By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
TAOS, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 1, 2016) — Recently my family and I participated in a tour of the historic Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s beauty beyond measure.
But as the guide was speaking, he referenced — on three different occasions — the historic conflicts with the Conquistadors, Mexicans, and later, Americans. With each reference, he insinuated that part of the reason behind the conflicts was a cultural clash over religion. Simply put: Christianity vs. the traditional religion of the Pueblo People. As a convictional Christian, it made me squirm. He’s right, I thought: a terrible witness for Christ.
And though there is always more to a story, I think our guide was correct; religion oftentimes commends and creates violence. Just a cursory look at the news, and you’d have to agree. Here’s some headlines from the last week or so:
* Gunmen take hostages in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka (today)
* Report Suggests Increase in Christian Persecution Worldwide
* Fourth Secular Bangladesh Blogger Hacked To Death This Year
* Christopher Harper Mercer: Possible Terrorist Link Revealed By Social Media
* FBI said to arrest man plotting to bomb Florida synagogue
Last year, CNN writer, Daniel Burke, put it this way: “Whether you believe that religious violence is fueled by faith or is a symptom of larger factors — political instability, poverty, cultural chaos — one thing seems clear: Last week was hellish for religion.
“Across several continents, including North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, scores of religious believers suffered and died in brutal attacks over the past seven days. Christians, Muslims and Jews alike all fell prey to assaults” .
It appears that religion and violence oftentimes go hand in hand.
So how is a Christian to answer when critics call us out as cultural monsters of calamity?
Here’s a few books to help you sort through the situation (I’ve included the description for each provided by Amazon):
Is God a Moral Monster, Paul Copan. Leading apologetics writer with a proven track record, Paul Copan, tackles the most difficult Old Testament passages and topics, helping readers to reconcile the God of righteousness with the God of love.
Did God Really Command Genocide? Paul Copan. Copanhelps readers understand how the violent commands of the Old Testament God can be reconciled with the New Testament’s ethic of love as taught by Jesus.
God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, David Lamb.God has a bad reputation. Many think of God as wrathful and angry, smiting people right and left for no apparent reason. The Old Testament in particular seems at times to portray God as capricious and malevolent, wiping out armies and nations, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice. But wait. The story is more complicated than that. Alongside troubling passages of God’s punishment and judgment are pictures of God’s love, forgiveness, goodness and slowness to anger. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction? Can God be trusted or not? David Lamb unpacks the complexity of the Old Testament to explore the character of God. He provides historical and cultural background to shed light on problematic passages and to bring underlying themes to the fore. Without minimizing the sometimes-harsh realities of the biblical record, Lamb assembles an overall portrait that gives coherence to our understanding of God in both the Old and New Testaments.
The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War, Joshua Butler. There are some questions no Christian wants to be asked. Many today believe hell, judgment and holy war are “skeletons in God’s closet,” tough topics that, if looked at closely, would reveal a cruel, vindictive tyrant rather than a good and loving God. And we aren’t comfortable with the answers we’ve been given.
* “How can a loving God send people to Hell?”
* “Isn’t it arrogant to believe Jesus is the only way to God?”
* “Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?”
In this book, Butler pulls these bones out into the open to exchange popular caricatures for the beauty and power of the real thing. We’ll discover these topics were never really skeletons at all . . . but proclamations of a God who is good “in his very bones,” not just in what he does, but in who he is. We’ll fling the wide the closet door and sing loudly, boldly and clearly:
God is good and coming to redeem his world.
The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, William A. Dembski. Theodicy attempts to resolve how a good God and evil world can coexist. The neo-atheist view in this debate has dominated recent bestseller lists through books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), and The End of Faith (Samuel Harris). And their popularity illuminates a changing mental environment wherein people are asking harder questions about divine goodness. Surprisingly, these books please intelligent design champion William Dembski, because “They would be unnecessary if Christianity were not again a live issue.”
Entering the conversation, Dembski’s provocative The End of Christianity embraces the challenge to formulate a theodicy that is both faithful to Christian orthodoxy and credible to the new mental environment. He writes to make peace with three claims: (1) God by wisdom created the world out of nothing. (2) God exercises particular providence in the world. (3) All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin. In the process, Dembski brings the reader to a fresh understanding of what “the end (result) of Christianity” really means: the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world.
God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible, edited byWilliam Lane Craig and chad Meister. 2011 Outreach Magazine Book Award winner! 2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! The days have passed when the goodness of God–indeed, the reality of God itself–could reasonably be called a consensus opinion. God’s reputation has come under considerable review in recent days, with some going so far as to say that it’s not we who’ve made a mess of things. Instead whatever it is we call God is to blame. But is such an opinion really a fair assessment? In this magisterial collection, the contemporary complaints against belief in God are addressed with intellectual passion and rigor by some of the most astute theological and philosophical minds of the day.
Photo captions: 1) Members of the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion at the scene of today’s hostage taking. (Getty Images) 2) Taos Pueblo. 3) Did God Really Command Genocide? 4) God is Great, God is Good. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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