Propitiation and Praise

I am reading J.I.Packer’s ‘Knowing God’. Paul was most wise when he said he compared everything else as rubbish when compared with the joy ‘knowing God’. True wisdom is in knowing what is truly valuable.

Packer has a chapter in the book, ‘Heart of the Gospel’. Reading the heading, I thought that the chapter would be about God’s love. But much of the focus of the chapter was in ‘propitiation’. Propitiation is something that is given to reconcile. In religious terms, it means a costly sacrifice to appease a God. For example, pagan kings would sacrifice their son/daughter as a propitiation to gain a God’s favor.

‘Propitiation’ is a word that rankles our modern sensibilities, because as moderners, we don’t quite understand a ‘Holy God’. They don’t realize the extent of their rebellion against God. We feel entitled to ‘free love’, even from God. We don’t feel the need to pay the cost for reconciliation with God. We don’t even know that we don’t have the capital to pay the cost of reconciliation with God.

Christ’s propitiation, to modern man is a superfluous solution to a problem that he doesn’t quite understand – the problem of his enmity with God. So his appreciation of Christ is totally misguided at best, or non-existent at worst. At best, he thinks Christ came to be a great moral teacher, a good shepard, a revolutionary etc… not much unlike a Bhuddha or a Ghandhi or a Teresa. That is hardly reason for ‘worship’.

Christ is something the moral teachers, the good leaders, the selfless revolutionaries of history aren’t – Christ is the Propitiation. True ‘praise’ is possible only when we understand Christ as the propitiation. After having read J.I.Packer’s chapter on the Heart of the Gospel being Christ’s propitiation, this Sunday, when I sang worship songs, the word ‘Christ’ sounded ‘heavier’ than it usually did.

Unless we connect praise with the idea of propitiation, we will need other motivations to praising God – lights and smoke and high decible vocals and music that work us up. Knowing God is priceless because Praising God is impossible without Knowing God. The truly wise spend time ‘Knowing God’.

Please Talk to the Picketers!

Driving towards the parking lot of Reliant Staduim where the Day long Fasting Prayer event ‘The Response’ was held, I saw some people with Placards – mostly opposing the event. Some of them were acrimonious. One of the kinder ones read ‘If God had a plan, WHY PRAY?’ It was held by a very cheerful looking guy. I thought, ‘Interesting…’. I drove past him. After I parked my car within the fenced parking lot, I realized that this ‘Why-Pray’ dude was pretty close, on the other side of the fence. I walked over to the fence and said, “Sir, can I talk to you for a moment.”
He was an extraordinarily kind guy he came over to talk. The ‘Why-Pray’ dude is Mr. S. I told him that his sign was interesting and that I wanted to know more of his thoughts behind it. I asked him what his placard meant. He replied, that the meaning was obvious enough.
I realized that I had to post the questions… The statement, ‘If God had a plan, WHY PRAY?’ implied that prayer and God were mutually exclusive. I asked him why he thought they should be mutually exclusive. The lady that was picketting next to him shouted out to Mr. S, “Don’t speak this guy (me). He is just wasting your picketing time”. Being a kind guy, Mr.S, didn’t listen to her. He replied, “If God is in Total control and He has decided what He wants to do, they why pray at all?”
“The answer to that would depend on what sort of relationship I have with God”, I replied, “I pray to God. The reason why I pray to God is because God is my Father. Just like a loving Father would give His son the right to express his thoughts and petitions, God gives use the right and the DIGNITY of prayer to Him.”
He said, “Wouldn’t it be sort of misleading if God were to allow us to pray to Him, but then go and do what He wants to do?”
The answer to that really depends on how I view God. If I view God as a loving Father, then just as a loving Father would do the best for His son, God will do the best for us. Sometimes, He will grant our wishes, sometimes not – ALL for our good.
But isn’t that ‘blind faith’ he responded.
I wouldn’t call it ‘blind faith’. I would call it ‘reasonable faith’. Much of life operates by principles of reasonable faith. We NEVER have ‘exhaustive’ knowledge about anything in life. We always take things by faith. For example, I am talking with you because seeing your cheerful demeanor I thought you would be a reasonable guy to talk to. I didn’t have ‘absolute proof’, but I had ‘reasonable faith’ that you would be a reasonable guy.
He replied, “you are talking to me because there is a fence between us and we can’t hurt each other”.
I replied, “well in that case your ‘blind faith’ is that I don’t have a gun. WHAT proof do you have that I don’t have a gun?”
He replied, “I TOTALLY believe that you have a gun”. We laughed… After all this is TEXAS. Of course, I can’t excersice the 2nd amendment right… I didn’t tell him that though. I figured the idea of me having a gun would put the fear of God in him. 😛
I continued to make the case for how human being always tend to operate by principles of ‘reasonable faith’… Even in Mathematics, we have axioms which really have NO ‘absolute proof’. The proof is assumed based on it being reasonable. It is reasonable to believe that NO man has an infinite mind to be ‘absolutely’ sure that there isn’t any other Being with an infinite mind. If it is reasonable for me to believe that the Reliant Stadium was designed by a sentient being even though I have never seen anyone design it, why wouldn’t it be reasonable to believe that the world was designed by another sentient Being, even though I wasn’t there to witness creation first-hand?
Our conversations went on… and we got to talk about philosophy etc… and I asked him what made him an Atheist. He said that he was from a very Christian family and was active in the Church. But that none answered the questions he had about the Bible. Then he read Sam Harris one day and became an Atheist. I asked him if he read any of the Christian rebuttals against Sam Harris’ books. He hadn’t. I gave him some suggestions.
I suggested he he read both sides of the argument before coming to a conclusion. I was surprised to hear him get excited when he recounted his time with the Church during his teens. I was even more heartened when he actually wrote down the name of the books I suggested. We must have talked for about 30 minutes at least. Before I left, he extended his hand for a hand-shake. But only two fingers could make it through the fence… We shook with two fingers… and bid goodbye… I, whispering a prayer for him and he back to the picketing lines with the placard, “If God has a plan, Why Pray?”
I wish he realizes that every prayer is in itself a part of God’s plan even when the prayer isn’t in in tune with His Sovereign plan. God is powerful enough to bring meaning out of even the most mundane and foolish of prayers…  

7 Days in Utopia – The Workings of the Therapeutic Christian Fad

Disclaimer: This write-up is based on my impressions on seeing the movie ‘7 Days in Utopia’. I have not read the book. I would concur with anyone who of the opinion that the movie does not do justice to the book.

A good friend of mine got me a ticket to the premier of the movie ‘7 Days in Utopia’. After watching the trailer, I wrote to another friend, “7 Days in Utopia, looks to be a sort of secular romanticist hogwash. I want to see it because such movies often are a good gauge to where the society is headed. It would help understand the points of connection that can be used to present the Gospel to the secular culture”.
At the movie, to my surprise, I discovered that the movie was ostensibly Christian. Walking out of the theatre, I thought to myself, “Well, I think the movie has given me a good gauge to where ‘popular Christianity’ is headed. Perhaps, this even gives me the points of connection to presenting the Gospel to the Christian(ly) culture” – an ironic reversal to my earlier ill-informed position.
The movie is about an aspiring young golfer (Lucas Black) who on the back of repeated failures, buckles under the pressure and almost gives upon golf. Totally distraught, the despondent man crashes his car into the farmland of an old man (Robert Duvall) in the village of ‘Utopia’. Robert takes Lucas through a 7 day ‘therapy’ at Utopia that involves a host of clichéd moral teaching and activities ranging from painting to flying to fly-fishing. In the end, Lucas gets back his BEST game ever. He also has a conversion into Christianity.
Robert’s rationale leading to Lucas’ conversion went something like this….
1. You are having problems with golf because you have made golf as the ultimate purpose of your life. The game has taken you over.
2. You have to realize how you have allowed golf to define who you are. It is killing you.
3. You have to realize that God created you for a better purpose.
4. Once you do that, you’ll be free of the burden of having to prove yourself through golf.
5. Then you’ll be a free man and BTW, you’ll play better golf too.
The therapy’s goal was to help him overcome his problem of idolizing golf. The ‘idea’ of God is used in the therapy to help the golfer understand that golf is not the end-all. God has no other use in the narrative. Christ is never talked about anywhere. I was left confused about what was really Christian about this Christian(ly) movie.
I was reminded of Pastor Tim Keller’s presentation on his brilliant book ‘Counterfeit Gods’ at Cambridge. The book deals with the destructiveness of pursuing ‘idols’, particularly the materialistic kind. A sharp student  posted an interesting question – “If you say that I need to pursue God so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the ‘idols’ of materialism that can potentially destroy me, why can I not just posit an imaginary God in my mind?” After all, making an idol of materialistic goals is a problem of the mind – mind creates the idols. Why can’t the solution, just be in the mind too?
The proponents of the New Age religion (yoga, TM etc…) have the answer to this question. They posit a ‘mystical’ God meditating upon whom/it will therapeutically heal the pain and the pressures of materialistic pursuits. New Ageism exalts the human being while making God as a ‘puppet therapist’ who can be invoked from within the mind of the Human Being. This ‘therapist God’ will bring peace and freedom to human mind troubled by relentless pursuit of materialistic idols. No wonder New Ageism originating from the East is now popular in materialistic cultures of the West.
Sadly, the New Ageistic ‘therapeutic’ methodology is followed some ‘Christian’ retreats I have been to. Quite a number of urban Evangelical Churches in their Worship Services, Sermons and Bible Studies follow this principle too. Man’s needs are made the center of the proceedings. God is supposedly invoked through therapeutic worship and some prayer techniques, thereby helping everyone feel healed to live in a state of peaceful complacency.
If Christ were someone with whom one can spend 7 days and get the mojo back whether it be golf or catching fish, Christianity can be easily marketed to the secular culture. If Christ had only been a ‘therapeutic’ healer of sorts, He would never have been crucified. Christ was no therapist, neither is Christianity therapeutic. Any therapeutic benefits in Christianity are incidental, at best secondary. Christ’s quintessential claim was to be the King whom everyone owed allegiance to. 
Christ did not come to give us the ‘Best Life Now’ or create a ‘Champion in You’. Christ came to invite us into a story where we’ll make less and less of ourselves and more and more of Him. The Gospel is NOT about us. The Gospel is about Christ and what He DID to draw us into His Story. The reason why the road to perdition is BROAD and the road to eternal life is NARROW is because this message of this ‘change of allegiance’ goes against what most people fundamentally want to do – make more and more of themselves.
Preachers, evangelists and Christian motivation speakers are not confident of making the ‘tough sell’ into the NARROW road. Wanting to be relevant, affirm and validate the pew-warmers, some of them dilute their message to a point where it is rather difficult to see how the ‘popular Christianity’ presented is different from the New Age religions which advocate similar ideas of superiority of Spiritual realities over the material ones, the need for community consciousness, sacrificial living… etc – resulting in therapeutic healing.
In trying to reach out to the secular culture and find the points of connection, ‘popular Christianity’ has gone too far; losing it own points of connections with the Gospel. The Gospel message – the supremacy of what Christ DID for us and how that changes our allegiance away from self towards Christ, is something that needs to be presented to Christians all over again. Else, Christianity would be reduced to another one of the interesting fads that ‘works for some’ and not for most others.