22 July 2012

Eric Metaxas: “So who do we say is not fully human today?”

I just finished reading Eric Metaxas’ ebook, Jesus Hates Dead Religion: Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce, and the Power of Living Faith (2012-05-28: Thomas Nelson, Kindle Edition. Available through iTunes or Amazon.com). I highly recommend purchasing and reading this ebook. It is well written, humorous, and insightful. In this book, Metaxas records his experiences leading up to and giving the keynote speech at the Sixtieth Annual National Prayer Breakfast attended by President Obama and other important dignitaries. I enjoyed his sense of humor, which is found throughout the book, and I especially appreciated the insights he offered in his keynote address.

Some of these insights concern the characteristics of a dead religion. One such insight is:
“When he [Jesus] was tempted in the desert, who was the one throwing Bible verses at him? Satan. That is a perfect picture of dead religion. Using the words of God to do the opposite of what God does. It is grotesque, when you think about it. It is demonic” (Kindle Locations 547-549).

Excellent insight! The Bible is God’s Word of life (John 10:10), because on our own without Christ, we are already condemned (John 3:16-18).

Likewise, Metaxas noted,
“Now, of course, dead religion demonizes others… And apart from God’s intervention, that is what we do. So don’t think you won’t do that. You will do that. We are broken, fallen, human beings. Apart from God, that is what we do”  (Kindle Locations 647-649).
This is so true. Therefore, he continued,
“We need to know that apart from God, we would be on the other side of that divide, fighting for what we believe is right. We cannot demonize our enemies. Today if you believe abortion is wrong, you
must treat those on the other side with the love of Jesus.
“Today, if you have a biblical view of sexuality, you will be demonized by those on the other side, who will call you a bigot. Jesus commands us to love those who call us bigots. To show them the love of Jesus. If you want people to treat you with dignity, treat them with dignity.
“So finally, Jesus tells us that we must love our enemies. That, my friends, is the real difference between dead religion and a living faith in the God of the Scriptures, whether we can love our enemies” (Kindle Locations 657-663).

God help me to love those who demonize me. It is not natural to love this way (Romans 5: 7-8). I fail at this all the time. This is why I am encouraged by Metaxas’ words.

He went on to ask a critical question for our day,
“So who do we say is not fully human today? Who is expendable to us?” (Kindle Locations 615-616).

The answer one gives to this question often depends upon one’s political views and personal experiences. However, Metaxas did not retreat into a subjective understanding of truth. Indeed, he talked about William Wilberforce and his allies who fought the culture of their day, characterized by dead Christian religion, to end the slave trade and slavery throughout the British Empire. He said,
“Now how did they see what they saw? There is just one word that will answer that. It is Jesus. He opens our eyes to his ideas, which are different from our own, which are radical. Now personally I would say the same thing about the unborn, that apart from God, we cannot see that they are persons as well.” (Kindle Locations 653-656).

Are the unborn only a mass of cells? Empirically, human life is defined biologically, and the unborn do not initially qualify in a pregnancy. Are humans more than their physical bodies? How we answer this question depends on our views of existence.

Naturalism is one such view that limits all of life and existence to the physical realm. Such view sees the story of a Creator-Redeemer as magic and myth. Yet, for those of us who believe in the Prodigal God (see Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God), there is so much more to existence than the physical realm, and yet, the physical realm is not rejected.

Indeed, human life cannot be understood fully without understanding Jesus as He is: God, the Creator-Redeemer (John 1:1-4). Without Jesus, we find ourselves defining human life through the eyes of our own limited understanding. This is why the radical Christians of Wilberforce’s days could not stand idly by while Africans were physically tortured and treated as sub-human. Metaxas notes that adherents to dead religion opposed them. He notes,
“Wilberforce took these ideas—these foreign ideas from the Bible—and brought them into culture... Because he believed what the Bible said and because he obeyed what God told him to do, Wilberforce changed the world” (Kindle Locations 606-609).

I find it ironic that ideas from the Bible can be foreign to those who called themselves “Christian.”

Jesus Hates Dead Religion is a book that speaks to me so much because I am not a religious person naturally. I cannot stand religion for its own sake, such as religion for an emotional feeling or about obligation, all of which is dead religion. God speaks to this in Isaiah 44:13-17:

“The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’“
The Holy Bible English Standard Version (ESV) (Kindle Locations 28809-28816). Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). Kindle Edition.

We take the physical world and mold it to our use, often abusing it, and then claim it is the origin of our existence. This view is too limited, too subjective, and too indulgent. Such a god is too small! Only the eternal God can explain what it means to really live. All other ideas are idols of our own making to which we say, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

Through the eyes of Jesus we can see the forms slavery takes on in the 21st century. It doesn’t look like African slavery of Wilberforce’s day, or like Nazi slavery that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced. Yet, modern slavery has respectability like it did in those days.

So, I highly recommend reading this excellent ebook by Eric Metaxas!