Impact

A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 3 (“Then you are not a Christian.”)

“Who has put wisdom in the heart, or has imparted understanding to the mind?” (Job 38:36).

“Who has put wisdom in the heart, or has imparted understanding to the mind?” (Job 38:36).


In my last blog of this series I wrote about how my Philosophy 101 professor attacked many ideas and beliefs while constantly saying, “I’m here to challenge your beliefs, to get you to think outside of the box.” One of his consistent criticisms of Christians was that they contradict themselves when they stand against abortion, if at the same time they support the death penalty and support the war.[1] In attempts to sustain his argument, the professor asked the following question of the class: “After all, what was Jesus’ fundamental teaching?” I cringed inwardly as I foresaw where his question was leading. I knew he wanted someone to answer “the Golden Rule” or “love your neighbor.” When the class was not forthcoming with an answer, the professor led them with another question: “Who did Jesus’ say were His disciples? How could a person tell?”

A verse popped into my mind and then out of my mouth: “‘If you hold to my teaching,’” I answered, reciting Jesus’ words in John 8:31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (NIV). Obviously, “my verse” would throw a bit of a monkey wrench into the professors line of argument; it would take time to work through what Jesus meant by “my teaching.” After all, Christianity is simple and yet complex. The professor was trying to oversimplify it. After I’d given my answer, the professor quickly jumped in as though he wanted to make sure that what I’d said did not remain in anyone’s mind. Essentially ignoring me, he then answered his own question with the words he wanted everyone to hear: “If you love each other they will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

It wasn’t until after class that I really had the opportunity to talk with him more about what he’d been saying. I first broached the subject of the death penalty, how it was biblical, that it was one of the first laws instituted by God even prior to the days of Moses or the Ten Commandments (Genesis 9:6). I pointed out that Jesus Himself came to fulfill the Law not to do away with it (Matthew 5:17). In fact, the whole theology that Christ died in our place even points to the death penalty on a deeper level (but that’s a discussion for another time).

“What about ‘turn the other cheek’?” he said.[2] (Matthew 5:39.)

I pointed out that the Bible taught that no one could live up to the law (Ecclesiastes 7:20,  Romans 3:10,  Romans 3:20,  2 Corinthians 3:6-7,  etc.). And that for anyone who was under the misunderstanding that they could live up to the law, Jesus raised the bar in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere (Mark 10:17-21). Jesus’ teaching as also impossible to carry out; after all, the hinge pin verse of the entire Sermon on the Mount was, “So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It’s not that we don’t aspire to the teachings, but they are impossible to live out perfectly since we are imperfect and sinful.[3]

“What about ‘let you who is without sin cast the first stone’?” he said (John 8:7), still attempting to prove that the death penalty was abolished by Christ.

I responded with, “What about His words that it would be ‘easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void’?” (Luke 16:17). “The death penalty was never abolished in the New Testament.”

“I disagree,” he said.

So I tried to approach it from another angle: “You’re bringing up ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘let you who is without sin cast the first stone’ and, in a way, these are talking about individual retribution. Of course, as an individual I do not have the right to mete out the death penalty… or to wage war. But even Paul, when speaking of governmental authority says the government ‘does not bear the sword in vain’ [Romans 13:4]. And what is the sword for? It’s not simply for smacking people on the behind…”

He ambiguously threw out the verse where Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Our conversation morphed a bit… I did admit that there were, of course, long standing debates within Christian circles about war. There were also different views about how involved Christians should be in government and politics, long standing debates about whether Christians should live as monks and remain separate and isolated as opposed to whether they should get involved with politics, even run for office.

He asked me what kind of Christian I was. To keep it simple I labeled myself a Born Again Christian. He pounced on that and said, “George Bush claims to be born again and yet all the things he’s doing shows that he is not a Christian at all. It’s like he’s trying to set himself up as a king. You know, Christians in Roman times went to their deaths because they would not worship Caesar; yet Christians are giving this guy a free pass.[4] I mean, look at all the executions in his state when he was governor…”

“Well, although I disagree with a lot of what George Bush is doing and has done, I would not blanketly say that he was wrong in signing those death warrants, or that the Iraq or Afghanistan wars were wrong…”[5]

And that’s when he first said it: “Well then YOU are not a Christian.

I was shocked at his words… and it really got my adrenaline pumping. The debate heated up, and we went back and forth for probably fifteen minutes. During those fifteen minutes he told me five or six more times that I was not a Christian. He returned again to the words of Christ: “If you love each other they will know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

I pointed out that, first and foremost, Jesus was telling His disciples to love each other, that Jesus was speaking of Christian love amongst Christians.

“It’s people like you who caused the Inquisition,” he said. “You’re as bad as the Islamofascists. You fundamentalists are all the same.”

He jumped to the book of 1 John and said something about it being all about love.[6] I don’t know if the professor was a left leaning Christian or simply a secularist trying to usurp Jesus for his team. To find out I could have asked if he believed other things the book of John says. I could have asked if he believed in Cain and Abel or if he believed in eternal life since we can find both in 1 John. I could have asked if he believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world who died for our sins, who is even now interceding for us, and if he believed that a person who denies the Son also denies God the Father. These questions might have helped me ascertain whether the professor was a Christian or a secularist. Either way I could have asked him if he took 1 John 3:6 literally in light of 1 John 1:8. I could have even asked what the implications of 1 John 1:8 might have on John’s teachings on love. But all of 1 John’s teachings were not at the forefront of my mind at that moment.

So I pointed out that teachings had to be taken in context. I used an argument I’d read elsewhere and put it forth: “Take the ‘turn the other cheek’ teaching for instance. Does it mean that we are to turn the other cheek if our child strikes us? Does it mean we are to turn the other cheek if we see someone strike our grandmother or wife? What does it mean in the context of nations, if anything?” But I really wanted to return to his accusation, so I said, “And how do you determine who is a Christian and who is not?”

“It’s obvious,” he said. “Christ’s teachings were all about loving one another. Love was the core of his message.”

“Though I agree with you in part, you’re belief that someone is a Christian only when they practice love is not necessarily orthodox Christianity.” (I could have pointed out that a person could practice love and not believe Jesus is the Son of God, or not believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and they would not be a Christian. That would have returned us to John 8:31 again.)

He just reiterated “Jesus’ number one teaching was ‘love’.”

“Do you think Jesus was Gandhi or one of the Beatles?”

“Well certainly his message was about non-violence, no death penalty, no war.”

“So why didn’t Jesus tell the Roman Centurion to stop being a soldier?” (See Luke 7:2-9.)

Then he threw out, “Jesus said, ‘Those who live by the sword will die by the sword’” (Matt. 26:52).

Since he was arguing in a “throwing out verses” mode, I decided to play the same game: “How about when Jesus said, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword’” (Matthew 10:34). (I could have just as well used Jesus’ words that “the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one”—Luke 22:36 or “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”—Matthew 10:35.) I was not trying to say that Jesus preached violence, only that it is important to understand the whole of the message and not just pick and choose pieces or verses we like.

 He responded to my quoting the “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” verse by saying, “Well that can be interpreted other ways…”

“People can interpret almost any verse in other ways,” I said.

Well,” he said, “we  don’t really know what was originally written or what he actually said…

Aha!

I drop the reconstructed debate here…. And I want the reader to understand what the professor had done. I caught it the moment he said it. He betrayed his own position! Perhaps he felt the argument had gone on long enough or perhaps he felt backed into a corner by my argument. No matter what, he’d attempted a quick maneuver. “Well, we don’t really know what was originally written or what he actually said…” and to me that statement demonstrated that he was being entirely disingenuous.

He had continuously thrown out bible quotations to support his side. In fact, from the beginning his whole argument was based on a John 13:35. But as I countered with verses that might require reinterpretation of the whole, he suddenly discounted all Scripture as being untrustworthy. By doing so he destroyed his own argument. He was using an argument based upon a certain interpretation of the Bible, and then he says, in essence, “But we can’t really trust the Bible.” It’s as though he was arguing that Richard Nixon’s words to the American people should be taken at face value and then later said, “But we all know Richard Nixon was a liar.” He didn’t believe the very words he was arguing. He had a point he wanted to make about certain kinds of Christians… and he would use whatever methods he could to get that point across… by hook or by crook.

And don’t forget that I formerly wrote, “Thankfully, he was not the “worst” or most antagonistic Philosophy professor I had during my college years.”[7]

To be honest, the argument above, especially the accusations, shook me quite a bit. This from a person who said, “I knew that the halls of academia can sometimes be hostile towards Christianity…. I was entering college with open eyes, knowing what I might face.”[8]

The day after the big argument took place I wrote in my journal: “I prayed a lot about this last night. In a way it was very traumatic, but I did expect something like this to happen eventually in a secular college (not the condemning accusation, but a challenge to my faith). It is the shaking which will take us back to the basics. What do I know is true and biblical? What do I assume? What do I support and believe simply because of ‘group think’? I need to be shaken. I want the Lord to improve me, grant me wisdom and understanding. Lord, don’t let me ever blindly follow any belief without examining it.”

“I am young, but you are elderly; that is why I was fearful, and afraid to explain to you what I know. I said to myself, ‘Age should speak, and length of years should make wisdom known.’ But it is… the breath of the Almighty, that makes [people]understand. It is not the aged who are wise, nor old men who understand what is right. Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me. I, even I, will explain what I know’” (Job 32:6-10).

 

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[1]
BTW, watch out for the phrasing “pro war”, which in itself can be a loaded term. Sometimes it is meant in the sense that some people have a “We love war!” attitude which, hopefully, no Christian or conservative would ever have.

[2] The after class conversation found in this blog actually may represent several different conversations between myself and my Philosophy professor. Though the conversation is a fairly accurate representation of what was said at the time; it is not always verbatim.

[3] I may have added some of the following, but looking back now I’m not sure how much I said: “We all fall short of the all biblical laws and we fall short of Jesus’ teachings, even His teaching to love one another. Thus there’s a gap between where we should be and where we are. Jesus was there to bridge the gap. We fall short. He lived it perfectly (John 8:46,  2 Corinthians 5:21,  1 Peter 2:22,  1 John 3:5). Jesus’ mission was all about grace and mercy. The Bible is all about grace and mercy. And once we realized what Jesus has done for us, then out of gratitude we are to strive towards the goal, but we always fall short. Salvation would always be by grace.”

[4] I guess that was what he meant by the render unto Caesar stuff.

[5] Please, again, do not think that I am here saying that any particular stance for or against the current wars are “Christian” or not “Christian.” The debate regarding war has been a long standing one. As Bill Bennett, the Roman Catholic conservative, has written, “To those who argued that Christians should always seek peace, [Thomas] Aquinas responded that those who wage war justly do, in fact, aim at true peace, being opposed only to an ‘evil peace.’” He continued by writing, “[T]here are times when not resorting to force leads to evils far greater” (Bill Bennet, Why We Fight, copyright 2002 by William J. Bennett, paperback published in 2003 by Regnery, pages 36-37). For further reading one could look up “Just War” online, or read Bennett’s chapter on “The Morality of Anger” in Why We Fight, C.S. Lewis’ essay entitled, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist”, his letter “The Conditions for a Just War”, or Darrell Cole’s book entitled When God Says War is Right, in which he posits that even war is to be waged out of love.

[6] And whenever the book of 1 John comes up I must admit, it makes me and a lot of other Christians pause. John’s wording about love and about no longer sinning really is cause for all Christian believers to self-evaluate and to, once again, turn to God for mercy and grace for how short we fall in our daily lives. God help us and sanctify us in Jesus Christ.

[7] http://blogs.bible.org/impact/stephen_j._drain/a_christian_conservative_goes_to_college_part_2_philosophy_101_

[8] I am quoting this from my blog entitled “A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 1 (Introduction)”, found on this site at http://blogs.bible.org/impact/stephen_j._drain/a_christian_conservative_goes_to_college_part_1_introduction_

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J Drain

"Rescued, ransomed, and saved because of the love of God the Father, through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, thanks to faithful preachers and teachers of the Word, attained by the perfect life and merit of Jesus the Messiah, His substitutionary death and physical resurrection from the dead. Completely undeserved and gifted to me." Steve would label himself an apprentice Christ follower, an Evangelical Christian with strong Reformed beliefs, a "Five Point Calvinist" (if you must). Steve loves discussing and debating the two "taboo" subjects: Politics and Religion. He tries to read and listen to a minimum of forty books a year and realizes that no matter what topic or genre, whether Bible, theology, Christianity, history, biography, philosophy, political, social commentary, pop-culture, or even fiction, they all tie together in the spider's web of worldview. His favorite authors are C.S. Lewis, James R. White, Gregory Koukl, R.C. Sproul, J. Gresham Machen, G.K. Chesterton, J. Budziszewski, and Peter Kreeft. He loves Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Voddie Baucham, and Dwight L. Moody. Steve's hobbies are generally reading and writing, music, hiking, and laughing. He has been writing songs/lyrics since the age of eight and has played in a few Christian Rock bands. He has written poetry, several biblical studies over the past decades, and has one finished book manuscript entitled, “Shaken Faith: When God Has Let You Down” (written with friend and co-author Al Rossi). He has also written for the now defunct Examiner website as the Philadelphia Christian Perspectives Examiner. He wishes he could write some fiction.