True Christian

Julie writes:
I just have two things to say about these arguments about "true Christians." I realized a long time ago that there's no way to define it. No one who claims to be a true Christian is really a true Christian, and yet everyone who claims to be one is one.

ED: Has anyone ever met a single believer who admitted right up front that they were a "false Christian" or a "false Muslim?" The term "true Christian" is merely another way for someone to claim that their "beliefs and arguments" are "truer" and superior to those of everyone else's.


Tim even admits that not only are some Christians "true" and others "false," but nobody, including Christians, are perfect, something we can all agree on. But let's go one step further. Maybe even Jesus wasn't perfect? Even Jesus is depicted as angry, "he looked at them with anger" and called people names like "serpents" and "whitewashed tombs" and "fool," and overturned tables. (What did a table laden with heavy coins weigh back then? They had heavy wood back then, not the lighter stuff today, not card tables.) And he used a knotted cord to clear the temple, and cursed pigs by flinging demons into them and drowning them, and cursing a fig tree, and told that horrendous parable about the servant/slave who knew his master's will but did not do it, and who was "beaten with many stripes." A nice verse used by slave owners for centuries. Jesus took slavery for granted, even a slave being "beaten with many stripes," but just looking at a women with lust in your heart was a horrendous "sin." Or see, Matthew 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" Talk about forgiving your enemies. I can't really blame Jesus though, because he was a man of his time, with similar apocalyptic hopes and fears. And neither can we be sure he said everything the Gospels say he did.


Even with an inspired book, and God leading Christians via prayer and via living inside them, Christians remain unable to sort out their theological differences, not then, not now. There were schisms between Christians even while they were being persecuted by the Romans. Even after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity and enforced it by law, the entire Western and Eastern branches of the Christian church excommunicated each other around 1100 AD. You can go to any large open Christian forum on the web today (it must be a forum that is not heavily moderated so as to exclude denominational differences), and you can see Christians disagreeing among themselves, as well as disagreeing with devout Bible believers of various Christian-like sects. The Arian and Athanasian controversy is still alive and well. The Unitarians have websites and their own arguments as well as other non-Trinitarian Bible-believing groups that love Jesus, but don't believe he was equal to God. The universalist controversy first elucidated by Origin in the 3rd century is also alive and well on the web. In fact Thomas Talbott just had a debate book published on the universalism question in which he debates several other evangelical theologians.
Tom's website:
There is also a major Catholic theologian "Uls von something" that I read about in FIRST THINGS online, who has also reopened the universalism debate in the Catholic church. "Openness" theologians in the Protestant church have reopened the Calvinism/Arminianism debate in a large way. Full Preterists, partial preterists, and futurists of various sorts, all continue to debate the end times passages. Geocentrist Christians, young-earthers, old-earthers, theistic evolutionists continue to debate Genesis. Such questions and many others have not been resolved in nearly two thousand years, but such questions appear to be spreading again. I also met a "Jamesian, Pelagian, Non-Nicaean, Celtic Christian" who recently contacted me. He says he "was raised on the buckle of the Bible Belt in the Baptist and Methodist Churches. I was a Christian fundamentalist."


I also know former converts who moved from one tradition to another within the Nicean creedal tradition, i.e., Protestant ministers who became Catholics, former Catholics and Protestants who became Orthodox. But they take their conversions quite seriously and explain why their former beliefs were wrong. Former Protestants, like Dave Armstrong, explain Protestantism's errors. Even the smallest differences can cause religious division, like adult or infant baptism. Hair length on men? Contemporary Christian music or ye old hymns? Or the Mennonites that divided from one another over the question of whether or not to allow rubber tires on tractors. Early Puritans also divided with one another over relatively minor matters.


Can anyone or anything keep such age old theological differences from continuing to assert themselves, and multiplying? The Encyclopedia of Christianity by Oxford recently raised the number of Christian denominations and missionary organizations from about 20 thousand to about 40 thousand from its first edition to its second.


In the 1980s Zondervan and Baker began publishing a series of Evangelical Protestant debate books, the viewpoints series.


Books by InterVarsity Press:


Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialog
Four Views on Divine sovereignty and Human Freedom
Four Christian Views of Economics
Four Theologians Debate the Major Millennial Views
Women in Ministry: Four Views
Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views
Theologians and Philosophers Examine Four Approaches to War


Books by Zondervan Press, part of their Counterpoints Series:


Two Views on Women in Ministry
Three Views on the Rapture
Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
Three Views on Creation and Evolution
Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: Four Views
Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide
Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World
Four Views on the Book of Revelation
Four Views on Eternal Security
Four Views on Hell
Five Views of Law and Gospel
Five Views on Sanctification
Five Views on Apologetics


The Society of Christian Philosophers has also published a debate book:
Contemporary Debate in the Philosophy of Religion (Section III. features debates between Christian/theistic philosophers on questions such as "Can Only One Religion Be True?" "Does God Take Risks in Governing the World?" "Does God Respond to Petitionary Prayer?" "Is Eternal Damnation Compatible with the Christian Concept of God?" "Is Morality Based on God's Commands?" "Should a Christian Be a Mind-Body Dualist?" Concerning such questions, none of the Christian/theistic philosophers were convinced by the others' arguments.)


I could also supply articles, book reviews, from moderate/liberal Christians who take conservatives like Wright to task for the "physical resurrection" view that Wright defends in his book on the resurrection. Conservatives, moderates and liberals disagree with one another's views within major denominations. But their disagreements are kept out of the major media which seems happy so long as they can find an atheist to disagree with a fundamentalist on TV, as if the only two alternatives were absolute fundamentalism and Biblical inerrancy, or absolute atheism. Or as I like to say, people who can only think in black and white are not using their grey matter.


Julie writes:
Timmy maintains that Hitler wasn't a true Christian, but Timmy promotes crap about homosexuals in the same way Hitler used to promote crap about Jews. He's sent me e-mails telling me how they're more likely to behave in all kinds of untoward behavior. And to Timmy, their homosexuality alone condemns them, but he emboiders his arguments about child abuse, alcohol abuse, inordinate numbers of sexual partners, etc.


ED: Well, I read that a statistical report showed that the number of child molesters was not any higher, percentage-wise, among homosexuals than it was among heterosexuals. And of course, gay and straight ministers with access to children are among the molesters.


On the other hand there are also gay Christians in committed relationships.


Julie: The other thing that all these e-mails have reminded me of that I think is worth passing on is a quote by Steven Weiberg. He said, "Good people will do good things. Evil people will do evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."


ED: C. S. Lewis said the same thing. He said that if Christianity didn't make a man better, then it could turn a man who usually acted like an ignorant animal, into something even worse, a devil.


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