Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 3 ~ Christianity is a Straightjacket

Ni Hao Yall
The following is taken from Stefanie's blog.  She is moderating this study, and I simply can't summarize it like she does.  Thanks, friend!

The Reason for God – Chapter Three: Christianity is a Straightjacket
Keller begins Chapter 3 by posing this question: “Is a belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom?” Then he proceeds to, for the remainder of the chapter, deconstruct this commonly held notion. He quotes Chloe, a young artist from New York City, “The Christians I know don’t seem to be able to think for themselves. I believe each individual must determine truth for him- or herself.” (p.35).
Truth is Unavoidable
By claiming truth you are asserting power according to Nietzsche and his disciple Foucault…“Truth is a thing of this world. It is produced only by multiple forms of constraint and that includes the regular effects of power.”(p.37) But this argument cannot stand, explains Keller. If you say that all claims to truth are actually attempts to garner power, then this must include your very own statement.
G.K. Chesterton made a similar observation almost 100 years ago, “The new rebel is a skeptic, and will not trust anything [but] therefore he can never be really a revolutionary. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything… there is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”
Community Can’t Be Completely Inclusive
com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee] noun.
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.
A community, by definition, is a group that shares characteristics and defines itself as distinct, because of those unique characteristics, from society as a whole. And yet, the Christian community has been accused of social divisiveness. True, it is not open to all and requires a certain set of beliefs in order to be a member. But isn’t this what community is all about?
Keller explains that there is a more important consideration. Determining the true nature of a community – whether it is caring and open or narrow and oppressive. “Which community has beliefs that lead it’s members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect – to serve them and meet their needs? Which community’s beliefs lead it to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries rather than treating them with kindness, humility and winsomeness?” (p.40)
Christianity Isn’t Culturally Rigid
“It [Christianity] allegedly forces people from diverse cultures into a single iron mold.” (p.41)
The growth of Christianity has differed from that of other major religions because it has “adapted significantly and positively to the surrounding culture without compromising it’s main tenants.” (p.43) Keller shares an insight from African scholar Lamin Sanneh who explains that, “Christianity helped Africans to become renewed Africans, not re-made Europeans.”
He goes on to explain why Christianity has successfully infiltrated so many completely different cultures: “There is, of course, a core of teachings… to which all forms of Christianity are committed. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of freedom in how these absolutes are expressed and take form within a particular culture.” (p.45)
Freedom Isn’t Simple
Freedom to determine one’s own moral standards in order to achieve a full life has become a commonplace belief in modern society. But Keller says that this is an oversimplification. “In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.” (p. 46) He gives the example of the fish who is only truly free if it is limited to life in the water. It’s potential for “a full life”, if moved onto land, would be impossible. In fact, it would be certain death.
“If we only grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically through judicious constraints – why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?” (p.47)
Love, the Ultimate Freedom, Is More Constraining Than We Might Think
“What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish? Love. Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all.” (p.48)
If you want deep, meaningful love, you must be willing to sacrifice some of the freedoms of living simply for yourself. “We only become ourselves in love, and yet healthy love relationships involve mutual, unselfish service, a mutual loss of independence.” (p.49)
Initially, a relationship with God seems to be one-sided – we do all the serving because God has all the power. Although this is often true of other religions, it is not true of Christianity. “In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.’” (p.50)
Indeed. When we sit under the weight of what Jesus did on the cross, we feel more than appreciation and gratitude. We feel so thankful and and so loved, that we are overwhelmed with love in return. And so springs up our desire to be like Christ. This is what motivates the Christ-follower.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity defines well the difference between wanting to “be good” and truly understanding – and being molded by – Jesus’ love. “… the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”
God loved us first. “We love because he first loved us.” John 4:19. God initiates. We respond. And it is only when we are acting in response to His unconditional love and His infinite worth that we can do any of the things to which Jesus calls His followers. And understanding this distinction is crucial. In fact, it makes all the difference.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” — John 8:31-32
Question: Have you made sacrifices to cultivate a deep and loving relationship with the Lord? Was there something specific you were afraid to give up? What was the outcome?
*My Response*
Again, this is such a difficult chapter.  It really caused me to dig deep.  I love Keller's discussion on page 46 of the musician who has given himself to hours of practice, which could be viewed as a restriction.  However, Keller says, "You've deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things."

That is where I find my answer to this week's question.  While I would never consider anything I've given up a sacrifice compared to what Jesus has done for me, I've certainly allowed God to weed the garden of my heart and prompt me to let go of a lot.  Coming to know Christ as an adult could have been viewed as a sacrifice because I essentially lost my life as I knew it at the age of 36.  I had a great career, a nice enough home and a 'typical' family with three children.  Immediately upon following Jesus, my perspective and priorities changed.  Not out of duty, but in response to loving the Lord.  I desired differently.  

The things of value in this world were not as important to me.  The hardest 'sacrifices' I've made are severing relationships with people who are critical of the Lord's plans for our family, and finances.  We desire to live simply, but our desire to follow the Lord also means living on very little at times.  God is so faithful to always provide all we need, whether a little or a lot.  We do not have jobs that come with paid vacation or family leave, so the time we invest volunteering is hard financially... but richly rewarding.  As Keller says, "You've deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things."

I would never go back to my life before Jesus!

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