Friday, April 07, 2017

Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming

Image result for john piippo affirm
Worship at Redeemer

I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"

My answer is: "Yes!"

And Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, too.

I would be thrilled if people of differing beliefs came to my church.

"If a Muslim came and asked you to affirm their belief that Jesus was merely a prophet (and not God the Son), and that Jesus did not die on a cross (the Koran says this), would you affirm this?"

My answer is: "Of course not." And, BTW, the serious, practicing Muslim would not affirm my belief that Jesus died on a cross to atone for the sins of humanity.

What does it mean to "affirm" something, or someone?" From my Christian point of view, I want to affirm what God affirms. As far as I can tell, God does not affirm the following statement: Jesus was only a prophet, and Jesus did not die on a cross.

This being the case, why would I affirm this? And why would anyone expect me to affirm it?

Over the years, as a result of my college philosophy classes, several atheists have checked out my church. When they come, do I welcome them? Yes. I am thrilled they came! Does this mean that I therefore affirm their core belief that There is no God? Of course not. And, I don't expect that, as atheists, they affirm my core belief that There is a God.

Welcome and love people, even enemies? Yes.

Affirm every belief people have? No. Because to do that is neither loving nor truthful.

Is it loving to welcome but not affirm? Of course. To love someone is not equivalent to affirming every belief they bring with them. To do this would be disingenuous. I have had a few atheists over the years tell me they respect the fact that I can be gracious towards them while not affirming their beliefs. One atheist looked me square in the eye and said, "I respect you for not affirming my atheism. That's why I am interested in you."

The atheist Christopher Hitchens said the same, and castigated both Christians and atheists who mindlessly and hypocritically affirmed everything, no matter what. (See The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.)

The philosopher skeptic David Hume said the same. There's the story of Hume getting up at 5 AM to travel to hear George Whitefield preach. Asked if he believed what the preacher preached, he replied, "No, but he does!"

No one affirms everything. Probably, people disaffirm more things than they affirm.

Much depends on a person's worldview. It is within a worldview that affirming and disaffirming find their place. Everyone has a worldview. Even the view that there are no worldviews is a worldview. The question becomes: Is my worldview true? That is, is my worldview the way things really are? This is not the special province of Christians. Everyone believes their worldview represents the way things really are.

Everyone affirms and disaffirms. It is unloving to expect, even force, someone who does not share your worldview to affirm it. But we can try to understand. And then, evaluate. And then, in a civil way, disaffirm. (Unlike life at American universities today, which mostly are disaffirming and not welcoming.)

"Could an atheist teach atheism in your church as something God affirms?" Of course not, for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

"Could a Muslim be one of your youth leaders and teach your youth that Christ did not die on a cross?" Of course not.

"Would you, John, be allowed to be a youth leader at the Islamic Center of America, and tell Young Muslims that the Koran is wrong, and God is a Trinity of Persons, in One?" Definitely not!

The idea that we ought to love everyone, even our enemies, finds its most powerful formulation in Christianity.

The idea that we should affirm every belief is unloving, as well as pop-culture nonsense.


***

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017)