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compassion imageI have strongly advocated that “Tolerance” is really useless as the central public virtue it has been lifted up to be. I can “tolerate” you without showing any neighbor love to you! Civility and Compassion with Convictions is the better alternative. (see a previous post on “Loving Like Jesus in Public”)

Krista Tippett, host of On Being and the designer of the Civil Conversations Project, has spoken about both the importance of Civility and the resurrection of the true meaning of Compassion in our language and culture. Her presentation at The Charter for Compassion has been picked up as a TED talk. Though I can’t agree with all the assumptions of this particular movement, I would say that it is tapping into the essential biblical truth that love must be visible. As the apostle John wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, ESV) Tippett calls compassion a “spiritual technology” – more essential to the world than mere scientific knowledge.

As a church, we were led to describe our mission: “to build compassionate Christian communities that transform lives and bring hope to the world.” Compassion is Christ’s self-sacrificing love in action! It also resonates with the Imago Dei (Image of God) that is embedded in each of us. And therefore it is also a natural bridge for people everywhere to connect with the Good News as they see it in practice. This kind of compassion often naturally leads to the question from the watching world, “Why are you doing this?” Deeds of compassion in the spirit of civility with the conviction of Jesus’ name!

Here is Krista Tippitt’s talk. Also see the earlier post, “Atheist testimony and our legacy of compassion.”

compassion imageWhen we chose to use “Compassionate Christian Community” as our church’s ‘byline’ and in our mission statement, we did so because compassion is a part of our ‘DNA.’ It is a beautiful and expansive word that reflects the embodied love of Christ who “suffered with” and for us.

An article in the Gordon-Conwell Seminary magazine, Contact, captures the legacy of Christian compassion that defies the rhetoric of many of the “New Atheists.” It is a good follow-up from one of the “Tough Questions” in a previous post, The Church – Bad for Humanity?

The Living Gospel: The Church’s Historic Witness, by Dr. Frank James, Contact magazine, Spring 2013.

In recent years, Christianity has been the object of considerable ridicule. The New Atheists—Dawkins, Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens—have made a nice living by declaring that religion in general and Christianity in particular “poisons everything.” Of course, this is nothing new. Karl Marx demeaned Christianity as the “opiate of the masses.” The British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, defiantly asserted: “The Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of the moral progress in the world.”

So it was surprising to read an article from another atheist who took a rather different slant on Christianity. Matthew Parris, columnist for The Sunday Times of London, wrote a provocative online article titled: “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.” Returning to the Africa of his youth, Parris makes the startling observation:

“It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These along will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

This is a refreshingly honest sentiment from one who demurs from personal allegiance to Christianity. If we are honest, Christian history has its fair share of skeletons in its collective closet. This is hard to swallow, and I wish it were not so. Despite the fact that Christians have not always behaved in ways that would please Christ, the many examples of Christian compassion down through the ages are nothing short of dazzling.

From the beginning, Christians have been known for their compassion for the disadvantaged. Perhaps one of the most astonishing examples is the opposition to infanticide in the early church. In the Greco-Roman world, female infants and males born with deformities were of no value and often deposited on the village dung heap to die of exposure—or perhaps even more tragic, raised as temple prostitutes. In a chilling letter written one year before the birth of Christ, a Roman citizen named Hilarion directs his pregnant wife: “When you are delivered of a child—if it is a boy, keep it; if it is a girl, discard it.” The Stoic philosopher, Seneca, is even more callous: “Monstrous [deformed] offspring we destroy; children too, if born feeble and ill-formed, we drown.” This is the cruel world to which Christianity came with their counter-cultural message. Over time, this gospel changed the Roman Empire.

Christian compassion has manifested in many ways down through the ages. In a world entirely lacking in social services, Christians became their brothers’ keepers. At the end of the 2nd century, Tertullian wrote that while pagan religions spent their donations “on feasts and drinking bouts,” Christians spent theirs “to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents and of old persons confined to the house.” By the 4th century, Christians had become especially well known for their compassion for the poor—both Christian and pagan. The Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (361–363), even complained about “those impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

Read more….the whole article is at the Gordon-Conwell website.

spirtually-homelessMuch has been written about the so called “Nones” – the seemingly growing number of those in America marking “none” as to their religious affiliation.

An article from David Kinnaman is the Barna Research organization’s more detailed take on the spiritual journeys of young adults, or millennials,  and how older Christian leaders can best ‘mentor’ them and learn from them. The study is called: Three Spiritual Journeys of Millennials.  Read it here.

Q – If you are in the 18-30 age – do you see similar trends in yourself and others?

As a sequel to our Tough Questions series, I came across this video of a great discussion between John Ortberg and outgoing Fuller Seminary President, Richard Mouw (author of Uncommon Decency who coined the term we’ve used often: ‘Convictions with Civility.’)  It was held at Ortberg’s Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California.

Ortberg-Mouw-e1367000198107

It is a brief, free-flowing discussion on questions like:
“What does ‘Evangelical’ mean?”
“What is the significance of the Cross of Christ and why is it so central?”
“Is Mormonism Christian?”
“Why Should the Bible Be Viewed as Trustworthy?”
“How Can We Talk About Human Sexuality in a Biblical and Civil Way?”
“How Do We Dialog with Others with Convicted Civility?”
“How Do Christians understand and talk about Hell with Others?”
“How Do we interpret the Bible in passages that describe violence?”
“What is God Waiting for Before He Comes Back?”
“What Do you See around the World Gives You Hope?”

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toughquestion logoIn our teaching series called “Tough Questions,” we looked at “The Church’s”  image problem among so many in our culture.  The question being raised by those understandably cynical about organized religion in general and Christianity in particular, could, I believe be put like this:

Isn’t the Church really bad for humanity?

I’ll put two quotes in this post from the sermon that need some rumination to fully grasp. For example, I mentioned the recent book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism, by A.C. Grayling.  Part of the problem is that “humanism” has been hijacked by those with a false understanding both of what it means to be human, and the Biblical underpinnings of true humanity. One reviewer hit the nail on the head as to the weakness of the new atheists’ argument:

Grayling is mistaken. The style of atheism rehearsed in these books has reached a dead end. It’s one thing to catalogue the manifest faults within this or that religious tradition, which the new atheists have ably done… over and over and over again. It’s quite another to claim, as these authors also invariably do, that godlessness is not only true but also (really) good for human beings. It quite obviously is not.

“If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

“Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. /hopelessness. Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up. 

Philip Larkin, the poet: speaks of a life with no solace or reassurance, confronting the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness:

This is what we fear: no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell,
nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anesthetic from which none come round.

-Daman Linker, Where are the Honest Atheist? The World

David Bently Hart rips the new atheism to shreds in his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Here is his point as relates to our question.

“Christendom” was only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the interaction between the gospel and (culture)… The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. (compared to the common inhumanity of many ancient civilizations.)

“IF, AS I HAVE ARGUED…THE “HUMAN” AS WE NOW UNDERSTAND IT, IS THE POSITIVE INVENTION OF CHRISTIANITY, MIGHT IT NOT BE THE CASE THAT A CULTURE THAT HAS BECOME TRULY POST-CHRISTIAN WILL  ALSO, ULTIMATELY, BECOME POST-HUMAN’ !”

QUESTION: Can you see why the Good News of Christ brings a true Humanism? Fully Human, Fully Alive – restored to the image of THE human: the God-Man Jesus Christ!

The New Testament letter of 1 Peter provides a wonderful paradigm for the “Defense of the Faith.”  (Christian Apologetics) This is vital to understand if we are going to welcome tough questions – either our own or those that others want to discuss or argue.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Let me suggest three qualities of a Humble Apologist that spring from this very rich passage:
[You can listen to the audio sermon here.]

1. Have CONVICTIONS that honor Christ as Lord – keep going deeper in your relationship. It will help you be secure in times of your own questioning and secure as you speak with others who ask you questions.

2. Have REASONS that engage and are clear – in language that others outside the faith can understand.  Jesus and Peter do not expect us to withdrawal from discussion and debate, but rather to proclaim and embody Jesus as the hope of the world!

3. Have CIVILITY – humility and respect for the persons you converse with. In the words of Richard Mouw, the word “tolerance” has lost its effectiveness. We need convictions with civility that show respect to all!  (see this previous post)

As I promised in this morning’s sermon, here is a poem by C.S. Lewis, on the humble part of being an apologist for the faith.

The Apologists Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), p. 129.

StackFor those who want to go deeper, John Stackhouse has written a fine book with the same title of “Humble Apologetics.”

What do the scandal at Penn State and the Apostle Paul have in common?

Though I graduated from URI, I would often tell people I went to Penn State (which I did for three years). Especially if we were talking football.  I followed the Nittany Lions over the years, but “Penn State Proud” has certainly taken a hit! Recently some of the worst penalties ever handed down by the NCAA were levied against the school for what is seen as the worst scandal ever in U.S. sports.  In announcing the sanctions, NCAA President Mark Emmert said:

Penn State was guilty of “an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the values of the NCAA, the values of higher education, and most disturbingly the values of human decency… (emphasis mine)

We’re not surprised that there is universal condemnation for the actions of Jerry Sandusky and for the inaction of Penn State officials to report and prevent sexual exploitation. They failed to reinforce a culture of uncompromising integrity. The issues are framed in terms of “the values of human decency” (the clear assumption being that there are values that all can and should agree upon.)  And rightly so!

But what does this have to do with the Apostle Paul?  Please read on. Continue Reading…