Designer Religion

“One of the mistakes human beings make is believing that there is only one way to live…and that we don’t accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world. That there are millions of ways to be a human being and many paths to what you call God.”

The above comment comes Oprah Winfrey who was commenting on her television program about the claim of many Christians that Jesus is the only way to God.

If you watch the video above, please know that I’m not interested in exploring the propriety of the public discussion that ensues or the spiritual beliefs of Oprah. But I would like to explore how unfashionable it has become to claim allegiance to an exclusive God (or god?).

Is this “belief” informed or misguided?

Please join me!

TODAY’S READING

Judges 17:1-18:31
John 3:1-21
Psalm 104:1-23
Proverbs 14:20-21

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Judges 17:1-18:31. My comments about chapter 18 are in The Word Made Flesh…

In chapter 18, we read about the Danites, who still hadn’t found a permanent home for their tribe (see Judges 1:34). Similar to other people whom we’ve studied in recent posts, the Danites assumed that stealing Micah’s priest and idol would give them good luck.

John 3:1-21. The story of Nicodemus tells us that not every Pharisee opposed Jesus. Although a learned man, Nicodemus demonstrated the humility that allowed him to hear Jesus’ message—but he approached Jesus at night to avoid being seen by his colleagues.

In verse 5, Jesus’ words may seem a little confusing: “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” The New Bible Commentary provides a brief explanation:

[Old Testament] usage would infuse water and spirit with the meaning that God would act for the cleansing of his people (see e.g. Ezekiel. 36:25–27). In this case, Nicodemus was being told that some spiritual experience of regeneration was needed for a proper appreciation of the kingdom of God.

Throughout our reading in John 3, Jesus talks about being born again. Being born again means starting over. Like spiritual genetics, we grow into a resemblance of whoever gives us birth.

Verse 17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” What I like in this verse is the fact that Jesus didn’t come into the world to create a dividing line that determines who gets in and who doesn’t. He came into the world to save it.

Psalm 104:1-23. The Chris Tomlin song “How Great Is Our God,” is based on this psalm.

This is a powerful psalm, the kind that can be prayed to God. The New Bible Commentary points out the correlation between Psalm 104 and Genesis 1:

This psalm turns creation truth into song, environmental theory into wonder and praise. The sequence of the psalm accords with Genesis 1 and we can imagine a poet meditating on that great statement of the Creator and his work and giving free play to his imagination.

There is a broad structural parallel between the two passages. The psalm begins with a prologue, a summons to personal praise and adoration (1) and ends with an epilogue of adoration and personal praise (31–35). In between, the body of the psalm follows Genesis 1. With 2 cf. Genesis 1:3–5; with 3–4, Genesis 1:6–8; with 5–13, Genesis 1:9–10; with 14–18, Genesis 1:11–13; with 19–24, Genesis 1:14–19; with 25–26, Genesis 1:20–28; with 27–30, Genesis 1:29–31.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Judges 17 is truly a disturbing story. A man named Micah steals silver from his mother, confesses and returns it to her, she then rejoices (blessing the God of Israel!) and uses it to fashion an idol (which was forbidden by the same God in whom she rejoiced). Then Micah hires a Levite to be his personal priest, assuming the God of Israel would bless him for having a Levite priest who could officiate over the worship of idol.

The most telling verse in this chapter: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (verse 6 italics added).

This behavior shouldn’t seem unfamiliar, because it resembles common religious practice today. In the interest of being fashionable and politically correct, many people fuse different beliefs into a designer belief system. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like, and readily borrow from other religions—or we make up something completely different.

Jesus’ words in our reading from John come into play here: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). People who haven’t been born again are unable to comprehend the kingdom of God. People who haven’t been born again can’t understand God’s ways—so we should resist the pressure to shape our beliefs according to the opinions of those people. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Yet numerous Christian friends have told me, “I can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell.” I don’t want to get off into a tangent about hell, but that sounds like we’re fashioning God into our own image.

What forms and informs your beliefs?

  • Your spiritual heritage?
  • The opinions of the media
  • A painful experience?

While I must respect the opinions and experiences of people with whom I have a disagreement, I still must ask by what authority do they ascertain their beliefs?

To greater and lesser degrees, all of us resemble Micah and Oprah, and no one can claim to own a corner on truth. But if we pull out the stakes in our belief that only one authority exists that points the only way to God, we may quickly begin resembling Micah.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Reading over John 3:16, what word or phrase speaks to you most? Why?
  3. What does Psalm 104:1-23 tell you about God?
  4. What forms and informs your beliefs about God?

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www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Designer Religion

  1. Mike Mullin

    Hey, Mike: Is this a can of worms you have opened? I can’t believe no one has responded. Josh McDowell says that in our society the only absolute is that there is no absolute. So Christians get all this criticism for their narrowness in believing that Jesus is the only way to God since he IS God. For a Christian if another religion does not lead to Jesus then it is untrue.
    So look at it another way. What world religion doesn’t believe it is exclusively right? Is there such a world religion that thinks it is only as correct, or somewhat as correct as all the others?

    Mike

  2. Mike, sorry for not responding sooner, but I was out of town for a study/rest break. Regarding your comments, a religion that believes everyone is right stands for nothing.

    It seems to me that we all live with absolutes–but some people in our society live in denial regarding their absolutes. “Tolerance” is as much of an absolute as “intolerance.” People of “tolerance” can live amicably with other “tolerant” people, but stick them in a room with people who admit their “intolerance”, and their true colors come out.

    Hope all is well.

    Mike Klassen

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