Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Which Monster Are You?

The following post is pulled from the lectures Introduction to Worldviews and The Deadliest Monster, given by Jeff Baldwin at the conference last week.

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There are so many different religions today, that to be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us seems like a daunting task. We could go literally insane if we tried to be well-versed in the distinctions of every single major and minor religion under the sun. Of course, it's very good to be aware of some of these distinctives; I've found apologetics classes on Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons to be very helpful, for example. But realistically, we're just not going to be up on every distinctive of every organized (and unorganized) religion that exists. And that's ok.

The best defense is a good offense, so one excellent way to converse with non-Christians is to use the Four Deadly Questions to ask them about their beliefs. In addition, one of the best things we can do as Christians is know the distinctives of our faith. There are really four basic views of God, and it is helpful to categorize the major religions under these four headings:

Atheism - No God
Traditional Buddhism
Naturalism
Humanism
Marxism
Nihilism
Existentialism

(Jeff Baldwin argued that deisms actually fits into atheism, not monotheism, since the deist believes God is now inactive and has no power over men)

Monotheism - One God
Christianity
Judaism
Islam

Polytheism - Many Gods
Mormonism
Jehovah's Witnesses
Zoroastrianism

Pantheism - Everything is God
New Age
Hinduism
Transcendentalism

Right away we can see that Christianity is already pretty distinctive in that she claims there is only one God. We only share this category with Judaism (our "mother" religion, so to speak) and Islam, another offshoot of Judaism. A religion's distinctives are more than just a view of God, though. There are two questions whose answers form the foundation for any worldview: (1) What is the nature of God? and What is the nature of man? (Adrian wrote a good post on this subject a while back.) Christianity answers the two above questions differently than any other religion on the planet.

Jeff Baldwin used the example of two infamous monsters in fiction to explain Christianity's distinction in answering the second question. (I added Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to my already-lengthy to-read list after his lecture.) The two monsters Jeff Baldwin contrasted are Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein's monster. I haven't read either pertinent book, so I'm basing my knowledge of the stories off of Jeff Baldwin's lectures and the Wishbone versions I've seen :). Please correct me if I don't get the stories quite right.

The tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chronicles one scientist's attempt to separate his good side from his bad side, so he can indulge in his evil side (Mr. Hyde) for a time, then laying it aside to become good as Dr. Jekyll. The problem is that the scientist discovers that, while Mr. Hyde is wholly bad, he cannot fully lay aside his evil in the form of Dr. Jekyll because it is too all-encompassing. As the story progresses Mr. Hyde becomes more and more controlling, and the more Dr. Jekyll indulges his evil side, the worse it becomes not the better. The corrupted nature of the scientist grows more and more unmanageable, eventually consuming him.

The tale of Frankenstein chronicles another scientist and his attempt to create a monster from dead bodies. When first created, Frankenstein's monster is so innocent and good that he sees no need for government to restrain people. He begins as a benevolent monster that seeks to do good for people, but even with his acts of kindness, people continually recoil in his presence and abuse him because he is so frightening. By the end of the story he has been changed from a monster who once saw no need of government because he believed in the goodness of humankind, into a vengeful monster, going on a rampage and killing people. At the end of the story, when Frankenstein asks his monster what happened to him, and why he is now evil, the monster replies (paraphrasing): Am I thought to be the only criminal when all humankind has sinned against me?

The two stories give two very different depictions of the nature of man:

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
man is inherently sinful
the individual is responsible
man does nothing to save himself

Frankenstein
man is inherently good
society is responsible
man can save himself

So the question is, which monster are you? Or, what monster represents the human race? Christianity is distinct in that she claims that humans are inherently sinful, like the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have no hope of saving ourself, but rest solely in the mercies of God. All other religions view men as some form of Frankenstein's monster, if not completely good at birth, at least neutral or incorrupt enough to in some way help to effect their own salvation. A non-Christian says that ultimately man's problems are external, the fault of society. A Christian says that man's problems are internal, the result of a depraved nature. Even after our hearts are regenerated, a Christian's sanctification is still through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, not merely a work of man. The message of Christianity is the message of the massive gap between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man.

So, it seems that as a Christian, I should be a rather depressed being given my view of my own nature. I'm inherently sinful and have no help of saving myself from my worst enemy - me. Hmm, I feel all warm and fuzzy now. Of course, that is not the whole message of Christianity. Christianity tells the bad news of the nature of man, but she doesn't stop there. The good news is the nature of God, who is almighty and merciful. We cannot save ourselves, but our Creator can also become our Redeemer.

John 3:16 (ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And that is good news.

14 comments:

zan said...

I guess I would be Hyde.

I've read both books. Frankenstein had that whole "woe is me" deal about it and I found it very unsettling that the monster was not killed in the end.

It was also written by a woman too. I think she tried to make us feel sorry for him and I never did.

Ashley said...

I'm Cookie Monster.

(Sorry for a non-serious answer... I haven't actually read your post yet, I just saw the title and couldn't resist.)

Strawberry Monster would work, too.

John Dekker said...

I love the references to the two novels! I've read Dr J and Mr H, but not Frankenstein. (It's been on my list of books to read for quite a while now - I may have to bump it further up.)

I don't think we can say that Islam is an offshoot of Judaism - it's much more an offshoot of Christianity. A Christian heresy, if you like. As is Deism - there one does believe in God (a god?), but has the wrong view about him.

And I was also interested that you referred to Christianity by the feminine pronoun, Susan. I wouldn't do that myself - in fact, at times I agree with Peter Leithart that there's no such thing as Christianity.

There's certainly such a thing as the Church, however, and she's certainly feminine.

Anyway, good post.

Susan said...

You cold, heartless person, Zan! j/k ;) I don't like the "woe is me" approach either :).

You crack me up, Ashley. It was a rhetorical question, by the way ;). You gave us all a good laugh over here. Yes, I think Strawberry Monster fits you nicely :).

Hmm, interesting thoughts about Islam and Judaism, John. (BTW, feel free to disagree with me. I thrive on constructive criticism.) That was my distinction, not Jeff Baldwin's, and perhaps wasn't properly considered. Ultimately they both derived from Judaism (since Christianity came from Judaism), but perhaps you are right about Islam being an offshoot of Christianity. Do you have any links, etc. explaining this a bit better? And, of course, when we speak of Judaism, we must distinguish if we mean the organized religion of Judaism, which is works-oriented, or Judaism in its pure form, as followed by the Patriarchs before Christ. Christianity is derived from the latter, not the former.

I did hesitate when I typed "she" as a pronoun for Christianity, actually. "It" seemed to be so impersonal, and I actually chose the feminine because the church is considered feminine. *shrugs* What is Leithart's main premise in his book?

John Dekker said...

Oh, that Christianity is bad. And that it doesn't exist.

Marke Horne has an excellent Exposition of Chapter XXV of the WCF which explains this position.

Actually, I don't really know what Judaism is either, though this is a hot topic for discussion in New Testament Studies. (E.g. were the Pharisees practising Judaism? Was that a bad thing?)

As for Isalm being a Christian heresy, it was the classic medieval position. Not sure about websites, though.

Oh, and thanks for letting me disagree with you. :)

Ashley said...

Just imagine me furry and red, and saying "strawberry, strawberry, strawberry!" in a deep monster-y voice.

Regarding your post (which I did read, by the way), it reminded me of "Lord of the Flies". I remember talking to a friend when we were reading that book for school, and she told me that she didn't like it because the premise was that man is inherently evil, and she disagreed with that concept. I had to really think about that - are we basically good and sometimes need someone to help us out of our mistakes, or basically bad and in need of a Savior? The book really captures man's sinful nature through the form "innocent" children - even without society they resort to a wicked lifestyle. I just remember that was the first time I really thought about the "depravity of man" (gotta imagine RC Sproul's deep voice saying that line).

Susan said...

*whimper* I just lost my comment. Yes, yes, I know. Draft it in Microsoft Word. You'd think I'd have learned by now. Ah well.

The Marke Horne link is interesting, John. I think it's partially just a matter of semantics. I use the term "Christianity" because it is convenient and generally understood by my "audience" (mainly professing Christians). I also realize the danger in it, as it can paint the Christian faith as an institution and a belief system, rather than something that completely transforms a person through God's grace.

Actually, I don't really know what Judaism is either, though this is a hot topic for discussion in New Testament Studies.

Hmm. I'm sensing an allusion to the New Perspectives on Paul, et al. Am I right? I'm definitely not in agreement with NPP/FV/AA. The organized religion of Judaism, as practiced today and as generally practiced at the time of Christ is a works-oriented religion that distorts the Patriarchal faith. I would say yes, the Pharisees were practicing Judaism as it is generally classified, but they were not truly following God by faith. They were trusting in their works for salvation, and saw the law as soap to wash away their sin, rather than a mirror to show them their sin. And yes, that's a bad thing. . .

Ashley, you already have the hairy red part ;-D. I'm having a hard time imagining the deep monster-y voice, though. . . or R.C. Sproul's voice coming from you either, for that matter ;). Hehe.

I've never read Lord of the Flies. I actually have a blog post on the "innocence" of children drafted, but we'll see if it ever comes to press ;).

John Dekker said...

Hmm. I'm sensing an allusion to the New Perspectives on Paul, et al. Am I right? I'm definitely not in agreement with NPP/FV/AA.

Yes, I was thinking of NPP. Though I have no idea what it has to do with FV or AA.

So, my follow-up questions would be: Did Simeon practise Judaism? Did John the Baptist practise Judaism? Did Jesus practise Judaism?

Of course, you already covered yourself by saying "as generally practiced at the time of Christ." ;)

But the problem with the Pharisees was not their doctrine, but their slef-righteousness, hypocrisy, and refusal to accept Messiah.

Susan said...

Okay, you're right that FV and AA aren't really pertinent to this conversation. NPP, FV, and AA have overlapping beliefs, so I just rattled them all off together. I'm the queen of tangents (the derivative and non-derivative types). Sorry. *sheepish look* It is related in a distant way to pertinent issues, but not directly.

Like I said before, we haven't really succinctly defined Judaism, so it's rather difficult for me to answer your questions. Both Simeon and John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit, so they were not merely following a works-oriented religion (ref. Luke 2:25 and Luke 1:15, respectively). They were true believers that are today in heaven. Did they follow the old system of Moses? Yes, though not perfectly. Jesus followed the Mosaic system and kept the whole law perfectly. Is that practicing Judaism? I don't know, because we haven't defined it.

I am sort of in agreement with you about the Pharisees. Your three problems listed were certainly true of the Pharisees. But don't you think these problems arose out of their doctrine? The Pharisees took the law of Moses and embelished it with the tradition of the elders and the fencing of the law. Now, depending on what you accept as a definition for doctrine, their doctrine could therefore be erroneous. The Pharisees took the system set down by God through Moses and altered it to create their own system. I'd consider that to be a new doctrine that was erroneous.

Mrs Blythe said...

Forgive these 2 comments, they are long and will most probably include things you already know. However, indulge me a moment.

Islam vs Christianity and Judaism: Islam certainly mentions characters mentioned in the Old and New Testaments and yet rejects most of the stories and beliefs as told in the Bible. Biblical scriptures are mentioned in the Qur’an – the Hebrew Torah, Psalms of David and the Gospels and they are ‘accepted’ as being from God and yet then the Qur’an apparently (I haven’t read it so this is second hand) contradicts most of these scriptures – for example the crucifixion of Jesus is denied (one of the main tenets of the Gospel of Jesus Christ). Islam also rejects Isaac as the child promised by God to Abraham and Sarah, instead it says that Ishmael the child of Hagar is the child promised by God. Islam additionally rejects the Trinity. Muhammed travelled a great deal in his business. On his travels he observed and learned about Judaism, Christianity and local Pagan beliefs. He then spent time searching for God after marriage and believed he had been visited by the Angel Gabriel with wisdom from God. He believed that God had given him the task of converting his countrymen from polytheistic belief to monotheistic beliefs. He initially met with a great deal of opposition, particularly from the Jews, which disappointed him. Islam is the youngest of the great world religions.

Mrs Blythe said...

Regarding the whole Pharisees thing. I realise I have a simplified view, however, Judaism as a ‘religion’ is defined by the Torah (The five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). This is then supported by the prophetic works and Psalms, etc. Jesus was the fulfillment of the scriptures. The embodiment of the Torah. The pharisaical view had become far from what God had intended; that is that the law would show man how far they were from God’s perfection and how much they needed God’s grace and mercy. The Pharisees had become self-righteous in their adherence to the letter of the law and had created a burden for the people of Israel. Thus driving people away from God instead of showing them the true grace and mercy of their Father in Heaven. Self righteousness shows a person does not need God, however, acknowledgement of the veil between God and man (sin) and the need for Christ’s act of reconciliation between God and Man was necessary. God the only perfect being had to take on the sinful flesh of man and cast it into Hell where it belongs. Thus freedom from slavery to sin and the law. Every word of the Old Testament leads us to Christ and the need for a scapegoat if you like, or a sacrificial lamb, to appease God’s need for justice and to bring his created mankind back into Heaven. The Pharisees followed true Judaism yet with the strength and wisdom of man, Jesus followed true Judaism but with the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit (which true Christians now have within us). Judaism still seeks the Messiah, yet he is already here.

The term ‘Christians’ was first coined in Acts.

Phew! I really enjoyed your original post and loved reading these comments! Now I am going to dumb down and watch Pop Idol.lol.

Susan said...

Mrs. Blythe,

Thank you for your two insightful comments! No need to apologize, certainly :).

Very interesting history of Islam. It sounds like it's derived from both Christianity and Judaism. I didn't realize it was related to the NT much, but did know the OT connection. The distinction with Isaac and Ishmael was very familiar to me, since it is such a major part of Islam.

When you say Judaism is defined by the Torah, do you mean that is the generally accepted definition? I think Judaism in its pure sense was defined by the Torah, although I believe that OT people of God were saved in the same way NT believers are saved - through faith - so we must be careful to not speak of OT pure Judaism as merely something defined by a manual, just as Christianity is more than just a manual for life. Also, when modern people speak of Judaism, they usually mean Judaism in its current (corrupt) form. It's all so confusing!! :)

I agree that Jesus fulfilled the OT scriptures, and kept them perfectly. I don't believe that he fulfilled the whole OT law in the sense that it has all passed away, (and to clarify, I'm not a theonomist). The moral law is still very much alive and active, to show us our need of a Savior and to guide us in how to live.

I really liked your summary of the Pharisees, Mrs. Blythe. Very well put :). Also excellent point about the OT leading us to Christ. The entire OT is about Christ! I recently heard: The OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed. One of the speakers at the conference explained several "difficult" OT passages by using a redemptive-historical perspective, and it really helped me to understand some things better!

Mrs Blythe said...

Hi Susan. (long comment alert!! :o)

When I say Jesus fulfilled the law I meant He fulfilled the need for the physical law. The law is now circumcised on our hearts through Jesus, as opposed to being a written set of laws as an outward sign (like physical circumcision). We live through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sins.

You quoted: "The OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed". I love that. Going to remember that for future conversations on this subject! Lol.

It is hard to define Judaism. I was merely defining the basic 'religion' of Judaism. The basis for their life-style and worship (if they are of the orthodox persuasion). Judaism without Jesus is a dead-end, like you say it is corrupt. I think what God intended to show through the laws is that flesh cannot attain perfection, however hard it tries. Then, realizing this, Israel should have turned back to God, laid down their fleshly lives and lived by faith. But of course they kept turning to Egypt (metaphorically) and wouldn't return to God. "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15 (NIV). I love Isaiah 30, it’s a real indictment of man’s natural instinct to try to solve his problems by turning to the world for help.

As for theonomy. Oh my, I am not a theonomist either. Why return to the chains that Jesus released us from? It’s like crucifying Jesus all over again. Man cannot attain Heaven through the law, he can only attain Heaven through faith in God. The law simply reveals that need for God’s grace and shows His unattainable perfection. Jesus opened that door to any who knock, after that ‘ “Everything is permissible”, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 10:23). Which is why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth and show us that which is not beneficial. I mean you can tell a non-believer that sex before marriage (for example) is not beneficial until you are blue in the face, but it has no power. Now if the Holy Spirit speaks to someone about sex before marriage - Hallelujah. Have you ever asked God to show you the things that are wrong in your life? I bet you have, most Christians do. I have and it’s most uncomfortable. But such freedom, don’t you agree. Blessings.

I love reading your posts Susan. It really gives me something to think about, whether it is an educational post or musings on faith and God. Thanks. :o)

Susan said...

Mrs. Blythe,

I knew you weren't theonomic :) ; I was just clarifying that I did not hold that position, since my position can be deemed similar. I do understand the theonomic viewpoint, to an extent, but think it focuses too much on works over grace.

I think I see the law a little differently from you, since I don't think we merely live through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The law is still profitable, though we are not under the penalty of the law. And the Holy Spirit has a role as well. Hmmm. I could write up exactly my thoughts on the issue, or I could do a typically Presbyterian thing, and just refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter I, paragraph VI), since it accurately summarizes my views on the law :).

As always, I enjoyed what you wrote. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment :).