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Even More Foolish Posters – and Bad Theology

Jun 15, 2018

By their very nature, memes, posters and social media posts tend to be content-light and information-thin. So one cannot rely on them very much. They might get people thinking, and they may contain snippets of truth, but usually complex issues can NOT be properly dealt with in memes and the like.

This is certainly true when it comes to sharing Christian truths and theological messages. Thankfully many folks realise the limitations of the social media, and how little solid content can be run with, whether using twitter, or sharing a meme on Facebook. But sadly many do not.

So there is good and bad when it comes to using these new media methods. A lot of people can be reached, but often image takes precedence over content – which BTW has been a major characteristic of postmodernism. So something like FB is a great PoMo tool.

Yes, as Christians, we seek to use everything to share truth, including the social media. But we need great care in doing so. Far too much vacuous, misleading, and just plain false stuff is being shared by means of these posters and memes. So this is my latest piece in a series of articles on this.

Here are some more unhelpful and at times just ridiculous memes and posts I have seen passed along on the social media – often by Christians. Sadly they seem to be never-ending. But some of the worst ones deserve at least a brief comment, if not rebuttal. Here then are five more.

“You are confined only by the walls you build yourself”

Um, no, not quite. Indeed, why would any biblical Christian share something as silly as this? This is just sentimental mush which does not reflect biblical truth. If Christians are running with this, it is probably part of the unbiblical name-it-and-claim-it theology.

The silly extreme would be to say this to a prisoner serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter (although I suspect that very few courts hand out such steep sentences anymore!). He can have all the mind-over-matter magic he wants, but unless someone slips him a hacksaw blade in his cake, he ain’t getting out of there anytime soon!

But I take it this saying refers to any sort of problem or trial we are going through – maybe financial hardship, or serious illness, or difficulties at work, etc. But some things are beyond our control, and no amount of positive thinking will change things.

And there are of course demonic powers at work that we must not take lightly. Sure, we can have victory in Christ, but real obstacles and barriers can and do exist. And more importantly, it may well be that it is actually God who is hedging us in, just as he hedged in Job.

Sometimes real constraints and obstacles exist, and sometimes it may be God who has put them there, to help us grow in faith and trust. And those going through real struggles are not really helped by such glib and saccharine remarks. A Christian enslaved and tortured by Muslim jihadists for example will get little comfort from such a bumper sticker cliché.

So sayings like this are quite unhelpful, and worse yet, are quite unbiblical.

“Forgive them even if they’re not sorry”

Well, yes and no actually. This in fact can be a rather complex biblical discussion, and I have already penned several articles on it. Briefly stated, on the one hand, we are told to forgive. And sometimes it seems we should do it regardless of the other person and how he responds.

We recall things like Jesus telling us to be willing to forgive 70 times 7 and the like. So unconditional forgiveness seems to be the order of the day for Christians. But if we look more carefully at the biblical data – including the words of Jesus – things are not quite so clear-cut.

Indeed, other passages seem to tell us to only forgive those who have acknowledged their wrong. Really? Yes indeed. Have a look at just one such passage:

Luke 17:3-4 “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Note the three important words, “if they repent”. And consider Matthew 18 where Jesus speaks about dealing with a brother who has sinned against you. In verse 17 we read: “If he refuses to listen to [two or three witnesses], tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” That is, presumably he is still unforgiven.

As John Stott put it, “We are to rebuke a brother if he sins against us; we are to forgive him if he repents — and only if he repents. We must beware of cheapening forgiveness. Although God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of one another are quite different (since God is God, and we are merely private individuals, and sinners besides), yet both are conditional upon repentance.”

But see much more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/07/11/on-unconditional-forgiveness/

“You can believe GOD or your PROBLEM, but not both at the same time”

I have no idea who first said this, but the quote – at least as it stands, without any context – is rather silly. And unbiblical. I suspect it might be part of the name-it-and-claim-it theology, which is almost a mind over matter theology. Even if not, it is still a rather confusing saying.

What does it mean to ‘believe’ in a problem? If it simply means to recognise that a problem exists, what is wrong with that? The Apostle Paul had all sorts of problems which he often talked about and asked others to pray about. That does not mean he stopped believing in God.

If the one who said this is trying to say that if we put all our focus and attention on a particular problem, and do not look to God as to how he might help us in this problem, that would be one thing. Yes, we can so obsess over a problem (a looming divorce, a pending job loss, the prospect of losing one’s house, etc.) that we may forget all about God and thus become overwhelmed.

But we can do both: we can trust God and seek him, but also think about and look for solutions to our problems. If we might be on the verge of losing the family home, we can both pray AND look at practical solutions, such as perhaps refinancing the mortgage.

Again, I do not know where the person who said this is coming from. But the line does not seem all that helpful to me.

“To love another person is to see the face of God” -Les Miserables

Well, not quite. Here is the simple biblical position: While God is love, love is not God. Quibbling with words? Not really. As always, defining our terms is key. What is meant by “love” in this passage? Is it a reflection of what biblical love is all about, or something else? More on that in a moment.

It must be pointed out that while it is the last line of the musical “Les Miserables” – the stage and film versions – it seems it is not in the original 1862 novel by Victor Hugo (1802–1885). I have not read the book, nor seen a stage or film version of it. However, I do have some Christian friends who are quite keen on the musical.

I only have a vague knowledge of the book’s storyline, and from what I know there are some core gospel themes presented, such as law and grace, etc. As to Hugo, we do know that while he was raised in a Catholic home, he later quite strongly rejected Catholicism, calling himself a freethinker, dabbling in spiritism, and effectively becoming a rationalist deist.

It was during this later stage of his life that he wrote the novel. So that in part is how we might understand the line now before us – even though it seems he did not write it! Again I ask, what is meant by “love”? The biblical notion is to will the highest good for the other person. It certainly is not mere feeling or desire, let alone lust.

Having some sort of concern for another person is of course a good thing, but one does not see God (whatever exactly that means) by having such concerns. So taken by itself, it is not biblical, but a syrupy, humanistic sentiment. Thus believers who wish to pass around this quote need to be a bit more careful here, and/or put some biblical content into it.

“Nobody is born racist”

Once again, if you are a biblical Christian, you should not be running with rather unhelpful and biblically inaccurate things like this. Sure, the intention might be good – to stand against racism. But what is being said here is simply not completely true from a biblical perspective.

That is, in a sense, everyone is born a racist, or a hater, or a liar, or an idolater, etc. We believe in the biblical doctrine of original sin. People are not born good, or morally neutral. They are born with an orientation to sin and self. Thus we are not so much sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.

Every single one of us is born with a propensity to any and all evil, whether racism, or murder, or hatred, or lust, or whatever. It is part of who we are, and that is why Christ came to die – not just for our sins, but to deal with our sinful nature, and give us a new nature.

Many passages could be appealed to here. Let me offer just three of them:

-Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
-Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
-Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

The theology behind the concept of original sin cannot here be fully entered into. But briefly put, Scripture affirms that just as Adam in some sense represented all humanity, the second Adam (Christ) also represented us. As R. C. Sproul puts it, “If we object in principle to God’s allowing one person to act for another, that would be the end of the Christian faith. Our whole redemption rests on the same principle, that through the actions of Christ we are redeemed.”

These then are five more rather unhelpful and unbiblical memes, sayings, quotes, and posters that we so often find circulating in cyberspace and on the social media. Christians may mean well when they share such things, but if they end up misrepresenting the Christian faith or even mangling it, it would be best not to do so.

All solid truth needs more than a meme or a bumper sticker to convey things properly, so we should be willing to forego the short and the sweet in favour of things with much more substance and biblical content.

[1894 words]

10 Responses to Even More Foolish Posters – and Bad Theology

  • Thank you, brother. This is a thoughtful, succinct, yet thorough reading. Clarity and passion are the distinguishing marks in these read. Peace of Christ, Bill.

  • I have never seen that line from musical Les Miserables as a meme on the internet. Yes, it is only from the musical version of the story, it was never written by Victor Hugo. The musical is just a shadow of the book. The book was written over a period of 20 years and requires some knowledge of the history of France (and other parts of Europe) from the French Revolution to the finish of the book not long after June Rebellion in Paris in 1832. It is a very 19th century book, and very true to the thinking of that time particularly in France and Germany. I have never seen the musical live on stage, but have the DVD of 2012 film. It is one of my favourite books, Victor Hugo was in Paris at the time of the June Rebellion and saw it all happen.

  • Meanwhile we have had the outrageous ruling in the Canadian Supreme Court (7 to 2) that Trinity Western University does not have the right to mandate a pledge of morality for its law school because this would discriminate against homosexuals. The ruling appears, again, to be based on the fundamental lie that homosexual relationships are equal to lifelong sexually functional ones.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trinity-western-supreme-court-decision-1.4707240

    I have to admit when I see things like this I begin to think about civil war. This ruling is a complete undermining of all principles that western society has been based on and for which huge numbers of people have died. Absolutely outrageous!

  • Bill, what’s the meming of all this? 🙂 Thanks for this article, a good follow-up to the recent Chesterton piece. People need to use logic, reason, and critical thinking to arrive at conclusions based on evidence. As John Locke (1632-1704) wrote, “Truth is the measure of knowledge, and the business of the understanding.”

    The delusional fantasy world of social media was beautifully illustrated by a Dilbert cartoon:–
    “We need to create a product that gives people the illusion of being friends with ghosts”
    “Who on earth would want that?”
    “Well, how many friends do you have on Facebook?”
    “700 — why do you ask?”

    Where is Facebook’s Dislike button? People who post all their intimate details online shouldn’t be surprised that companies like Facebook then collect this information. Users pay the price of these “free” services with their data.

    I suggested the following slogan to my local library:–

    Get off Facebook, and get your face in a book

  • Another thoughtless meme is the “I’m not religious, I have a relationship with Jesus” statement. This makes about as much sense as saying ” I am not married, I have a relationship with my wife”. A basic definition of religion is “the belief in and worship of a God or gods”. My question when I hear people say this nonsense is, how can you have a relationship with someone you dont believe in?

    The apostle Paul states “if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God”. 1 Tim 5. What religion is Paul talking about if not the religion of Christianity? the oft misunderstood James states “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. So if christians are not religious then logically they are not required to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world – which obviously contradicts what is taught elsewhere in the bible.

  • Why don’t we get good solid teaching like this in church instead of mushy opinion about a verse of scripture?

  • Thank you for your ministry, Bill.

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