Saturday, January 26, 2013

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Salvation. If you’re a Christian, that’s probably an important topic to you. Sadly, this crucial concept has been politicized and compartmentalized to an absurd degree. Just talking about going to Heaven can bring about bitter debate. Ask any theologian and he’ll tell you that there’s basically two ways of looking at salvation, Calvinism and Arminianism. What are these viewpoints, and which one’s right? I’m a new Christian, not even a year old in my faith, but I thought I should take a heartfelt look at it.

First on the table is Calvinism. Originally argued by John Calvin, Calvinism has been unfairly maligned. Some Christians see it as diminishing free will and God’s love. While I am sympathetic to their criticisms, I think there’s a lot of good doctrine. John Calvin was obsessed with the sovereignty of God. This is certainly important. Without sovereignty, God is not in control. Think about it, does man save man? Of course not. We are broken in sin, and our works are like dirty rags. Calvinism, put bluntly, states that some people are elected for Heaven, and some are predestined to Hell. There is no free will.

Calvinism also gives us eternal security. The phrase meaning “Once saved always saved” in the common sphere of Christian thought. The justification of which is evidenced by simply asking the rhetorical question “How much sin does it take for God to stop loving me?” Clearly, God will not let us go.

Still, the weaknesses of Calvinism are there. If you look at the most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, it says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Less known verses like 1st Timothy 2:4 tell us that God “Wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” How can someone be automatically doomed to Hell in light of just these two verses? Did Jesus die for all of us, or just a few? Which is more amazing? So, is Calvinism wrong then? Not quite. I’ll explain later.

The other option is Arminianism. First articulated by Jacobus Arminius, Arminianism focuses heavily on free will. It looks at Jesus’ crucifixion and correctly understands that God’s most central attribute is love. He loves us lavishly. It wouldn’t make sense for God to send his only son for just a handful of his favorite folks. The Gospel’s overriding theme is hope. Hope in something better. The Arminian knows that there is nothing hopeful for someone being predestined to Hell. Everyone has the same chance, if not, then it’s simply determinism.

Still, Arminianism is not perfect. The belief among most Arminians is that grace can be resisted, that the Holy Spirit can be stopped by choice. Is this biblical though? Verses like Romans 9:16 say “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Clearly, God’s saving power is overwhelming. This is actually good news for us. If God is not sovereign, then he is not all-powerful. If he’s not all-powerful, then he is weak. If he’s weak, then how can he save us from sin? So, is Arminianism wrong as well? I don’t think so. I’ll elaborate.

Look at this one verse from John 6:37 “All that the father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s the answer, right there. Of course, the answer is shrouded in gray. The solution is that there’s a complimentary fusion of the two models. How does this work? I don’t know. Similarly, I know about the Trinity, but I can’t explain it. It’s just truth. God alone saves, but there is free will. God is all-powerful, but he is also loving.

The bottom line is that we don’t know everything about God. We know that Jesus is our savior, but really, beyond that we’re guessing. We can make good guesses, but they are still rooted in human interpretation. Let’s not put God in a box. Let’s just worship him.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What is Christianity?

What is Christianity? Is it just a set of rules? Is it just a moral code? Is it just a ticket to get out of going to Hell? Maybe we should just store up a bunch of Bible verses and apologetics in our brain and tell everyone that they’re bad people… oh, don’t forget to say that homosexuality is wrong and to vote Republican. Maybe we should just go to church and try to screw the pretty redhead sitting next to us by impressing her with our piousness. Is that all Christianity is? If so, then count me out. If so, then I hate it entirely as an evil lie and a hiding hole for fake people.

Christianity is on the decline. More accurately, it’s dying out. Should we even care?  Why should I give a damn about the religion of some ignorant, bronze aged goat-herders? What great Christian utopia has there been? With such great Christian role models like the grand torturer of the Spanish Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, and the scripture quoting slave owners of the American south, who needs any more evidence that Christianity is a fraud? Well, let’s have more evidence just for the sake of it. Where is God when loved ones die of cancer? Where is God when you lose everything? More personally, where was God when I tried to blow my brains out with a Beretta 9mm on September 13, 2010?

I’ve tried to be a good Christian, but I keep failing. I drink, curse, look at pornography, and hate. God, do I hate. I hate almost everyone. I hate people for not helping me when I needed it. I don’t hear God. I doubt all the time. What worth is the Bible other than as a source of kindling on a cold day?
What is Christianity? Christianity is the only thing I have left. Jesus Christ, son of God, is the only thing I have left. When you are left broken, absolutely broken, then you can tell me how stupid Christianity is. I don’t believe in anything, but I believe it when I hear that God loved me so much that he sent his only son to be beaten to a bloody pulp, have nails forcibly driven into his flesh, and to slowly die of asphyxiation on a cross. How violent! How appalling to my senses! This is what I said as an atheist idiot. Christianity is supposed to shock you, to slap you awake.

Jesus died to save me. He saw that we were completely corrupt, but he loved us anyway. His love burned like fire and was blood red. God is love. In fact, that's the only thing God is. Everything else flows from that truth. We cannot escape our deserved fate without him. Everything we do is as worthless as an outhouse without a hole. You have a choice. Everyone has free will. You can choose to have faith in Jesus, or you can choose to spiritually die.

Everyone will inevitably let you down. You will hurt eventually. When this happens, do you have something firm to cling to? If you don’t have Jesus, then you don’t. Even with Jesus, you will scream, you will cry, you will beg for it to end. The difference is that Jesus will not move. His foundation of love will stand. He will not abandon us, for he died and rose again for us.

While I have never physically heard God speak, I feel him. I know there must be something more than this. Don’t give in to darkness. Don’t hurt alone for a second more. Accept Jesus as your lord and savior. He's the only hope our world has ever known.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top Ten Classic Rock Bands (part 2 of 2)

5. Jethro Tull

The most underrated band of all time. Jethro Tull deserves way more respect than it gets. I can only imagine it’s because ignorant people think that Ian Anderson’s flute is “lame.” Well, it’s their loss. Jethro Tull went places rock just didn’t go at the time. From talking about a struggling homeless man, to a song questioning how we view God, they often didn’t get the airplay they deserved because of their chutzpah. They were so experimental, that they even wrote a 44 minute song, Thick as a Brick. Even their most well-known song, Aqualung, people don’t truly understand. You see, people get hung up on the fact that the lyrics say “Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.” Folks just conclude that Aqualung is a pedophile. Well, they’re wrong. That line is from someone who does not know the destitute Aqualung, and unjustly judges him. A later line, from a friend who knows Aqualung’s heart, says “Aqualung, my friend, don’t start away uneasy. You poor old sod, you see, it’s only me.” That last bit is actually my favorite line by them.

4. U2

The onset of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s brought rock; it also brought the decline of traditional Americanized Christianity. As a follower of Jesus, I actually view this as a good thing. No longer did everyone just “go to church” because of culture, now the wheat was separated from the chaff. U2 was the first band to actually speak to a nation that was done with puffed up religious righteousness. U2’s lyrics are profound. Songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and Where the Streets Have No Name are abounding in Christian language and symbols. It’s also worth noting that U2 and Bono have done tremendous work in helping the world’s poor. My favorite line by them? “The real battle yet begun. To claim the victory Jesus won.”

3. The Beatles

Ah, The Beatles. If you like rock, chances are you have The Beatles to thank. Formed all the way back in 1960, they hit the world by firestorm. They had the capability to make gibberish into catchy songs. Little melodies like Love Me Do and I Want to Hold Your Hand formed the basis for their style. You just have to smile when you hear one of their feel good songs come on. The Beatles even have a few mature songs as well, with Let It Be and A Day in the Life being their deepest. My favorite line by them? “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright.”  

2. The Rolling Stones

While The Beatles may have started the British Invasion, for my money, The Rolling Stones were the most memorable. Having a harder sound than their contemporaries, The Stones shocked the old white hierarchy, while delighting everyone else. Something about their music just seemed subversive, which is awesome. Songs like Gimme Shelter and Paint It Black just sound cool, and are fun to listen to. They don’t really have a message, but quite honestly, who cares? It sounds good. A few of their songs are quite lyrically powerful, however, with Ruby Tuesday telling the story of a girl’s free spirit. My favorite line by them? “There’s no time to lose, I heard her say. Catch your dreams before they slip away.”

1. The Doors

The Doors are modern day epic poetry. Jim Morrison’s death is just tragic, especially at the young age of 27. Morrison, the writer and singer of the band, composed songs so brilliant that I really believe he will be remembered as a modern day Mozart. From songs as simple as finding the next whiskey bar in Alabama Song to deep reflections on the peculiarity of people you don’t know in People Are Strange, you really can’t go wrong with anything by The Doors. My favorite song of all time, The End, is just perfect. It’s really the struggle and mystery of life in one song. The lyrics detail the madness and lust that is everyday existence in a crazy world. My favorite line by them? “Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, and all the children are insane.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top Ten Classic Rock Bands (part 1 of 2)

10. Electric Light Orchestra

What a happy band! Electric Light Orchestra is the culmination of a desire to create a fusion of modern electronica and classical symphonies. The results are honestly a better fit than peanut butter and jelly. The band’s predominant style is pop, but this is seriously the best pop out there. They make Journey look like bottom feeding hacks. From Mr. Blue Sky to Don’t Bring Me Down, ELO keeps you looking up. My favorite line by them? “Hey there Mr. Blue, we're so pleased to be with you. Look around see what you do, everybody smiles at you.”

9. Genesis

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t particularly care for Peter Gabriel. I suppose hipster snobs will dislike that. Whatever. Genesis was at its best when Phil Collins was in the lead. Genesis has always had the capability of surprising you. In one moment they’re poppy and happy like the song Invisible Touch, or they’re talking about finding comfort in the arms of a prostitute in Mama. Genesis is progressive rock at its best. My favorite line by them? “You keep telling me I’ve got everything, you say I’ve got everything I want. You keep telling me you’re gonna help me, you’re gonna help me, but you don’t.”

8. Creedence Clearwater Revival

It’s hard to believe that a bunch of city boys from San Francisco mastered the genre of Southern rock. From singing of bayous and catfish, CCR certainly knew how to evoke pastoral imagery. It’s so folksy and chill that you can’t help but nod your head and tap your foot. It’s also perfect drinking music. To me, CCR is a more palatable version of Lynyrd Skynyrd. My favorite song by them, Down on the Corner, perfectly captures a picture of loving people in a small town. Really, their songs are what America should ideally be like. My favorite line by them? “You don’t need a penny just to hang around, but if you’ve got a nickel, won’t you lay your money down?” 

7. Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper is cool. Seriously, the guy was the original “bad boy” of rock in an era where radio stations forced you to be either clean cut or out on your ass in the street. If all you know by him is School’s Out, trust me, he has a lot more to offer than just that. From No More Mr. Nice Guy to Poison, Alice Cooper just had attitude. His music videos for MTV were really ahead of their time too, with Poison deserving special notice for its sexuality. Alice Cooper is easily my pick for best hard rock. My favorite line by him?  “Welcome to my nightmare, I think you're gonna like it."

6. Queen

Queen is just bursting with energy. It should also be noted that Freddie Mercury was the coolest gay guy that ever lived. Seriously, who are we left with now? Elton John? Anyway, Freddie Mercury was known for his ridiculously great vocal range. He could even do operatic songs as evidenced by Bohemian Rhapsody. From more obscure songs such as The Invisible Man, to crowd pleasers like Another One Bites the Dust, Queen is replete with good material. My favorite line by them?  “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.”

Monday, January 7, 2013


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” In these simple but profound words, Martin Luther King spoke truth to a people in bondage. King understood that as a Christian man, he could not use hate, or violence, to destroy segregation. He refused to fight the racists with his fists. He did something braver; he fought them with civil disobedience. When the bigots came to unjustly throw him in Birmingham’s prison, King stood firm. While King was eventually killed, his beliefs and actions inspired civil rights for millions of black men and women.

Perhaps King was wrong. Perhaps killing the racist was morally correct. Maybe. I can certainly sympathize. If some mockery of a police officer let the dogs loose on me as he sprayed me with a high powered hose, I would want to get even. Worse still, if some ignorant rednecks thought it would be fun to lynch my son to an oak tree, I would want to kill every stupid hillbilly in that town. Would it be right though? Through a non-Christian prism, absolutely. However, looking at the question while believing in the Bible, it’s simply wrong.

Put bluntly, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, you cannot accept killing as acceptable. It’s a fact of theology so basic that it should be put in with the existence of Heaven and Hell. Jesus preached against not only killing, but the act of violence itself. “Blessed are the peacemakers” he says, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” he says. Jesus goes even deeper by commanding his followers to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Finally, the most descriptive Gospel verse on nonviolence is “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

As Christians, we are to love our enemies and not revert to our barbaric evolutionary ancestry of being red in tooth and claw. It takes a better man to not exact revenge. I know this is difficult. We have this comfort, however, that God himself died on the cross in our place. God loved us so much that he chose crucifixion, so that everyone may be offered the same chance to be with him in paradise. Knowing that, how can we not proclaim from the rooftops that God is love? If evil men see our example, they might be changed. Before our salvation in Jesus, we were just as spiritually dead as Hitler or Stalin. God tells us that “There is no one righteous, not even one”, so how can we judge and decide to end someone’s life? We can’t.

If we fight back darkness with darkness, or hate with hate, then how are we better than the godless man? As Jim Morrison said, we are “lost in a Roman wilderness of pain.” Out of the wilderness, only God remains. If that truth means that we can no longer bomb a nation’s children, then so be it. Don’t give in to evil, but fight it in a loving way. Following God is the only way to change this broken world for good.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why I like classic games

I’m constantly asked why I don’t find today’s games appealing. It seems like a crazy idea that something new isn’t better. Well, call me crazy. I prefer the classics.

In the opposing view’s defense, my opinion is completely subjective. If you only like games that came out in the last five years, take solace, because I’m no more right in my preference than anyone else. Liking particular video games does not rest in the world of fact, like the age of the earth or the existence of germs, it is mere whimsy. With that caveat out of the way, let’s get to the meat of it.

Disliking older video games on the sole fact that they’re old, is like disliking On the Waterfront because it’s black and white. To say that classic games are bad because the graphics have aged would be comparable to complaining that Star Wars or Indiana Jones “suck” because they don’t have computer generated special effects.

The core soul of film exists in any era. Look at the 1927 silent black and white film, Metropolis. Its dystopian vision didn’t need 3d to be entirely engaging. Similarly, video games as basic as Ms. Pac-Man, don’t need bumpmapping and bloom lighting to be enjoyable.

My favorite game, Super Mario Bros. 3, is simple and unassuming. However, when you boot up your NES and start to play, you’re shown a world of wonder. You run around a fantastical land, and just have fun. Isn’t that what games are supposed to be about?

Why must newer always be better? What a sad outlook it must be to only think that games made in the last few years are worthwhile. It means that even the games you now love, will eventually become the dreaded retro game, something untouchable. Is that all art is to some people? Temporary? I think that’s an awful way at looking at things.

To go further, think of the newest Indiana Jones. The original trilogy of Indiana Jones was amazing (although Temple of Doom could have used less monkey brains). Should we abandon those memories for Indy’s godforsaken alien misadventure with Shia Labeouf? I pray not.

I love classic games because they are so raw and primal. They pushed the boundaries of where we only dared dream. Something like Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time will always blow my mind. I don’t need a shinier version of it.

Why must I play Halo 4 when the first two did everything I wanted them to do? I’m happy with those original experiences. I don’t need to play a hundred sequels in the same way I don’t need to see a 7th Star Wars film.

I will be honest though. It’s true that part of my reason for playing classic games lies in the pastoral landscape of nostalgia. It’s through idyllic lens that I call the Super Nintendo the best system ever made. Still, is that a bad thing? Why is something that I cherish from childhood somehow unacceptable? As I get older, and the world gets worse, I like to think of when things were pure.

If you think that old games don’t have story, play Final Fantasy VI or I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. If you think old games are ugly, play Another World or Nights into Dreams. Generations of people enjoyed games on floppy discs and cartridges, they still have the power to give your imagination a ride. Give the classics a try, I promise they won’t disappoint.