Dwight Eisenhower once commented that what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. It is a wise word. When you have a plan in place, there are so many issues that arise and claim urgency. However, few things ought to take you away from your plan. (I know your mind is thinking of emergencies that you must address.) The point Eisenhower makes tells us that there are instances that are both urgent and important. For example, when the house is on fire it is both urgent and important you get out of the house!
About twenty years ago statistics began coming to light that the church was losing way too many of its young people. Apologists began moving toward reaching college age Christians who were subject to teachings that were hostile toward their Christian beliefs. Some estimated the percentage of Christian young people losing their faith as high as eighty-five percent. Other statistics were around fifty percent. Even losing one out of two college-age Christians is too many, in my opinion. The swell of talks, articles and books on how to prevent this disaster added to the rising tide of apologetic material. Ministries emerged (and are emerging) to reach this age group. It also became apparent that high school and junior high students were subject to material challenging foundational Christian doctrine. Now, you can find every conceivable challenge to Christianity on the internet where sites devote themselves to debunking Christianity. Christ’s resurrection, the existence of God, and anything ranging from questioning the historical Jesus to the idea that early Christians borrowed from other religious myths to create the gospel story can be found here. It becomes pretty clear that this situation is important and needs an urgent response.
A Changed World
It is important to recognize the world has changed, and by “the world” I mean culture - American culture. Christians are not the vocal majority, nor do Christian values mean anything to most people. We have watched the decline of Christian morality and values in our society. Now, what?
It is both important and urgent that the church learns to defend the historic Christian faith that rests upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From my perspective, we are in a fight that will claim all our young people if we are not diligent to persevere, roll up our sleeves, or prepare our minds for action, as the Scripture command us (1Peter 1:13). It is also urgent we begin to think and act like an army and not a militia.
Also from my perspective, parents of young children (especially) must learn the reasons why they are Christians and be able to defend those reasons with cogent arguments that can persuade the naysayers. Parents must learn to do this so they can teach their children the reasons why they believe Christianity to be true.
I made a mistake, and I own it outrightly. I hope to help the parents of this and future generations not to make my mistake. When I pastored and was the parent to my young children, I believed the influence of my godly lifestyle and simple presentation of gospel truths were enough to win and keep my kids as Christians. I thought to teach them Christian values was enough. What I didn’t teach my kids were the reasons why I believed my beliefs were right. I didn’t show them the evidence why I believed God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, and why the Bible is reliable. I didn’t arm my children with the reasonable arguments for Christianity, just the emotional and experiential ones. Each of them has wrestled and been unsteady with their relationship with Jesus because of this. Clearly, I don’t believe it is “either-or”, but “both-and.” Children need to know the reasons and see examples of the outworking of the beliefs. They need to sense God’s presences and experience his love, but what the heart believes the mind does seek to know as well. Having reasons for faith is a foundational necessity.
What I should have done was be proactive in “homeschooling” my children with the reasons why I believe Christianity is true. By homeschooling, I mean taking the reigns to make sure my kids knew the reasons why our experiences were valid. Sure, being in an exciting worship service is a plus. So is having friends in the church who demonstrate the love, grace, and mercy of God. I don't discount those aspects in any way. We also had a wave of momentum that made us feel strong and influential. We asked, “How could anyone miss this witness?” Evidently, many of our kids did.
So here’s my plan to help the church, parents, and grandparents, train up a new generation of on fire, intelligent soldiers for the army of God. First, learn the basics of apologetics. It is urgent to know the basics yourself begin and keep the discussion going. Many parents don’t know how to defend against something like Evolution. Evolution is something your kids will encounter relatively young. Atheism will be riding on this teaching and Atheism will be introduced to them at an early age. Evolution is the first subject your kids will find that discredits Christian values. So here is the first step: learn the basics.
So, the basics to learn are one, the arguments for God’s existence, what is called the argument from origins. Technically, these are the cosmological arguments which demonstrate God’s existence both in creating and sustaining life as we know it.
Then two, the arguments from design or the teleological arguments. These show the universe has elements of design that point to intelligence. The Intelligent Design movement (ID) has done a lot of work in this area. However, they stand in a place of neutrality when it comes to affirming what intelligence they are promoting. Even though many of ID community are Christian, some are Muslim, some agnostic. ID has a lot to offer and utilize.
Then you must become more than acquainted with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an enormous amount of evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus, the reliability of the New Testament documents, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and the early church’s activities. Personally, this is my particular area. I find this evidence compelling toward belief in Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God and Savior of the world.
I find there are questions about the resurrection appearances of which most Christians do not want to talk. The reason being they don’t know how to reconcile what appear to be contradictions in the text. We’ll deal with this more in future blogs.
Finally, everyone should learn to think critically. That is, determine to think seriously and seek truth in your thinking. Put your emotions in their rightful place behind your thoughts. Let your emotions follow the truth rather than lead you to the truth. How you feel about something matters little unless it is a well thought out conclusion, held up to the light of Scripture and the truth of reality.
I once receive an email from a parent of a teen (I’ve received more than a few) asking for help. The parent, in this case, mom, was distraught that her son had tossed his Christianity out for a scientific, realistic belief. Her son told her that she based her views on fairy-tales. You know he didn’t come up with that by himself. My heart sank as I knew this was a tough uphill fight for this mother as it is a tall order to keep her cool, learn the arguments and keep her son from delving further. She would be playing catch-up all the way.
It is important to determine the general topics. Any soldier will tell you he must learn the enemies strategies and tactics too. I find few Christians who are willing to study the basics of Evolution and when their child comes home from school asking questions about Darwin’s theory they tell their kids something like, “Well, we don’t believe that.” Or, “That’s not in the Bible.” Clearly, these are pat answers, not well thought out, shot from the hip. Kids will walk away agreeing but secretly questioning or comparing the thoughts they’ve heard.
Let’s go back to Eisenhower’s quote: It is both urgent and important that parents of young children address this problem and learn the basics of apologetics to teach their children the same. I add to this that it is crucial and important for grandparents, too.
The Hindu word “karma” is used more and more often with a Western twist in meaning. Often people say it to mean “luck” (good or bad) or even as a gleeful expression of revenge. I have seen this word on bumper stickers and heard it said lightly, as a joke. I myself once sincerely held a belief in karma when I was following Eastern and New Age beliefs, and often thought of how someone who had wronged me would eventually suffer karma for what they had done to me. By no means, however, is the term or concept of karma a joke. Others – including some Christians -- try to justify the term karma with the idea of consequences as seen in Galatians 6:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Gal. 6:7, 8
So should a Christian use the word “karma?” First, what is karma?
Karma and Reincarnation
Karma in Hinduism means “action” and the law of karma refers to the consequences of action. However, although there is a karma relating to consequences from actions in the present life, the usual meaning has to do with the consequences of previous lives (reincarnation), and actions in this life that sow the seeds for consequences in future lives (if interested, see explanations on Christian site, Karma2Grace, at http://bit.ly/1Pcq4yj, and on Hindu site at http://bit.ly/1UrHaMp and http://bit.ly/1n12TQY).
Quote==Generally speaking, the belief that one lives many lives, returning after death to life in another body, time, and place. This belief is an essential part of Hinduism. One accumulates karma, which are the actions of a person in life, which will influence the person's subsequent lives…..In Hinduism, one can return as an animal or insect (called 'transmigration'), but in Western reincarnation, one returns as a person.==From CANA document at http://bit.ly/1XiASRD
Reincarnation, a doctrine of Eastern belief systems, is totally opposed to biblical teachings, as is the concept of karma.
“For it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Penance, Forgiveness, and Karma
The consequences in karma are mechanical and ongoing; there is no forgiveness or way to erase them except, according to some teachings, in cases of a guru who claims to do so for you in this life or possibly by performing a ritual. Even then, while a temporary erasure has been done, karma continues and will continue in future lives.
Here is advice from a Hindu site on Prayaschitta, which is penance:
Quote==The doctrine of karma is complex, with many subtle distinctions and categories. But for the purpose of understanding penance, we may consider karma as two-fold: the meritorious or good, called punya or sukarma in Sanskrit; and the undesirable or bad, termed papa or kukarma….[….]…In the broadest sense, the entire system of reincarnation is an elaborate form of penance, for we are born with the body, family, circumstances and even longevity and propensity toward disease brought about by our past actions. Prayaschitta is, however, an act of limited aim, intended only to mitigate or avoid altogether the karmaphala, "fruit of action," of some action we have taken in this lifetime. Actions from our past lives are not considered within reach of ordinary prayaschitta. The karmas of past lives can only be assuaged or erased altogether by intense tapas or austerities under the guidance of a guru, or by the extraordinary grace of God. Manu Dharma Shastras 11.54 states, "Penances, therefore, must always be performed for the sake of purification, because those whose sins have not been expiated are born again with disgraceful marks."==From http://bit.ly/1Rd42Sr
Also, one must ask, what values or standards is karma based on?
Answer: The values found in Hindu teachings, which are diverse and complex. Hinduism is not one monolithic religion but rather a set of wide and multifarious beliefs depending on which particular texts, gurus, sects, schools of thought, and even the region of India they stem from. The need for a sinless sacrifice of another to pay the penalty for sin is absent in Hinduism because if there is a penalty, it is paid by each person through karma. The only release is moksha -- liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth – dependent on one’s actions in many lives.
The Meaning and Purpose of Sowing and Reaping in Galatians
What is the meaning and point of the Galatians verses about reaping what one sows?
The Expositors Greek New Testament comments on verse 8:
Quote== Every action produces an effect on the character of the actor corresponding as exactly to its motive as the fruit to the seed. If it springs from selfish desire, it stimulates the growth of evil lusts, and issues in a harvest of inward corruption. If, on the contrary, it be done in obedience to the spirit, it quickens spiritual growth, and issues eventually in a harvest of eternal life. The heart of man resembles a field in which he sows, by the mere exercise of his will, a future harvest of good or evil.==See this and other commentaries at http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
This passage in Galatians is written to Christians, and is part of an exhortation as we see in the next 2 verses:
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Verses 9 and 10
Also read the beginning of the sixth chapter to get the context. This has nothing to do with the popular notion of “what goes around comes around,” but rather that our deeds either are done for the flesh, that is, the fallen nature, and will end destructively, or they are done according to the power of the Holy Spirit, leading to results that have eternal value, in accordance with eternal life.
From the Pulpit commentary on this passage:
"That is, he that expends thought, time, effort, money, upon the furthering, in himself and in others, of the fruits of the Spirit, shall receive, from that Holy Spirit to whose guidance dwelling within him he resigns himself, that quickening of his whole being, body, soul, and spirit, for an everlasting existence in glory, which it is the proper work of that Divine Agent to effect." From http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
The contrast is between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, the flesh vs. the Holy Spirit being a common theme in Paul’s letters. “Flesh” here does not mean the body, as though the body is bad, nor is it about one’s spirit being good, since it’s about the Holy Spirit. Rather, this is about living by/pleasing the fallen nature, i.e., the sin nature, vs. living by the Holy Spirit. The results will be different depending on which way one chooses.
So Should Christians Use the Word Karma?
While it is certainly true that there are consequences for one’s actions and that often one does “sow what one reaps” in this life, equating karma with the concepts found in Galatians of sowing and reaping, or elsewhere in Scripture, is invalid, as has been shown.
Moreover, using the word karma may give others the idea that the Christian agrees with the Hindu concept of karma or somehow endorses it. There is no good reason for Christians to use this word except as a platform to contrast it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Karma and Christ
The differences between karma and Christ are deeper than any ocean or as distant as galaxies we don’t even know exist. In Hinduism, the way out of karma and reincarnation must be through one’s deeds – the various Yogas -- and realization of his true nature, which is allegedly divine, among other possible paths and teachings (see http://bit.ly/1Z3I0FZ to understand how complicated this all is). This realization only comes after many lifetimes and is dependent on one’s own actions to reach moksha, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
In contrast, God tells man that due to man’s separation from God due to sin, and man’s inability to bridge that gap by his own deeds, Jesus came once for all to offer Himself on the cross to pay the penalty for sins. Through faith in Jesus, knowing that His payment makes the way to God possible, one is forgiven of all sins and inherits eternal life.
Once for all:
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Hebrews 9:11, 12
Note here the similarity to the Galatians passage of exhortation to good works as a result of living in Christ:
"…..since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works." Hebrews 10:19-24
If one has eternal life through faith in Jesus, why use the word “karma?” Does karma offer “no condemnation?” No, it does not. Only Christ can do that through faith in His work on the cross:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4
Marcia Montenegro's web page, www.Christiananswers forthenewage.org, is filled with well thought out articles about the occult and the New Age. Marcia is my "go to" person for all things in these areas.
Eastern Roots of the New Age
The New Age: What Is It?
Worldviews in Contrast
Christian site, Karma2Grace
Hindu and Christian Concepts of Self, Karma2Grace
Contrast between Hindu and Christian Beliefs
Disclaimer: The beliefs about karma and reincarnation are complex, and differ in many ways in the New Age from Hinduism. I realize what is written above are simplified explanations and I do not claim to be giving an all-encompassing summary.
Photo credit: "Shiva" by Alice Popkorn, licensed under CC BY 2.0
As an apologist, I can think of no greater need today than for parents to learn to defend their faith. Today, parents are on the front lines as defenders and need to learn this because of the world in which their kids are growing up. Several years ago I began to structure my messages toward this group alerting them toward this vital need. Now, Natasha Crain of ChristianMomThoughts.com has provided a book that does the job. (If you are unfamiliar with Natasha Crain’s blog you should become familiar with it now. Ms. Crain has repeatedly hit “home runs” addressing issues that significantly affect the church.) Recently, I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, by Natasha Crain. I should mention that I have no pony in this race. I’m not an employee of the publishing company, nor am I going to gain anything from this review.
Natasha Crain provides a useful resource for parents they will use for many years. Although Ms. Crain does not hold a degree in apologetics, philosophy, or theology, she demonstrates what someone can do if they want to research a subject. For Ms. Crain, this became a quest when her blog came under attack by atheists who challenged the beliefs she had learned and practiced for most of her life. “Did Jesus ever really exist?” “Can you prove God exists?” “Is the Bible reliable to demonstrate its claims?” These and more questions drove Ms. Crain to read, study, then read and study more. Her book reveals she has mastered the subject matter and she gets high grades for not only learning, but also for communicating. This book is a terrific introduction worthy to be read and studied by anyone who wants an introduction to defending the faith. Parents will especially benefit from this book.
Ms. Crain covers five areas of subject matter: Conversations About God, Conversations About Truth and Worldviews, Conversations About Jesus, Conversations About the Bible, and Conversations About Science. Each part has eight chapters equaling the forty conversations. The subject matter of the book provides a comprehensive introductory study of important topics with which most Christians are unfamiliar. I particularly enjoyed her chapter on “textual criticism.” There she provided not only a definition but how textual criticism supports the Bible’s truth claims about Jesus. She aptly provided evidence that what the New Testament writers wrote then is what we now have. Here she also demonstrates how a “layman” can readily converse with skeptics when they’ve done their homework. She provides succinct explanations in each of the chapters arming the reader with strong responses.
Ms. Crain’s writing style is sharp and clear. There’s no fog here, no wondering what she meant by this or that. Apologetics can leave many who attempt to read it to wonder what they’ve read. Not so, here. She tackles some difficult topics (like textual criticism) and makes it simple to get your mind around. This book will not stump you, nor leave you wondering why you bought it. Instead, this book will inspire you with principal reasons for your faith, equip you to answer skeptics, and provide the resources to engage your children with reasons why Christianity is true.
I welcome this book to give to my children who now have their own children. They will need it to answer the questions their kids will ask when they encounter the arguments against their faith. In fact, as a grandparent I can recommend this to other grandparents who want to have conversations with their grandkids. Whether children have friends who believe differently or they encounter material on the internet, which they inevitably will do they need to know they can ask questions. Parents and grandparents are the ones to engage them in a safe place. Here, they will find the necessary answers in Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side.