Keeping Christ in Xmas

Why do people use X instead of Christ in Christmas? Some Christians state that it is cutting Christ out of the holiday while others state X is just the first letter in Christs name in Greek. The former accuses the latter of sneaking paganism into the holiday while the latter accuses the former of historical snobbery and legalism. As Yoda once said, “begun, the Xmas Wars have” (okay, not really but close enough) and the first shot was fired by some friends of mine today on Facebook with the following picture:

It’s an effective hit piece and one can just feel the subtle sarcasm oozing from that cute little Chi. So who is right? I submit that both are wrong. The first group is wrong because those who use X are not attempting to either “x-out” Christ or sneak in paganism to the holiday. Let’s be real here and give those whose use it the benefit of the doubt. The second group is wrong also and I’d like to outline two reasons why. Also, there is a third group who uses X to save character space on tweets. There is no redemption for this group and may God find mercy on your soul.

Context

There’s a famous quote about real estate which says “Location, Location, Location.” I’d like to change that for this blogs purposes to “Context, Context, Context.” Context is everything! For instance, let’s take the argument that X is just a substitute for Christ and apply that out of its context (a holiday) to the larger media.

 This has been one of my favorite new shows! It is so much better then that Xtina Aguilera one where she sits in that large chair all snarky! It’s called the Christ-Factor! Young students glorify God with their abilities and hope to raise enough funds to go on the missions field. Totally awesome!

One of my favorite shows growing up was Christ-Men the animated series. It was right after Spider Man on the Saturday morning cartoon rotation and my family always enjoyed it. A group of young students who had experienced a mutation after being Baptized in the Holy Spirit learn how to deal with their new abilities while not fitting into the larger society. It teaches us how to be in the world but not of it. Sadly, the show was perceived as being anti-women because it was “Christ-Men” and not “Christ-People” because women were not allowed to preach.

Professor Christ is one of my favorite Christ-Men and is right up there with Optimus Prime and Master Splinter as some of my childhood mentors. PC loved the Lord and even though he was disabled he used his discernment gifts to find other mutants to protect the world. He was a great leader, warrior and most importantly was able to see the good in others even when they couldn’t see the good in themselves.

While all of this is incredibly satirical and, yes, maybe even a little sarcastic I think you get the larger point. Context shows clearly that Christ was not meant to replace any of the above X’s. Now let’s expand this out to the larger, Western culture, who is more familiar with the  X Factor and X-Men then they are with Christ, and ask what our culture sees when they see Xmas? Everywhere they look X is either filling in for some nameless object/emotion, summarizing a large group of things/people or, yes, replacing something altogether. Westerners do not see Chi in Xmas. They do not even know what Chi is. Ask yourself what does our world see when they see X in place of Christ and then ask yourself if having to explain the Greek letter is worth it. Every time I tried I got the response, “It’s all Greek to me.”

Historical

This is perhaps my favorite argument. We hear all the time that early Christians used X in place of Christ so it justifies the current usage.

It’s historical.

However, there is not one “early Christian” (whatever this means itself is debatable) who used “X” alone in place Christ. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary cites the first use of “X” in place of Christ as early as 1485 and any other latter usage until modern time was from English elitists who were educated enough to know ancient Greek in their private notes.

What was used by “early Christians” and not English elitists was the familiar Eastern Orthodox depictions of Christ as “XT” or “XP” which is officially called the Labarum. Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox believers have used the labarum for well over a 1,000 years and throughout the history of the English language “XT” and “XP” have always stood for Christ.

The only point I wish to make here is that the claim that Christians throughout the ages used “X” is not true.

So what?

There was an American cartoon that took on the Holiday wars and had it’s main character Stan upset that “Liberals” had destroyed Christmas. The best part was when Stan was in a check out counter and the attendant wished him a Happy Holidays in reply to Stan wishing him a Merry Christmas. Stan replied to the guy: “I said Merry Christmas” and he again replied with “Happy Holidays.” This went on for about three or four more rounds until Stan pulled out a gun on the attendant. The next scene was Stan being thrown out of the store while the people throwing him out wished him a Happy Holidays.

Inevitably these discussions sort of feel like the above scene. Both sides miss the larger point and it eventually comes down to someone pulling a theoretical gun on the other to make them see their point and concede. “You’re taking Christ out of Christmas” or “You’re denying historical facts.” I’m not interested in advocating either one because both are false. I favor using the good ole’ fashion Christmas cause no one (except them silly progressives) fights that one anyway. What does interest me is the why behind the usage and so far I have not found a valid reason to use X instead of Christ in Christmas.

How about you? Why do you use Xmas? Why don’t you? I’d love to hear both!

Han Shot First Theological Fallacy

It is now an infamous moment in any Star Wars fan mind. In 1997 Star Wars was rereleased to the big screen with new scenes, polished (some never seen) which promised a new but familiar experience. I don’t think George Lucas expected the outrage over just one scene:

In the new addition of Star Wars, Greedo (the green guy) shoots first and Han Solo fires the killing shot almost immediately after him. The problem? In the original edition Han shot first while Greedo did not shoot at all:

George Lucas explained the changes were justified because he wanted children to understand that Han had no choice but to shoot Greedo. It was self defense and not an act of Han Solo being…Han Solo. How Greedo could have missed at point blank range? (Waves hand) Forgetta ’bout it!

I recently was involved in a discussion with someone who claimed their theological system of dealing with salvation (soteriology) was the original soteriology of the apostles. In response I typed “Han Shot First.” They knew the reference but did not understand my point in using it. I explained what I have now dubbed the Han Shot First Theological Fallacy (HSFTF):

“falsely stating your theological belief was first when its origins are much later then you ascribe to them.”

The person I was having a discussion with enjoyed my reference and understood it for the most part. The Force was strong with him. So I give you this gift to use freely in your theological discussions. Because, let’s face it, most of the people you might argue theology with are theological nerds as well as regular nerds.

Nature as Mother?

Ran across this quote from G.K. Chesterton and thought it was worth reposting:

“IF you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continued to recur: only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of

Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” ~ GKC: ‘Orthodoxy.’

Some Thoughts on the Death Penalty and N.T. Wright

“Capital punishment is to the whole society what self-defense is to the individual.” –J.P. Moreland

I have a great respect for N.T. Wright and greatly appreciate his works on Paul, Christian living/ethics and the Kingdom of God. This is why it deeply saddened me to read what I would argue is a poorly stated argument in an article for the Washington Post. Here is a paragraph from the article:

You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).


You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty.

While the statement scores rhetorical points and at face value seems to make sense it has a couple of fatal errors. First, the term “pro-life” is a misnomer. When we say we are “pro-life” we say that we are against the unjust taking of innocent life. Life is not an absolute and can be forfeited when placed against higher laws (protection of innocent/justice). Also, the unborn child is not aborted because he/she committed a capital crime while a convicted person who is put to death is. Second, capital punishment is commanded in the Old Testament (Gen 9:6) and allowed in the New Testament (Rom 13:1-2,1 Pet 2:13-14). If supporting limited capital punishment immediately makes one not pro-life then Paul and Peter were not pro-life. Finally, Wright is building a caricature (sadly, sometimes true as seen from some in the audience at the recent Republican debate) of anyone who believes there are some crimes which still can be labeled a capital crime.

Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world.

I believe what Wright is addressing here is the emperor-worshipping dictatorship of Rome which enforced the death penalty above the normally accepted natural law violation, capital crimes. I would agree with him on that and he would then be right to say “almost all” of the early Christians Fathers did not support Rome’s capital punishment. However, this doesn’t seem to be how he is using it. He is stating that ALL capital punishment was rejected by the Christians Fathers and that is not true. Two of the greatest church theologians, St. Augustine and St.  Thomas Aquinas, both wrote in favor of it [City of God 1.21;Summa theologica II-II, q. 64]. I’m not sure what he meant here but I think he overstated his case.

What about Jesus?

As a Christian, my ethic and life is to model and follow Christ’s. How then can I as a Christian say that my belief in capital punishment would fit my ethic model formed by Christ? Was not Christ put to death in a system where capital punishment went awry?

As I stated earlier, two passages of Scripture allow for the government (not individuals) to justly enforce capital punishment (Romans 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14) and encourages Christians to work within those governments to be good citizens. Every single government that existed at the time undoubtedly enforced capital punishment completely different then it is enforced today and both Paul and Peter or Jesus said nothing about it. In fact, they said God uses it to judge the world.

But wouldn’t Jesus forgive?

This question attempts to prove too much. While attempting to be an argument against capital punishment it also becomes an argument against any punishment. Why put a murderer in prison if they are forgiven? Wouldn’t Jesus forgive…look at Paul? What should we do with the murderer then? Prison but, again, Jesus forgave them? Why punish at all?

Also, Jesus himself never challenged the use of or the validity of the death penalty and taught submission to governments — even oppressive ones. Which is echoed again in both Paul and Peter later in the Epistles.

Finally, Jesus makes forgiveness available for everyone, even murderers. Governments however operate on different biblical principles when governing and man’s court is not ultimately God’s court although the latter has bearing on the former.

Conclusion

The subject of the death penalty is a difficult one because people in my position are not arguing the right to be “pro-death” as N.T. Wright stated. We are not advocating vigilantism or arguing for personal vendettas but simply stating we are “pro-life” because we are against the unjust taking of life. It is tragic when people are put to death but it is just as it was tragic that they themselves did not value life. However, it is because we value life and it’s because we value the protection of it that we believe that capital punishment is still applicable when capital crimes are committed. After thoroughly reading about the two cases that caused N.T. Wright’s response I do believe the defendants were rightly tried, faced a jury of their peers and were found guilty of a capital crime. May God rest their souls.

For more on a Christian perspective for limited uses of Capital Punishment visit here or visit J.P. Moreland’s here.

Speaking Of A Tuff Dating Scene Who Did Cain Marry?

Whenever I speak to somebody who is antagonistic to Christianity or religion in general one of the top questions asked is who did Cain marry? It’s a legitimate question and difficult to answer because the Bible does not say. What the Bible records is problematic because it only says that Adam and Eve had three sons. Cain killed Abel and it wasn’t till after this that the third son Seth was born. The Bible records that Cain was sent away from his family, before Seth was born, to a place called Nod and he married and lived amongst a large group of people (where’d they come from?)

I usually start my answer off with a dating joke. I mean really, talk about slim pickings! Cain’s eHarmony profile must have been a wreck! All joking aside, where do we go from here?

There are a couple of questions behind the question that we must look at before answering the actual question. First, the Bible does not mention any the names of women born to Adam and Eve. Did Cain sleep with Eve? Did Adam have another wife? Did Cain have a sister and sleep with her? Next, where did all of those people come from in Nod? Also if Cain married his sister or a niece isn’t incest against God’s law? Finally what does this say about the reliability of Scripture? Was Cain a real person? Was Adam and Eve? All of these questions are behind the actual question and while it’s fun to joke about it the answers have serious implications for the rest of Scripture.

Population

There is a great website called Reasons to Believe (RTB) and they have given this question some thought in great detail. Let’s start with the population issue. The author Hugh Ross states:

The first step in the solution of this problem is to recognize that Adam and Eve had many more children than Cain, Abel, and Seth. Genesis 5:4 says that “after Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years,” and that “he had other sons and daughters.” In fact, the genealogy of Genesis 5 records that every descendant of Adam down to Lamech had “other sons and daughters.” These other sons and daughters were born to men even older than 187 years. Considering the long life spans recorded in Genesis 5 and assuming that couples remained reproductive for about half their lifetime, the possibility existed for a veritable population explosion. In fact, the world’s population could have approached a few billion by the time of Adam’s death at the age of 930 (see table).

 

Expected Population Growth in Adam’s Lifetime
According to Genesis 5, life spans from Adam to Noah averaged 912 years. Each of the patriarchs mentioned had “other sons and daughters” in addition to the sons recorded by name. The table calculations are based on:
  • life span = 900 years,
  • first child comes at age 50,
  • child bearing years =500, and
  • one child every 5 years during child bearing years.
year reproducing couples children born total population
0 1 0 2
50 1 0 2
100 1 10 12
150 6 30 42
200 21 100 142
250 71 352 494
300 247 1210 1704
350 852 4180 5884
400 2942 14,450 20,334
450 10,167 49,892 70,226
500 35,113 172,358 242,584
550 121,292 595,378 837,962
600 418,980 2,056,530 2,894,492
650 1,447,245 7,103,862 9,998,364
700 4,999,176 24,538,536 34,536,930
750 17,268,444 84,762,338 119,299,368
800 59,649,613 292,790,780 412,090,500
850 206,045,003 1,011,374,120 1,423,465,830
900 711,732,063 3,493,544,650 4,917,014,660

So based on the table if Cain waited maybe 200 years to get married he would have had sisters to marry (an issue will get to next) and if he had waited another 200 years a few thousand people could have already been born and migrated east of Eden. It is also possible that Cain married before he was banished to Nod because the text does not tell us. RTB points out that archeological evidence seems to point to a population explosion soon after man first appeared on the scene and this would seem to match up with what Genesis tells us and also what Genesis leaves out.

Incest

So Cain and Able possibly married a sister? How do we answer that one?

Given that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, either Cain or one of his brothers must have married a sister. This would seem to violate the commands recorded in the book of Leviticus forbidding marriage between brothers and sisters. The Levitical laws, however, must be considered in their proper historical context.
Though the book of Genesis condemns sexual relations between children and their parents, it nowhere prohibits a man from marrying his sister or niece. Abraham, for example, married his half-sister without compunction. Not until the time of Moses were laws established forbidding a man from marrying a sister or niece. The timing of this command makes perfect sense biologically, for genetic defects as a result of intra-family marriage would not begin to crop up until after the first few dozen generations.

Conclusion

So there you go. It’s an interesting take on a difficult issue and a starting point for finding an answer to some of the difficult questions in Scripture! As a plug, make sure to check out Reason to Believe’s website for more helpful articles about the difficulties in the book of Genesis!

Stem Cell Lies

I am a closet fan of Payton Manning (I’m a Patriots fan) and any article that has him in the headlines is going to grab my attention:

Star quarterback Peyton Manning travelled to Europe for controversial stem-cell therapy on ailing neck

The only controversial stem-cell treatment would be if he had used embryonic stem-cells. Opening the article this is their explanation:

“Fox Sports reported Sunday that the four-time NFL MVP had boarded a private jet for Europe to receive stem-cell therapy, a procedure not approved in the U.S.

 

Reporter Jay Glazer said the procedure involved taking fat cells from Manning’s body and growing them in a culture.”

The problem here is that the author states that the procedure is not allowed in the States but juxtaposes that with the statement that “stem-cell therapy” is not allowed in the States. Are all stem-cell therapies not allowed?

No!

Just embryonic stem-cell research is resisted by a majority of Americans and Payton did not have that treatment. Either the author of this article is not educated on the issue (which is probable) or wants to paint those who oppose embryonic stem-cell research as against all forms of stem-cell research (which is more likely).

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2038946/Star-quarterback-Peyton-Manning-travelled-Europe-controversial-stem-cell-therapy-ailing-neck.html#ixzz1YRVRpauK

Praying in a Facebook Status?

Can you pray through your Facebook status? What about when a friend puts up a request and someone replies with a prayer? I am not talking about requesting prayer or letting someone know you prayed for them but when someone replies to a prayer request with “Dear, Lord.” If prayer is acceptable then can someone type out their prayer language (as Juanita Bynum did not so long ago)?

At first glance I will say that I am always thrown off when someone offers a prayer on a Facebook wall or post. It seems out of place. Does God read those prayers? Does He “like” them? Does He respond to the post? What if there are spelling errors? Does God use the terms LOL, JK and BRB? What about when Jesus said not to pray pretentiously in public (Matthew 6:5)?

There are other times where I see people praying on Facebook and I understand it. Missionaries who don’t get the chance to talk with family, friends or churches everyday and the only form of communication is written. Reading a prayer (just like reading the Psalms which are prayers) can usher a person into prayer in their location. It reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where Paul said to pray without ceasing (and since a lot of people are on Facebook 24 hours a day anyway…). Finally, not all public prayers (written or spoken) are forbidden by Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:5 since He Himself did it multiple times.

What is the answer then? I don’t know, like the other Bell I just like asking questions. I think this is a hard issue across the board because it is highly subjective and unless God direct messages me an answer it would be difficult to reply with 100% certainty.  I myself would never address the Lord through a friends Facebook page and I’m skeptical when people do it but I’m not willing to say it is never right. However, there are some things I think are never right:

(1) Be careful of pretentious prayer. What is your motivation for praying publicly? Why aren’t you doing it privately? Or with the person directly? Are you drawing attention to yourself?

(2) Do not be a prayer spammer.

(3) Do not call someone out on their wall and justify it as a “prayer.” I’ve seen this happen and it ain’t pretty!

(4) Do not write in your “prayer language.” That’s just creepy. It’s called speaking (emphasis mine) in tongues for a reason!

(5) Do not claim to have a prophetic word, post it on their wall and then like it. Direct message that sucker!

(6) Do not disclose something that the person on the receiving end doesn’t want disclosed. “Dear Lord, I pray you heal so-and-so’s hernia, Lord!”

(7) Do not use “Lord” as a breath mark when typing. You are typing!

(8) If you are not praying privately do not pray publicly. Period.

(9) Do not pray judgment down on people in your friends list, countries, and Presidents.

(10) Do not pray about your relationship status. You will regret ignoring this one.

How about you? Is praying on Facebook wrong? Could it be good? Maybe creepy?