Tag Archives: Christianity

minimalism

minimalism

Is minimalism a fad, a trend, a movement, or a revolution? The answer is yes.

As a writer, I had primarily been acquainted with ‘literary minimalism,’ which is a particular writing style. However, through encountering blogs such as ‘Becoming Minimalist,’ books such as ‘The Joy of Less,’ and television shows such as ‘Tiny House Nation,’ I have arrived late to a party I didn’t know was going on right up the block – minimalism as a lifestyle ethos.

I have two competing aesthetic impulses. One is my attraction to monasticism and the other to perfectionism. I admire monks that withdraw from society and the distractions of the world, wholly devoted to deeper spiritual pursuits. I once spent five days in a monastery for a personal spiritual retreat. At the same time, I am an adherent to Sturgeon’s Law, which states that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” It would seem like those impulses are complimentary, but I feel an urge to hoard that remaining 10%. I desire to own ALL of the best books ever written, ALL of the greatest films, ALL of the (fill in the blank), etc. That drive for owning the best has the side-effect of materialism and consumerism – acquire enough golden needles from haystacks and you end up with a very large pile of needles.

So why the lifestyle reappraisal? My children are a big part of it. Having two kids under two and being the only breadwinner has shifted the financial margins of my life. Suddenly, I am ‘living within my means’ even less than usual. And as for my collections? Well, I barely have enough time during the day to crack open one exquisite Bible, let alone eighteen and counting. Owning more stuff has not directly correlated to a happier life. Indeed, I often feel anxiety about neglecting to make more use out of my belongings at a time in my life where I have very little free time.

Although minimalism may appear more in leftist, hipster, and survivalist circles, it is thoroughly compatible with Christianity. Jesus told this parable in Luke 12: “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared? So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

You can’t take your belongings with you, and it is far better to store up treasure in heaven. On this earth, Romans 13:8 encourages us to “owe nothing to anyone…” Many places in scripture talk about the importance of contentment, which is counter-cultural to the American Dream.

Minimalism isn’t just about de-cluttering, but simplifying. In focusing on the things that truly matter the quality of your life improves. I am finding all kinds of advice such as “have nothing on your counters” and “make a list of every single thing you own.” So, I am taking my first tentative steps in this new direction. Sometimes less allows you to be more. Hmmm… now which of my awesome coffee mugs do I give away?

OCCULTISM IN VIDEOGAMES

magikoopa

I have been a fan of videogames from the time Mario first stomped on a goomba. I remember fondly the first videogame that was mine, truly mine – Bomberman (1990) for the TurboGrafx-16, unwrapped on a Southern California Christmas day. Decades later, my deep-seated appreciation of the art form remains. A well-made videogame can be an experience of pure pleasure, like a continuous dopamine explosion inside your brain with very few negative side-effects. And although videogames are truly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, they offer the closest analogue of God’s creative power compared to just about anything else on Earth.

More so than any other medium, a videogame allows people to “go inside” a unique world created by an intelligent mind, to interact with that environment and often with other people, to express one’s self individually inside that artificial reality, and to live and die according to the rules and boundaries established by the creator. The creator himself can choose to bend or suspend the rules of his created world at will, and he establishes the parameters by which good performance and accomplishment of goals is measured.

I personally enjoy obscure Japanese videogames. The more obscure and “hardcore” the better. That is why I own ‘Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires’ for Xbox One… not because it is that good but because it is pretty much your only option for a semi-obscure Japanese videogame on Xbox One (I am kicking myself for not getting a PS4… there have been more awesome games released for FREE on that system than are currently available for Xbox One. Alas…) Japan is the country that has been most influential in the history of gaming, from Donkey Kong to Pac Man to Mega Man to Street Fighter to Pokémon to the Legend of Zelda and beyond.

But all is not well in paradise. Christians must face the fact that videogames are rife with occultism. Many professing Christians would likely avoid videogames that had explicit sexual or pornographic content. And, in real life, many Christians would choose not to engage in obvious forms of occult activity: engaging in seances, fortune telling and divination, transcendental meditation, praying to false gods, idol worship, human sacrifices on pagan altars, Satan worship… or any other such magical or occult rituals clearly forbidden in the Bible. But when it comes to videogames… many Christians hardly bat an eye when confronted with occult content.

disgaea

Some Christians reading this will argue for “Christian freedom” and “matters of conscience,” and I quite agree with them. But I have to recognize 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (NIV). What can contaminate the human spirit more than the occult?

Like the country of Japan, which I deeply love, the world of gaming is neck-deep in spiritual darkness. The CIA World Factbook gives the following statistics on religion in Japan: Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people belong to both Shintoism and Buddhism (2005). As shrines and superstition permeate Japanese culture, occultism or “magic” fills the shelves of videogame retailers.

castlevania

This can seem at times benign: the paranormal ghost, psychic, fairy, and dark type Pokemon, the sprites and Harvest goddess in Harvest Moon, the mystical tri-force in Zelda, the fiery netherworld of Minecraft, even the frigging Magikoopa character in Mario games. Other times the occultism can be striking: demonic background art in Mortal Kombat stages, summoning undead minions as a necromancer in Diablo II, learning words of power to create magical shouts as the prophesied Dragonborn in Skyrim (which is admittedly a masterpiece of videogame design).

darkstalkers

Drew Koehler at ‘Geeks Under Grace’ writes: “There certainly are things that we, as Christians, just should not partake in. Some of the more obvious ones are hyper-sexual situations or clearly occult, demonic things. There are also things that some of us have deep convictions about, and we could easily slip into sin by allowing only a little bit of it in at a time. We must guard our hearts and minds at all times so we don’t fall into these traps.”

Ultimately, every Christian gamer will have to prayerfully determine where they draw the line in their own entertainment choices, and should never be a stumbling block to others. And yes, there are some awesome games out there that avoid occultism… but not nearly enough of the obscure Japanese variety.

arcaneenchanter

HOW THE REFORMATION NEGLECTED THE HOLY SPIRIT

The following are excerpts from a chapter on pneumatology from Timothy C. Tennent’s excellent book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity:

“The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, this meant that, as was the case during the patristic period, a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of his person and work were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in performing miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongue-speaking, and other elements that later became central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For example, this tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology as well as in the later nineteenth-century emergence of dispensationalism …” (Tennent 2007, 171).

“Traditional Western theologies were written by scholars who received their education in respected universities that were deeply influenced by Enlightenment assumptions. The Enlightenment worldview creates a high wall separating the experiential world of the senses – governed by reason and subject to scientific inquiry – from the unseen world beyond the wall; such a world either does not exist (naturalism) or, if it does, we can know little about it (deism). The result has been essentially a two-tiered universe that separates the world of science from the world of religion.

Biblical evangelicalism has challenged this worldview by insisting that God has supernaturally broken through this wall in the incarnation and that knowledge of the unseen world has been provided by the certainty of divine revelation. Evangelicals argued that through prayer we can have sustained communication and fellowship with God. The problem with this approach is that the basic two-tiered universe of the Enlightenment worldview remains intact. It has merely been modified so that Christians punch a few holes in the wall to provide a framework whereby God can come into the empirical world through the incarnation and revelation and we, in turn, can have access to the unseen world through prayer. The basic separation is left unchallenged …” (Tennent, 178).

“The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world. All the future realities of the kingdom are now fully available to all believers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism are, in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppositions…” (Tennent, 179).

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).

HOW MANY GODS ARE THERE?

clouds
How many gods are there anyway? God himself gives us the answer to that question:

“Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: ‘I am the first and the last, and there is no God besides me. Who is like me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

We can also see the Shema, famously expressing the heart of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel!Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The New Testament agrees:

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19)

Christianity, along with the other two Abrahamic religions, affirms a unique transcendent monotheism.

In his book ‘The Bible Among the Myths,’ Oswalt (2009) observed that the “single most obvious difference between the thought of the Old Testament and that of Israel’s neighbors is monotheism. The Old Testament vehemently and continuously insists that Yahweh is one and that no other being is in the same category with him. But sometimes today it is said that since Israel still believes in a divine being, there is not really that much difference from the surrounding cultures. But this will not do. How many monotheistic religions are there in the world today? There are only three: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And where do these three get their monotheism? All from one source: the Old Testament.

This means that only once in the history of the world has a culture contrived to attain and maintain the idea of the absolute unity of deity. On every side of it peoples far more brilliant than Israel were maintaining with vehemence the multiplicity of deity. Israel alone insisted on the oneness of God, even in the end to the death if necessary.”

Oswalt has also observed that “in comparison to the other literatures of the ancient Near East, the Bible is characterized by a worldview that is sharply different from all the rest. I have called the Bible’s view transcendence and the other one continuity. In the first, the divine is other than the cosmos; in the second, the divine is inseparable from the cosmos. This difference is so significant that even today there are only three religions that believe in true transcendence: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and all of them have derived that conviction from one source only: the Bible.”

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LOCKMAN FOUNDATION

schuyler_quentel_nasb

Dear Lockman Foundation, I believe you are missing the potential of one of the greatest resources available in all Christendom – the New American Standard Bible. You hold the copyright to the most literal, literate, and literary translation of the Holy Bible in the English language. Despite this treasure, the NASB placed 8th on the list of most units sold per translation in 2012. Here are a few humble suggestions from a lifelong NASB fan and loyalist:

  1. IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING: Crossway has 30+ different editions and permutations of the English Standard Version currently on the market, with more popping up all the time. They are aggressively expanding in all markets and have Celebrity Pastors hawking their goods left and right.
  1. EMBRACE THE LITERAL: Being the most literal of all mainstream translations is a commendable feat and a selling point, but you can go further. Why not translate LORD in the Old Testament as Yahweh? Why not avoid capitalizing divine pronouns when there is no manuscript evidence to support this practice? Also, there are numerous instances where a word will have a footnote that gives an even more literal translation than actually used – why hold back?
  1. CHANGE THE ‘AMERICAN’: Christianity is booming in the ‘Majority World.’ Crossway recently released the ESV GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE. Wouldn’t it sound strange to have a NEW AMERICAN STANDARD GLOBAL STUDY BIBLE? I love my country, but the word ‘American’ is unnecessarily limiting your customer base – even in regards to other English-speaking nations.

Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns. I hope for a bright and lasting future for this excellent translation. In the meantime, I will continue to use and enjoy my ‘77 NASB Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, my Cambridge NASB Pitt Minion Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Wide-Margin Reference Bible, my Cambridge NASB Clarion Reference Bible, and hopefully at some point in the future a Schuyler Quentel NASB!

www.lockman.org/nasb/

WHY CHRISTIANITY?

contradict-frontIn a previous post I discussed how I had arrived at subjective certainty about the existence of God. But in the grand cosmological buffet, there are many “higher powers” that one can choose from: Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, and even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How did I personally become convinced that the Christian God, attested to in the Old and New Testaments, is the “One True God” – the interpretation of the Divine that corresponds to reality?

1. To start, there is no denying that my upbringing plays a crucial role. I was raised in a Christian home. But what does that mean? Many who were raised in a “Christian” home and/or grew up “in the Church” have turned away from the Christian religion. And others that have had no exposure to Christianity as children come to believe in the Christian interpretation of God. I must say that I viewed the early Christian influences in my life as trustworthy sources, people who non-hypocritically lived out their faith on a daily basis. Their personal lives and behavior did not contradict what they taught or believed – quite the opposite. I had every reason to believe what they were saying when they testified about supernatural experiences.

2. God most profoundly revealed himself to me during a Christian church service, through a scripture found in the Christian Bible, presented by a Christian pastor. Despite the historical, contextually-bound logos of that passage of scripture, I was directly and personally spoken to as through a rhema. My life dramatically began a process of transformation from that moment. I often have described this experience as an “epiphany.”

3. The inward witness of the Holy Spirit continues to affirm the central truths of Christianity and thus further bolsters my faith. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16) and, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26).

4. The Christian worldview, as expressed (non-systematically) in the Bible, presents a framework for consistently, accurately, and non-contradictorily interpreting all of reality, including the existence of and belief in other so-called gods. Christianity accounts for other religions and even for non-religious persons.

5. Various forms of revelation: ongoing personal experiences, the testimony of trustworthy individuals, and historical evidence all lend additional support to Christianity. I will address the nature of revelation more in depth in a future post.