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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Some More Pretty Dumb Posters

Oct 24, 2013

This seems to now be an ongoing, albeit irregular, series. There never seems to be a shortage of rather dumb and nonsensical posters and quotes making the rounds, especially in the social media. People happily post these quotes and posters, so presumably they fully agree with them.

While there are some good ones out there, there are plenty of losers as well. Sure, many of these may make some sense if you realise that a non-believer is posting them. There is plenty of dopey humanistic mush and New Age mumbo jumbo out there to pass along.

But the really alarming bit is that some of these unhelpful and just plain unbiblical posters are actually being posted and promoted by Christians. That is the part that really worries me. As I say, you would expect such silliness from non-Christians – but certainly not from those claiming to be biblical Christians.

So let me look more closely at three more recent examples of some pretty dumb posters and some pretty moronic quotes. Here is the first one: “Do not expect positive changes in your life if you surround yourself with negative people.”

This is one of those “yes and no” quotes, at least as far as the Christian is concerned. There is some truth in this, depending on what exactly is meant by the one saying it. New Agers and others like them can talk all they like about ‘positive vibes’ and all that stuff, but the Christian is not to be off in dreamland like this.

And it all depends on what you mean by “negative people” anyway. We all know of people who are always miserable and grumpy, and who act as a wet blanket on everything. Those who only complain and make a stink about things can indeed be taxing on anyone.

But too often this sort of phrase is meant to suggest we should never allow any criticism or critiques from others to enter our headspace. Anyone who tries to bring correction or balance or helpful advice can too easily just be dismissed as being “negative”.

Then you only end up being surrounded by yes-men, and those who never dare to point out any unpleasant truths about yourself. But we all need to have people who love us enough to offer us counsel, advice, correction and even rebuke when needed. We all have blind spots and we all need the counsel and wisdom of others. If you reject all that as being negative, then you will miss out on much of what God has for you.

Moreover, it is true to say that anyone who proclaims truth, especially when people do not want to hear that truth, will be seen as negative. The prophets, the disciples, and even Jesus himself would have been seen by many as being negative. The truth is, the true Christian must always proclaim the whole counsel of God, and that includes both the “good” bits and the “bad” bits.

Words of coming judgment if people do not repent are as absolutely vital as words of praise and encouragement. Yet too many believers reject any of those former words, and use unhelpful clichés like the one we are considering here to stop their ears from hearing God’s truth. So we must be careful here.

Let me turn to another somewhat silly poster: “If something is meant to be it will happen.” Well, this too is mostly so much sentimental New Age mush. But it can be appraised biblically and theologically. If the one saying this means that God is in charge of all that happens, then there is some truth to this.

But it can easily descend into fatalism. Of course if you subscribe to a fatalistic worldview, be it Islam, or even hyper-Calvinism, then at least a sense of this will be seen as true: Whatever happens was meant to be. But even here we must affirm the fullness of biblical truth.

Yes God is sovereign and in control, but his creatures are also responsible and make genuine choices. Of course the interplay between these two truths always will be a mystery. Yet both are fully affirmed in Scripture, so we must fully affirm them as well.

Also, this saying is faulty on at least two more levels. One, there is plenty which should be happening which is not. In a very real sense it is meant to happen that all people should hear the gospel and get saved. But clearly this is not occurring.

And two, this saying can be turned around to say that whatever happens was meant to be. Again, unless you are a hard core fatalist in your theology, this is not very helpful either. Was I meant to sin this morning when I was impatient at the stop lights?

Was the holocaust meant to happen? Admittedly even great theologians have difficulties here. They may change language, and say that God allows things to happen, and so on. But divine causation of all things is not 100% proven from Scripture, and even if we do buy it, we still have the other hunks of biblical revelation about our own moral accountability and responsibility for our actions to contend with.

So this is one saying that the Christian would do best to ignore altogether. It opens a whole can of theological worms which no mere poster can even begin to fathom. By taking on such a complex and broad topic in so short a space, it just becomes quite unhelpful.

My last example is rather common, and many versions of it exist: “Jesus is my saviour, not my religion.” This is another one which has some truth in it. But it is also unnecessarily faulty and unhelpful to be of much use to believers. So just what is being said here?

Of course most Christians who share this usually mean that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the essence of their faith, and that all other religions are just human attempts to please God, often with a works-based righteousness. This is of course all quite true, as far as it goes.

Basically all other religions do stress man’s attempts to please God, and to earn his favour by works, or sacrifice, or other means. Christianity of course is about the free gift of salvation which God offers to us sinners based on what Christ did at Calvary.

So yes Christianity certainly does differ from other religions in this regard. And yes having a personal relationship with Christ is at the heart of the evangelical faith. It is not mere head knowledge or mental consent, but a whole-hearted, personal commitment to Christ and his truth.

Having said all that, Christianity remains a religion. If we mean by religion that which involves belief in and worship of a supernatural being, god, or gods, then yes of course Christianity is a religion. Sure, as we just said, it differs from other religions greatly, not just in terms of salvation, but in so many other respects.

However it still is a religion – in fact the world’s largest, with some 2 billion adherents. And sure, many of those would be nominal Christians as opposed to genuine Christians. But pretending it is not a religion is not all that constructive or beneficial.

So here are three posters which I would avoid. The first too can simply be so much humanistic baloney. The second, if offered in a Christian theological context, still needs to be avoided because it deals with massive issues that can never be adequately reduced to a brief poster. The last is of course one which only Christians presumably will use, but it too suffers from some shortcomings.

I better conclude with a caveat: I too use posters and quotes all the time. So there is certainly a place for them, and admittedly they can never convey all the truth they may intend. Thus they can be of use, but if they end up being too misleading or too incoherent, then better to just not use them at all.

I will see you next time with some more silly sayings and pointless posters.

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6 Responses to Some More Pretty Dumb Posters

  • Bill,

    Off topic because I can’t see where else to post this, but don’t you think it’s at least heartening that Prince William and his wife Catherine had baby George christened? I was impressed by their choice of hymns: “Breath on me breath of God”, and “Be thou my vision”.

    Beautiful and classy.

    Antonia Feitz

  • Many non-believers think that Christianity is about adhering to a set of rule made by humans like all of the other religions. They accuse Christians for being hypocritical for not “burning cows as sacrifice, “keeping quiet in Church”, or “covering one’s hair” because they think that it is a list of rules as you can see here:

    http://faithlikeamushroom.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/covering-the-faith-base/

    Janice Tooh

  • G’day Bill,

    Thanks again. I have a board outside ‘my’ church, and am constantly looking for phrases to put up that, preferably, are, (1) true to Christ and His Word, (2) have a bit of a ‘bite’ to the world, to passers by, either by style (eg rhyme) or content (eg contemporary issues) and lastly (3) humour. Any suggestions from yourself our readers would be appreciated…

    Andrew Campbell

  • Hi Andrew, in Matthew 26:64, Jesus used this composite quote when he stood before (condemning) Caiaphas:
    “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (quoted from both Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13).
    Perhaps you could also use a composite quote, eg ‘God has set eternity in our hearts, therefore remember your creator before the days of trouble come’ (taken from both Ecclesiastes 3:11 and 12:1).
    Sid Avery

  • One saying I have heard both Christians and non Christians say and I really don’t like is “it’s all good”.
    No, it’s not all good and it won’t be until the Lord Jesus returns and does away with evil.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Hi Andrew,

    The below site has a bunch of my T-Shirt designs. You have my permission to use anything you find that you like if it helps at all.

    http://apocalypsedesigns.spreadshirt.com/shop/designs

    Of course, feel free to buy a t-shirt while you’re at it 😀

    Mario Del Giudice

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