Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Does Jack Daniels help the poor?

When I was a student at Christ for the Nations, Freda Lindsay, (the institute's co-founder) would address the students at the beginning of each semester with a simple challenge. On January 1st, read three chapters of the Bible every day and five on Sunday and, by the end of the year, you will have read the Bible straight through. Like a responsible leader of a Bible School, Freda challenged her students to read the Bible straight through every year for the rest of their lives.

Although I've been reading the Bible from cover to cover since I was about 14, I have found Mom Lindsay's (that's what CFNI students affecionately call her) plan to be simple and very effective, which is why I have been on the Mom Lindsay plan for about 8 years now. Unlike a lot of my colleages, I do not underline in my Bible. The reason for this is because I don't want to limit myself to the things that stood out for me in previous years. I would rather have the same verses, or perhaps new verses, jump out at me in a fresh and new way every year.

In light of my year and a half long journey working on the film Holy Wars with director Stephen Marshall, today's reading took on an added significance as I read this word of wisdom from King Lemuel's mother in the Book of Proverbs chapter 31 verses 4-5:
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

I am not a drinker, nor do I plan on starting any time soon. On the other hand, neither am I a theological teetotaler. Even though I've never heard a pastor preach on this verse (and neither have I ever seen inner-city pastors giving whiskey to the homeless) I'm guessing that, with the exception of a few ultra-conservative pastors, the majority of evangelical pastors, whether charismatic or non-charismatic would agree with the statement that drinking in and of itself is not a sin, but drunkenness is. I always find it humorous when I read the Apostle Paul's advice to the Corinthian Christians getting drunk on communion. The great Apostle's advice is basically "If you want to drink. Drink at home." (author's paraphrase of I Corinthians 11:21-22) In light of a few curious verses like this one,and the fact that our Lord and Savior actually turned water into whine at a wedding ceremony, there is sound hermeneutical grounds for this conclusion.

Here is the problem I am dealing with. If you go to one of the many Muslim countries in the world that has a Christian minority and ask an ordinary Muslim on the street what he thinks of when he thinks of the word Christian, the likely response will be. "Oh, that's easy. Christians are the ones that drink." This is not a statement of judgment on Christians living as minorities in Muslims countries. In fact, I can hardly blame them. I imagine if I were forced to live in deplorable conditions because of my religious status, I might get a little tipsy too after an overbearing work day.

The deeper question I am thinking about is this. Since I am a Christian committed to the integrity of Scripture, I am obligated to view Christian morality as superior to Islamic morality. This makes sense. If it were otherwise, I would be a Muslim. It also means I have to defend the Christian standard of morality, which in this case, prefers moderation over abstinence.

This is not a moot issue. What few realize is that behind the more visible causes many attribute to the rise of radical Islam (such as the presence of U.S. troops in Muslim lands, the oppression of the Palestinians, Western economic imperialism, the U.S.'s support of corrupt dictators in Muslim lands), there is a fundamental belief among Muslim societies that their culture and way of life is superior to that of the West. The argument is that Christianity, although it preaches love and peace, isn't able to produce a just and orderly society because Jesus did not give a comprehensive system of government to regulate every aspect of life as did Muhammed.

The common Christian response is that societies can only change if hearts change. The Muslim response is well that's all good and nice, but just look at your society. On an individual level, the Christian case is a solid one. We all know self-righteous people who think they are better than everyone else simply because they follow a list of do's and don'ts. This is also evident in Muslim societies. Nobody likes a Pharisee, including many Muslims. On an individual level, if we are comparing grace with legalism, grace wins.

The problem comes when we look at the question of Christian morality (which applies very well on an individual level) and apply it to society. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. My question I would like to present to my readers is this: How do we make the case that societies rooted in Christian morality are morally superior than societies rooted in Islamic morality? Or should we try to make this case at all?

8 comments:

Pete said...

Aaron,
First and foremost let me say, "This Bock is for you!".
As for your issue here, I think that you answered your own question kind of. Christianity is about an individual's relationship with Christ and how that reflects in their actions towards others. It is not about setting up governments and cultures here on Earth, because if we believe the Bible, it's not going to get better here. Earth is on a schedule to go bye-bye eventually ( whether you believe God will destroy it or you realize that our solar system isn't permanent ), however individual souls are eternal for better or worse, so that is where our focus should be. Well....that and good alcohol:)
Pete

toby said...

aaron, interesting post. i was wondering where you were going with everything.

pete, good answer; i agree with you. christianity has nothing to do with establishing entire societies and governments and everything to do with individuals serving Christ and impacting other individuals around them through love and the good news.

i don't think you can even compare muslim and christian societies unless you find a muslim theocracy and a christian theocracy. or, you look at one single criterion at a time for a more "christian" nation and a more "muslim" nation.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Pete and Toby,

Let me first say that I agree with you both when you say that Christianity is not about establishing earthly societies. Although certain postmillenialists would disagree, I say that the idea of a Christian Theocracy is an oxymoron. I also agree that a focus on souls for eternity is top priority for Christians. I furthermore agree with you Pete that, according to the Scriptures, things are not going to get much better here on planet earth, only I would qualify the statement by saying that Christians living out kingdom values have the potential to bring about positive change in society.

Although I agree with both of your statements, neither of them fully satisfy my question. If religions create cultures, (and they do) then how can we say a non theocratic religion like Christianity is morally superior to a theocratic religion like Islam.

For Christianity to be uniquely true over and against other religions, it must pass the moral test in every area. I've thought a lot about this and I have some ideas on this myself (obviously or I wouldn't be a Christian). I would like to know if one of you could think of a few reasons that I haven't already thought of as to why a non-theocratic religion is morally superior to a theocratic religion.

I hope this helps. I would love more feedback on this issue. Also, I think that pondering this question would be good for you as you develop your apologetics skills. This is a critical issue for Christians evangeliszing Muslims.

More thoughts please.

Pete said...

Aaron,
I've thought about this alot and I've come to the following conclusion- If you say "theocratic" a bunch of times in a row, it starts to sound really funny. Theocratic, theocratic, theocratic, theocratic..haha..see? Oh yeah, I'm also pretty sure that I don't understand your question well enough to answer it any better.
Pete

marhaban said...

Why is it important to convert people from Islam?

Why would Christian culture be better than another and why is that important?

Do we have to be against other religions?

Who decides that their relationship with God is not as good as ours?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete,

I appreciate your honesty on this one. I'm going to be inviting those on my e-mail list to respond to this post. Hopefully, this question will stir some thought.

Marhaban,

I appreciate your question. Because I can not give full justice to your question in this brief reply, I would like to recommend the book "The Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel. In the book, Lee Strobel addresses the very question that you are asking. Rather than give a quick response that doesn't do justice to the question, I prefer to point you in the direction of a more extensive treatment of your question.

toby said...

i have a few brief thoughts to answer your question(s) aaron.

1. christianity has the highest moral standard(s): perfection. (matt 5:47-48)

2. any religion can offer a set of rules or morals, but what religion can provide legitimate means for transforming your thoughts and intentions, for changing who you are on the inside? (Matthew 23:24-26, Phil. 2:13)

3. grace. christianity is unique in that you don't have to do anything to gain salvation except receive the gift / believe in Him (Romans 1:15-17, Romans 3:21-23, romans 4:2-3, etc). all other religions say that salvation is works based. also, no other religion besides christianity encourages humans to show other humans outrageous levels of grace (matt 5:38-40). note: on this point (#3), i didn't think of these; i just reworded things that i read from cs lewis and philip yancey.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

"Any religion can offer a set of rules or morals, but what religion can provide legitimate means for transforming your thoughts and intentions, for changing who you are on the inside?"

Excellent point Toby! I'm looking for short and simple statements like these.

It's also true that no other religion encourages their adherents to demonstrate such outrageous levels of grace as what Jesus lays out in the beatitudes. There is no question in my mind that loving one's enemies is the chief moral ethic that sets Christianity apart from all other religions-even though it hasn't been applied very well throughout church history.