A Knock at the Door…

Nearly every Christian in America — at least, every one that I’m aware of — has received that telltale knock at the door. A quick peek through the curtains or the peephole reveals two young men in white shirts and black tags, or perhaps two or three women with copies of “Awake” in hand. How do you handle those encounters? Most Christians I know are surprisingly “unChristian” about these encounters…many don’t answer the door, or pretend they’re not home. Others answer the door, but respond with a curt “No thanks, I’m a Christian” or similar dismissive response, most often closing the door without waiting for a response.

I’ve welcomed literally hundreds of missionaries through my door. Let me propose a new way for you to handle these encounters, one that actually shows that you are what you claim (a Christian), and one that might give you an opportunity to share your faith as well. It’s quite simple, almost common sense — based on five very basic principles:

1. Answer the door. This is often the hardest step for many people. Hiding behind a peephole, or hiding with the lights off hoping they’ll think you’re not home, is not only childish, it’s unChristian. And don’t just answer the door, open the door, actually remove the barriers between you and your visitors. Don’t talk through a glass or screen door. No, answer the door, open it, and greet them with a warm welcome and a handshake. Trust me, after a year or two on the job, these missionaries have had dozens of doors slammed in their faces, have heard “sorry, I’m a Christian”, more time than they can recall, and have walked away from many houses they knew were occupied. By simply answering and opening the door, and greeting them with a warm welcome, you will place yourself in the top few percent of their visitations that day, and likely in their entire mission.

2. Invite them in. Don’t just answer the door, and don’t just open it. Actually invite them in! Invite them to have a seat, offer them something to drink (with appropriate sensitivity to their religious restrictions), and treat them as guests. I recognize, only at step two, some of you may think I’m approaching the ridiculous — even the unthinkable. I also recognize that some of these suggestions aren’t practical for everyone — some stay-at-home moms, for example — who may not feel safe inviting two men into their home, or perhaps there is a baby sleeping upstairs. If these are your reasons, that’s understandable. If your reason for refusing to answer the door is that you’re afraid of what you may be asked, or you are sorely unprepared to articulate your faith or even present a basic description of what you believe, then you have failed the most basic task of an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20): to know the message of the Sovereign and convey it to His intended audience.

3. Listen. As an Alpha male, this one is especially hard for me…but it is critical. after you’ve invited them in and offered them something to drink, I strongly encourage you to do the one thing you want to do least — listen. Let them speak, and actually listen to what they say. Practice active listening, by making eye contact and even taking notes. Resist the urge to jump in and contradict or challenge every point they bring up, even if you disagree. Just listen. It’s hard, but it will be worth it and you’ll see why in a moment.

4. Offer a short response. Here is where your training, and all your clear thinking as a Christian, will pay off…and where your patient listening will pay off as well. When they have finished their presentation, and you have listened quietly, actively, and patiently, simply ask the same in return. Perhaps something like, “Thank you — that was fascinating. I’ve listening to everything you’ve said, and I do have several questions…but would you mind doing the same favor for me in return?”. Or perhaps, “Thank you. I’ve listened quietly and carefully for fifteen minutes — would you do the same for me for five?” Whatever works for the situation. The point is, common courtesy, even human decency, almost requires that they now listen to you for a duration. Be ready. I could write for pages on what to say, and I’ve screwed it up as many times as I’ve gotten it right, but simply present a basic gospel message. Don’t try to refute every point you disagreed with. Above all, don’t debate! Tell them who Christ really is, and perhaps a short version of when He means to you. Be brief, be kind, and largely non-confrontational, because you are going to…

5. Invite them back. Even better, feed them. A nebulous “come back some time” just won’t cut it here. Set an actual date and time, and invite them back for dinner. Give yourself a week or two — if you listened carefully and took good notes during their talk, then you will have lots of homework to do. When they come back, start over with point #1 above. After dinner, if the opportunity presents itself, mention their prior visit and ask a simple question. Again, don’t feel obligated to play point-counterpoint, at least not yet. Just ask a simple question and follow the conversation from there. Ask questions. Take notes. Offer an alternative. Repeat.

It’s not easy, it’s not fast, it’s not always comfortable, but it works. It doesn’t work every time, but it works.

What are Relativism and Postmodernism?

In my blog on “What Must We Believe,” I start with the statement, “I fear that the encroachment of relativism and postmodernism has greatly affected the Christian message…” Over the weekend, I received a question on this statement from Aaron in Alexandria via email. He had gotten into a discussion with some co-workers, and they had all reached some confusion about the ideas of postmodernism and relativism — what they are, why they matter, and most importantly for Aaron, why a clear-thinking Christian should care. Let’s see if we can help him think through this.

First, I’m no expert here. I will rely heavily on a course I took on “The Challenge of Postmodernism” from Dr. Millard Erickson at BIOLA, and on the book, “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Thin Air” by Greg Koukl. Credit given, let’s proceed.

Immediately, we are faced with the challenge that postmodernism is not monolithic. That is, there is no universally accepted definition of what beliefs or positions constitute postmodernism, and certainly no book (like the Bible or other definitive work) that serves as a common foundation or reference point for establishing postmodernism. However, with little disagreement, we can establish some widely-held concepts that most postmodernists will affirm.

First (and most importantly for the Christian), nearly all postmodernists deny the existence of absolute truth. All truth, then, is subjective — it is “in the eye of the beholder”. There is no such thing as an actual right and wrong, things being intrinsically good or evil, there are only opinions and personal preferences. I like chocolate ice cream, you don’t — I think murder is wrong, you don’t — these kinds of claims are largely equivalent. They’re just personal preferences. When a postmodernist or relativist hears you say something is “wrong,” all they hear is something equivalent to “yuck” or “eww”. To them, it simply means you don’t like it, no different than presenting me with pimento olives. YUCK. You’re just emoting, expressing displeasure.

Some claims, like “murder is wrong”, may have developed some social weight, such that they are frowned upon (even disciplined or punished) by society…but when you commit a murder all you’ve really done is violated a social norm. You haven’t done anything wrong, just gone against the norm a bit and offended some social sensibilities. Similarly, some behaviors (like murder) may be disadvantageous from an evolutionary perspective, and have hence fallen into disfavor…but again, they aren’t objectively or intrinsically wrong, just a dumb thing to do if your goal is to preserve the human species.

This rejection of absolute truth and relegation of all truth claims to the subjective is the basic definition of relativism. So, to answer one of the initial questions AB asked, relativism and postmodernism are closely related — so much so that relativism is likely one of the most significant defining beliefs of postmodernists. The two are related, but not equal…so almost all postmodernists are relativists, but not all relativists are postmodernists.

Hand-in-hand with a rejection of absolute or objective truth is the rejection of religious exclusivity. Most postmodernists will also embrace religious pluralism. To be fair, we can look at pluralism in two different ways — first, pluralism on one definition is a fact. There are many different religions, and they believe many different things. This is pluralism in a largely descriptive sense, and should not be opposed by clear-thinking Christians. However, in a more prescriptive manner, most postmodernists affirm that not only do many different religions exist, but they are all equally valid. No religion is better than any other, no one religion or denomination is “true” and others “false”, they are all equally true (or, for the large contingent of postmodernists who reject theism, equally false).

These two concepts — relativism and pluralism — are as close as we will get to core, defining beliefs of postmodernism. Of course, clear-thinking Christians should see that both views are objectively false, and pluralism is demonstrably false. Biblically, there are actual rights and wrongs, and things aren’t wrong just because they violate some social norm. The “wrongness” of murder and rape aren’t something extrinsic (defined by society or culture), nor are they subjective (defined by individual preferences), murder and rape and other actions are intrinsically, objectively wrong. Wherever murder goes, the wrongness goes with it. In the great words of Greg Koukl, “If you think torturing babies for fun is okay, I’m not going to ‘appreciate your alternative moral perspective’. I’m going to think you need help. FAST”. Beware of the slippery slope you’re on if you think society defines what is right and wrong, it’s a dangerous one. If the Nazis had won, then their values would have been the societal norm, and from their perspective, elimination of “The Jewish Problem” would have been the most advantageous from an evolutionary perspective.

When it comes to pluralism, we can readily concede the descriptive point. There is no question that there is a plurality of belief systems and religions throughout the world. However, they are not all equally valid, nor are they all true. This is easily demonstrable by picking one of a thousand readily apparent examples. Picking an easy one, the Christians claim Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews claim he was not. Now, it’s possible that the Christians are right and the Jews are wrong. I’ll even admit that it’s possible that the Jews are right and the Christians are wrong (though I obviously don’t think that’s the case). However, I hope you can see that at no time, in no way, can they both be right. Christ cannot both be the Messiah and not be the Messiah at the same time in the same way, which is exactly what pluralists propose. This is one of the inviolable laws of logic, called the “Law of Excluded Middle” — something is either A or not-A, but cannot be both.

For clear-thinking Christians, both relativism and pluralism are highly toxic. Absolute (objective) truth exists and can be known, and Christianity is clear in its exclusive claims. You cannot simultaneously affirm the objective truth taught in the Bible and the subjective truth taught by relativism. Of course, you cannot affirm both the exclusive claims of Christianity and the “all are equal” mantra of pluralism. Christianity is objective and exclusive. Postmodernism is subjective and pluralist. Show me a Christian postmodernist and I’ll show you a married bachelor.

Is Belief in the Resurrection Required?

Answering a question today, submitted via email from Aaron in Alexandria. “My brother asked me the other day if the belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a mandatory essential for salvation. I wasn’t 100% on the answer so I told him I wasn’t sure but that it was definitely the quintessential proof that Jesus was the truth. I know Paul teaches you must believe in the resurrection, but the thief on the cross obviously was not aware of it.”

First, belief in the deity of Christ is required to affirm Christianity — in fact, it is arguably the defining belief of Christianity. Believing in the existence of Christ but denying his deity places you in the same camp as the Jews and Muslims. Similarly, believing in the deity of Christ but denying his resurrection presents at the very least a consistency problem. It seems to me that the step from existence to resurrection is a smaller step than from existence to deity, and the resurrection is the primary way in which Christ demonstrated/proved His deity.

Second, we have to understand what the resurrection accomplished. It gets back to the basic gospel message — we are sinners in need of salvation, and we are unable to save ourselves. We are completely reliant on someone (or something) else, and for the Christian it is complete reliance on Christ for our salvation. The effectual means of that salvation is the resurrection. The penalty for our sin is death, and to be reconciled with a perfectly just God, that penalty must be paid. Christ paid the penalty. He was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins, but it was his resurrection that provided the justification — that is, the resurrection is how we are seen good before God. If you don’t believe the resurrection occurred, then how are you justified before God? See Romans 4:24 – 25: “…God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” It was the resurrection that provided the justification.

The point is made even more strongly a few chapters later, in Romans 10. When discussing the disbelief of the Jews, in verse 9 Paul very clearly lays out what is necessary for salvation: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” However, Paul seals the deal, firmly and unequivocally, in his letter to the Corinthians. In the earliest known creed of Christendom, the Apostles’ Creed in 1 Cor 15, Paul passes on to us that which he received of “first importance” — that Christ died, was buried, was raised, and appeared. This all-important Creed is followed by almost an entire chapter on the resurrection, where we are told very specifically, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” A Christian faith devoid of the resurrection is simply not a Christian faith.

In short, denying the resurrection comes very close to denying the deity of Christ, it denies the means of our justification, it denies the earliest Creed of the church, and it likely denies our resurrection (and thereby salvation) as well. It doesn’t get any more essential than that.