Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Calling all Questions!

Next week, I'm heading to the National Youth Workers Convention in Sacramento. I'm doing a seminar on "a new kind of apologetics: emerging questions from today's youth."

I want to pepper my talk with popular questions students are asking today. I've got a bunch but I want to hear from you before I go!

This is your chance to have an influence on the next generation!

What I want from you: Send popular questions you are hearing from students, teens or college students. Just add your comment to this blog. No long explanations necessary.

Now enough reading, start writing!

20 comments:

Reuben Scheeringa said...

Dale,
A question that comes up quite frequently in one of my classes is identifying False Teachers. The Bible talks about them, Christ warns of them, is this something we should be very concerned about. If so with so many competing “Christian” organizations with varying ideas, are there specifics we should be concerned about? As you know coming from a Fundamental College where it seemed like everyone was a “False Teacher” who did not meet their specific “Hammurabi code”. However we cannot be so na├»ve as to think the Enemy is not going to try and deceive. This is a tough but important issue to tackle. I’d like to know your thoughts. By the way I’m listening to your series on Mark and it is very insightful, it sounds like you too have such a great time together and with the teens. Also on a more personal note I did a search on You tube of you trying to see if you had any lecture videos on there, instead a video of you in the snow came up. You were snowshoeing, and following what looked like an elk trail. I had to laugh inside I would have not pictured you doing some very “Alaskan” activities when we were back in school. The scenery was awesome by the way

jeremyzach said...

Here is a list of questions/statements:

How can I experience God when my heart is pulling towards God and my head is pulling away from God? How do I reconcile this head/heart problem?

If religion can lead people closer to God, couldn't religion also lead people away from God? Is Christianity an institutional religion? How do I know I am not going to fall into the traps of organized religion, if I become a follower of Christ?

How do we ratify what Bible version is the best translation? There are multiple translations of the Bible? Also, how can we trust the Bible when there are thousands of NT manuscripts that have different wordings?

If Jesus taught so much in parables, how much of His teachings should we take literal?

Dale Fincher said...

Reuben, that's hilarious you found that video. It's me getting to the elk I tagged in January. Still got lots of meat in the freezer!

And very cool you're enjoying the Mark study. That was a city-wide study in our home this summer. We opened it up to the public; families came, teens, college students, local pastors. Very reward and enriching time. We plan to do another one next summer.

On to 'false teachers,' I find it very helpful to put myself in the shoes of the original audience. Most of their formulated doctrine in the early church revolved around the real Messiah and what he had done. Today our 'false doctrine' charges get leveled for all sorts of things that often overshadow Jesus (as you mentioned from our less than virtuous college), like Bible translation, how many times to dunk an believer in baptism (if baptism is with water at all), are women fully human, what the Lords Supper really was (passover? or feast?), are the sign gifts still with us, is inerrancy a doctrine the Bible teaches or was it added later? are the Jews still important to make sense of the Biblical story?... etc.

I would use the 'false teacher' charge very sparingly (as Jesus did).

I need to go look at the contexts of the false teacher warnings. Many of them off the top of my head have either to do with 'religion' that tramples on the life of others (like the Pharisees) and those who come professing to take the place of Jesus the Messiah. But I'd have to do more study on that.

In the last 2000 years, many people were burned at the stake for being so-called 'false teachers' that may not have been heretical at all (they just didn't fit within the current views). Tyndale didn't think the word 'church' should be used in his first English translation, thus undermining the 'church' as an organization (Tyndale thought it was an assembly, not an organization... though many today still think it's an 'organization'). Tyndale was burned. But he wasn't a false teacher. BTW, the KJV reestablished the 'church' language as the translators say in their preface, because the 'church' was still considered institutional after the Reformation... that tradition in translation continues to this day... it makes Matt 18 use of the word 'church' rather strange since there was no church as we think of it when Jesus said it.

Augustine said it well: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

If we could learn the meanings of 'unity,' 'liberty,' and 'charity,' we'd likely better understand Jesus and carefully delineate what is truly 'essential.'

It's a great question and worth wrestling with for a long time, lest we be spiteful toward people who truly are not false.

Dale Fincher said...

Jeremy, thanks for the questions! I also have that other question you suggested on comparing Gandhi and Jesus from a previous post.

ctw4jc said...

Here's a question that came to mind... When I talk to my peers about them and Christ the responses vary but seem to be consistent. (1) They know Christ & believe they are growing with Him (2) They do not know Christ and do not care to, and then (3) they want to know Christ but do not "feel" Him. When people talk to me about "feeling" God I'm not sure how to respond. Personally I can tell a difference in "feeling" when on a spiritual high or low however I know the Christian faith is not based on feelings rather complete faith in Christ. (For the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? - jeremiah 17:9) so my question is how to effectively relate to others who aren't "feeling" Christ?

Dale Fincher said...

ctw4jc, great question and a growing issue when it comes to sharing our faith (or even talking about our faith to fellow believers).

It's a difficult one because, on my view, people have created a new rule about spirituality. The rule says that something isn't real unless they can feel it. It is right alongside physical things when people say something can't be real unless they can see it. It's empiricism at work.

So we have to question the rules. I would ask them who said spiritual thing need to be 'felt'? Or who said Jesus needs to be 'felt.' And I'd see what they say.

The advantage the Buddhist have, for example, over us is that by sitting in silence and doing some yoga they actually start to 'feel' more well-being. Well, we'd call that well-being, but we wouldn't call it Jesus. And that's a major difference.

I know my wife loves me but I don't always 'feel' it. I fact, I might even risk saying, I never feel it. It is something that I experience, but not something that I feel. It's the idea of her love that I feel sometimes when I realize she will stick with me through thick and thin. But that's the idea that I feel, not her love that I feel. If that makes sense.

Next time you get a chance, question someone on the feelings thing. Maybe even call one of your friends and say, "Hey, you got me thinking with what you said the other day. Why is 'feeling' something a criteria for it to be real?" And see what they say. At this point, you are taking the burden of proof off of Jesus and putting it on the person who made up the 'feelings' rule.

Great comment. I'm gonna use it!

ctw4jc said...

I can understand people desiring to feel Christ - just like when you love someone you have a feeling associated with them - so they want to have that feeling but I will talk with one in particular tomorrow and will let you know how it goes, thanks and have fun at the Youth Conference

Dale Fincher said...

I can see why someone would want to 'feel' Christ too... I guess the real deal is who made up the rule that unless we feel him he isn't real or isn't close or isn't anything? It's the rule that so strangely suspicious.

Anyone who has walked with Jesus for a while will say that sometimes there are tremendous feelings that go with it. But that comes and goes and often relates to our own openness with him and our understanding of him.

Sometimes we have a false sense of his feeling close just like we sometimes have a false sense of his feeling far (like a false sense of guilt).

I just find feelings so inconsistent and such a lousy gauge on anything that matters in life. Feelings are, as Willard says, excellent servants, but terrible masters. They assist us, but do not lead us into truth. We have other faculties that work with our feelings (like reason, mind, community, etc). We must integrate them all if we're go know our feelings are telling are correct....

Just some more thoughts.

Chase Warren said...

(a.k.a ctw4jc) Well I spoke the one person in particular on the matter of "feeling" Christ and when I asked "Do you have to feel something for it to be real?" I got a priceless look like it was a new thought lol. Change isn't overnight I'm fully aware but I do believe that person is one step to having a better relationship with Christ which is what matters, so thanks for the thoughts of yours!

Dale Fincher said...

Chase, awesome story! You are a light!

~dale

Reuben Scheeringa said...

How did the conference go?

Dale Fincher said...

The convention went very well. We felt connected and enjoyed the many people we met and conversations we had.

My seminar, according to Jonalyn, was excellent. People are catching the vision and it's very exciting! I was able to use a lot of questions sent in (as I had time) as well as reflect on ways to answer them.

God is good!

Chris said...

Hi Dale
Thanks for being a part of the conference. I found your class very helpful which is why I'm here at your website. (Hope you offer more classes next year!)

Last year your book "Living With Questions" was passed out at NYWC in San Diego. I have since passed it on to the kids I'm around. So, Thanks.

A recent question asked of me from a new christian and I'm not sure how to answer it. Her parents are open to her "search" but are not christians and have very different views. (new age type) They are very committed to their children and highly value good morals.

Amber's question:
I'm trying to see the differences between my 'normal' actions and actions that would be.. ."done with God as motivation"(?)... for instance, if I were to, say, help a friend... in general I would help them simply because they needed it, and I would try not to help for the sake of being praised for my actions... that is the best I could/can do when it comes to selflessness. What then does it mean to say that I would help a friend not only for their sake, but also for God. It's seems to be a slight difference in motivation, but I guess I'm not sure what it means to "do it for God".. is that even the proper way to phrase it? ... I seem more able to fulfill the 2nd commandment than the 1st, if only because I don't quite grasp what it means to fulfill the 1st. I hope that made some sort of sense :P

Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Much Aloha ~ Tracey
(The thing below says I'm posting as "Chris"; that is my husband)

Asa said...

Dale,
Thanks for speaking at the convention. I actually got more out of the seminar that you and Jonalyn did on men and women in ministry together, probably because there were fewer people. But the apologetics seminar was good too!

Dale Fincher said...

Tracey,

Thanks for saying so! I hope they let me do more workshops too. I did one in 2007 and got invited back for 2008. So at least I'm on the radar. :) Maybe even a pre-conference series would be good.

As for Amber's questions, she's bright! I'm assuming that isn't her real name, so we'll call her "Amber" for the sake of discussion.

She has thought well about doing things selflessly--helping those in need without the reward of praise.

I would say that is right on track with a missing piece at the end. When we do help people without praise, when we act selflessly out of love, this is being appropriately human. This, whether we know it or not at the time, is demonstrating what God is like because we are acting the way he acts.

Perhaps Amber doesn't realize that every action we do is tied up with why we are made. We don't just help people because they are need. We don't just do 'actions' separated from real life or a larger story. We reach out to others because we are designed do this (and we often do it badly). Working with God to become the right kind of healthy person allows us to more freely reach out and love others. We are cooperating with his design for us. And this, in many ways, is doing it for God's sake.

But actions can also include plural motives. If a drunken man came to my front door, I may be inclined to help him by inviting him in and giving him a place to rest. I am doing this for his sake. But I'm also doing it for my neighborhood's sake, because who knows what kind of trouble he could be getting into and what damage he may cause to others. I could also be doing it for the town's sake because, perhaps, the police who usually pick up such persons staggering down the street are involved in more important business. So in this sense we can have several 'sakes' for doing an action.

Taking it up a notch, the very same act could be for God's sake too. Not only would I be fulfilling my design as an appropriate human person, but I'm also providing some love and kindness that this man needs. He cannot be healed by me alone. I'm only one mortal person. But in his inner-place, the place where only God sees, he is likely afraid and alone. And only God can help him there. For God's sake, I become part of this man's larger story and journey as he seeks to know who God is and grows into the design God has for him.

So that's a way of thinking about it.

It is no surprise we see something like this in the Lord's Prayer. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This is our prayer that God's good will come about too, praying for his 'sake.' This is our prayer that the Master of Ceremonies who holds all things in his hands will have the final word and direct the final song. That all our actions and loves will ultimately work in this direction. It's a compass for us to steer life and our decisions. It's a fresh way to orient our choices.

Thoughts?

Dale Fincher said...

Asa,

Thanks! And thanks for hanging on in our second seminar. We are encouraged that you enjoyed it (I told Jonalyn too). Gender is not an easy topic to discuss in today's environment. There's a lot of sacred cows mooing in the fields of our churches.

Bill Murphy said...

Hi Dale,

I have a few questions, overheard at coffee shops, asked in movies and books, and pelted at me via MySpace...

1. Why does Christianity seems to be as subjective a religion as any other?

By that, people mean given the various denominations (not all of which can be right), given the various leaders, both fallen and remaining (not all of whom can be right), given the various squabbles over version of the Bible (which assert not all of them can be right), given the growing number of memoir-like Christian books from so-called "emerging authors" that describe how burned out they are by Christians, churches, and Christianity...

When it's added up, people (young and old alike) see Christians as flawed, confused, tired, angry, depressed, and doubting as anyone else in the world -- sometimes more so than people in religions such as Buddhism which espouses calmness, balance, and acceptance of the moment, whatever it may be.

So their question is simple to grasp. But very difficult to answer: Is Christianity as subjective as it appears to be?

2. The obvious follow-up question is this: If Christianity appears to offer nothing I can't get from other religions, why should I choose it?

This, of course, requires a very tough, honest answer that doesn't reach for trite answers, platitudes, and Bible verses that require circular reasoning.

3. Thinking friends of mine (young and old alike) are truly that: thinking. They see Christians who plan to vote for Obama -- even though he's a socialist, is pro-abortion, who's friends with angry, racist pastors, and who may or may not even be a U.S. citizen (according to the Berg vs. Obama lawsuit) -- and Christians who plan to vote for McCain -- even though he seems in favor of war, won't close our borders to illegal aliens, and who seems to be a weak leader (and a very weak candidate). The two candidates are polar opposites. Yet, Christians support both, each side claiming to be doing what's right in the eyes of God.

How is that possible? If it were two candidates separated by a matter of degree, no problem. They could understand Christians voting for either one. But people who observe this election, people who see how vastly different the candidates are, wonder how Christians can claim God is behind their choice either way.

So question #3 is this: What do you recommend Christians do during election cycles? Or, to put it another way, At what point do Christianity and politics part ways? What guidelines do you suggest for young people, especially, before they dive head-first into supporting candidates on either side?

4. Is it possible to judge a Christian teacher's value/worth/rightness based on his/her popularity?

The heart of that question, expressed by many young people these days, touches on the Rob Bell phenomenon. Rob Bell writes books and creates short videos that are very long on image and, in the eyes of some, quite short on substance. Yet, his books sell like Kool-Aid on a marathon route. His Noomas are given end-cap placement in non-Christian book stores. His church bursts at the seems. His Love Wins bumper sticker is seen everywhere. He is, for lack of a better word, a phenomenon.

Some young people view Rob Bell's success and equate it with a solid scriptural foundation. They see "mega-churches" and they wonder if a church's size means what's being taught in it is biblically sound.

Naturally, they want to be part of what's cool, what's hip, and what's popular. So they're drawn to mega churches and way-cool video clips.

Is it possible to equate size and popularity with sound biblical doctrine?

Last question...

5. There are supposedly zillions of Christians around the world, especially right here in the good old USA. Conservative talk-show hosts claim to have listenerships in the tens of millions. Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life sold something like a trillion copies.

Question: Why does the world seem to be in continual decline if Christianity appears to be gaining so many adherents, to be so popular? (By the way, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Rob Bell.)

All of these questions are somewhat linked. They deal with subjectivity, a growing skepticism in the world, and the awareness that things seem to get worse even though Christianity seems to be more fashionable than ever before. To the casual observer that appears Christianity is toothless, ineffectual.

So...there you go.

Have at 'em.

Cheers,

Bill

Chris said...

Aloha
Thanks for your wise words.
My thoughts..... I need to get into the Word more and really study!

Yes, Amber is very bright. She's a 16 year old graduating in '09. She has yet to ask me a question that I have a "quick" answer for. This helps tremendously.

I appreciate the work you and your wife are doing.
I'll continue to log on for good information.
Have a great day ~ Tracey

Dale Fincher said...

Tracey,

Glad to help... feel free to drop a line anytime.

Dale Fincher said...

Bill! Thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to write out your good questions. I hope the writing project is going well for you.

Since the convention is over, I thought I'd give a brief response/opinion on your question so interested readers get some opinion on them. By no means exhaustive, but a short start.

1. It all depends on what one means by 'subjective.' That there are differences, on my view, would not mean subjective. A large family may all have the same parents, but each kid different color hair. That's allowed to remain in the family.

I do hope Augustine's famous line gets back up into public awareness: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

We need to work on the 'charity' side more than the denominational side, I think. Those on the outside must also seek to understand why there are denominations before they cast stones. After all, I don't know any view that doesn't have variations, be it Buddhism, Islam, Secularism, Feminism. Even Mormonism, whose large argument for their validity is their unity, has many factions (that they don't want us to know about).

2. If Jesus is impotent, then the question is valid. But I have largely found Jesus untried by others. They think they have encountered Jesus by going to a church service or growing up in a "Christian" home. Few actually do the harder work of getting into Scripture and reading historical writers of those who do have a relationships with Jesus. The Bible is a smart book!

After all, wouldn't you say your relationship with Jesus something no other religion can offer? I would. I've honestly sought out the others and find them wanting at some point.

I'm saddened how "Christianity" has been reduced to church attendance, moralisms, and political affiliations. "Buddhism" on the other hand gets associated with peace, meditation, and well-being. What is odd to me is how Christianity has all those same 'features' Buddhism has of meditation, body health, environmental awareness, peace. Only instead of emptying your mind of goodness, as Buddhism teaches in meditation, you fill your mind with goodness in Christianity. And Buddhism is also political, Tibet has shown us that.

A lot of issues people pin in Christianity are human problems in every place we find humans. We can't just a thing by its abuses. Most attacks on Jesus are leveled at those who abuse him. Jesus actually shines quite well, I find, and each is responsible for himself in how they follow.

Also, many accusations leveled against Jesus are usually just straw-men. How we get people to see beyond the straw-men is difficult. But sometimes that's their problem, not mine.

3. I find it unfortunate when people say a certain candidate is on God's side. I, too, found the split in election interest between Christians interesting too.

In general, we should vote with wisdom and our conscience. Christians will disagree and sometimes that's okay. The issues are more complex than the ads and stump speeches let on. What is discouraging to me is how many people actually depend on the debates and the advertising to make their vote.

What is further discouraging to me is the American public. They were so frenzied for their candidate in this election. They didn't see that both of them were really mediocre. They can vote for one or the other, but the unwarranted enthusiasm was, well, frightening. Don't we have sanity in these matters? Aren't we thoughtful? Are we just going for celebrity status? Can't we all say, "Well, he's not the best that I wish we could get, but it's the best we have for now. So let's vote as citizens according to our consciences and then do our own parts locally..."?

I'm not sure the American public, much less the evangelical public, can do that. We aren't trained for it. We largely mimic our host culture.

4. This question ties into three for me. We are a celebrity culture today. We love to be entertained. And we think that because someone is popular than they must be an expert.

A good example of this is how often celebrities are asked for their opinion on foreign affairs. What do they know? They memorize and recite the scripts of someone else! At least get the opinion of the script writer! I find the opinion of celebrities rather dubious.

So it goes with celebrity preachers. If the public only know how much money some of these Christian celebrities charge for their bookings!! I'm amazed. And you could get lesser-knowns who can do just as well but don't draw the large crowds. It makes you wonder if people get celebrity pastors because of their content or because they will draw a lot of tickets at the door.

This is the ugly underbelly of the pop-culture church. And this is, in my opinion, largely what the thinking world finds repulsive.

I do too. If this was the kingdom of God, I'd likely not be a follower of Jesus. Thankfully, God has given us his Scripture and a long history to reflect on and his presence to enjoy despite all the noise. And others who share a deeper vision that we can form community with.

5. I don't think there are that many serious followers of Jesus. There's lots of followers of Jesus-trends. There's lot of "worship experiences." There's lots of converts (I guess). But how many of them chose Jesus because he offered a better life? How many are willing to follow him into that better life? Most are like sheep. They believe what they are told from the podium at the front. They are indoctrinated by 'lite' or 'positive' Christian radio. But not very many are robust followers. Not many can take a stand for what they believe in. Not many are living the good life. They are moral, but not good.

Following Jesus takes work. Expanding your soul in imaginative, culturally savvy, intelligent ways, takes readjusting your lifestyle, learning to be quiet, learning to listen, learning to grow more human as you formulate your own opinion and become a leader in your sphere of influence. It means practicing Christian meditation, well-being, peacemaking, radical-love (which is just real love but we don't understand real love, we we have to call it 'radical'...LOL)

Most people are like sheep. I think Jesus is calling us all to be little shepherds under him, inviting others into the good life, not just inviting them to heaven.



Okay, those are a few ideas. We could talk about this for hours! Maybe next time we're in Grand Rapids! :)