, unchanging Word of God. Yes, it contains some metaphors, but it's not metaphorical. If the whole book isn't true, how do you know any of it is?

- "Here you can believe what you want to think for yourself, what you really feel and believe is true."

Ahh, the same deadly trap Pilate asked Christ before the crucifixion. What is truth? Truth is what exists whether you think it does or not. Truth is what rules our universe, gives you the ability to read these words, and breathe while doing so. Truth is life and grace and reliance on God. Truth is what you deny when you think it's open to interpretation. Quite simply, God says through the Christ that His Word is truth. Period.

- "The Church has to be alert to what is going on in society," he says. "It has to change to stay Christian. You can't preach heaven in the same way today as you did 2,000 years ago, and we have to think again what it is. We can use the same words and say something totally different."

How very contemporary. In fact, this line of thinking is quite old, at least in terms of how even some evangelical churches have aligned themselves with popular culture. People of faith cannot resist the temptation to think that they play a major role in God's work on Earth. Many church leaders have become convinced that they need to re-interpret the Gospel to modern audiences because our societies have become so sophisticated and sensory-driven. To the extent that technological advances have changed how the Gospel is proclaimed, these "relevance" arguments have validity. However, when the Gospel itself becomes the target of relevance overhauls, then we run into major problems. The Gospel of the Bible remains as true and perfect as it ever was, and the working of the Holy Spirit as vital and convincing. Personally, I believe that for people to be saved, a monotone reading of the Scriptures is all that's necessary. The reason I don't necessarily advocate for that is because God gifts His people in a variety of ways to serve His church. The point remains, however, that the Bible is what's relevant. It's our cultures which are dissonant with the Gospel.

- "People have very strict ideas about what it means [for Jesus to be considered the Son of God]. Some ideas I might agree with, some ideas I don't."

If by "strict ideas" it's meant that Christ Jesus is the literal Son of God, born of a virgin, and the only pure sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, then I can agree with those ideas, even though they're more accurately called "facts." You can decide NOT to agree that these ideas are true, but that doesn't mean they're not true, does it? You can decide that the law of gravity isn't true, but you're not going to automatically float around into space by doing so. Gravity will still keep you anchored to this planet, whether you want to believe is will or not.

Meanwhile, going back to Casablanca for a moment, consider Victor Laszlo's classic line to Rick Blaine, regarding striving for what's right:

"You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart."

Kinda sounds like he's talking about our contemporary Dutch heretics, doesn't it?

More's the pity.

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