CategoryApologetics

The Bible Supports Slavery?

Slavery and Christianity

I don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first-century slavery with American slavery that ended in the 18th century.

Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof-texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

First-Century Slavery

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first-century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all-inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Does St. Paul Advocate Slavery?

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly, my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who wish to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have preached against it.  Since he mentioned it, but didn’t oppose it, he must have been in favour of it.

Paul must have supported slavery because he mentioned it and didn't oppose it. Logically the Bible supports, then, supports slavery in all its forms.Click To Tweet

Paul’s Purpose in Colossians 3:22

But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof-texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views.  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.

I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

Does Religion Divide us?

Photo by Jose Maria Garcia Garcia on Upslpash

John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted to get rid of religion is because he dreamed of a world united by love and he thought that religion divides us.

 Debate.org wonders the same thing.  They asked the question: Does religion divide the world?  73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that

“Religion is another form of categorizing.  Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.

Religious beliefs definitely divide us in exactly the way that AbdulRaufw4lr6s says it does.  But this is not only a characteristic of religion.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.

Truth Claims Can Divide

Everyone makes truth claims–decide between exclusive beliefs–and when they do, they will create categories.  These categories aren’t usually as either/or as we make them, but they do create camps.  These can lead to hatred and disunity.

“Jesus or Mohammad”

“Liberal or Conservative”

“Republican or Democrat”

“Theist or Atheist”

“Ford or Chevy”

“Ginger or Maryann”

Some of these are more exclusive than others, but the issue is not whether or not one will hold to an exclusive belief; the issue is to which an exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.  We can be nice about all these categories, but John Lennon had it right, we tend not to be nice.

So, as long as we make any claims for truth, we are stuck with the categories.  So is there no hope for the peace and unity of which John Lennon imagines?

The Differences that Lead to Unity

Christianity is different than all other religions, and these differences are humanity’s best bet to achieve peace and unity.

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity, it is God himself.  This God became a human being and was killed on our behalf.  We are saved because of what he did, not on what we do.  In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never deserve it.
  2. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” as described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  People who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than anyone else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  3. Most other religions point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  Consequently, Christians desire and work for the flourishing of others; they are generous with their time and money. If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have misunderstood the gospel.

Jesus came into a divided world.  There were tremendous divisions between Jew and Greek and rich and poor. But because of the differences between Christianity and other religions, the early Church mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

All truth claims create divisions and categories.  Religions usually do this as well, but the truth claims concerning Jesus Christ do not.  These differences, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth of which John Lennon sang.

Jesus, Zeus, Thor and the Kraken

Pexels / Pixabay

One more thing about the Bill Maher video.

Consider this my Christmas post.

In the video, Maher equates faith in Jesus Christ with belief in Zeus, Thor, and the Kraken and all the other “stuff that is not evidenced based.”

I love it when he gives us the circumstances by which he would become a believer. He challenges,

“Show me a God and I will believe in him. If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the halftime show at the super bowl” and starts doing miracles, then he will believe in God. Confidently he concludes, “But that’s not going to happen.”

But it did happen.

It is only in timing that God’s plan diverges from Maher’s. Other than that, the Incarnation of God on earth was exactly the sort of proof that he demands. If the Incarnation is what Christians proclaim, I don’t think that even Maher would insist that there ought to be some repeat performance just for his sake.

The issue for Maher is that he doesn’t trust the first century Jews and Romans who saw, first hand, the events as recorded in the Gospels. For some reason, he doesn’t trust their testimony. Perhaps he doesn’t think they were as smart as he is, or at least rational–too easily duped.

First century Jews were predisposed to unbelief.

A good argument can be made that first century Jews were less likely to believe that Jesus was the son of God than modern day atheists. They proclaimed every day that God is One–they refused to give up this tenet even in the fact of the most horrendous persecution by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanies. Still, they were convinced. Christianity started with a significant number of these very people willing to die equally horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans proclaiming what they had seen with their own eyes.

Granted, there were some who saw and did not believe. I wonder if Maher would be convinced even with his Super Bowl miracle. Then as now, to accept that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his son necessarily leads to submission to this God. For many, it’s this submission that is the issue, rather than the evidence.

Within Maher’s cynicism is an incredible testimony of how incredible an event the coming of Christ was. What actually happened, and convinced so many of the inconceivable, was much more wonderful than the trick of changing “nachos into loaves and fishes” at a football game.

Instead of changing a modern snack food into the ancient equivalent, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and made the lame to walk again; he offered forgiveness to all–shady businessmen, prostitutes cynical HBO talk show hosts, and me.

Evidence aside, this is a God of a different category that Zeus or Thor or the Kraken?

Is Atheism a Religion?

Bill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

Atheism is a Religion

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

There is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally--even the belief that matter is all their is.Click To Tweet

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'”–those who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

If you watch Maher, you know that his ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He said that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.

There is nothing wrong with belief in meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence-based belief” and my “faith-based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw lines that don’t really exist.

Only Good People Deserve Heaven

falco / Pixabay

There are good people and there are bad people; we are the good people and if you aren’t like us, you are bad people.

This idea has been around for millennia.

I get the impression that, outside of the church, this is considered a typically Christians attitude.

In my experience, not very many Christians think this way.

But some certainly do.

Good and Evil

They divide humanity up into categories of good and bad and then stick themselves in the good category. This sort of thing is easy if you make the categories.

The bad people are people who get divorced, have affairs, abortions and/or are homosexual. They certainly drink (more than the occasional wine with dinner) and often smoke–perhaps even do drugs. And the clincher is, they don’t do any of the things good people do.

The good people go to church weekly and listen to Christian radio. They are considered “wise” if they avoid thinking. They pray, sing and read the Bible. They talk a lot about “family values.” They vote Conservative in Canada and Republican in the States.

Although often attributed to Christians, these categories wouldn’t work for Christ. If you’ve got these categories in your head, you might actually misunderstand what Jesus taught it in one of his best-known stories.

 

“The Prodigal Son”

Everyone is familiar with the parable of the “Prodigal Son” or the “Lost Son” — this is what it was called when I was in Sunday School.

These are actually completely inaccurate titles for what goes on in this story. This version presents two sons, one “good” and one “bad.” The bad son squanders his inheritance on parties, loose women and going to R-rated movies. The good son stays at home, works hard and goes to church, etc. The bad son finally sees the light when his money runs out and repents of his evil deeds and is welcomed back into the family. The moral of the story is that God will forgive us if we repent of being bad and become good.

Although this it is true that God will forgive, this is not at all what the parable is about.

The Parable of the Lost Sons

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller, says this story would better be titled “The Parable of the Lost Sons” because both sons are lost. Neither son loves the father for who he is; both are just after his stuff. They represent two different strategies for getting ahold of it. By the end of the story, one son is saved. Interestingly, it’s the “bad” son who is saved. The “good” son remains lost.

The older brother has two problems. His first problem stems from his motive for being good. He leverages his good behavior against his father–his attitude: “I’m ‘good’ so you owe me!” His second problem is that he’s measuring his goodness against the standard set by his younger brother. In this comparison, he comes out pretty good, which is why he does it. This guy is exactly the sort of guy that many accuse Christians of being.

Good news — bad news — good news

The good news: Jesus audience was exactly the sort of “holier than thou” hypocrites that drive us crazy, and even keep us out of church. This self-righteous bunch of Bible thumpers were the target of his story and he nailed them, big time!
Here they are, creating some random criteria and then measuring themselves against how poorly others live up to their arbitrary standard.

The bad news:  Yes, the older-brother-types receive some major chastisement from Jesus in this parable. But if you identified with the younger brother, you aren’t off the hook. Both sons were lost because they both wanted the blessings of the father, but not the father himself. Unlike the older brother, he realize how wrong he had been, and he came back home. You can’t come home unless you turn around and walk in the other direction.

The good news: There’s lots of good news in this parable. The father loved both his sons, even though they weren’t very nice to him. And when one son appeared in the distance, the father ran out to meet him. This is not the sort of thing a respectable middle eastern patriarch does–and Jesus’ audience knew it. Further, he gives him the robe and a ring and kills the fatted calf in celebration of his return. He had already given this son half of what he had, and now he gives him even more.

The prodigal in this story is the father — Keller defines this term as “recklessly spendthrift.” This is God the Father as Jesus presents him. This is the accurate representation.

Those in the faith have the obligation to present our heavenly father as he is. The last thing we want is for people to think our heavenly father is like the older brother in the parable.

Those who are inclined to walk away from God, need to reject him as he truly is. Not as a false representation.

 

When Atheists are Right

falco / Pixabay

There are a bunch of reasons to be an atheist.

  1. Certainly one of them could be

the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God

(2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV)

This would probably be the first reason offered by many believers, and the last reason offered by the atheist.

2. Consider this: Perhaps some that have walked away from God are actually rejecting a misrepresentation of God.

If someone rejects a misrepresentation of God, are they not actually walking toward God?

There are many misrepresentations of God.

There is one true representation of God and that is Jesus Christ.

That’s not just my opinion–he said it.

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