The Reason for God

Timothy Keller

Chapter 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice.

"I have to doubt any religion that has so many fanatics and hypocrites," insisted Helen, a law student. "There are so many people who are not religious at all who are more kind and even more moral than many of the Christians I know. ""The church has a history of supporting injustice, of destroying culture," responded Jessica, another law student. "If Christianity is the true religion, how could this be? "
Could it be that the person who opposes Christianity does so because of the way he has been treated by Christians?
"Many people who take an intellectual stand against Christianity do so against a background of personal disappointment with Christians and churches. "Gandhi "Give me your Christ but keep your Christian! "
"There are many flaws in the character of the average professing Christian."

"Chruch communities seem .. to be characterized by more fighting and party spirit than do other voluntary organizations."

" we can only have a relationship with God by sheer grace. The church is filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go."

"there are many formally irreligious people who live morally exemplary lives."

James 1:17 "Every good and perfect gift comes down from above ...", common grace.

"God gives out good gifts .. casts them across all humanity..."

The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

Religion has " fueled violence in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Bagdad" Christopher Hitchens "God Is Not Great!""Religion 'transcendentalizes' ordinary cultural differences so that the parties feel they are in a cosmic battle between good a nd evil. "
Atheist and communist regimes rejected God and all religion, and committed more murders than the Inquisition, Crusades and witchburnings of the entire history of Christianity. DeSouza"Alister McGrath points out that when the idea of God is gone, a society will 'trancendentalize' something else... in order to appear morally and spiritually superior." e.g. Marxism-the state, Nazis-race and blood.

"The 20th century gave rise to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence." Alistair McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.

A fanatic is one who, having lost his sense of direction, redoubles his effort.
"Perhaps the biggest deterrent to Christianity for the average person today is not so much violence and warfare but the shadow of fanaticism. Many non-believers have friends or relatives who have become 'born again' and seem to have gone off the deep end. " Is a fanatic the opposite of a nominal Christian? No, a fanatic is an intense moralist, like the Pharisees.

Salvation by sheer grace is profoundly humbling.

Fanatics are "overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive and harsh. ..not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. "

Critique of Religion

Karl Marx "was unoriginal in his criticism of religion - the Bible beat him to it. "

"In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not criticize irreligious people but rather religious ones."

Matthew 6:7

Matthew 21:31

Luke 11:39-46

Luke 20:47

Isaiah 58:6-7

Mark 10:43-45

"The typical criticisms by secular people about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity's own resources for critique of itself. ... The answer is not to abandon the Christian faith because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction. "
Justice in Jesus Name

The African slave trade was a deep stain on Christian history. But it was Christian ministers from Wilberforce to King who worked to end the injustices.

It was a mystery to secular historians why Britain would commit "voluntary econocide" in 1833 by the Act of Emancipation.

King in civil rights movement, Tutu with apartheid, priest of Poland, Bohhoffer in Germany, Romero of El Salvador - our modern martyrs in the cause of justice.

Doubt: Many people taking an intellectual stand against Christianity have a background of personal disappointment with Christians or churches.

  • If Christianity is what it claims, shouldn't Christians be better than they are?

But Christians understand Christian behavior differently.

  • Christians believe that Christians grow in character, they are not instantly good.
  • They understand that broken people who come to Christ might be much better than they were, but not nearly what they are going to become.
  • And that finally, all acts of goodness have God at their heart -Christian or not.

Keller admits that religion has the potential to "transcendentalize" ordinary cultural differences (to make more of them than one should).

  • But Alister McGrath points out that without God, societies "transcendentalize" something else (think USSR, China, French Revolution, Cambodia etc.) to provide a basis for moral and spiritual superiority.

We can only conclude there is something in the heart of man that produces violence and warfare - regardless of the society's beliefs.

  • But what of Christian fanaticism?
  • For Christianity, it comes only because people aren't committed ENOUGH to the Gospel.
  • God's grace, properly understood, is ultimately humbling.

The Bible vs. religion, religion vs. gospel

  • Jesus in fact conducted a major critique of religion throughout his ministry.
    • The Sermon on the Mount criticizes not the irreligious, but the religious.
    • He consistently condemns legalism, self-righteousness, bigotry, love of power and wealth.
    • It should not surprise us that the religious people put Jesus to death.
  • The Bible gives us tools for analysis and critique of religiously supported injustice from within the faith.
    • Where did we get the list of virtues to which we hold the church accountable? From the Bible itself.
  • Just like Christians, the shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Gospel.
    • Abolition is perhaps the most startling example of this.
      • Historians had believed that all political behavior is self-interested.
      • But they could find no such motive among the abolitionists - they looked to the Bible!
    • Civil rights in America should be seen as a religious revival.
      • African-Americans understood that the evil was in the human heart.
      • And that injustice was an affront to God.
      • And from those two beliefs came their power.

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