Christian Hope

“This increasing godlessness in America is actually a good thing, to be welcomed and embraced” (LA Times).  Professor Phil Zuckerman believes progressive secularism offers hope.

He admits that religious organizations do good, “however, such welcomed charity is ultimately an altruistic response to symptoms, not a structural cure for root causes.”  He promotes secular efforts to address housing and healthcare.  He believes secularism offers a better hope for human rights, environmental issues, and social justice.

I could reverse these charges. Secular solutions do not recognize the basic problem.  Humans are not “basically good” and just need more education.  We are selfish, prideful, and yield to our base desires. Reckon with that root cause and solutions make more sense. Yet somehow the secular hope is that a sociologist or politician will usher in a better program to fix the human condition.

It’s ultimately a worldview issue.  Where is the hope if life is only material and limited by time?  Where is the hope if we are all alone in a random, chaotic universe, and good and evil are just choices?  Where is meaning in such a universe, if you deny the science that points to the metaphysical reality of a Creator God?  Do you ever wonder how a mindless universe incapable of hope produces mindful, hopeful beings?  A faulty worldview and its solutions address symptoms and cannot sustain hope. But even a misplaced hope teaches you something.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes about misplaced hope. You can blame the object of hope (politicians or programs), or “decide that the whole thing was moonshine!” (lower your expectations).  Or as he wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world…I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”  Hope, even misplaced, points to the transcendent.

Christians have hope for life here and now because of our future hope. Paul reflects on the Resurrection of Christ and writes, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).  Christians have hope imprinted on our souls.  The hope Christ offers is that you are more than a physical body and are not alone.  Meaning comes from following Jesus into the sufferings of humanity and loving your neighbor.  The basic problem is human brokenness, but by faith your hope is in the One who loves you, makes you whole, and offers you eternity.

The hope of America and the world is Jesus Christ, not increasing godlessness.  But I agree with Professor Zuckerman on this: we should not fear what’s coming.  Not because secularism has solutions, but because Christians have hope.

 

Culture Shifts

Wall Street markets were closed on Good Friday.  Their other annual religious holiday is Christmas Day.  Given the cultural trend toward a secular worldview, one wonders how long before they cancel or rename those holidays.

Just in my lifetime I’ve witnessed that trend.  Growing up in a small town in the South, nothing was open on Sunday except churches and restaurants.  I guess the city fathers didn’t think the Lord would mind if we ate out after church meeting.  Grandma was certain that fishing on Sunday was a sin, so we didn’t.  And we certainly had no little league baseball games or practice on the Lord’s Day.  Blue laws tended to keep things quiet one day a week so we could rest from our labors.  Oh, the nostalgia of a sunny, lazy, Sunday afternoon with nothing to do, no place to go.

Times change.  Gallop dropped a poll last week showing church membership among Americans fell below fifty percent for the first time, extending a 20-yr downward trend.    Maybe that’s why more businesses keep Sunday hours (but not a certain chicken chain based in Georgia).

Gallup attributes the church membership drop to (1) fewer Americans claim any religious preference and (2) fewer religious Americans prioritize church membership.  The latter could be due to participation in religious activities in homes.  Barna Group research shows an increasing number of Americans attend religious meetings in homes.  They estimate 12 million Americans attend a house church regularly.

In The House Church Book, Wolfgang Simpson writes, “The New Testament church was made up of small groups, typically between ten and fifteen people.  It grew by multiplying ‘sideways,’ dividing like organic cells.”  The Bible mentions the church meeting in the homes of Aquila and Prisca (1 Cor. 16:19), Philemon and Apphia (Phile. 1:1-2), and others.  Over time as the church gained influence it began to build sacred spaces, shifting away from home meetings.

While the culture shifts toward secularization and away from traditional values, many churches in America are strengthening their members with home fellowships.  The last 30 years have proved their popularity, sometimes despite zoning threats against Christian friends meeting to pray.  Some home gatherings are part of a traditional church, others function as churches. Maybe the church is experiencing its own cultural renewal, a return to our roots.

This time of year, Wall Street fears an old rumor that Good Friday trading led to the worst market collapse in history.  Not the best reason to continue that holiday.  Some churchgoers act on a rumor that attending church tips the celestial scales in their favor.  I can think of better reasons to gather with believers, like community and worship.  And what if that gathering is not in a religious building, but a house?  Is that too much of a culture shift for you?

 

It Happened

The bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated as a focal point of the Christian faith.  Skeptics dismiss it as a myth or metaphor.

I love my non-believing friends and offer here a few of the many reasons to consider the Resurrection a historical event. I appeal to the scientific method of abduction, which is what detectives do as they seek the most logical explanation of a non-repeatable past event.

Was Jesus even a real person that died like the Bible says?  Consider secular sources.  Josephus was a first-century Roman Jewish historian who wrote an account of Jesus’ death by crucifixion.  Tacitus, also a first century figure and a Roman senator, recorded that Jesus “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of Pontius Pilatus.”  They had access to eyewitnesses and no reason to propagate a fictional account.

Maybe the disciples made it up to save face?  For this to work, they would need to remove the body.  In fact, those who had Jesus killed circulated that story.  But it’s implausible due to security measures in place at the tomb.  It’s even more implausible when you consider that Jesus’ followers would have known it was a lie and yet they stuck to their story despite suffering persecution and death because of it.

Were the appearances of Jesus hallucinations?  The disciples were pragmatic working men, not dreamers.  They were disillusioned, afraid, and confused because they had no expectation of a resurrection – the wrong preconditions for hallucination.  Also, science has yet to document a group hallucination, and Jesus appeared to groups multiple times.  They touched him and ate with Him.  One time he even prepared their breakfast on the beach!  You and I would have enjoyed that.

What is the most plausible explanation for the empty tomb? No one ever produced a body to refute a resurrection “hoax.”  Hallucination cannot explain the multiple and simultaneous sightings of the resurrected Jesus.  Would a fabricated story transform frightened disciples into bold preachers of Christ’s Resurrection, releasing a movement that changed the world?  In Gunning for God, Professor John Lennox quotes Norman Anderson summarizing the evidence. “The empty tomb forms a veritable rock on which all rationalistic theories of the Resurrection dash themselves in vain.”  The verdict: It happened.

The Bible offers you a challenge.  Prove that the physical, bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen, and you disprove Christianity.  It says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).  The question that remains is, will you follow the evidence?

A physical Resurrection is the most logical explanation of the evidence.  It proves that Jesus’ offer of love, forgiveness, and a living eternity with Him is real.  Christians celebrate it worldwide because we know it happened.