Religion and Culture

In this article, I will be engaging with Religious Relativism as a cultural religious element versus the Uniqueness of Christ as a Christian worldview. Obviously, we live in a culture where many people are embracing the worldview that ‘everything is relative’, and there is no absolute truth. Part of this essay will point to the fact that security comes from knowing the truth. At the hub of this article is the theological argument that everything isn’t relative – there is absolute truth.

In order to establish that there is an absolute truth, the discussion will border on The Inerrancy of the Bible (i.e., the Bible is true in all it affirms). So, I will answer the controlling question, “Is the Bible Relevant in the 21st Century?” Also, I will attempt a contrastive analysis between inclusivism and exclusivism.

As the Church universal is faced by confusion that is perpetrated by the emergent church, my basic thesis is that “The Bible is the infallible and inerrant word of God which provides the greatest wisdom and hope for  men and women in the 21st Century.”

A bible from 1859.

A bible from 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surely, the  emergent Church is very liberal, they raise questions without providing answers, they are moving away from the orthodoxy of Scriptures thereby raising such questions as, “Do we hold on to the account of the virgin birth of Jesus?” “Is homosexuality wrong?” Like Lee Strobel or Ravi Zacharias, I am presenting an argument for the credibility of the Christian world-view in a way that is free from arrogance, and sympathetic to the world-views of others.

On one hand, I agree with the argument of the emerging Church (not emergent Church) that there is a prophetic calling for the Church to change. On the other hand, I will emphatically say NO, NO, NO, to those who are clamoring for reforming the core principles of Christianity. Backers of such reform posit lots of arguments that I will not buy. Do I believe in a humble hermeneutic versus a fixation with propositional truth? Yes. I certainly believe in a critical realist epistemology. I also concur that we can go in search of a new ecclesiology (the theological study of the Christian Church) in a way that is positive, creative, and effective.

I do not necessarily kick against a tendency towards a particular kind of inclusivism that gears towards an openness to discovering God in the midst of others. This does not necessarily suggest that anything goes – which is at the heart of this article. Many aspects of postmodern culture try to push the church to make reforms – reforms that are not foundational to Biblical Christianity.

Western culture is becoming post-Christian. This means that the barriers erected out of the world-views of naturalism, universalism, and humanism are very real. Unless we take these barriers into account our evangelistic communication will be understood by an ever-decreasing number of people in the West. That is, even though many people have geographical and cultural access to existing churches, they cannot enter because they are confronted and prevented by the barriers of naturalistic, universalistic, and humanistic world-views.

George Barna, who has been tracking religious beliefs and behavior for more that a quarter-century supplies the following statistics about young people (as it is true among adults) in the United States:

There are many pieces of evidence exposing the theological confusion that plagues the minds of millions of young people.

         Three-quarters believe the following:

  • The devil does not exist – Satan is just a symbol of evil.
  • A good person earns entry into heaven by doing enough good works.
  • People are born morally neutral and make a choice as to become good or bad.
  • All of the sacred books from different religious traditions (i.e., the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and so forth) are merely different forms of expression of the same spiritual truths and principles.
  • Spiritual and moral truth can truth can only be discovered through logic, human reasoning, and personal experience.

                 Two-thirds believe the following:

  • Praying to deceased saints can have a positive effect on your life.
  • The Bible discourages sin but never describes it as an innate behavior.

               Half or more than half contend for the following:

  • Life either has no meaning or the meaning is realized through hard work, which produces the resources to enjoy comfort, and security.
  • There are no absolute standards for morals and ethics.
  • Life is either a random series of acts or predetermined, but we have no real say in how our lives unfold.
  • When Jesus Christ lived on earth, He committed sins.
  • The Bible does not specifically condemn homosexuality.

Placing the above views into context helps us to realize that a very small percentage of people in this culture have a biblical worldview which serves as the foundation for their decision-making. I believe that that there is hope, because God is still in the business of raising gifted and inspiring communicators or preachers who will be strategic in winning people that are skeptical of faith!

I strongly believe that there is something wrong when a great percentage of a given population don’t know what to believe in by the time they are twenty-five years of age. I strongly agree with the proposition that the ‘new morality’ of permissiveness is no morality at all. Inclusivists basically argue that all that one needs to do in order to gain salvation is to be a moralist. They further argue that one does not necessarily need to be a Christian; if a person belongs to another religious faith, he or she only needs to be a good person. The point at issue is that, WE CANNOT SUBSTITUTE MORALITY FOR SALVATION.

There is a spiritual longing in the hearts of people that no one can fill except Jesus! This suggests that Christians need to have the ability to see the religious practices of pagans as an evidence of spiritual interest and preparation for the Gospel. While we attempt to preach and write apologetically, Rick Richardson reminds us that, “Changed lives are our greatest apologetic for the Gospel.”

One of the major problems of relativists is that they pick-and-choose their own beliefs as if they were the creators of their own lives or the universe at large. The following is a student’s argument against absolutism, which is entitled A Quantum-level Shift. This will be followed by a series of expose on John 14: 6-15 where Christ professes himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Einstein showed us that time and space are not absolutes but  relative to each other, that matter and energy are interchange-able, that space is curved, and that what you see depends on your frame of reference. So, scientific truth is relative to the frame of reference of the observer. So is any other sort of truth, in my thinking. Thus your evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is evidence you can see from your frame of reference. That’s all it is. 

Neils Bohr, Max Planch, and Werner Heisenberg are quantum theorists, scientists, who have mapped out a whole new vision of reality. They and others have shown that there is a lower limit to our abilities to measure things. They have shown us that when we measure reality to the smallest level, there is only probability.

Quantum theory has immense consequence for our view of reality. First, logic can no longer be seen as either-or. Either Christianity     is true or false. Reality is also-and. Light is a wave, and it’s also a particle. So, when you give me your arguments, you’re operating with old-time dichotomizing logic that went out with the downfall of Isaac Newton’s world of simple, certain scientific truth. Logic is synthetic. It creates contradiction in order to achieve a new and greater synthesis. 

Second, all reality is participant reality. There is no such thing as an independent, objective world that you can observe without changing. You can’t measure light particles without changing them, without creating the reality you observe. You probably want to make me think that early Christians just reported the historical facts. They helped create facts they observed, and then reported them out of their interpretation of reality. Scientists do that. Writers do that. Religious people like you do that.

Third, uncertainty and chaos rule the behavior of life at small and individual level. Patterns only emerge at the macro level, and those patterns are complicated and beautiful. Your simple explanation of life in black and white is too easy. It erases the complexity and imposes authority on life that is fundamentally spontaneous, a world of probability and playfulness.

Jesus professes Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life in John 14:6-15. “I am the way….” A ‘way’ or ‘guide’ is most often understood as a person or thing that conducts strangers through a region or serves as a model for conduct. ‘Guide’ is also associated with an old English word for being wise. The meaning of that word suggests that Jesus’ intention is to provide us wisdom necessary to conduct our lives.

There are more than three hundred portions of Scripture that elucidate the point that salvation is only found in Christ Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is the way! Salvation is facilitated with the blood of Jesus.  Obviously, ‘intelligent design’ necessitates a Designer. Christians can be sure that that the Holy Spirit is guiding us. In the face of the daunting dilemmas of life, we will always have Him to turn to, when we are not sure of the way!

Jesus is the messiah. “We have found the messiah”, said Andrew to Simon. Every Israelite knew what that meant. The messiah represented the Jewish hope, as El-Hady does that of Druce, and El-Mahdy that of Islam, both being from the same root, meaning “guide” – He who shall guide His followers to final triumph. Even so, but with greater eagerness did Israel hope for “the Anointed’s” coming. Having once met Him, ordinary avocations might be resumed for a time but His final call found them ready to leave all and follow Him.

Matthew 9-2-7 clearly sets Christ above all the Old Testament order, and commands us to hear Christ above them (Hebrews 1:1; Acts 3:22,23; Matthew 28:18-20; Hebrews 2:1-4; Ephesians 2:19-22. The Old Testament, a valid revelation needs the Head Stone, Romans 16:25,26; Acts 26:22; Galatians 1:8-12; Hebrews 2:1-1,3,4; Colossians 1:13-19; and in type Genesis 41:37-46. “This is my Son, the Beloved, hear Him” Mark 9:7. Who will reject these words?

At the end of this piece, is my personal testimony about how a literal dream about the veracity of the Word of God impacted my conversion from Islamic faith to Christianity. Currently, there is a rising number of testimonies about many Muslims coming to faith in Christ through dreams. The circumstances that led to my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior (about a couple of decades ago), evolved around a supernatural change from an uncreative and negative attitude towards the Bible to a very deep sense of value for the Bible. While I was in high school, a classmate called Ernest befriended, but I did not know his motive at that time. Ernest quickly realized that I was a voracious reader. Therefore, he started suggesting certain portions of Scripture that I can read when I am at home!

On a certain day, he suggested that I read II Kings Chapter 2 at home. That evening, I read the story about Elijah taken up to heaven by a by a fiery chariot and it was thrilling. Some thoughts started flooding my mind about the era in which Bible events took place as opposed to the times in which we live. I doubted the relevance of the Bible to me as a modern man. I concluded that the Bible was an obsolete anthology and it cannot be used to influence my generation. I went to bed that night with the persuasion that Economics, Accounting Business Methods and other courses that I was taking can better educate me than the Bible. Also, I decided that whenever anybody discusses the Bible with me, I must dismiss him or her with the argument that the Bible is irrelevant.

In a dream that night, I found myself at the school campus with my friend, Ernest and I told him about the ‘irrelevance’ of the Bible. In our discussion in the dream, he referred me to Romans 15:4. When I woke up, the dream was fresh in my mind, and I read Romans 15:4, KJV, quoted as, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have HOPE.” You see where I got the ‘HOPE’ thing from! That Scripture grabbed my heart, changed my perspective about the Bible; and I developed reverence for God and His Word.

I started honoring Ernest’s invitation to go to church. I was led to Christ in one of the Bible Study meetings on a glorious Tuesday evening! My life is forever changed.

CT Sowa, Communicating the Gospel of Hope

C.T. Sowa, Communicating the Gospel of Hope

Sometimes the sermons or messages that I heard in Church hit me hard and I did not want to attend another service, but the Holy Spirit kept reminding me of Romans 15:4, “… that we (I) through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  The Bible was written for our learning. This presupposes that it is relevant. It is not out-dated. It is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. God uses Paul to educate his generation that even the Old Testament stories as old as they seemed, were written for people of all time so that it will influence everything that concerns humankind. Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord! Free at last! This is my story. Alleluia to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world with His precious blood!

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Pope Francis: The True Meaning of his Name

St. Francis of Assisi (November 26, 1182 – October 3, 1226), the man after whom the current pope is named left an indelible print in the sand of time because of his penitential or repentant lifestyle. On March 13, 2013 Cardinal Gorge Mario Borgoglio of Argentina was elected as pope, yet he took the name Francis. Therefore, he is known as Pope Francis 1.

“Habemus Papam” – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., has been elected Pope Francis I (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

You might be wondering, “What is in a name?” Usually, newborn babies are given the name of another person. That is, some babies are named after their aunts, uncles, or grandparents. For example, my parents named me after my grandfather, Abdulai Tommy Sowa. Recently, I did a legal name change. I changed my first and middle names to Charles and Timothy (CT). I named myself Charles for Charles Spurgeon – “Victorian England’s best known Baptist minister”, and Timothy – The Bishop of the 1st century churches of Ephesus in Asia Minor. Remember, Martin Luther King, Jr., the African American clergyman and Civil Rights leader was named after Martin Luther the Protestant German Reformer.

As an itinerary evangelist, the overarching theme at the core of St. Francis’ preaching was God’s unfathomable love for humankind. He was not judgmental in his preaching at all. He embraced the life of Gospel poverty, and he had no feelings of overwhelming anxiety about it. Francis’ exemplary lifestyle serves as a flashlight on the dozing conscience of the 21st century church. Surely, there will always be sick people in our communities, and they need to be cared for. The poor and helpless also deserve our care. Lepers, for example, deserve to be cared for not with the attitude that we are doing them favor, but perceiving such ministry as a “source of spiritual and physical consolation….”

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Francis of Assisi observes that, since we are absolved, there is more room for growth in the image of Christ. Incarnation is one of the dominant themes of the penitent Franciscan stripe. Lessons on the penitential stream teach Christians today (especially those that have swallowed the prosperity Gospel hook-line-and-sinker) to embrace simplicity of life-style. It does not necessarily mean that each and every one of us should do property denunciation and become friars. At the Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, it was observed that one of the six major challenges facing the church is, “Calling the church back to humility, integrity and simplicity.”

We can make the conscious decision to overcome materialism, refuse to live exploitative lives, and practice generosity. When people become engulfed by the love of money, they employ all kinds of Machiavellian or manipulative practices in order to amass the mundane things of this life. Instead of consuming the best and leaving the poor to glean on our crumbs we should lavishly share our best with them.

Indeed, the lines between the penitential life and the compassionate life intersect. Surely, God is calling the whole body of Christ to be an “includer” of those who feel left out, and to be a voice for the voiceless. Both the rich and the poor reflect the glorious image of God. Therefore, the latter must be cherished and honored as much as the former is. Fundamentally, we are all the same. We are all equally important regardless of social status or physical condition. Neither the elite nor the common should be ignored. The church needs to do more in terms of ministering to people who are grappling with untreatable illnesses. HIV/AIDS patients, for example, should be treated with dignity.

Are we to cast judgment on those who are falling through the cracks due to their indiscretion and poor decisions? Certainly no. Being judgmental can hurt the feelings of people. Why should we (preachers) condemn people if we don’t have to? Our authority is not to preach judgmental sermons; our authority is to preach the redeeming love of Christ!

If Saint Francis of Assisi left a legacy of penitence, then it follows that Pope Francis’ leadership of the RC Church must epitomize repentance. There must be a clarion call to repentance that reverberates across the globe! Integrity issues, habitual temptations and wrongdoings among the leaders of the church must be dealt with. Each and every one of us must realize our sins and be willing to change our ways.

Since he has the awesome responsibility of leading the 1.1 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, I pray that Pope Francis will live out the true meaning of his name.

Billy Graham: Relationship With God, Roles and Results

English: Evangelist Billy Graham, at a Crusade...

English: Evangelist Billy Graham, at a Crusade in Cleveland Ohio, on June 11, 1994. This was the first time the Billy Graham Crusade had tried a Youth Night, and there were about 85,000 that attended the concert, at Cleveland Stadium, on the shores of Lake Erie. Photo Paul M. Walsh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this article, I would do a brief description of the leadership actions of Billy Graham with reference to his relationship with God, roles, responsibilities and the results of his ministry.

Conversion and relationship with God

Billy Graham explains in his autobiography, Just as I Am, that sometime around his sixteenth birthday, after the preaching of Dr. Ham he became “deeply convicted about (his) sinfulness and rebellion.” In response to Dr. Ham’s altar call, Billy Graham went to the front. He writes that a family friend called J.D. Prevatt helped him understand what he needed to do to become a genuine Christian. He writes that after his salvation he continued in his salesmanship job alongside evangelism sandwiched with prayer. His relationship with God was the hub around which his life and ministry evolved.

Leadership and Roles

He reveals that on a certain night in 1983 he had his purpose and objective in life set – being a preacher of the Gospel, even though he lacked specificity about how and when!
After his resignation from the position of president at Northwestern College, he started ‘full-time’ evangelism. He draws the attention of readers to the establishment of a few principles of action that became the pattern throughout his ministry. This resolution was made in lieu of prayer, financial accountability, morality, cooperation with local churches, and generally carrying out ministry activities with integrity. In consequence of that resolution, Billy Graham made up his mind not to act himself familiar with the opposite sex, such as meeting or eating alone with a woman other than his wife.

Marshall Shelley recently published Ten Leadership Secrets From Billy Graham at the website of the Christianity Today Magazine (http: // http://www.christianitytoday.com). That article is replete with time-tested leadership principles.
The principles highlighted include,

1. Leadership is Forged in a Furnace
2. The Spirit of Team building Empowers and Energizes
3. Never Underestimate a “Small Temptation.”
4. Laser is on the Mission
5. Embrace the Challenge of Criticism
6. Recognize Fear as a Catalyst for Courage
7. Turn unthinkable Failure into Gold
8. Emphasize the Common Ground
9. Inspire other Leaders
10. Leverage weakness

In Robert E. Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Billy Graham writes the foreword and reminds the readership about “The Priority to reach out in love to a confused and dying world with the good news of God’s forgiveness and peace and hope through Jesus Christ.”
Speaking to a one-time leader of Russia, Mr. Ponomarev, Billy Graham in an attempt to bring this leader to a relationship with God, witnessed saying, “ I have peace with God in my heart. If I die, I know I’m going to Heaven. God has given me the ability to love, to be more tolerant, to be more understanding, and to work toward peace in our world.”

Monumental impact

It is reported that 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. As of 2008, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience including radio and television broadcasts topped 2.2 billion. He operates a variety of media and publishing outlets.

Billy Graham has been referred to as a spiritual ambassador to political leaders. He is a leader who believes in social justice; during the civil rights movement, he began to support integrated seating for his revivals and crusades. In 1957 he invited Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach jointly at a huge revival in New York City.
Dr. Graham has appeared on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women 55 times, more than any other individual in the world.

Acknowledging the enormity of the results of his ministry on one hand, and the need to give God all the glory by the same token; Evangelist Billy Graham sums it up in the preface of his autobiography by succinctly expressing, “ Most of all if anything has been accomplished through my life, it has been solely God’s doing, not mine, and He-not I-must get the credit.”

Charles Spurgeon: Relationship With God, Roles and Results

This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetz...

This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch have been evaluated manually for evidence that the artist probably died before 1939, or that the work is anonymous or pseudonymous and was probably published before 1923. Author floruit in 1846, presumed dead by 1923. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Surrey music hall, Charles Spurgeon preaching.

Surrey music hall, Charles Spurgeon preaching. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will briefly describe the leadership actions of Charles Haddon Spurgeon with reference to his relationship with God, roles, responsibilities and results.

Genuine Conversion

As a nineteenth century preacher, Spurgeon (1834-1892) experienced conversion at the age of sixteen. Genuine conversion is a commonality that marks the lives of all great souls that ever lived to God’s glory. In the biographical book, Charles Spurgeon: The Boy Preacher of the Fens, written by Kathy Triggs, it is explained that he was saved on Sunday, January 6, 1850. On that day he stumbled in to a church where a non-clergy member seized the preaching opportunity because of the pastor was prevented from coming to church due to a snowstorm. Recounting that experience, Kathy Triggs writes, “In that instant Charles felt as if the darkness rolled away and he saw the sun. He looked to Christ and felt himself saved.”

There and then, Spurgeon’s life-long relationship with God started. In a few months, Spurgeon was baptized. He continued desiring the sincere milk of the word of God. The knowledge of God’s Word set him on fire for God and for souls, which set the stage for his fame as “The Boy Preacher of the Fens.”

In her introductory comments about Spurgeon, Kathy Triggs expresses:

There is an old saying, ‘The heart makes the theologian,’ and Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s theology certainly came from his heart. He was convinced of God’s love for him, and of God’s desire to save all who  would come to him. This was Spurgeon’s message throughout his life.

At the Bible Bulletin Board Website (http://www.biblebb.com) I found one of Spurgeon’s many articles. Drawing from his experiential intimate relationship with God, he testifies, “I know there is a comfort in the faith of Christ’s imputed righteousness which no other doctrine can yield. There is something that a man can sleep on and wake on, can live on and die on, in the firm conviction that he is received by God as though the deeds of Christ were his deeds, and the righteousness of Christ his righteousness.”

Spurgeon was of the firm conviction that maintaining intimate relationship with the Father through prayer was imperative. In his book, Lectures to my Students, Spurgeon writes, “Habitual communication with God must be maintained.”

Roles, Responsibilities and Results

Springing from his profound love for God, and his fiery heart for souls, Spurgeon observes in Lectures to my Students that, “ I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature, therefore must I watchfully maintain the tenderness, which was in Christ Jesus.”  Like the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, that ‘tenderness’ was an integral part of Spurgeon’s preaching ministry. No wonder he preached with such burden that he, more often than not, choked with tears like Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (Matthew 23). He implores his students by saying, “Let the infinite Jehovah be served with our best.” His personal testimony was, “ I follow a call to which God has manifestly set his seal.”

In this reflection on Charles Spurgeon’s leadership actions, I see him as God’s servant who effectively led and systematically managed a mega-church. Above all, he was a preacher who communicated the Gospel message by vocalization and printed matter, thereby reaching thousands who met God!

Since that encounter in 1850 Spurgeon acted out the true meaning of his faith until his death in 1892. Kathy Triggs adds credence to Spurgeon’s leadership as she explains that, “Spurgeon had genius for organization and for choosing the right people to whom he could delegate responsibility.”